Sermon by Barbara Mraz - Sep 23, 2018

She looked over her shoulder at me and waved as she took her first steps onto the big, orange school bus, along with her best friend Jane. Five years old, wearing new shoes of course and a green plaid dress I’d made for her and a big orange sign around her neck with her name and kindergarten teacher’s room number.

My heart was in my throat as I understood that the steps away from me would only increase in the future. Fifteen years later she would step on to a plane, again with her friend Jane, bound for a year as a student in Provence and Paris, and I felt that familiar proud, searing pain again. Texting was not a thing then; this felt like a real letting go.

And indirectly, this is what today’s Gospel is about.

Jesus is trying to teach his disciples that he will suffer and die, and rise again. The thick-headed disciples do not understand (well who would?) and are “afraid to ask” any questions.

All of us have questions we are afraid to ask — of God and of each other. There are issues we don’t bring up to “keep the peace.” There may be a Minnesota passive-aggressive approach (“Well, I’m not going to ask again about your job but just know I’m really worried….”), or we may attempt to reassure ourselves that we are “the greatest: “Wow, that storm in the south is really bad. Sure glad I have the sense to live in Minnesota…”

One way that we humans suffer is through the process of letting go, as I had to do that morning at the bus stop.  The Bishop of DC, Mariann Budde, writes this: “Perhaps the greatest act of faith for any human being is surrender, releasing our grasp on what can no longer be. With profound grief or loss, we may have to surrender more than once, each time with fresh intensity because the life we’ve lost is so embedded in our muscle memory and unconscious mind.”

I’d like to examine this idea by focusing on three things: the intensity of love; the process of letting go; and the promise of transformation – what Jesus calls “rising again.” This is not only a topic for Lent and Easter; it is something that we face almost every day.

We can only marvel at the depth of human love –The love for a parent or child, for a friend, for a partner, for a place where we feel truly at “home,” for a job we adore, for our heath, for God.  We can love so much it hurts, usually because we fear that the loss of this person or thing could destroy us.

We see this love when a father is reunited with his little son after being separated months ago at our border. We see it in the trusting, ongoing love that our animals lavish on us. We feel it looking at the face of our partner or friend in an unguarded moment or seeing in the breathtaking colors of a sunset.

A few days ago I wrote a blog post for epistlesandepiphanies that contained a video clip from the television series Mad Men, set in a New York advertising agency in the early Sixties (I hope I’m not the only fan here) … The main character, advertising man Donald Draper, is pitching an ad for the Kodak slide projector (remember those round things?) The company executives from Kodak want to use the concept of the wheel in the ad.  Draper suggests something else.

Showing slides of his wedding and his children at various stages, he says this: “In Greek, nostalgia literally mean ‘the pain of an old wound.’  It’s a twinge in your heart more powerful than memory alone.  It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. …to a place where we know we were loved.”

Memory can be triggered in countless ways. My mother used to wear Emeraude perfume, a relatively inexpensive drugstore brand that came in a green bottle. So this poem by Nicole Brown spoke to me:

Can be found in New York Times, Sept. 2, 2018

Jesus tells us that suffering is inevitable, for him and for us.  This was also the first noble truth taught by the Buddha. It is in the script of human life. One writer speaks of “the vulnerability to which love dooms us all.”.

What have you had to let go of that was the most difficult? Maybe it was other untimely death of a beloved parent or child. Maybe it was the loss of mobility or of a heathy body that you always took for granted.  Maybe it was the loss of a job you loved, a place you adored, or a pet that loved you way beyond reason.

Maybe you had to let go of a dream that you would be more successful, or be able to change jobs to do what you really wanted to do.   Collectively, Americans have had to let go of the idea that our country can never be attacked – 911 taught us that, or that our personal safety is a given. Each night’s news is filled with grieving families whose children have been murdered or with another workplace shooting. Sometimes the evening new can be a litany of loss.

As for me, I have had to let go of two marriages, the belief that I was forever immune to serious disease, and my younger brother who suffered an untimely death. Also that I would never get to be a speech writer for President Obama or have a stable of race horses!

So what about “rising again” or at least transformation? It can’t be forced. “Resurrection is not brought about by good people trying harder,” Budde writes, “but when God acts at that boundary of life and what we call death and does something altogether new.” It can be when we detect a sliver of light in our darkness, feel a sprig of hope taking root in our heart or experience a little shift in our perspective like the day I woke up with the realization that maybe the loss of a relationship was a blessing in disguise. Maybe it’s a moment of peace….

Last Friday September 21 was International Peace Day originated in 1982 by the United Nations and which the Church recognizes today; it has been give virtually no media publicity, drowned out by governmental drama disarray.  Frederick Buechener observes that “peace is not the absence of suffering but the presence of love.” Or as the great Mr. Rogers put it, knowing that someone likes us just the way we are.”

How do we align ourselves with the power of love and transformation and help live it into being?

I confess that I am impatient and easily bored with generic appeals for this cause or that but for some reason I have found myself engaged in my own little crusade. It’s corny but strangely rewarding. It’s inspired by a quotation by the poet Galway Kinnell who says, “Sometimes we have to re-teach a thing it loveliness” — although I think Mr. Rogers said it better.

So I told the woman in the clinic waiting room with me that she looked really nice today. I told the man in the grocery store with his kids what a beautiful family he has.  I compliment the clerk at Office Depot for fast service. One time at a drive-through I asked the cashier what the bill was for the car behind me and paid it.  I bought a bag of caramel corn from the little Cub Scout at my door and then told him to take it home and give it to his mom.  I am astounded at some of the grateful responses.  We are all so hungry to be seen, to be acknowledged, to be retaught our inherent loveliness, just the way we are.

Sometimes letting go of what can no longer be means adopting a perspective that may not be scientifically provable but that supports our understanding of rebirth and resurrection.  So I close with this true story which you may know if you’ve seen the movie “The Imitation Game” with the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Alan Turing, often called the father of modern computing.

Turing was a brilliant mathematician and logician. During the Second World War he worked for the British government, eventually breaking the German Enigma code; Churchill said he shortened the war by two years.

He also developed the idea of the modern computer and was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word, and he was a homosexual at a time when this was illegal in England.  In1954 Turing was arrested for “gross indecency” due to a relationship with another man. Given the choice of prison or “estrogen conversion therapy” he picked the latter; some time later he was found dead by suicide, a cyanide-laced apple with a bite out of it found beside him.

Fast forward some sixty years and a logo is being designed for the newly-introduced line of electronics. Rob Janoff who drew the apple logo dismissed theory that if reflected Adam and Eve or anything beyond the fact that it was a design decision and there is a bite out of the apple so it’s not mistaken for a cherry.

But many people choose to see it differently – as a tribute and homage to Alan Turing. Isn’t it appropriate that this genius who lived in a dark time for human rights is celebrated this way?  On thousands of computers, phones and other products that are based on his original equations, theories and brilliance? That a terrible symbol for a man who died for loving someone is reclaimed for

a project of this scope?

But that’s not to say that the idea of paying homage to Turing is something the creators of Apple were against. Steve Jobs who loved beautiful stories, remained famously silent about the logo. But when actor Stephen Fry once finally his good friend if the famous logo was based on Turing, Jobs replied, “God, we wish it were.”

Justice delayed
Life out of loss.
Resurrection.

 Amen.
Sources:

The Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde, “People of the Resurrection” Gathering up the Fragments at WordPress.com

Stacy Conradt, “Did Alan Turing Inspire the Apple Logo?” in Mental Floss, online  journal,   June 1, 2015