This time of year the holidays of Passover and Easter intersect, and as well we should remember this coming week is the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. and now with Spring finally in the air, we come together to celebrate our own renewal by our perseverance through our long winter and our transformation by the love and connection we have with all that is. Through the darkness, through the winter times in our lives, we struggle to see the light ahead. And just as the earth has its seasons, seasons for planting, seasons for growing, seasons for harvesting, there is also a season to allow the lands to be fallow, so it can heal itself so it will be ready to produce again in the future. It is the same with us as human beings.
And why should we be surprised by this, we are a part of the land, not separated from it, when we separate ourselves from all that is, we cut ourselves off from the source of our power, the source of who we are. The word Adam, the name of the first human being in the Bible comes from the Hebrew word adamah which means earth. Thus we are one with the earth and thus one with each other. And as often does, tragedy strikes in the world, or in our life, and we end up feeling cut off, we feel alone, we become fearful for ourselves and others, and we can often become absorbed in our fear and grief and we spiral downward. Sometimes we hit rock bottom, sometimes someone catches us on the way down and then we have to start that long climb. Suffering is a part of life. Everyone suffers in some form or another. Some are minor, some are major, some are personal, some are systemic, some seem arbitrary, but the question I ask you to face today is how do we deal with suffering. This is one of the great questions that religion from time immemorial has tried to answer. I think it is important to understand that when we suffer, we must realize that we are on a journey, a journey from loss to anger to depression to despair, to indifference, to acceptance, to healing and finally to the renewal of spirit. I think it is important to understand that everyone handles suffering differently.
But we must love something or someone very much to be in pain at its/their loss. To never have such love, is to never to live fully into our best selves. Often though we get stuck on our life journey in the anger depression and despair part of the journey. We shut down our emotions as a way to cope with the pain, we believe if we harden ourselves, if we never let anyone or anything get close to us again, we will never have to feel such pain again. This is deceptive practice. It may be necessary for a time, to lay fallow, to give us time to rest and process and heal.
But if we never leave this place, if we never open ourselves to trust others again, if we never open our heart to love, we forget what it is like to love, whether to love ourselves or to love our neighbors, and being cut off from such emotions people often end up leading lives of quiet desperation, lives of self-destruction or even causing others destruction. I am reminded of the story told by Rev. William Sloane Coffin at the funeral of the death of his son who died in a car accident. One of his parishioners said “Sometimes I just cant understand the will of God” Sloane replied “I'll say you don't…God’s heart was the first to break”
Do not deny your pain. Have the courage to face your loss, to live with it and to realize that within that pain is the seed of love, a seed that has to be watered, a seed that can grow again. As the song Halleujah said, even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the lord of song with nothing on my lips but hallelujah, Be grateful for the fact that you felt something so deeply, that you have the ability to feel something so deeply. Be grateful for the gift of life and the gift of love. That seed is still within every person.
But to allow that seed to grow I do think it is important to have a vision that renewal is possible, accepting that we may not know how long it will take us to get there, or even how to get there, but if we don’t have that vision, it is too easy to get stuck in despair. Even if we don’t know if we can get there in our lifetime, our life, the life we lead can be a beacon of light and can be healing to others. Often our way out of suffering is to help others out of their suffering. This message has long resonated from the Judea-Christian religious tradition
Moses was not allowed to go to the promised land.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we are told
“that the Lord showed Moses the whole of this land. I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there” The reason why? We are told in the book of Numbers that this punishment and the Death of his brother Aaron, were due to Moses and Aaron taking credit for providing water on their wilderness journey instead of attributing it to God. A little harsh punishment if you ask me, and maybe there is more that was left out of the story, but in that story, we see the arbitrariness that life can give us, things we have no control over. But we cant let that stop us.
If Moses stopped at the point in the desert when he learned he would not step foot in the promised land, perhaps none of the Hebrews would have made it.
Closer to our time period, Martin Luther King Jr. just a few days before he would be assassinated said “
“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And Gods allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”
I ask you what are we doing to make sure that his sacrifice was not in vain. We are in the middle of a time when many are still, over 40 years after his death still suffering the affects of racism that continues today. Are we renewing our spirit as it deals with oppression in this country, in our community. What are we doing to make sure that MLK mountaintop view is in view for everyone to see.
And of course today being Easter, in the Christian tradition, today marks the day that Jesus’s followers felt the renewal of his spirit that inspired them to create communities that looked at the world in a very different way compared to the one they lived in.
However much some Church’s actions may seem to Counter the gospel message of Jesus, let us focus on the fact that he spent much of his ministry worshiping with, eating with teaching and healing others. He did all this particularly with those who were not in the mainstream of society. His was a radical message that everyone mattered, a radical message that teaches us about healing others and healing ourselves through an inclusive ministry.
Each of these people, and many many more, knowing they were putting themselves in harm’s way, having suffered themselves, knowing the risk to themselves, nevertheless acted to reduce the suffering of others.
We look back on them now, and they appear to be giants, but they were just people, people who wanted to end suffering. Each could have had comfortable lives, a sheepherder, a minister, a carpenter, but they were the right person at the right time in history. And they had the courage to do what was needed of them and the courage to be who they were meant to be. And I am asking you, what are you the right person for in this time and place, In what ways are you helping to heal others and to change the way we look at and live in the world. What are you willing to sacrifice to help build the beloved community. What are you willing to let go of?
Are you willing to let go of your fear, are you willing to let go of the way things have always been, Are you willing to let go of the need to be right. Lastly to be healed, we must learn to forgive. We must learn to forgive ourselves for our own imperfections. We must learn to forgive others, others who left too soon, others who hurt us, others who think differently then us. Forgiveness too requires letting go. We must let go of our sanctimoniousness, we must let go of our obsession with having been aggrieved, we must let go of our mindset that we must get even. And lastly to quote the late Rev. Forest Church, “we must let go of our control over everything that lies beyond our power, including our control over others, over events, and over the future. He goes on to say, (I love this line) fear accompanies us all the way to the grave, but we needn’t hold its hand or accept its cold comfort.” Most of my childhood and into young adulthood, I lived in constant fear…would I get a good grade, would the girl like me, would I hit the winning basket, would I live through the day, would I get the job, would I keep the job. In retrospect, the answers were yes, sometimes, once, yes, sometimes, yes. You can match them up later, but you noticed, there were a lot of yeses, yet sometimes fear prevented me from even trying. The goal is to transcend our fears, even embrace our fears, and risk some pain, risk putting ourselves out on a limb. As Will Rogers said that is where the fruit is. And the fruit that I speak of is making a real and deep connection, connections with your emotions, and a connection with others. And such connections will lead to a real change in the world and in your world.
Let us remember why we come together. We are here to build the beloved community. We walk together with each other on this journey of life. It is a journey that is filled with thought provoking conversations, eating, singing, some dancing and much joy.
But it is also a journey for walking with each other in times of challenge and suffering. It is a journey of opening our hearts and being a presence in each other’s lives. Even when it is uncomfortable. It is a journey to create a culture of love and compassion. So let us take pause for a moment and recognize how our hearts break with the suffering we experience in our lives and in the world. Then let us remember that we are not alone, we have each other. We can make a difference in each other’s lives. And we can make a difference in the lives of other people in our community who are suffering. In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says "there is a light within each person, and it lights up the whole universe. If it does not shine, there is darkness.” Let us push away the stone that keeps us and others in darkness and blocks the light from our lives, let us let the light in and let us shine our lights on each other and the world. To quote another Leonard Cohen song Anthem (that is the quote in the order of service) “Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack, a crack in everything, That is how the light gets in.” Let us be renewed Hallelujah!! A holy and a broken Hallejuah
May it be so.