|Today’s scripture readings:
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
It was the first baseball game I watched all season, but on Wednesday night I was among the 40 million Americans who tuned in to game seven of the World Series. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I’m so glad I watched that game. I’ll confess I got a little misty-eyed watching the celebrations on TV when the game was over. I really wished I had been watching the game with Pastor Lois, an avid Cubs fan, who has been saying all season that this really is the year. Those of you who are friends with her on Facebook know she has been a nervous wreck these past few weeks and has been absolutely giddy these past few days.
On Thursday morning, I was oddly moved by all the coverage of Cubs fans celebrating the World Series title. That morning the news anchor on NPR reported, “The Cubs have won the World Series,” and then he added, “Generations of baseball fans were born, lived, and died without hearing that sentence.” A little later in that story a reporter in Chicago interviewed one Cubs fan who could barely be understood through his sobbing. He said he couldn’t help but think of his friends and relatives who never saw the Cubs win a World Series, and now here he was living through it. “It’s bringing back all these memories of them and the good times I had with them,” he said. “I just wish they were here to experience this with me.”
I read another story about a man who made a pact with his father that, if and when the Cubs finally made it to the World Series again, they would be sure to watch the games together. His dad died in 1980, some 36 years ago. But Wednesday afternoon he got in his car and drove all the way from his home in North Carolina to a cemetery in Indiana where he listened to game seven on the radio at his father’s grave.
It seems nobody watching that game wanted to be stuck at home alone in front of the TV. They wanted to be with other fans on the streets outside Wrigley Field, or in a sports bar cheering with friends and strangers alike, or with family watching in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room. And yes, some wished they could share the moment with loved ones who had died. The impulse for most fans was to take it all in as part of a community. I think that’s what I found so moving about this World Series, that it brought people together at a time when there are so many forces driving us apart. I’m not sure I fully realized the toll this vicious, divisive election season had taken on me until I witnessed this baseball game bringing people together in such profoundly moving ways. It was a poignant reminder that we humans are made for community, that there’s more that unites us than divides us, that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke is familiar to many of us. Actually, we’re probably more familiar with the version of this story found in Matthew’s Gospel, which is slightly different. Both Matthew and Luke capture Jesus preaching this sermon in which he proclaims blessings on those accustomed to adversity and sorrow. But unlike Matthew’s version of the story, which has only blessings, Luke includes a series of woes: “Woe to you who are rich. Woe to you who are full. Woe to you who are laughing. Woe to you when all speak well of you.”
To be honest, I could do without the woes. What starts as a beautiful sermon about God’s love for the downtrodden turns dark when Jesus begins cursing those who are well-off. But allow me to make a case for the woes. What if Jesus isn’t threatening hellfire and damnation for folks who are well-to-do and living rich, satisfying lives? What if, instead, Jesus is rebuking those who use their wealth to create a false sense of security? What if he is reprimanding those who imagine themselves to be totally self-sufficient, who live under an illusion that they have no need of God or, for that matter, anyone else? The poor and the hungry and those who mourn—they are people who have learned they can’t make it on their own. Blessed are they, Jesus says, who trust in God, who trust in community, not in their own wealth or their good fortune today. Blessed are they who know they are part of something bigger than themselves.
I wonder if part of what has felt so discouraging about this election season is all the voices trying to convince us that we can achieve a sense of security by turning in on ourselves, voices peddling the illusion that we can go it alone, that we don’t need one another. There’s not much of a sense lately that we are all in this together. Instead, candidates on both sides have pitted identity groups against one another, fracturing our American community and inciting fear, mistrust, and violence. In just a few days, this election will be over. But this toxic discourse has so profoundly poisoned our civic life that we will be struggling with these challenges for years to come. We will find healing only when we stop pursuing the myth that we don’t need one another, that these people are deplorable or those people should be deported. We will find healing when we begin to believe again that all of us together are part of something bigger than ourselves.
How will we be part of the healing?
There’s a couple in Washington, D.C., named Kathy and David, and they have a son in public school. Their son had a friend who didn’t have a stable home life, so they said to this friend, “Come live with us. Eat here. Go to school.” And then that kid had a friend in the same situation, and that kid had a friend, too. And today if you go to Kathy and David’s house, you’ll find 10 or 15 young people at their dining room table eating a meal. But more than anything else, the gift Kathy and David offer these youth is the gift of an audience. They sit and listen as a young man named Ed reads from his phone poetry he’s written, and while a young woman named Kasari sings for them like a New Orleans jazz singer. It’s probably the first time in any of these young people’s lives that an adult has shown they care. Kathy and David understand that each person is created in the image of God and endowed with dignity. They know they are part of something bigger than themselves. And they are healing the world.
Closer to home, at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, the Rev. Carl Walker was feeling overwhelmed by the needs of parishioners’ everyday lives: debt, evictions, dead-end job hunts, criminal records, and homelessness. So in January the congregation began swapping out one of its weekly Wednesday night Bible studies each month for sessions on financial and legal advice. After just a few meetings, these informal Community Power-Ups were beginning to make a difference. One church member who has struggled for a decade with a gross misdemeanor on his record is getting free legal help to get it expunged. A homeless couple is repairing bad credit. Another couple was inspired to cut expenses so they could save for retirement. Randi Roth, the Executive Director of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul, has helped connect Rev. Walker with attorneys and financial advisers willing to donate their services. She says people are distraught about the disparities plaguing our community and want to be part of the solution. The professionals who donate their time refuse to give into the politics of fear, mistrust, and division. They know we’re all in this together, that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. And they are healing the world.
So how will we be a part of the healing? That’s not a rhetorical question. Pray about it. Journal about it. Talk with one another about it. Let’s be about the work of healing our divided and wounded world.
Today is All Saints Sunday. In the last year, many of you have journeyed with loved ones through the final days of their lives, and you have come face-to-face with mortality. In the end, death will come to each one of us. Money may buy us a few more days or weeks or months, but ultimately, no amount of wealth can keep death at bay. Part of the tenderness of the precious final days of one’s life is realizing the limits of our capacity to maintain our own sense of security, recognizing that we are ultimately fully dependent on God’s mercy and love. The gift of mortality is the stripping away of our our imagined self-sufficiency as we turn ourselves over to a community of caregivers who support us through our dying moments, and as we ultimately release ourselves into the eternal care of a loving God. That’s what we celebrate on this All Saints Sunday: We are part of something bigger than ourselves.
Maja Beckstrom, “St. Paul church offers blessings – and bankers,” in the Pioneer Press, March 9, 2016, http://www.twincities.com/2016/03/09/st-paul-church-offers-blessings-and-bankers/.
Justo L. González, Luke, in the Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible series (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
Sarah Henrich, “Commentary on Luke 6:20-31,” on WorkingPreacher.org, 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3088.
Chris Landers, “Nothing will warm your heart more than senior Cubs fans celebrating a World Series title,” on Cut4, November 3, 2016, http://m.mlb.com/cutfour/2016/11/03/208022488/senior-cubs-fans-celebrate-world-series-win.
David J. Lose, “All Saints’ Sunday C: Saintly Vulnerability”, on …In the Meantime, 2016, http://www.davidlose.net/2016/11/all-saints-c-saintly-vulnerability/.
National Public Radio, “Chicago Rejoices: The Cubs Beat The Indians To Win World Series,” on Morning Edition, November 3, 2016, http://www.npr.org/2016/11/03/500480104/chicago-rejoices-cubs-end-108-year-drought-to-win-world-series.
On Being with Krista Tippett, “Transcript for David Brooks and E. J. Dionne – Sinfulness, Hopefulness, and the Possibility of Politics,” October 20, 2016, http://www.onbeing.org/program/david-brooks-and-ej-dionne-sinfulness-hopefulness-and-the-possibility-of-politics/transcript.