God Will Prevail
“When I cannot say all is well or all is known,
help me say all is held, so I never believe all is lost.” - @cobbleworks
Friends, if your heart is broken right now, then you have come to the right place. Not because we can fix it, but simply because you’re in good company.
Honestly, I think we’re all a little heart broken right now. All Saints is the most tender day in the church year, the day when we remember those we have loved and lost.
We remember their names. We ring the chimes. We give thanks for all they meant to us in this life and and all they still mean to us in the life to come. And that, in and of itself, is enough to break your heart.
I miss Dan Polachek, a man who lived his life in service to so many with such care and integrity. I miss Bette Barto’s courage and feistiness. I miss Rosa Ramos’ beautiful soul and gentle smile and Shirley Griffin’s faith and love and encouraging spirit.
I miss my grandmothers and my father-in-law, old friends and new. And I know you all have dear ones that you are missing as well. That’s a big reason why we’re all hear today.
But you layer on the shooting in Lewiston, the war in Gaza, the plight of refugees and hostages, civilians and soldiers, … and it’s all too much. It’s just too much.
I couldn’t sleep the night before I wrote this sermon. I knew things were bad, but I actually read some of the news beyond the headlines which is something I rarely do anymore.
I looked at a few of the pictures of family members holding pictures of missing loved ones:
loved ones gone forever up in Maine,
loved ones kidnapped by Hamas,
little ones bleeding and crying as their loved ones scooped them up and rushed them away from the most recent bombing in Gaza toward hospitals that have run out of the supplies they need to treat them,
and I couldn’t unsee that pain when I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
The world is awash in tears right now and because we care, we are awash with it. Am I right? Are you hurting as much as me? Are you feeling all this as deeply as I am? Of course you are.
And because I love you, my first instinct is to wipe the tears away. I desperately want to make it all better for all of us. So much so that I want to give you permission to never read the news again. I want to give you all techniques to minimize your exposure to the pain of the world.
I want to go back to that beautiful essay that Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote during the pandemic - maybe you remember this from vespers - the one where she compared our psyches to the old fuse box in her first apartment. Anyone else remember that one?
She talked about the wiring in her first apartment that couldn’t handle the voltage of a hair dryer and a record player running at the same time.
I think of that fuse box often,” she wrote, “because… I just do not think our psyches were developed to hold, feel and respond to everything coming at them right now; every tragedy, (every) injustice, (every) sorrow and natural disaster happening to every human across the entire planet, in real time every minute of every day.
The human heart and spirit were developed to be able to hold, feel and respond to any tragedy, injustice, sorrow or natural disaster that was happening IN (Y)OUR VILLAGE,” (she said, but not the whole world.) “So my emotional circuit breaker keeps overloading,” said Nadia, “because the hardware was built for an older time.”
That tracks, doesn’t it? And yet you know as well as I do that all of that information coming at us from various media demands a response. We’ve all been conditioned at this point to feel like we’re part of the problem if we’re not actively working toward a solution. Silence equals violence, and all that…
But no one can solve it all and very few of us are in a position to say, solve things happening half way around the world. So in that essay, Nadia advised us all to narrow our focus and figure out what is ours to respond to in our immediate environment.
(Ask yourself, she said:) What is MINE to care about and what’s NOT mine to care about?
To be clear – that is not to say that (the things you’re letting go of are) not worthy to be cared about by SOMEONE, only that (your) effectiveness in the world cannot extend to every worthy to be cared about event and situation. …The world is on fire literally and metaphorically. But …(you) only have so much water in (your) bucket to help with the fires. The more exposure (you) have to the fires (you) have NO WATER to fight, the more likely (you are) to get so burned, and inhale so much smoke that (you) cannot help anymore with the fires (you can put out).
It’s not an issue of values,” she says, “it’s an issue of MATH….It’s ok to do what is YOURS to do. Say what’s yours to say. Care about what’s yours to care about….I’m not saying we should put our heads in the sand. I’m saying that if your circuits are overwhelmed there’s a reason and the reason isn’t because you are heartless, it’s because there is not a human heart on this planet that can bear all of what it happening right now.”
I so appreciated her words at the time and I have carried them with me and taken refuge within them when my circuit breaker was overblown. Essentially, Nadia was advising us to “brighten the corner where we are” and there is great wisdom in that; great wisdom.
And friends, if that is the message you need to hear today, I commend it to you. If tending to your partner or a friend, your child, or even your own broken heart is the work before you right now, if that’s is what you can handle, that is ok and that is enough.
But if all of this is hitting you so hard that you can’t look away, I understand that too. I think there is also something to be said for letting the world break you wide open because there is a solidarity in that brokenness that the world needs right now.
There is a solidarity in the recognition that I have so much more in common with the heartbroken around the world than I might care to realize or acknowledge.
There is solidarity in the truth that none of us is immune to suffering because all of us are fragile, mortal, vulnerable, and the only truly significant things that separates me right now from a mother in Lewiston or a mother in Gaza or Ukraine or Israel is location and circumstance.
We are all human.
If you cut us, shoot us, bomb us - any of us - we bleed.
If you harm our children, we break.
The brokenness I see out there is breaking me….and as hard as it is to bear, I think there is something holy and right and good in that solidarity that shows us a path forward.
Now this is going to get a little mystical and this is a much harder message to receive, but see if you can follow me here.
Richard Rohr says that the saints are those who see the connectedness of all things. “To be a person of faith,” he says, “means you see (all) things—people, animals, plants, the earth—as inherently connected to God, connected to you, and therefore, worthy of love and dignity.” He says, “the more you can connect, the more of a saint you are.”
And that makes sense to me because I believe that God’s ultimate goal is to connect us all, to bring all of creation back into oneness with God, to reconcile all of heaven to earth, to make all things new. Saints, then, are the ones who participate in that work of mending all that is broken by seeing and building on our connections to one another, but especially those who are other.
The saints of God are the ones who focus on what we have in common, who act with compassion and understanding, grace and peace, not just toward those who are like them, but most especially toward those who are not.
The more the saints of God connect to others, allow themselves to feel the pain of others, work to alleviate the suffering of others, but especially those who are other - people of other tribes and religions, other classes and races, their neighbors and their enemies, essentially anyone who is not like them - the more they bring heaven to earth and the more heavenly they become in the process.
I believe that is the strange and wondrous revelation at the heart of our reading this morning. Look at this vision of heaven. God isn’t just gathering one type of people around the throne - but people of every language, tribe, and nation - more people than can be counted - all of the people who have been through the ordeal, all of the people who have suffered, which, last I checked…was all of us.
I believe that all of us have a place in the throne room of God. All of us have a shepherd in the lamb, waiting to guide us to the water of life. All of us belong to a God who will one day wipe away every tear from our eyes.
I believe the saints are the ones who understand this…who understand that we all belong to the same God. Saints don’t dehumanize their enemies, but see our common humanity. They understand that if God is not going to give up on any one person than we can’t either.
And precisely because they understand this, the saints of God have the capacity to see beyond and behind the destructive behaviors of people straight into their wounded and grieving hearts.
Like their shepherd, the Lamb, they respond to hurtful behavior with compassion for the pain beneath because they too know what it is to suffer.
On some deep level they understand that you don’t do what Hamas has done unless you are hurting and afraid.
You don’t do what Israel is doing right now unless you are hurting and afraid.
You don’t do what the gunman in Maine did unless you are hurting and afraid.
You don’t hurt innocent people anymore than you would crucify a lamb like Jesus unless you are hurting and afraid.
But the saints among us understand that if we respond to the horrible things people do when they are hurting and afraid with violence and retribution, we only create more hurt and fear, which only leads to more violence and retribution, which further breaks the world we are trying to repair.
The only cure for it all is to be willing - like Jesus on the cross, like the lamb before the throne - to absorb the hurt and not hurt back, to respond to those who are hurting you with forgiveness because they know not what they do, to die for love of others - especially the other - but not to kill…never to kill.
Laura sent me a clip of an interview with a father whose son was killed in the shooting in Lewiston, Maine. From his words it is clear that he is a man of faith, a true follower of Jesus, a saint of God who may well be sitting in church right now hearing the bell toll as his son’s name is being read.
“Hate will never bring my son back. I’m sure this man, whatever happened to his mind, I’m sure he wasn’t born to be a killer. And I’m sure he has a father and mother that would have never believed this would happen with him. All I can say is that I’m sorry that it happened… to all of us… and I’m sorry about what may happen to him. And God will prevail.”
That man is suffering. His heart is broken. But even in his suffering he can see the suffering in the man who took the life of his son. He can still see that man’s humanity.
He is allowing himself to stay connected to what is still redeemable in that man, trusting that God will heal them both, trusting that God will wipe away his tears and the tears of the one who did him harm, trusting that the God who has promised to make all things new will ultimately prevail. That is the sort of solidarity I am talking about, and God, does it hurt. But that is the only way I know to heal the world.
May it be so and may it be soon. Amen