1 John 3.1-3 and Revelation 7.9-17
We live in a world that finds endless ways to discount people. I don’t need to tell you this. You see it all around you. You suffer it yourselves too. All the descriptions and conditions and derogations whereby the children of God are judged to count less than our Parent in Heaven created us to be.
In the extreme — some people are so devalued as to be made not to matter at all. To be thrown away or even destroyed. God forgive us.
This happens so often and on so many different levels is becomes normalized in our world. We’re hardly able to recognize when it happens, tease it out as anything different from business as usual. It happens from surface and superficial all the way down to stabbing at our hearts, strangling our breathing, denying us daily bread or the love we need… the very necessities that allow us to survive.
Have you ever been in a setting or group that intends to be safe space and permission-giving… where a rule of all the interactions becomes “no put downs (of others or yourself)”– that’s trying to raise up our consciousness and change our behaviors in a world we denying people’s humanity is a default position.
It’s impossible to imagine or relate to, much less see we what one another and ourselves would look like … could be like… without constantly degrading pecking orders, one upmanship trying to maintain the world’s pyramids of power and privilege… without all the dismissing and damaging that passes for the way things have to be.
We’re so enculturated, we take our measures and pass our judgements all the time and all the way down to the unconscious. We have reasons galore… oh, in polite society we don’t like to mention them very often, but we follow the sick logic to their disastrous conclusions nonetheless.
Which is to say come up with reasons to ignore, overlook, turn away, step over, step on or simply stop worrying about other people all the time. All the time. God forgive us!
* * * * * * *
We live in a world where people wonder if church makes any difference any more. I understand their question: the church is an imperfect institution. And often sort of antiquated, even irrelevant. Broken even. Yes, church can let us down. Turn out to be wooden. Wrong headed. Boring. Even a bit dead. Yep, church can be just as human as other institutions.
But there’s one difference. The church is charged with treasuring, holding up, passing on, living out God’s vision. Not any vision we came up with. Probably not any vision we could come up with. But instead a picture that’s too good to have come from even the best that humans could produce. We have been entrusted with God’s perspective on things.
We’re not the only ones so entrusted, let’s watch out and not give too full of ourselves. We aren’t God’s only servant people; not the only one, true holy community. There are many of those because God’s that good and loves us all that much… But our non-exclusiveness doesn’t lessen the importance of the work we are to do for God… that doesn’t mean the commitment God’s given us and our calling are any less important.
Because God has shown us something we couldn’t see on our own– a picture of humanity in which each and every last one of us is eternally sacred. More than that, God has asked us to live out such a vision. To model it, and to share it and to teach it.
It’s get down to this: God loves you just as you are. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want each of us to continue to grow. Or that God’s blind to the ways we fall terribly short. What it does mean is that no matter where you are, how you are, who you are, you are immediately, ultimately and at every half-baked point in between acceptable, incredibly loved and eternally important. No exceptions. No exceptions, no batter how bad you think you are or someone else is trying to tell you you are.
As I posted yesterday on the church’s facebook page, with thanksgiving to Dr. Seuss and the Cat in the Hat, All Saints Day means among other things:
Today you are you.
That is truer than true.
There’s no one alive
who’s Youer than You!
Beloved, there’s a deep and enduring blessing for all of us that each of us is here.
Because in our faith, there’s no reducing people into a means to an end. Each of us is always and forever an end in her or himself. That’s what God’s love means. And the real difference the church is supposed to make in our world.
God does not want to see a hair on our heads harmed, even if its a consequence of some fool thing we do or cause to happen to ourselves.
And this isn’t just true now; Not just true in the “wanna make-believe of sunday morning church.” It’s true eternally. As I wrote in this week’s E-pistle, “Folks today often have trouble believing in an afterlife. And Old First is the kind of church where some people count eternity integral to their faith, while others believe this life is all there is.”
Beloved, I’m not going to try and argue you into believing in any of the almost unavoidably silly images we humans come up with for eternal life… those long white robes, and feather wings and gold halos. Nope, I’m simply going to say this:
You and you and you, each of us, and everyone who went before us and all those who will come after us are so important to God that nothing can finally undo us. Destroy us. Erase us. Not even death. Think about it: if even the dead are too important to forget, how that elevates the standing of even the least of the living? How different then is this picture than how the nightly news simply ticks off all the lives lost and wasted and underappreciated as if to reinforce or even defend how expendable human beings are?
Christian faith is countercultural. It says that your hurts and all of your concerns, even the petty ones, matter. God knows and cares And this same faith pushes you farther, saying that all of your neighbors, even your enemies, and those you wish had never been conceived, they matter too. And that you have to live your life according to that truth. That in so doing, your life will we be bigger, better.
The Christian faith teaches us not to take life from others on the false hope that we might thereby have more. Instead, it calls us to lives of giving and sharing so that others might live more abundantly. To top this all off, part of the divine mystery or miracle of Christian faith is that giving and sharing is how our lives become abundant..
This isn’t what we hear often these days or in our world. But it’s pretty straightforward. God holds you in God’s very heart all the days of your life– no matter how mixed up, turned around or down right ornery you choose to be.
And that same Divine embrace– its reach doesn’t stop with this life. No, it goes farther, longer. God doesn’t let you go when you die. Even then you are stll in God’s heart. We’re to live and die likewise: treasuring God and everyone else in our hearts in all ways.
Our Affirmation of Faith today will be one of our more practical one, even “this-worldly,” particularly after a sermon about eternity. We’ll not just speak words of recommitment, but take action together. We’ll take part together in the UCC’s Mission 1, a church-wide focus on ending hunger:
Each day 15 to 20,000 human beings starve to death needlessly — because the earth produces enough food to feed us all. The Church is exhorting us to participate in Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters. To advocate for hungry people, people at risk of starvation. To say to the leaders of our own country, “we need to form a circle of protection around the globes most vulnerable brothers and sisters, And our country can make a difference, go a long way, ought to go far towards making sure that hunger is ended. Even when we are facing deficits… People count more.
You’ll find four postcards in your bulletin. The Sunday Schoolers designed them with images of why they believe Old First is against hunger.
When you came in, you should have gotten the Mission !: address sheet, with either the addresses of our PA or NJ legislators. (Anyone need one?)
We’re inviting you to read the message printed on the postcard, and if you feel so moved, address one to President Obama, one each to your two Senators and one to your Representative. You might add a short note. Make sure you sign your name and list your address and e-mail at the bottom. We’ll collect them and send them all together.
If you don’t feel called to write, that’s ok too. Either way, just pass your cards, filled out or blank towards the center (the reverse of the friendship pads) and leaders from our Outreach SLG will collect them during the hymn.
As our part of Mission: 1, we want to collect as many as 1100 postcards. We could collect 4-500 today. But if you have friends who would like to fill these cards out, we will have extra cards in the upper narthex and at the Wellspring table after worship. Bring them back next Sunday…
Because every last person counts. Starting in this life… every last person counts ultimately, eternally… In faith, no one can remain just a number to us, or faceless victim or an unavoidable casualty. Christian faith calls us to a higher standard… Amen.