Sermon by Rev. Margaret Thor - Nov 04, 2018

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I was raised in a nerdy family.  While growing up we often played trivia games and were able to spout out random facts in almost all situations.  We loved playing Trivial Pursuit and still enjoy games that have trivia imbedded in them.  My brothers, for example, at a young age could list all 50 states (without singing a song) and could even name them from east to west.  I was never good at these games or challenges; frankly I still don’t remember the relationship geographically of Vermont and New Hampshire. However I do remember one classic bit of trivia. Although we didn’t read the bible much at home (I was raised Episcopalian after all), we all knew the shortest verse, as I’m sure most of you do.  Verse 35 from John 11:  “Jesus wept”.  This is from the KJV of the bible.  In today’s Gospel, from the New Revised Standard Version of the bible, it is “Jesus began to weep”.  In either case, no matter how it is translated, it is a remarkable verse.  This verse and the surrounding verses are one of the few passages in which the Gospel ascribes emotions to Jesus. If we had read the beginning of the chapter, we would have learned that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.  Consequently he decided to go to them when he heard that Lazarus is ill. Against the advice of the disciples who are afraid the authorities want to kill Jesus, he returned to Judea. When Jesus arrives and sees Mary weeping, he is “greatly disturbed in spirit” and burst into tears.

I wonder what truly moved Jesus to tears.  Was it as simple as the Jews around him said, “See how he loved him?” Or was he moved by a deeper more complex thought or concern as alluded to by others who said “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”  Theologian NT Wright suggests Jesus’ heart may have been moved by “a grief for a death still to come: his own.”   Other writers suggest that Jesus is moved to tears out of frustration and disappointment as his public ministry is coming to a close and his days on earth were numbered.  Is Jesus sad, depressed, troubled, or all of the above?  I wonder but I just don’t know and certainly John did not clarify what he wrote what he did.

Perhaps it is easier to answer this question. How are you moved to tears?  Sometimes it is tears of joy.  Weddings and baptisms almost always bring me to tears.  Many times in our lives it is at death that tears flow or when we encounter a difficult and frustrating situation.  Sometimes the news of human suffering brings us to tears.  As one commentator noted, “Our world today is still full of tears—tears of children who have been separated from their parents, tears of parents who have lost their children to our epidemic of violence, (for example, shootings at synagogues and places of worship, at grocery stores, in yoga studios, in our schools) tears of refugees forced to leave all they have ever known, and all other tears shed by the downtrodden and the marginalized.”  (Especially those who are transgender.) We cry out of anger, we cry out of sadness, we cry out of frustration, we cry out of hopelessness.  We cry with and we cry for others.  And we cry because we are greatly disturbed.

Our feelings of being disturbed may just be the Holy Spirit calling us to action.  Jesus was called to action when he learned of Lazarus death.  He responded to the suffering of Mary and Martha and their friends.  We too can respond to suffering.  We demonstrate our response in part here at St John’s through our Faith in Action ministries.  We feed the hungry, we offer shelter to the homeless, we support a clinic that treats the sick and the poor, we walk with those seeking stable housing.  And there is one more thing we can do and we can do it this week.  We can vote.

Voting is a way for our voice to be heard. It is an opportunity to demonstrate our faith.  Every elected official impacts our lives and the lives of others in our communities, our state and in our nation.  Educate yourself on the issues and candidates on the ballots.  My father told me that he was inspired to list issues that were important to him.  He then reflected on these issues through the lens of our call to love.  He plans to vote for candidates whose campaign promises are consistent with his values and his faith. How our elected representatives act should be a reflection on how we vote.  If we vote out of love for our neighbor, the policies enacted by those we elect should reflect that.  If we vote out of fear, the policies may reflect that as well.

Voting is an opportunity to live out our baptismal covenant, which we will be renewing shortly.  Jered will ask us these questions: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?  And will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?  Will your vote reflect these promises?

I also think that voting is a way to honor those saints that have gone before us.  Our Presiding Bishop summed it up in this manner: “the right and the privilege to be able to vote is something that was won through an American revolution.  Something that was won even more through civil rights and women’s suffrage.  A right and a privilege that was won for all.”  I am grateful to those saints that fought for my right to vote.  On this day, when we commemorate All Saints, let us remember those who, in many cases, laid down their lives so that we have the right to vote.

Although the physical action of voting can be easy, [here in MN you can even register to vote on Election Day (that’s how easy it is)], deciding for whom to vote is challenging.  I am not going to tell you who to vote for but will refer to our Presiding Bishop who says to “Go and vote. Vote your conscience.  Your conscience informed by what it means to love your neighbor.  To participate in the process of seeking the common good.  To participate in the process of making this a better world.  However you vote, go and vote.  And do that as a follower of Jesus.”

Recently our own Bishop posted in the Bishop’s Blog his weariness of the political ads on TV.  Fortunately my husband and I have taken to streaming much of what we watch on TV so I have not seen the ads to the extent that I have in the past.  However at this time of the year I notice the yard signs.  Now that the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, campaign signs are the color in the yards. Generally they are a blur as I drive along the streets.  However, there is one sign in a neighbor’s yard that always catches my attention when I drive by.  It is a sign that inspires me and reminds me how I should live and what I should remember when I vote.  And this is the sign. The sign reads “Love your neighbor, *your black, brown, immigrant, disabled, religiously different, LGBTQ, fully human neighbor.”

You may have noticed a basket with stickers in them that state “I’m an Episcopalian and I voted!”  I invite you take one (or two).  Wear it proudly.  Or take it as a reminder of who you are and that you are reminded to vote faithfully.