First Congregational Church of Anchorage : 5 November 2017 – All Saints Sunday
Sometimes when I am out in the fog, I feel freer to be myself. Anyway, who would notice. They are in their own fog just over there, and neither of us is any the wiser. It is odd to me that when the visible sky makes its way down to our feet, we find the ground much more disorientating.
Its not the same as being out at night. Its not the absence of something, but rather a shroud that contains all that is in it within pockets of reality.
The fog makes mystery out of the familiar. “Surely I have been here before, but can I be sure?” In the moments of feeling voiceless and powerless, the fog is a comforting disguise I think, a protection found in forced introspection.
Of course, if you can get underneath it … close to the ground … able to catch a glimpse of the seeming random shuffling of feet all bewildered and dashing about, it may surprise you what can be seen. Sometimes it helps being close to the ground, small, when all of the world which is standing too proudly is rushing onward, unaware of why they are going in circles.
It seems that we should be able to swim in it, but we can’t. Its rarely foggy in Kansas. I remember being quite disappointed the first time I encountered a dense fog, it was barely perceptible to anything but my eyes.
I kept to myself my fantasy of pushing the fog aside like curtains on a stage as I walked the imaginary streets of London as if I were Sherlock Holmes. Fortunately for me, my exuberant imitation was shrouded by the same frustrating fog.
Little did I know at the time that the fog spoken of in stories of London was not really fog at all, but smoke and soot from house chimneys and factory stacks. The fog hides even its own secrets in the distance of a story heard.
There is a factory in the town I grew up in that makes wallboard for building construction. Back before they had to put filters on the exhaust system, before I remember, the entire town would be covered with this thin white layer of gypsum dust. When it got wet it would turn into glue. Not really fog, but at least it left a mark that you could write your name in.
Even when a plane flies through fog, when the fog is a cloud, and we are up there by some miracle, it looks like I could reach out and feel the resistance of my careening through it. I am sure the pilots and meteorologists in the room have explanations for all of my questions, and can probably barely sustain the inaccuracy of what I have said. Kathy Means even took a cloud class recently, and the intended instructor was Dave Barber. But yet I have the microphone.
I wish I could touch the fog. I think it would feel better; even somehow more freeing by its physical containment.
I also wish I could touch my grandmother. I miss her what seems like every day. The screen on my phone just before I unlock it is a picture of her a few months before she died. She is giving me a thumbs up.
When I got there that day she started the same way our times together usually began. She tapped my leg sitting next to me and bid me to tell her what was going on with me. She died over two years ago. I had just preached my first sermon at the church I served as a seminary student. I had to miss my second week to be back for her funeral.
She taught me how to fish with skill and patience. She had this little dance whenever I hooked one. She also had this habit whenever she was at an event, especially a music event. She had to be the first person to clap and cheer every time … I don’t know why.
Looking back it is quite obvious that she was rarely self-confident. If anything she was very self-conscious. But being around her I rarely felt self-conscious, even as we were getting on each others nerves, knowing just how to push one another’s buttons too far.
Even the cloud of witnesses begins to speak to us, surrounding us like a fog of memory just out of reach.
The great cloud of witnesses stands present with us, those who’s lights remains on the table with us. It would seem that they have been silenced by death, but we know better. The kind words, or maybe the harsh words spoken by them remain with us, repeating in our ears.
Its when we get too far ahead of ourselves, I think, or too far within our own bubbles that we misplace the voices. Its like what Micah said: When we only welcome the voices that give us what we want, and declare war on the ones that don’t give us something, our world will be darkness. We will dream but not see.
The fog of witnesses does not constrain us. It holds us in its grasp. We know it is there, but we cannot reach it.
When the voice of the unheard is freed to speak a truth unbounded by the usual silencing stares, the interrupting business as usual, the sound will flow like a fountain freed from its constraints, even silencing the shouts that sought to contain it before.
Happy will that voice be. Blessed will that voice stand.
Jesus saw the crowds gathering. So he went and sat down. As he addresses the crowd he begins with a statement of assurance. He says that the poor in spirit already know the kingdom of heaven, the realm of God. Not that they will, but that they already do.
The poor in spirit are the ones who are fortunate. They are happy, or as our reading translated it, blessed. However, this is not a passing happiness. Its not dependent upon the current situation for its source of blessing.
Happiness as Jesus is pointing to is better described as being connected to the source of life. To be connected to a source of life that cannot be taken away from us.
Jesus draws this declaration from the heart of Jewish faith. None other than Psalm 1 begins with a declaration of happiness, of being connected to the source of life.
Psalm one connects happiness to those who draw near to the instruction of the Lord, in that particular case the Torah, the Law of God found in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. It is misunderstood often as a declaration to follow the rules, but that is a mistaken characterization.
To be instructed by something is to imply living with it, allowing it to change the way you see the world and live. It is as if like a tree planted near water, grows. The tree does not become water, it remains a tree, but it is nourished by the stream.
The poor in Spirit are already there. Those who are relegated outside in gate, in the shadow of the temple, see Jesus as like the stream that the psalmist spoke of in Psalm 1 and followed.
Those who could not speak and expect to be heard, but who had voices as powerful as any of the prophets before them, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven! The connection to the source of life.
Jesus is in part both instructing and reassuring of what the people already knew but were taught to forget. There is a connection to the physical reality of poverty and marginalization and spiritual promise of salvation in God. The poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who are hungry and thirsty. These physical realities have divine meaning.
Jesus is calling out the forces that impose and maintain these physical realities as the source of spiritual bankruptcy. It is the lived reality of those who are listening to Jesus that gives them the capacity to perceive what it is that he is doing.
If you have rarely been the one overlooked or undervalued, which as a tall, white, dashingly handsome man with a graduate degree, that is where I find myself most of the time. We will find it difficult to fully understand what this means, but we can still listen.
For those who have been historically silenced, who remain all too aware of how quickly that reality can return, your voice is welcome here. Your presence has power. It understands things that I do not. We are all better for your witness.
We can see the clouds gathering, the fog rolling in, and hear beyond the pace of life that rushes ever quicker towards death. But we can not touch it yet. The fog is at once a blinding shroud and a comforting presence that contains our best hopes and our deepest memories.
We are still here. But if we can get low enough, close enough to ground, and take a seat next to the ones who have come to teach us a better way, then we may just be able to catch a glimpse of another who came long ago and sat down on the ground and began to instruct.
First reassuring that the silenced, those who’s voices have been taught to be quiet, are speaking a truth that many cannot hear.
The fog of witnesses is speaking to us also. Their lives have marked us, and if we are lucky, we have been changed for the better. However, sometimes we were harmed, and that too has changed us.
But Happy and blessed are the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, the reviled. God has noticed you, and your persistence in spite of all these things is akin to spiritual perseverance.
May we stand with the cloud of witnesses when God declares that we will gather together, rejoicing and in full gladness of the kingdom of heaven, the realm of God, the communion of saints, as it surrounds us all like a dense fog, bidding us onward into an unknown future. May this future be full of promise and hope, ever connected to the source of life that instructs our days.