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When the First Things Have Passed

Revelation 21:1-6a and Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Sunday October 31st, 2021

By Rev. Nicole Lamarche

Welcome again from all of the places you are experiencing this worship service today. I give thanks that this technology has allowed us to stay connected. Being able to share worship and our message of radical love more widely is part of our digital ministry and it is a pandemic silver-lining that we can greet you and worship God together while keeping you safe in Frasier Meadows and Sunrise and beyond and also right here. So welcome from wherever you are, to this time where we get the chance to be filled and renewed for all of the ways we live and love and give back in the world.

To prepare my spirit and all of ours to be open to God in new ways, I offer this prayer and you are invited to join in silence or in word. Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Grief does not change you, it reveals you, that’s what author John Green wrote. And I don’t know if I agree with it entirely because while grief does seem to pull back layers to tell our hearts and bodies and minds how much we loved, what we really felt, I think maybe grief does change us. And it has changed us. I am seeing that grief can soften us or harden us. It can open us or close us. The good side of grief to me is something like what you heard from the poet Naomi Shihab Nye “Before you know what kindness really is, you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth…” Grief can make us meaner or it can make us kinder because it forces us to remember how fleeting all of this is, how quickly things can change, which can invite us to either hold on tighter or draw the circle wider as we are forced to live with the reality of this pandemic moment, which has indeed felt like some of our ideas of the future have dissolved in a moment, like salt in a weakened broth. It feels even more precious now, living with this truth. I suspect that is the gift of grief.

We are in week three of our series on help and today we are exploring how we can have help in grieving and mourning. Not all of us find grieving a comfortable task, but it is an essential part of our tradition and I believe right now it is ritual we so desperately need. I didn’t realize how significant doing this fully and intentionally might be- until this year, when the losses have been ongoing and some of them deep. Not only has our community continued to endure an ongoing pandemic, carrying on with whoever was willing- calling and caring and creatively connecting, learning new things, adding small groups and a worship service, growing in our commitments to one another, sharing generously beyond us to support our community in an economic crisis, we have survived a gun violence massacre at our grocery store, a wound that is still present, but now in the form of construction equipment and new siding showing signs more change is on the way, we have survived a loss of hope. We have survived the loss of beloved members, the loss of certain ways of worshiping, the loss of rituals we loved so much- rituals that lifted us up, like singing in the choir and sharing coffee and cookies and being close in and we have lost being squished into this sanctuary with our precious and powerful band of diverse and wonderful humans on a shared spiritual journey.

And now we are surviving the loss of bandwidth and patience, we are surviving a reality that I confess took me a while to accept. This message took me longer than usual to write because I sobbed so hard, I couldn’t see my computer screen. And here is the truth that I think we all need to accept: some things won’t ever be like they were before. I struggle with this daily now and I think we need to start to let ourselves say it out loud, so we can hold one another up and so we can cry and love what is. Enough time has passed that some business have already closed and some organizations won’t be able to pivot fast enough. Some ways of being together simply won’t be like they were, at least for a long while. I am sad about this, living in it, not on the other side of it. Disappointment and tears and honestly grief. Denial can work for a while, until we keep running into walls, expecting something or someone or some familiar experience to be there, some moment to return, but it doesn’t and it won’t and in some parts it is clear to me that it isn’t good for any of us to simply live with disappointment as the default forever.

I guess for a while we can carry on and just do and do and do and I have noticed some people are doing this or compartmentalizing so we don’t really feel it. I see some people trying to squish “life as it was” back into now, but then things just feel off, because we can’t return to the there, because there is no there, there in the same way. Or there is the group that seems to be getting the fact that some things won’t ever be like they were before, that some trends were just sped up, that some of the unveilings mean we can’t unsee what we saw and for some people this means anger and looking for people and places to blame. And then there is the group of us that seems to be waiting. And I have heard many people in our own community say this and I have to admit it breaks my heart. Waiting for things to be normal before they reconnect, waiting for things to be normal before they volunteer. Waiting for things to go back before they will come to worship in person or on Zoom. Waiting…

And while all of these responses are completely understandable, what if part of what it means to be the church right now, is to be willing to be the church, right now…with things as they are, with us as we are, with life as it is? What if part of what we need to be about right now is creating spaces and places for all of us to be honest, to live with the truth of what is, when the whole world is in denial in some ways? What if we could be the place where you don’t have to hide our sadness and disappointment? What if our people and our community and our country needs places to be able to grieve right now, to be honest about what we have lost? And what if doing this can make us kinder because it forces us to remember how fleeting all of this really is, how quickly things can change, how precious what we are about is here and now.

This text from the book of Revelation is in the category of apocalyptic writings and gives us a window into the persecution of the early Church, of what they were longing for amid all of their struggles and loss and pain. As you heard, they were longing for literally, a “new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…” As the scripture said, “the first things have passed away…” and today I wonder if that is kind of where we are too. In many ways, our first things have passed away. Our first idea of how things would go, our beloveds and beloved ways of being human together have passed away… Our idea of what we would be doing with our friends and our faith community in the fall of 2021 has passed away.

And I think we need to not have to hide the ugly cries and the disappointments we feel. We need not have to polish our pain. I think we need to be able to grieve and mourn at all of the ways the first things, our plan A has passed away. And I think it is urgent because if we don’t, I fear we will miss all of the spectacular, beautiful things that are happening right here and now, , all of the depth and new connection, all of the good that is finding its way to us. If we don’t grieve the truth, I fear life will go by and more of what we love will die and we will have missed what God is asking to do, how God is calling us to be the church for one another right here and now. What if part of what it means to be the church right now, is to be willing to be the church, right now…with things as they are, with us as we are, with life as it is?

Some of you know that a few weeks ago, our family lost our beloved dog Stella who was my boo for 14 years. Even though her death was not much of a surprise, the grief I have felt has taken me by surprise, coming in big hits and more subtle tugs at my heart, washing over me or finding me as I expect her to come around the corner of the hallway or to be there waiting when I come in the front door, but then what is left is just feeling of the presence of her absence. The Sunday immediately after she died, our daughter came to the 9 a.m. worship and spread her body out over the chairs and just wept. She let her tears flow like a river because this place was safe and sacred. She knew it would be okay. And I wonder if this is what all of us need right now? I give you permission to spread your body out over these chairs and weep, to let your tears come.

Our bodies and our spirits need to be able to see things rightly, that is part of the Christian tradition that we are about the truth; the truth will set us free. I don’t want us to become cynical and hopeless, less patient. I pray that all of this loss, will in fact invite us to live more fully into who we are called to be. I do believe that whatever name we have for God It is ahead of us and with us.

I don’t want us to be sunk in sorrow, stuck in sadness, lost in worry, mad at the madness because we aren’t a part of pointing out the goodness.

So today, I pray, that if you haven’t already, I invite you let yourself start to grieve. Give yourself space to feel what you really feel. Let your heart mourn a hope, a plan, a possibility, a person that might not be able to manifest the way it did or would have before… Let your mind welcome the gifts that came, the gratitude with what was. And when we do this, it’s as if there is more room, as if we have more capability of noticing the glory and God moments, right here and now. When we give thanks that we have made it and let ourselves grieve, maybe that allows our hearts, our eyes, our ears to be more open. And then when we are ready, we can start to ask ourselves this: who do we want to be now? What do we want our lives together to look like? When we stop thinking we are waiting for what was, a new invitation arrives in our lap: who are you called to be now?

Grief can be like a detour, except you can’t turn around. What is certain is the previous route isn’t possible. So Beloved of God, may our grief make us kinder, more open to new paths and new people because we remember how precious and fleeting all of this is. Our first things have passed away. Our first idea of how things would go are gone, but God is with us and there are good things right here. Let us be the church for one another with things as they are, with us as we are, with life as it is. The first things have passed away, but we are still here and so is Love, let us see what we can be… May it be so. Amen.

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