First Congregational Church
November 4, 2018
All Saints Sunday
“The Kingdom of God Is”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It has been said that Maria Fedorovna, Empress of Russia and wife of Tsar Alexander III, was known for her charitable works. In fact, she once saved a condemned man from exile in Siberia by changing a single comma in the warrant signed by her husband. Instead of reading: "Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia," she changed the document to read: "Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia." That man’s little kingdom was much different than what it might have been in Siberia.
A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, "The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.” His son asked, "What happened to the flea?” (…take his wife and flee out of the city…) The young son’s kingdom is attentive.
I read of a Sunday School teacher describing the time when Lot's wife looked back at Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt, when Bobby interrupted. "My mommy looked back once while she was driving," he announced, "and she turned into a telephone pole.” Bobby’s kingdom is sweetly graphic and real.
This morning’s scripture passage talks about the Kingdom of God, and it follows a number of passages, over several chapters, where a person goes to Jesus and asks him a pointed question about being “great.” This morning’s question comes from a scribe — a teacher of the law - one who had to have at least a working knowledge of the law.
Mark 12:28-34 The Greatest Commandment
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Thank you, Marti. Garrison Keillor probably wouldn’t have described this past week as a quiet one in Lake Wobegone. Might not necessarily anticipate a quiet one in the week to come, either. National dis-ease, thousands of deaths of all kinds, and yet, we have taken time aside from it all, to worship God and honor the gift of the circle of life. Keeping all those things in mind, and holding the morning’s passage in heart, I was a little curious what God would have to say this week. I am still waiting….
Scott Simon was interviewing former Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, on her new collection of poems called Monument. In talking about the general topic of poetry, and its role today, Natasha said, “Poetry asks, it demands of us in many ways, that we slow down. That we engage with language that isn't soundbites and uncivil, language that allows us to see ourselves in the intimate experience of others.”
Even though poetry isn’t really my thing, I got a little excited because I’d stuck away a couple of things earlier in the week, from my daily poem sender-outer, Steven Garnaas-Holmes. Mr. Garnaas-Holmes has a way of using words and ordering them in arrangements that are so much better than what I could do - I think. And isn’t that part of what we celebrate on this particular day; the special gifts that each of us are given - some gifts that are yet to be discovered and some gifts remembered?
Long about Tuesday or so, Mr. Garnaas-Holmes wrote this - which I warn - has the potential to unsettle - unless you listen all the way to the end.
Sitting with Jewish neighbors
at their temple in shock and fear
after a synagogue shooting,
feeling their heartbreak and vulnerability,
I confess: for a moment I felt safe.
I am, after all, not one of them.
I will never be shot for being black,
never be murdered for being Jewish or gay.
I am a white, male, well-educated,
middle class, able-bodied Christian.
I'm not the one they'll kill for being myself.
I'm glad that danger is not mine.
That, I confess, is my violence.
When I am glad of my safety,
when I hide behind my privilege
and separate myself from them,
when I think “them” and not “us,”
pretend I am not them
to feel safe—that itself is the violence.
We are one.
Our wholeness includes each other.
I do violence to my own being
when I separate myself,
when I welcome the safety of my privilege
and sever those I think are not part of me.
I am not free until all of us are free.
My only safety is to risk
for the sake of the safety of all.
My only way to be whole
is to be broken with the broken-hearted.
My only salvation is not to be safe.
Today we sit with some of those who are broken-hearted. I think that is part of how we do what Jesus says, about loving neighbors as ourselves. There are no medals or trophies or even kudos for sitting with those who are broken, or broken-hearted, mourning, and even weary. But it is part of how we stay alive - how we “be” alive - when we deal with the hard places and times of life, rather than running from those times and places.
It’s been said before and I’m sure it will be said again, that we find our faith in the hard places. The redeeming part of sitting with those who grieve, or going through grief ourselves is that when we come out the other side of that valley, when we’ve allowed our hearts to heal well, joy is fuller, richer and deeper.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves brings dignity and honor and respect, words that came from the Benzie Area Christian Neighbor’s Communique (newsletter) this week. Part of the article spoke about the trust that is needed that neighbors will be treated with dignity and respect - and the trust that is developed with other groups that resources will be used well. Within the Kingdom of God, the importance of trust and dignity and respect are sometimes overlooked. As God treats each of us in such manner, it only makes sense to pass such gifts on to those around us - regardless of status, financial portfolio or even age.
Simply celebrating the passing on of those who have gone before us is not fully living in the Kingdom of God, because there are those who have just entered this realm, and so we celebrate sorrow and joy today. Out of that loop of sorrow and joy, hope is spun, and while hope can be a dangerous thing, it can also be one of great comfort and promise.
For those of you unable to be here this past Wednesday, the kingdom of God was shining all over the place, first and fore mostly in the young people of the day. From little kids dressed as kittens offering their most innocent and sweet, high-pitched mews, to middle school aged students hurrying into the warmth of the church - stopping their tracks and inviting older people to enter before them, the kingdom of God is all around us, if we just look for it.
This year I was finally able to put together the time and box that became a costume I’ve been wanting to do since my college days - that of a die - a natural play on my name, but a simple hand-painted, get-up. I can’t tell you how many kids came around the corner of the sidewalk, saw my costume, pointed at it and with joy in their voices, said “A dice!” Sad to say, I had to remind myself that they were inviting me to play with them, and once I caught on, I would respond with “A pirate,” or “A ghost!”
The kingdom of God is just waiting for us to realize it and/or enter into it, once we put down the stuff we think is so important that is actually blocking our interchanges with the delight of this world. I am well aware that the woes of the world these days can drag on our hearts like an anchor in a weed-patch on a lake in July. Regardless of political affiliations, our season of mourning or celebrating, our first job is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. Taking the moments we need to remind ourselves of God's goodness and grace and joy are vital to the nourishment of our souls - now and for the long haul.
For those of you who don’t know the term “thin places,” the ancient Celtic people used it to describe mesmerizing places like the wind-swept isle of Iona (now part of Scotland) or the rocky peaks of Croagh Patrick. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.
In this time apart today, perhaps we have entered a thin place, sharing it with each other, seeing the world in ways that are a bit of a stretch, but none-the-less holy. Let us be mindful of those who have gone before us, along with the angels and host of heaven filling every nook and cranny of this place as we pray.
Heavenly and eternal God, thank you. Thank you for those you have given us - all of them making all of us whole. Thank you for the circle of life that displays itself over and over and over - in the falling leaves and in the innocence of young life. Help each of us to realize more poignantly our place in that circle this week - regardless of where any of us might be. Help us know how we can “sit” with those who are broken and broken-hearted and how we can enter into your kingdom more often and more fully. Help all of us be sensitive to those we may unintentionally hurt - by our words or our silence.
To love you with all your heart, understanding, strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” For all the blessings of life, before us, in us and through us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.