Choose Life, Choose Love

All Saints’ Day
November 1st, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-13
Matthew 5:1-12

If you don’t have a Bible handy, click here for these readings.

           On this day, four years ago, my daughter Gwendolyn was baptized into the Church of God. It was on All Saints’ Day, 2016, at All Saints’ Chapel in Sewanee, Tennessee. My parents were there, Helene’s parents were there, Gwendolyn’s godparents, my good friends Joseph and Isabella, were there as well. And All Saints’ Chapel, I mean, yeah it’s called a chapel, but this is the chapel of the University of the South – the building is huge. You’d think it was a cathedral. The ceiling is thirty feet tall or more, and all the walls are covered in stained glass. Most of the people there we didn’t know, though we knew some. Later that month, when we brought in Gwendolyn for her monthly check up, her doctor happily told us that she was there at the baptism, too.

            “I heard Gwendolyn’s name  announced and I though, ‘Oh, I know her!’” She was so happy. She was so happy to know this little girl who was being baptized, that she had tended to and would tend to her little life as she grew older. She told us about her being there as if she, the doctor herself, had touched grace, had touched God, had been taken into that baptism along with Gwendolyn in that huge chapel that was really like a cathedral. That she was part of it all.

            And the thing is, she was – and she is. When there’s a baptism, we’re all involved. We’re all part of that sacrament. We all touch that grace. This past summer, at little Theodore Brown’s baptism, I mentioned that those people who were there present at Gwendolyn’s baptism, those people who were here at Fiona’s and Cooper’s in this very building, and those who were present at Theodore’s out there on the little lawn in front of the church office – all of those people, bound together and individually, too, are still part of each of those children’s lives.

            In one way, sure, Dr. Heath in Sewanee, Tennessee is not in Gwendolyn’s life anymore. She’s still practicing medicine down in Sewanee, seeing other children and maybe even seeing a few of her patients be baptized. If I wrote to her and told her that I was preaching about her, she’d probably be surprised, though I think a bit touched, knowing her (she was and is an incredibly kind woman). The same could be said about many of you with Theodore. You may not have seen him since that day when he was baptized, and you might never see him again. But you are still part of his life, because you are both part of the Church, of the Body of Christ, and for that, there is no end.

            And all this is kinda what Jesus is getting at in our gospel reading today. Here are the Beatitudes, one of the foundations of our lives as Christians, one of the bedrocks of the Church, one of the guides that Jesus has given us to live into the fullness of his being. This is it. This is what he’s acting out in his healing ministries. This is what Jesus is doing when he goes to lepers, the dying, and the dead and heals them. These are the words to describe what Jesus did on the Cross, and what happened in the Resurrection. The Beatitudes are an image of the Christian life, and they are a most precious teaching. They are, as we say in our liturgy, the Word of the Lord.

            And each and every one of them is about hope. Now, there are two pats of hope. First of all, there’s the expectation part of hope. So, for instance, I really hope that, when I get home this afternoon, Helene will say to me, “Tim, we’re having pizza tonight for dinner.” I hope this will happen. I hope that this future, this pizza future, you might say, I hope that this pizza future will become my present. I hope that eight hours from now I will be sitting down at the dinner table, sliding another slice of gooey, cheesy pizza onto my plate. And then I will eat it. And it will be good.

            This is a hope, right? It might come true, it might not, but I hope it will. I hope that future will soon be present, like I hope to have a good Thanksgiving, or a good Christmas, or I hope one day to travel to Japan again. My hope is in the future, for now – and hopefully just for now. That’s the first part of hope, that something in the future will be realized.

            But there’s another part of hope, and that’s reality. Now, you’d all call me a fool, or a bit silly, if I said that I hoped to exchange my car for a dinosaur. No more driving to work in a little black car: I want to ride down the streets of Coquille in style – on the back of a dinosaur. And to this, maybe you’d say, “Yes, Father Tim, but you know that there aren’t any dinosaurs anymore, right? They’re all gone.” And I’d say, “Yes, but I hope for it anyway.” This isn’t hope; it’s delusion. And while I might hope really really really hard to have a dinosaur to ride to work instead of a car, because man wouldn’t that be cool, believing that this hope would come true is just silly. Again, it isn’t hope, it’s not faith; it’s delusion.

            This bit about the dinosaur is, hopefully, a funny example, but think of it this way: if you’ve ever spoken with someone who is depressed – like, really depressed, not just a little down, but really and truly depressed – there is a sense in that person that things will never change. God forbid, but perhaps you’ve felt that feeling, too. That this sorrow, this grief, this oppression, or whatever it is, that this will just keep on going, forever. There will be no end. You can hope, but it’s like hoping for a dinosaur to ride to work. No, this is reality. This darkness, this depression, this nothingness – this is reality. That’s what depression can feel like.

            And one of the things Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes is that help isn’t just coming some time in the future, help isn’t just like wanting a dinosaur to ride to work – but that help exists. That freedom, or peace, or safety – that help itself isn’t just some bugbear to taunt us when we really know, deep down, that we are alone. Help is real, healing is real, freedom and peace and love are real things that are not just there someplace in the world out there if we can find ‘em, but that are persons, that is God the Trinity, a presence and a personality fighting for you, fighting to ease your burden, to lift you up from your sorrow and depression, to burst those chains of hatred and evil that bind you. It is okay to hope in that, because it’s real, and it loves you, and it would – and did – give it’s life to save you.

            Those are powerful words. That’s a powerful message. And we need them now more than ever. This could be a tough week ahead of us, but it doesn’t have to be. Whatever happens with this election, there could be anger, confusion, and division. But there doesn’t have to be. We could get through this election closer as a country than we were before. Further division, further hatred, doesn’t have to be the answer to whatever happens on Tuesday. There is another choice, and it is, in fact, what God called us to, and what God is calling us to, even now.

            So have hope. Love can change all things, for Love has changed all things. Love was born into this world, Love was hung on a cross, and Love was raised again to everlasting life. We were baptized into that Love, and in that Love we live, and move, and have our being. That Love connects us to our family, no matter how far they’re apart, no matter how long ago they died. That Love is Lord of all. And that Love is calling us to a way of life. Live that Love. Have hope. See the reality that is Love and say to it, “Yes, yes, and a thousand times: yes!”

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