I learned a lot about community these past couple of weeks. In response to the death of my father my mother was swept up in this communal show of support and affection. Circles of friends from old neighborhoods; former fellow church members at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, First Church Arlington and current members of the Village Church at Greenspring – calls, notes, visits, food, invites to dinner.
And then all the cards that Deanne and I have received. And last week sitting in the pew with Deanne – words really don’t describe the feeling of love and spirit, just being here in this amazing community. Seeing Derry in the choir – he just lost his father – both of us getting teary as we sang the hymns. Feeling so uplifted and so in awe of Anne and Lois and Rachel.
Many of you know what I am talking about – those of you who have been through this too.
This private, very intimate act of dying – produces this incredible public reaction. It restores your faith in human nature and gives me insight into the very heart of God.
My gosh, my parents next door neighbor, a Trump supporter, immediately makes an egg dish for the Hillary and Bernie supporters… yes, my dad felt the “Bern!” But who cares, right? In the hospital we had two Muslim nurses who did their job with such grace, gentleness and compassion. It doesn’t matter – politics and religion be damned.
In the course of two days while Dad was in the hospital and then in the last days… I saw every race, nationality, creed color, gender, and orientation– truly every barrier was broken down, and those words from Paul “no more male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile” – came alive. We were in the peaceable kingdom. I felt as if I were actually experiencing the vision of Revelation: “See, the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
So the separation of death brings the coming together of the peoples. Unbelievable. This is the miracle. And now I have new eyes and a depth I didn’t have before.
And then there are the “Warrior Widows.” Good God Almighty! That is what I called them, anyway. All of a sudden these women who had lost their spouses swooped in. My Mom is one of them now. These Warrior Widows – and there are a lot of these WWs sitting in these pews – know suffering and loss. They have “been there” and “done that” and they know stuff. They know deep truths that make them powerful. They have been through the “shadow of the valley” and come out stronger, braver, and scarred but scary, sort of.
They have taken suffering and made it a source of wisdom and power and community. I found this quotation from Walter Brueggemann who, way back in 1997 – so twenty years ago – said this:
Suffering in isolation produces violence. But suffering out loud in community produces hope. I don’t know why this is so, but it is. My wife goes off on these feminist church retreats and she comes back a little more dangerous [empowered]…The church and synagogue are one of the few places that can turn anger into energy.
Yes – community, turning anger into energy. That is what Warrior Widows do – they turn loss into power. It is what the Deacons do – they too turn loss into community. This is why this church is a member of Greater Cleveland Congregations because we believe that joining together with other people of faith who are also concerned about the state of our neighborhoods and city is the expression of our faith in Jesus Christ who creates a people where there “was no people” formally. And in Greater Cleveland Congregation there is black and white, Jew, Muslim and Christian, Catholic and Protestant.
The “powers” seek to separate and divide. Death seeks to create an unassailable barrier.
But we know, because we have experienced the reality of the power of community, that isolated we are lost. In community we begin to see glimpses of something down the road, possibilities and hopes coming to fruition. Through Jesus Christ “death no longer has dominion!” These are not just words –they describing reality for those who trust!
This is why the Bible is so clear: you care for the widow and the orphan. You visit the sick in the hospital and the prisoner in jail, you feed the hungry and take care of the homeless and let them take care of you – it is to create community where there is no community, it is get in proximity and create community with those we hope to serve.
This is why we share prayer concerns with the Tuesday pantry lunch: and now we have rich and poor, people who are proud and struggling and we see a common humanity–praying for each other!
This is why “hospitality” is of central value to who we say we want to be – we have to welcome everybody – “It’s what you do!” (I am reminded of that great Geico commercial.) I have shared the story before but remember what the pagans said about the early Christians during a plague epidemic – “Look how they care for each other.”
Now I get it – the Kingdom of God is not only in the by and by. The Kingdom of God has very little to do with where you and I will go after death. It is a beautiful vision. But faith is more than vision, faith is helping create that which we see with the eyes of our hearts in the here and now.
When Jesus said, soon after his baptism, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near (or, is at hand) repent and believe in the good news.” He was stating that the Kingdom of God is present, we need to get a new mind, a new heart, a new set of eyes to see what is right in front of our noses and within our capacity to help construct!
Faith is building the Kingdom in our midst. And I see it in Warrior Widows, and the sweet expressions on each face, and through cards and letters and gentle words and even when you don’t know what to say – but you “shed the sympathizing tear.”
And then we come to these verses in Hebrews. Last week Lois told you to memorize the verses of John 14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Yes, memorize it.
Also memorize this Hebrews passage. It is a scriptural touchstone for me.
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Just let yourself imagine that – shaking off that which seeks to hinder you and running the race. You and I have this heavenly community of all those who have gone before surrounding us with love – cheering us on, we are not alone, even when we are alone. This heavenly community filled with the saints, and the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven (and now with Dwight, and Pop and Elaine) – and if we allow ourselves to imagine this – project this into our daily lives – how strong we can be, we can rise up on wings of eagles and not be afraid.
So we have to continue being together, and reach out to one and all, and including everyone whether we like them or not – the church like no other organization in the world is the place where we witness to heaven – the kingdom of God – it is why we ask for your time, your talent and yes, your treasures – your pledges.
O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth,
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised!
For God has called you and me to be a people, to be a community, to be warriors of inclusion and justice – and you are doing it! I see it. God bless you!