All Saints Sunday—11/4/18
Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
Pr. Scott Kramer
Does anybody recognize this tool? Yes, it’s a scoop for “gutter clutter.” When leaves fall on the roof this time of year, I scoop them out of the gutter and the water flows as it should.
Keeping the water flowing is not the only reason to scoop out the leaves. In the gutter they’re not much use. But if they’re put in the yard waste bin or on the yard, over time they become compost that nourishes other plants.
Every year I forget how beautiful the fall colors are. Again this fall, Minjing have been walking along the Cedar River, and I notice the different stages of leaf color but also notice the difference in different types of trees. Maples tend to be earlier. Oaks tend to be later.
Today’s reading from the Book of Revelation begins, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” Our scriptures describe a change of seasons. And the passage ends, “See, I am making all things new. Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
We like new things if we’ve gotten tired of the old things. Advertisers depend on that, right? If I have a smartphone that isn’t the newest and greatest, I’m eager for the new one!
It’s not always like that, though, is it? When we’re deeply attached to something or someone, when we are about to lose the object of our attachment we hold on for dear life, even after that thing or idea or person is gone. Loss of something precious leads to grief.
Last week we heard the story of the blind man Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus had lost his sight. Desperately, he calls out to Jesus for help. In fact, the blind man in this story is the only one who sees clearly who Jesus is. There are many ways of becoming spiritually blind, including grief, if it leads us to fix our hearts on the past. The process of grief is essential to the experience of loss, but if grief continues indefinitely it can keep us from seeing clearly both the present and the future, just as unending tears literally can keep our eyes from seeing clearly.
“Letting go” is another way of putting it; letting go is what we see this time of year in the trees. Some leaves fall early, others later but most leaves let go and drop to the ground in the fall. Some take a really long time, and some even last through the winter. Eventually, however, even those leaves that hang on eventually are pushed off by the new growth in spring.
There is an exception. A friend of mine this last week told me about a tree in his neighbor’s yard whose leaves never did let go. Through all four seasons they remained on the tree. Turns out that the reason they didn’t let go was that the tree was dead. In our human life it is likewise easy to hang on to ideas and habits and even people who have died. As much as leaves falling looks like a sign of death, year after year we discover again that the falling of the leaves is actually a sign of hope for new life.
If you think about it, the leaves that die and let go continue to live on. They decompose and become compost—fertilizer!—essential to the life of the tree. Whenever we manage to let go of whatever ideas and attachments that have outlived their usefulness, we have assurance that the old is never wasted. It continues to live on in what is being made new.
“See, I am making all things new. Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
I met an old friend of mine for coffee this past week. Bill Grace is somewhat retired, but active enough to write a book that’s just been published. The book is called, “Longing for a New Story.” It’s a deeply personal story of one man’s faith journey and how he applies what he has learned over the course of his life to the times in which we live. Bill’s life, like all of ours, has been marked by moments and periods of grief and loss. We witness a powerful example of Jesus’ own experience of grief in today’s reading. But Bill sees in his personal experience of loss an opportunity to interpret the times in which we live and to live fully, hopefully and joyfully. For him, grief is not the end but part of a four-part process.
It begins with witnessing. Bill describes what he calls the New Story and the Old Story. We witness to former patterns of thinking and choices and circumstances that no longer suit the new thing that God is doing within us and among us. Then comes grieving. Grieving, Bill writes, frees us from the pain that comes from witnessing the dying of the old. Then comes prayer. We give to God the pain or grief that we cannot manage on our own. Finally, action. Prayer is waiting for God to act. And God’s action leads us to see and act in new ways. The movement of the Spirit shifts direction from what was, to what is, to a vision of what might be.
The times in which we live suggest great changes that we cannot yet see or understand. But clinging to the old, to what is familiar, is never the answer to great change. It only leads to greater anxiety and suffering. The leaves of autumn point the way. They change color, they let go, they return to the earth, to be used once again for the sake of new life.
I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
On this All Saints Sunday, we remember those who have gone before us, and especially those whose practice of love has inspired in us a determination to do likewise. Their love is reflected in our lives because love is never lost and never wasted. Our daily practice of love is a loud “No!”—not only to people who shoot up synagogues and mail pipe bombs, but to those in high places who shout hatred, fear, and threats. Our daily practice of love is a loud “Yes!” to the new heaven and the new earth that even now our God is bringing into being.
My prayer is that each of us will see with gratitude where in our lives the leaves have fallen for the sake of a new story, and to see with courage where some may still be attached to an old story. Some leaves may have fallen but have gotten stuck in the gutter. May our God take care of our “gutter clutter” and allow those leaves to return to the earth, ready to nourish new generations, for this is the same God who opens the eyes of the blind. “See, I am making all things new…Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”