My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray. Eternal God of our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts always be acceptable in Your sight. Our strength and our redeemer, Amen.
This year has been a crazy year by any standard, one in which our worlds have been rocked on many levels. And not just a few, but almost every one we can name—economically, communally, politically, societally, medically, churchy (the fancy word for that is ecclesially), and pretty much any other noun you can attach a ‘y’ to. A year ago at this time, we could not have recognized the world as it is before us right now. Every single one of our elements of “normal” life from November 2019 til now has changed, and we find ourselves in a strange, unfamiliar landscape. I asked my father, who’s 88 this year, whether he could remember a time when it felt like the world was out of control. He remembered when he was a boy, and FDR got on the radio for the annual state of the union address, and he did not say, “the state of the union is strong”, because the world’s future of what would become normal was that much in doubt.
And for many of us out here today, All Saints Day, this world’s losses and strangeness is compounded by the loss of someone we loved very much. Someone who was part of our lives here in November, 2019. But along with everything else, that too changed forever. Our world of comfort we knew a short time ago is changed.
Our Gospel scripture today, the Beatitudes as they are commonly known, speak directly to our feelings today. They are a reminder that the world we generally encounter is not at all the world God intends or desires for us. God’s desired world is the reverse of what we knew and rewarded in our lives. These are strange and inverted blessings—those who suffer, who remain faithful in the face of hardships, who are compassionate and care for others, who work for peace and justice and righteousness are not the ones our society generally favors or exalts. We have rewarded those who prioritize themselves, often at expense of those quieter voices. The suffering, in fact, are often cast aside as our busy lives move forward with our great many details each day.
But Jesus makes a promise. This world may fail those whom are cast aside, but ultimately they will be lifted up as faithful and good, no matter how the world mistreats them. God’s priorities mean that keeping the covenant with God will give comfort.
But what does that comfort feel like, sound like, when we’re in the midst of trying to find our way through the fog of a changing world, one compounded by loss? Do we know God when we see the signs, and hear the voice of the Spirit?
This last Monday I helped to venerate and bury my next door neighbor, Fred Linnemann. When I moved to Windham in 2004, he welcomed me warily but openly. I learned the true meaning of what constitutes the New Hampshire curmudgeon from Fred. He wasn’t cheap or frugal—he preferred being called “pernurious”. All these things that were self-descriptions, however, came without the mean streak that is their typical connotation. When my wife Debbie died in 2005, Fred didn’t invite me to the bar as much as he invited me to rake leaves. At the other end of his 4 acres of land, mind you, far away from the electrical grid surrounding the house where he could plug in a leaf-blower. Fred often saddled me with ideas that he thought were good at the time but which I sought to avoid. Like just last month, when the turkeys took to roosting in the maples above his patio and there was…well…a turkey dropping problem in his main social gathering spot. So I mentioned to him that I read somewhere that turkeys didn’t like water, but the nests were 20’ up in the tree. The hose wouldn’t get them. But leave it to Fred, he was just getting set up the day before to clean his siding before winter set in and had the power washer all hooked up. You could see the wheels turn as he looked at the tree, and then the power washer, and then the turkeys in that tree. I left at that point, not wanting to know whether an angry turkey attacks its tormentors or just lets tons more poop fly in the direction of the patio from which the offending spray originated.
Fred was honest, forthright, loving, and giving. He was my best man and his wife Mary Lou was matron of honor when I married Kate, the love of my life, in 2010.
Fred’s gift to me was one of few words, but presence when I lost my wife, my dog, my brother, my mom, and each time he just gave me a soft smile and handed me the rake. Or one time in winter, it was the snow shovel. But I never contemplated that Fred would not be there anymore. Sure, he had health issues, but we are all aging gracefully, right? Must I bear this, too, when the world is unrecognizable?
In times of crisis, our impulse as the mortal creation of God is to “carry on”, “keep a stiff upper lip”, “move onward and upward” or some such platitude. But what if we took this opportunity where everything is unrecognizable to look again at those unrecognizable blessings of the beatitudes and thought about whether God’s world for us could become our world, too. What if God created us to enjoy this life, sure, but beyond our just being mortal, God wants to call us to be MORAL?
To do something radically different. But something which may not alleviate our suffering, but may yet in time magnify it. But in a world which has delivered suffering so far and broad this year, isn’t it worth the risk to try something different, something where if we look broad and outward from our lives rather than how we will just survive the next toilet paper crisis we will, as Jesus says, be BLESSED? Don’t we all dream and live to be blessed, and not just think of it as a someday, but hear it in our bones? What does blessing sound like?
Blessing is the old order being DIS-ordered in to a new RE-order. Blessing is radical change from a place we could predict things to a new place we cannot imagine.
Blessing is, perhaps, facing a world without Fred’s leaf-blower constantly in the background. Taking those raking lessons and learning to pass them on to others who need it. Blessing is a compassionate, caring presence that doesn’t say much, but is there. Blessing is silence. But silence doesn’t mean there’s nothing there.
Silence is a presence, a gift of time. And that time is what allows us to see what is real, what is true, what is possible, what is the re-order, from the dis-order, of our ordered and predictable lives. The sound of silence with all its fullness and hope is the blessing of All Saints Day.
It is the blessing that has always been there, and awaits us still. So it’s important that we say the names of who we have lost and loved. For until we can, it’s hard to be the blessing Jesus intended. I love you, Fred, and am glad to have known you. So for the sound of silence we never asked for or expected, thanks be to God, Amen.