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8/18/19: Sermon Transcript, "Primal Story of Peace" Glencliff UMC, Nashville, TN

“Primal Story” at Glencliff UMC in Nashville, TN, on 8/18/2019

Thesis: Faith as Remembering
Reading for the day from the Revised Common Lectionary: Hebrews 11:29-12:2



A Repeated Recognition of Perspective from Last Week's Sermon:
I’m speaking from the space of a person with limitations…in case you were doubting that...

One limitation I have: I manage anxiety and have to know when I’m getting too excited (I can get too happy) or anxious (I sometimes have spinning thoughts and dizziness due to certain triggers or fears)…

Another limitation: I haven’t experienced everything…so there are certain things I do not know

On the contrary, I’m also speaking from the space of a person with experiences some have not had…this gives me the ability to handle certain situations from a space of familiarity…

A Story about Rock Climbing:
One of those familiar settings is rock climbing.
Now, I’m not the most experienced in the world when it comes to rock climbing, nor the most skilled.
So, I read books from people who are more skilled and experienced.

One such book is The Rock Warrior’s Way
In The Rock Warrior’s Way there’s one section in particular that has been meaningful to me in rock climbing and beyond…

After sections on safety and gear, of course, and, after having discussed planning your upcoming climbs and being aware of your surroundings, The Rock Warrior's Way has a section on moving through discomfort in particularly challenging climbing sections. As far as rock climbing is concerned, here’s how that fleshes out:

I was climbing in Yosemite Valley.

I was climbing at the base of an exciting pitch that is part of a climb called El Capitan.
I was only planning to do the first pitch of this 31-pitch climb.  This pitch is 100 ft or less and has what’s called a "chimney" where you climb through an area that's somewhat enclosed around you.
I am a bit claustrophobic I believe, another limitation :), so this was a mental as well as a physical challenge since my head started spinning with what falling would look like…

However, I remembered The Rock Warrior’s Way
It says to breathe, and move through discomfort and not just hang there, clinging to the rock, freaking out about it…because if you simply cling to the rock during a challenging moment, you will use up all your energy holding yourself on and won’t be able to keep going…
So, I moved through, slowly, each part of this climb…
Inching my way up the climb…

LOL, It’s funny to me now that, at one point, I was actually crying…and climbing at the same time…

I remember that climb as one that I was the most proud of, not because I wanted to make myself cry, but because I was grounded in what I had learned previously and practiced it in real time.

Remembering this section from The Rock Warrior’s Way gave me tools to use when I was in the midst of a challenging climb.

Now, I will never forget this advice when climbing or when in other challenging moments outside of rock climbing. Because of Remembering the words in this book, I make an attempt to move forward in climbing…and with life’s challenges, because simply clinging to my challenge will result in a waste of energy…

Having said that, it’s important to mention other limitations I’ve had since mental illness is something that has left me clinging to my challenges at times without a real choice to move forward, and, when that happened, others have stepped in or I sought help from others who helped make some movement happen--thus, it's ideal never to climb alone...or do life alone for that matter if you can help it.

So, when facing a challenge, the choice, where possible, is to move through or walk through a challenge, because otherwise, you’re stuck out there on the rock going nowhere, wasting energy... (you could get lowered back to the ground, though)…

The Most Primal Story in the Bible:
The most primal story of challenge in the Bible (see notes in Manna and Mercy by Daneil Erlander, and reference to Brueggeman's "Primal Story" in The Bible Makes sense) is the story of the Exodus when an oppressed people, slaves, escape the land of their oppression.  This story really effects every story in the Bible and it is part of our reading today in the book of Hebrews.

There’s a reference to this Exodus story in verse 29 of Hebrews chapter 11:

“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.”

The people escaping slavery survived while the armies of their enemies drowned in the sea.

There’s a note in the Jewish Annotated New Testament that mentions  an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures relevant to this Exodus story mentioned in the book of Hebrews.  Here’s what it says about the moment when the Israelite slaves escaped while the Egyptian army drowned in the Red Sea, and began to sing:
“…when the Israelites sang the song at the sea, the heavenly host wanted to join in, but God rebuked them saying, ‘My creatures are drowning in the sea and you want to sing songs?’ This highlights the common humanity of both the liberated slave and the one who would be the oppressor.

Sometimes, when we make a move, others get hurt.  God, here, asks, “My creatures are drowning in the sea and you want to sing songs?”

What does it mean to not respond in violence toward those who have been violent with or toward us or our loved ones since God is with us as well as our enemies?

A Story from a Widower in El Paso, TX, after a Mass Shooting Motivated by Racism and Hatred:
This week, there was a funeral held for one of the victims of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.  The deceased, Margie Reckhard, 63, was gunned down along with 21 others. 

She was survived by her husband, Antonio Basco.  Antonio, having lost his wife in the shooting, recognized that she was his only remaining family member, thus leaving him alone.  So, this widower decided to invite whoever wanted to come to his wife’s funeral so that he didn’t have to grieve alone. 

You can find the full article online to see the turnout for the funeral, where over 500 people showed up to mourn the loss of this man’s last remaining family member.  She represents the loss of so many due to violence and the oppressive evil of white supremacist terrorism and hate.  In response to such hate and evil and oppression, this story is one example of what it looks like to respond to such realities with peace that is not passive, but very present and active, cutting to the humanity of the matter—grief for those who are lost and those who are left behind in the wake of violence. 

This widower, who could have closed off the funeral in anger or fear, decided to open the doors of his grief and sorrow, to allow others to help him mourn.  Such a response is a human response, and it is a contagious response that provoked over 500 strangers to join him in mourning together in a common human experience: suffering and sorrow.  This is an example of a nonviolent response to violence.  It is so simple and so powerful, reminding us of our common humanity. 

This grieving man didn’t know what to expect when he opened up the funeral to strangers, but he made a move even in what might be the most challenging moment of his life. 

Faith as Remembering:
How can we be human like him? We can remember this man Antonio Basco, in the loss of his wife, Margie.  For in remembering them and remembering this event, we will be reminded of someone who made it through a challenge as great as such grief.

After the Hebrew slaves in the Exodus story left the land of their oppression, God provided food for them as they made their way through the wilderness.  This food was called manna, which means “What is it?”  I guess they didn’t know what the food was, they just ate it because they were hungry.  After they made it through the wilderness, God asked them to keep a jar of manna to remember their time in the wilderness (because they didn’t have group photos or cameras back then and God was like a mother saying, “Okay, everybody get together so we can take a picture and remember this!”)

In this passage in the book of Hebrews, the readers are asked to do a similar thing, to remember those who made it through hardship before so that they would be encouraged to keep going.  So, the writer of Hebrews remembers/recalls a cloud (or crowd, as the NRSV Study Bible notes), of witnesses, as they’re called.  What are these people in this reading witnesses to?  They are witnesses to what life looks like when you respond to challenges in faith.

This man in El Paso, mourning the loss of his wife is a similar witness to faith.

Faith is defined in a number of ways, and in this chapter it is:
“the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen”

Notes in the NRSV Study Bible reword this definition of faith, saying,
“Faith is the REALITY of things hoped for,
the EVIDENCE of things not seen.”

Antonio Basco responded with faith in humanity in hopes that there would be a reality where other humans would respond with love in the face of hate, he had a little bit of faith that people would join him in mourning his wife, and when 500 people showed up and stood in line for hours to pay their respects, he told them, “I love y’all, man.” 

The woman's surviving son from an earlier marriage said his mom, Margie, would have been overwhelmed to see all the love El Paso showed her.”

When we talk about faith, Antonio Basco, who opened up his wife’s funeral to the public after such a tragedy, can be added to the cloud of witnesses who, when faced with oppression, hate and violence, respond in a faith grounded in our common humanity, though the outcome is yet-to-be-seen.



When I go to a climb, there are bolts to clip my rope into on the mountain because people have climbed those climbs before I was there...
and put bolts in for climbers to come…and the author of The Rock Warrior’s Way from whom I can gain climbing advice, is an experienced climber.

So, my faith when I climb isn’t in magical handholds that will pop up on the mountain because I wish upon a star or say some magic words…
my faith, instead, is in the reality that someone has climbed this before me
and my faith is in the evidence given by the author of The Rock Warrior’s Way, attesting to best practice for climbing.

Often times God calls God’s people to this type of faith,
And it is really a faith of
Remembering…

Remembering the acts of those who have gone before us as we
Seek out those who are more experienced than us for guidance and
As we move forward to what is next in our common human experience

Moving forward:
What challenges are you facing today?
What kind of guidance would be helpful for you?
Seek it out and may you find it when you seek it with all of your might.

The UMC and so many other religious and community groups are in the midst of a number of transitions and responses right now...
…as pastors in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, Ohio, among others, minister to those who have experienced trauma…
…as communities in Mississippi respond to the tragedies resulting from recent ICE raids…
…as people in the UMC decide what is next in responding to LGBT+ exclusion and harm resulting from so many realities since this denomination began…and before that….

Remembering our common humanity is key
As we remember how oppressed slaves made it out of the land of their oppressors, we also remember that God mourned the drowning of the ones who were trying to keep them from freedom.

As we remember the widower, Antonio Basco, who did a beautiful thing after the loss of his “angel”* of a wife, Margie Reckard, due to a violent act of hate… we may also remember the shooter who, being motivated by racial hatred, having murdered 22 people, will face the death penalty in Texas. 

Could remembering have prevented the shooter’s hate crime?
What if this individual had remembered at any point along his planning or plotting in hate, provoked by some realities that we know and some that we can only imagine…what if this individual had anything in his memory of the love of God…or love at all…Would it make a difference?  What, I wonder, was in this shooter’s memory?  And if God is a God who is with us, what type of mourning would God do for this man who killed so many if the death penalty is the result for him from this violent act?

Alan Storey, a Methodist pastor in Capetown, South Africa, tells a number of stories about a mother with children.  In one story, there are two children from one mother.  One child murders the other child.  Does the mother now not love her child who committed the murder?  So it is with our mothering God…mourning loss…

And when we are faced with evil, hate, violence, oppression, etc…
we must remember,
as we move forward in ways that we need to:
That our faith is grounded in the reality
of our common humanity…
Fred Rogers said, in times of trouble,
“Look for the helpers…”

May we look for those who have endured challenges like ours before us…
Or those who are willing and able to walk beside us through our own,
Let's read their books,
Watch stories about them on the news,
and remember them… living into what their memory inspires us toward…

A Poem called "Fist" from Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver is someone who I feel goes before me and whose words offer me help and understanding in life…Here’s her poem, called “The Fist,” which I feel is relevant to this time, written by Mary Oliver after the loss of her partner, Molly Malone Cook, in her book Thirst:

    “The Fist”
        There are days
        when the sun goes down
        like a fist,
        though of course

        if you see anything
        in the heavens
        in this way
        you had better get

        your eyes checked
        or, better still,
        your diminished spirit.
        The heavens

        have no fist,
        or wouldn’t they have been
        shaking it
        for a thousand years now,

        and even
        longer than that,
        at the dull, brutish
        way of mankind—

        heaven’s own
        creation?
        Instead: such patience!
        Such willingness

        to let us continue!
        to hear,
        little by little,
        the voices—

        only, so far, in
        pockets of the world—
        suggesting
        the possibilities

        of peace?
        Keep looking.
        Behold, how the fist opens
        with invitation.

        …

May we receive the invitation of peace with every sunrise, new every morning with mercy, like a breath of fresh air…

I want to remember peace.  I forget it sometimes like I forget love.  So, may we, in so many ways—books, music, poetry, movies, smiles, hugs, handshakes, being together—may we pass peace on and on through our learning, seeking and growing in what it means to be human together.

As we move on in response to our challenges, may we find each other along the roads headed toward a sunrise of peace,

… and a sunset of peace, too. 

May there be peace in our world from morning to night and back again. 

Amen.

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