What Kind of Ancestors Will We Be?
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, How to Be Better Ancestors by Winona LaDuke
Sunday August 9th, 2020
Good morning to you beautiful people on this the tenth Sunday after Pentecost. I am well rested and I had a wonderful vacation, but I missed you and it is good to be back. Those of you who are coming to know me well, know that I have the gift of tears. I often tell our daughter that my tears are joy spilling out. And sometimes they are sadness, sometimes anxiety, sometimes gratitude. Today I have tears that hold all of these feelings and more. Because the last time we were together like this, was a hard day for some of us as individuals and in the life of our congregation when guests at our worship service violated our shared commitment to a just love and caused harm. You have processed that together and I have processed it with some of you and also in the woods, with family and friends and now here we are carrying on. There have been statements made and groups convened and emergency meetings held and prayers shared and beautiful connections made. I give thanks for the leadership of our staff and volunteers and I just want to add one last thing- hate never has the last word. The hardest thing is not the last thing. Pain can change forms. Because we know that even shit becomes coffee and glorious sunflowers and delicious food. Love wins. Goodness and light break through. Let us pray.
God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
What kind of ancestors will we be? This question has come to me this summer and in a way it haunts me.
It is not a new question, but this moment has brought it to the forefront. What will the generations that come after us say about who we were and what we did at this time in history? What are we planting, building, stopping, teaching, sharing, leaving behind, giving up, taking on? What will our lives say to them? As Jackie shared in her sermon last week, John Lewis’ op-ed published after his death spoke of his call to generational love. Even when he felt constrained by fear he showed courage for a world that he didn’t have, but wanted desperately for himself, for his friends and for those who would come after. He ended his essay with, “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war.”
“Let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens…”
Now is the time.
What kind of ancestors will we be?
It was a morning in late January, the day of the Pro Bowl when Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller woke up to news that Mark Kizla wrote was, “so awful he did not want to believe it was true. Kobe Bryant dead? In a helicopter crash?” Miller said that the tragic incident forced him to reflect.
“I tell guys that I love them more. I don’t have a problem saying: ‘I love you. I appreciate you,’ because you never really know,” he said. Miller went on, “After this, I re-focused and said, ‘Hey, I need to spend more time around legends and see what makes these guys who they were and see the type of stuff they did.’ And try to rub it off on me, so I can be better with my teammates, so I can be better with my family, so I can better with the people I interact with on a daily basis.”
Von Miller was taken aback and perhaps changed even by the death of his friend. As if he was awakening to the truth of his own mortality, the fragility and preciousness of life and then this all layered with COVID. He said, “we should give people their flowers while they’re still here.”
Just like we heard from the singer poet Mzwakhe Mbuli, “Now is the time to give roses.”
Now is the time to tell the guys you love them, to smell the roses and give them, now is the time to savor this life and to save it!
Let them say that it was your, it was our generation who laid down the heavy burdens…
Which means now is the time, maybe unlike any other time, where we need dreamers and we need to listen to them.
But we know that when the dreamers come, we say they don’t belong. We mock them. Silence them. Try to kill them.
In the story you heard from the book of Genesis we read, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him…”
It feels tragically true to humankind. We live and pray for our dreams to come true- for the Universe to provide, for visions and visionaries to arrive, for prophets to point the way, for now to be the day! And then, when, the dreamers come, we say they are too young or too new or too old. They are too close to us or too foreign to us, too inexperienced or too unlike the others, too fringe, too bold and too ambitious, too insider, too outsider... When the dreamers come, we shutter, because they make us feel fragile and insecure, they unsettle us, challenging what is familiar, pointing out what isn’t right. Dreamers serve as mirrors, showing a hard truth of what is and what is yet to be. We are collectively terrified of dreamers- and some of us refuse to hear them. So instead the response is to throw them in a hole and forget we ever heard their words.
That’s what Joseph was to his brothers- a dreamer that needed to be silenced. Because he was telling of a future where they felt they would be pushed aside.
To be fair, in the story, Joseph the dreamer doesn’t exactly have it together. As Kathryn M. Shifferdecker writes, he is “portrayed as a young man somewhat lacking in common sense, or perhaps simply a bit self-absorbed. He has two different dreams with the same message: He will become preeminent in his family. His brothers (and even his parents) will bow down to him! Seemingly unaware of his brothers' feelings for him, he eagerly shares these dreams with them. They hate him both because of the dreams and because he insists on talking about them (37:8). Even his doting father rebukes him for his words (37:10).”
Another commentator points out that, “Joseph’s dreams, which always appear in double form, probably to emphasize their import, are seen as divine manifestations of the future.”
Here comes this dreamer, come now let us kill him. Now how about those “biblical family values?”
But they didn’t want to hear what Joseph was saying. Sometimes that is us. God sends us people to tell us of the Promised Land, even people close to us, God sends us visions in our hearts and dreams in our sleep and we want to silence them or sell them off to some other place in our minds, but instead, now is the time.
Even while we are shadowed by anxiety, clouded and covered in uncertainty, our imaginations weary, our energy low, now is the time to listen to our dreams and to dreamers. Now is the time to say out loud what and whom you love, to smell the roses and give them, now is the time to savor this life and to save it!
Let them say that it was your, that it was our, that it was all generations alive today who laid down the heavy burdens of our ancestors, our great grandparents, our grandparents and parents-to lay down the burdens of the myths given to us as truths, whether they be of superiority or of hard work, whether they be the myths of lowliness or wretchedness, whether they be of status and success, now is the time to lay down whatever will poison the soil for the sunflowers of our daughters’ daughters.
At this intersection of climate breakdown, an economic depression, a demand for a reformation of public safety and a massive health crisis, a majority of us, I believe, agree that we are being, lured ahead to a new way since the ground has shifted, the paradigm of never enough in a complex global system has cracked.
Now is the time.
What kind of ancestors will we be? What will the generations that come after us say about who we were and what we did at this time in history? What are we planting, building, stopping, teaching, sharing, leaving behind, giving up, taking on? What will our lives say to them?
In the words of Winona LaDuke, “as I reflect on the question of how to be a good ancestor, I reflect on intergenerational accountability. How do I account my behaviors and decisions to my ancestors and to my descendants?”
Now is the time.
Now is the time to say out loud what and whom you love, to smell the roses and give them, to savor this life and to save it!
Now is the time for dreams and to listen to dreamers, even if we are surprised by the messenger, even if we aren’t leading the way, even if we are out of the mainstream- Let them say that it was your, it was our, it was all generations alive today who laid down the heavy burdens of hate and greed, let them say it was us.
Here comes the dreamers. We shall listen.
In the words of the Great Hunkpapa leader, Sitting Bull, “Let us put our minds together to see what kind of future we can make for our children....” Then we will be great ancestors. May it be so.