First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
November 4, 2018 – All Saints Sunday
Scripture: John 11:32-44
Sermon: “Coming Out!”
Though I may speak with bravest fire,
And have the gift to all inspire,
And have not love, my words are vain,
As sounding brass, and hopeless gain.
Love, we are told, and so many of us believe is the Way. It is a force to be reckoned with! It is a transformational and foundational way of living and being in the world. However, in our world, in our country, in our culture and society the force to be reckoned with seems more and more…fear. Fear is, not unlike love should be, a consuming fire. Fear fills us, drives us, engulfs us, entombs us… if we let it. It becomes the kindling that fuels words and deeds of violence, exclusion, xenophobia, and hate. It is not a new thing, but we see the veil of what would have seemed progress over the years pulled back to reveal we are not as far down that road toward the kindom as we may have thought we were. Fear, we are told in our tradition, has no place in love…and yet, even for those of us who claim to be grounded in and guided by love… fear sneaks in like a creeping kudzu, swallowing all in its path. Immersing us in a dark filled room of uncertainty, dread, and paralysis.
I remember I was in perhaps mid-elementary school, 5th or 6th grade. With my father, as I have indicated a pastor himself, we lived in a small community south of Wichita, Kansas. It was tradition in the church he served to have a worship service on Sunday evening followed by a time of gathering and fellowship in the basement fellowship hall. Most times, weather permitting, we youth would find our way outside, after filling our hands with cookies, on the front lawn playing touch football, tag, or some other game. This Sunday evening was no different, other than one of my friends said his brother and girlfriend were going to the drive-in movie in a nearby larger town and wanted to know if I wanted to go with them. I said sure! I did not have the opportunity to go to a movie very often. I ran to our house, just next door to the church, pulled a chair up to the hutch in the dining room, and retrieved a cup from the top which contained my life savings… I suspect a few dollars. I ran out the door to find my friend waiting in his brother’s car in the driveway, and away we went.
I suppose we were about halfway there when the realization struck me. Understand of course, this was pre-cell phone, as I sat in the backseat my stomach began to turn and the fear became overwhelming. The revelation that came to me was that I had failed to ask my parents if I could go… or even tell anyone where I was. We arrived at the drive-in movie some 20 miles away. The car was parked and my friend and I walked to the concession stand. I do not remember if I bought anything but used some excuse to stay behind and found pay phone. I called home, my older sister answered the phone and I asked for dad. My voice shaking, I told him where I was and who I was with. All I recall from the conversation is his voice saying, “We’ll talk when you get home.”
To this day I do not remember what the movie was. I just sat in the backseat of the car entombed in fear and dread. We got back home late and I climbed out of the car. The outside porch light was on but other than that no lights were on in the house. I, as quietly as I could, slipped in the door, closed it behind me, slunk to my room and crawled in bed… and waited… in the dark… afraid of the impending doom.
Have you ever been there? Immersed, consumed by fear, paralyzed by thoughts of what might happen? All the signs point to disaster. I don’t have to tell you there is much to fear in our world, our country, society, and culture today. If you are unsure of what to fear just watch the news, listen to the radio, read the tweets, follow facebook, someone is always more than willing to tell you what, who, when, where you should fear.
There are those of my colleagues and friends who encourage me to leave that fear; the religiously motivated fear of faith, the politics dripping with angry words of fear and dread outside the walls of the church. We get enough of that out there… why bring it here into our place of worship? Theologian Karl Barth has been quoted, “One should preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” There is truth to that, though the more accurate quote should be, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” Both are basically saying the same thing. A faith that is not relevant to the times, the culture and society in which it exists is not speaking much truth and is in denial.
I think about the scripture we read this morning from the author of the John and the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It is a story filled with fear, skepticism, dread, grief, and accusation. Mary, distraught could have been speaking out of despair or accusation… ”If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Jesus is deeply moved by the scene… grieved by it… weeps we are told. Some wondered why he could not have kept his friend from dying. Jesus goes to the tomb… and asks them to roll away the stone, Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days (fear stinks). We know the rest of the story… the darkness of the tomb, the unknown of death, bound up, buried, entombed in the fear of life and of death.
So what, I hear you ask, does all this have to do with All Saints Sunday, a day when we are intentional about honoring, remembering, celebrating the lives of those in our congregation who have journeyed on, been swept up in that Great Cloud of Witness who surround us even now? On this Sunday when we name and remember, Helen, Audrey, John, Patricia, Rosalie, Sally, and Lowen… what does all this talk of fear and entombment have to do with these seven?
In the context of All Saints Sunday, we remember and celebrate all those who have gone on before us in the life of the whole church… the church universal. In the context of our beloved FUMC we remember and celebrate these beloved seven from this past year, as well as all of those who have been a part of this community of faith from its inception. Those, including the ones we name today, who have been a part of laying the foundation of who we are, why we are, what we do, believe, and live out and where we are going from here. Those who have been a part, both small and large parts, of why we exist as a United Methodist community of faith here in Omaha. And they are a part of that Great Cloud that is here and present now with us. And you too, Saints… not just those who have gone on in the next step of journey and existence, but you too, who still occupy a place and presence in our midst, living breathing Saints who are still shaping and molding not just who you are on this journey of life and faith but who we are as a community of faith.
And Saints… at least in my experience, are those who are very aware of the fear laden world in which they live. It is not a life and faith absent of fear, as if any one of us can simply turn off our fears like a light switch when we no longer have need of it. But it is an awareness, an awake-ness, a mindfulness of what and where our fear lies and the ability to manage and use the energy it produces for the good of all. That is at least in part how I see a Saint, not perfect…as if… but Saints… who now and then feed our hearts and souls… feed the hearts and souls of the world and moment in which they exist… Not ones without bumps and warts and imperfections… But perhaps those simply.. .Brave enough… Vulnerable enough.. .Aware enough to be themselves… Unique and Unrepeatable… Those we know who are awake to their own fear and know where to place it.
I suspect we all know those to whom we look up… When we think of “Saint” we think of them… who always seem to rise to the top… those behind the scenes that just seem to make things happen, who inspire, encourage, challenge, agitate, create, and manage to make this world a little better, a little more just, a little more kind, and a little more humble just by their presence here. Those we know who have been called out from the depths and darkness of the tombs of fear who no longer let the world bind them up and close them in.
I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s comments on fear from her book, Big Magic, from the first time TruDee read them to me… she wrote –
“Fear, I recognize and respect that you are a part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You are allowed to have a seat and you are allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You are not allowed to touch the road maps; you are not allowed to suggest detours, you are not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you are not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive!”1
These Saints we honor today and all those who have gone on before… all those who are still with us… striving to create the beloved community of justice, kindness, and humility… who refuse to let fear drive… they inspire, they roll away their own stones… they roll away ours and stand at the opening of life and call to us to come forth and throw off the fear that holds us down, holds us back, and silences our voice… who give us the courage to be unique, unrepeatable, vulnerable, light and life giving to the world around us…
As I lay on my bed in the dark of the bedroom staring at the ceiling above me, unable to sleep as I awaited the demise of my short 11-year-old life fear was a consuming fire. And finally I heard it, the rustling of someone up and about and then the footsteps… softly but surely coming toward my bedroom. In the shadows, I saw the silhouette of my dad in the doorway as he came toward my bed. He sat on the edge of the bed and, as I recall, paused just a moment before speaking… “Enjoy the movie?” he asked… “Yes,” I lied. He went on, “You know you are not supposed to go anywhere without asking first, especially out of town?” “Yes,” I said. He lay his hand on my knee as he rose to his feet saying, “Don’t do it again.” He said as he walked out of the room and back to his bed. I suspect he felt I had probably punished myself enough by then. And as shocked and suppose bewildered as I was in that moment, in hindsight I can say it was one of the first times I can name unconditional love from my parents. That experience said to me there was nothing I could do that would impair my dad and mom’s love for me… oh, there were always consequences to my actions… but there was never a moment where I feared they would stop loving me. And that kind of love… that kind of calling out of fear… forms and molds our journey as we continue to deepen our spirituality and faith… together.
For I believe, always….and especially on this All Saints Sunday Celebration… We are immersed in a sea of love, filled within, surrounded without, buoyed in an eternal connection one to another. And whether it is a few blocks, a few towns, a State or States, miles upon miles that stand between us, or that expansive mystery we call death, we are connected as surely as if we stand side by side. For as the poet Rumi writes, Love is the Whole and we are but a part, and in the Spirit of the Divine, there is nothing, nothing that can separate us from Love.
This…Is So! Amen.
Salaam, Shalom, Peace Be with You.
1 Gilbert, Elizabeth (2015), Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear. Riverhead Books, New York.