Carla J. Bailey, Senior Pastor
A sermon given at
The Church of Christ at Dartmouth College
A congregation of the United Church of Christ
For a variety of reasons, my vacation was not especially renewing this year. Some years are like that. You know you need to rest but it just doesn’t come easily. Things go wrong. Friends and family members need you. A few appliances break down. It rains the day you had planned for outdoor activities. You catch a cold. And then there you are, back to work, relieved to be in the routine that felt a little oppressive just a few weeks ago. I used to think life pretty much followed a seasonal calendar. Summer was a stress-free time for everyone. The cool nights, bright days and back-to-school preparations of autumn were exciting to everyone. The first snowfall was beautiful to everyone. Christmas was a serene, warm, loving time for everyone. Adulthood disabused me of such a notion. Stress doesn’t pay close attention to the calendar, unless you’re an accountant. Momentous decisions need to be made sometimes on Tuesdays. Kids usually wait to tell you they have an earache until some time after 7pm on Friday evening. Illness descends, just when you’re feeling as if you’ve finally gotten ahead of your schedule. In other words, life isn’t so much a seasonal process as it is a series of inconvenient and unpredictable moments of chaos and crisis scattered randomly and without meaning across the years. For people who like to plan, it’s a real drag.
I was chatting on-line with a Facebook friend the other day. She was a fellow law student who has decided to transfer to a law school in California. I think of this young woman as incredibly courageous. She graduated from Spelman and then she came to Vermont Law School. She has a single mother who has had some very serious health problems this past year, so my friend traveled to Washington D.C. fairly often to be with her mother through some of those trying times. I didn’t get to know her until the very end of the year and I regret that since now I think the world of her and we’re not likely to see each other again. There is a fairly significant cultural divide between us, a number of years separate our experience. She is very tall and I’m, well, not. Her skin is dark, dark brown. She wears her hair in natural dred locks. She’s smart and bold and curious. She spent the summer studying and interning in Budapest. I think of her as someone who can and will do anything she decides to do. Incredibly, she is dreading this move to California to start this next school year. Too many moves for my friend – too many new starts, too many rooms full of people she doesn’t know.
This past week, I was looking through hundreds of photos on my computer, searching for one or two for a project I’m anxious to finish. The photos go back to 2002 – not so long ago, really, but long enough to fill me with nostalgia. There are prom photos, construction photos, organ building photos, photos of Thanksgiving dinners, Easter breakfasts, birthdays. I found several photos from one of my last visits with Bill Coffin. There are photos of our sweet cat who we put down when she got so ill with cancer, photos of fall foliage, photos of the morning after a huge snow storm, the first spring flowers, Mississippi work trips, Minnesota vacations. Warren and I have not organized our photos, the digital or the printed ones, largely because we get nostalgic to the point of deep sadness when we start looking through them. Why is that, I wonder? They’re just photos of moments that didn’t seem very significant while they were happening. But for some reason, looking back at them makes us long for something gone, something we can’t get back, something elusive. So we avoid the project altogether.
These thoughts have a common thread, though I don’t imagine it’s obvious. It has to do with living each moment in only that moment, responding and relishing only that which the moment brings. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? How else would one live? But lots of people don’t live that way. Lots of people live only for the next moment, seeking the better experience down the road in favor of the experience here at hand, or living in all those moments past with a kind of sepia glow, rather than paying attention to the moment we’re in right now.
Of course, living only in this current moment also has its limitations. Memory is an important gift. It reminds us that no situation, however dire, is permanent. Life moves on. Moments of humiliation and sorrow pass. Lessons from the past protect us, guide us, reassure us. And should we not be aware of the future? Should we not plan and prepare and protect our children, our grandchildren, the world’s future generations?
Letty Russell (1929-2007), one of the foremost feminist theologians of the 1970’s and 80’s, wrote of the need to live as if the reign of God has already arrived. In doing so, the reign of God will actually be present, in real time, all around us. It is this balance of now and not-yet that Jesus described when he told his disciples that the kingdom of God was already within them. That’s not an easy concept to internalize. It isn’t difficult to understand, however. If we live in the way of God’s justice, then God’s justice will be alive. If we love in the way God wants us to love, then God’s love is made manifest. If we relish and honor the creation God has given us to relish and honor, then God’s creation flourishes.
But, Letty Russell would caution, it isn’t only an individual experience. It can’t be. Christian community, the living Body of Christ, by definition counteracts individualism. In Christian community, living in the way of God’s justice means we assume the responsibility for finding justice for others. Loving in the way God wants us to love assumes that love is not fully realized until all are loved. Relishing and honoring the creation God has given us demands an activist approach to the care of all creation, wherever chemicals are dumped, whenever water is wasted, however the earth is abused.
What does it look like to live as if God’s reign is already here, around us, in us, extended to us and from us to others? Well that’s the question, isn’t it - what does it look like to live in God’s reign. It looks like this morning looked when the sun burned away the fog. It looks like a group of people gathered in the yard of a dying woman so she can worship one more time. It looks like my tall, black friend when she walks into a room of strangers, trusting that she has the right to be there. It looks like the 138 pages of the judicial opinion over-turning Proposition 8 in California. It looks like a prayer shawl wrapped around the shoulders of a woman we don’t know but who received one of our prayer shawls at DHMC recently. It looks like Governor Gaylord Nelson’s first declared environmental education day of 1969 that became the first Earth Day in 1970.
Living as if God’s reign is already here means living according to God’s reign, wherein everyone, everyone is loved, no one dies in violence or of a disease for which there is a cure, God’s creation is clean and sustained and protected as the single living organism it is, human dignity is guaranteed to all human beings, war is ended, swords are turned into ploughshares, justice rolls down like an everflowing stream, the lion lies down with the lamb, the child plays over the hole of the poisonous snake, the neighborhood playground, the valleys of Afghanistan, or wherever she wants to play. I know we’re not there yet. And I know we may not be there in my lifetime. But I’m going to work at living as if God’s way is the way of the world, whether I’m on vacation, or back at work, talking to the family who has just lost a husband, father, grandfather, or the child who has lost his way. I’m going to try to live today, the way we all will live when God’s reign comes. Amen.