Harold Babcock's Sermons

April 25, 2010

Racism: Alive and Well

Filed under: Uncategorized — newbabcock @ 2:33 pm

“I commit myself to Stand Against Racism and discrimination of any kind;
and to a lifetime of promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity
for all people in my community and in the world.”
– YWCA “Stand Against Racism” pledge, 2010

This morning, as part of the YWCA’s “Stand Against Racism” campaign, local churches have been asked to join in a “stand against racism pledge,” and local clergy have been asked to focus their sermons on the topic of racial justice.  At its most recent meeting, the First Religious Society Parish Committee voted to become a “participating site” in this effort.  On Friday afternoon, at 1:00 pm, I invite anyone who would like to to come to the church to ring our church bell as part of this effort, and on Friday evening at 6:30 pm I invite you to join me at the Newburyport Waterfront Park for a rally and student art display dedicated to this important effort.

When I agreed to preach on the topic of racial justice, I knew that it would not be easy.  I knew that it would call for a heightened honesty and humility on my part, and for an admission that I’m not sure I really know all that much about the subject of racism.  I certainly know practically nothing personally about racism, thankfully, and I am bold to imagine that most of you do not, either.  And I know that nobody likes to be preached at.

It occurred to me that it would be much easier for me to preach about “white privilege,” since I know quite a lot about that.  The fact that I have hardly any experience of racism is probably the most important indicator of that reality.

Like most white people in our society, I got a head start in life simply by the fact that I was born white.  But I was even luckier: I was born into a middle class family whose members included a doctor, a registered nurse, and a slew of teachers.  Education was valued and going to college was assumed.  I attended a prep school: granted not a big name school, but one with a solid academic reputation.  (As an aside, I remember only one black student being part of the student body of my school at that time.)

I was born in a clean, safe, and beautiful community.  There was virtually no crime, certainly not of the violent kind.  I lived in a nice house.  My grandparents lived nearby, and everybody in town knew who I was.  Though our lifestyle was modest, I lacked for nothing.

Yes, I took advantage of my head start, but it wasn’t really a conscious decision.  I take no special credit for it.  Every time I wanted to do something, doors were opened.  I had connections, successful people who would hire me for summer jobs and people who would write me positive recommendations.  All I had to do was make some good choices, and the opportunities were always there for me to take.  I graduated from college, and thanks to a supportive professor I was accepted into graduate school (my grades were mediocre).  I was awarded a teaching assistantship.  Those connections led to a year of teaching English at the University of Maine, and later, indirectly, to my admission to Harvard Divinity School.  As a minister, I am certain that the fact that I am a white male has contributed much to my success.

Did I deserve all those breaks?  Not really.  Yes, as I have noted, I made some good choices along the way.  But the path was always there for me to take.  What I am suggesting is that for many, the path may be there to take in theory, but the chances of it getting taken in reality are between slim and nill.  That’s what white privilege means, I think.  A black kid growing up on the mean streets of Dorchester probably doesn’t have the chances I did.

As a child of the late fifties and sixties, I know first hand that there have been incredible advances in civil rights and against racism, at least against racism of the outward and blatant kind, during my lifetime.  One of my childhood heroes was Martin Luther King, Jr.  I grew up with scenes from the Civil Rights struggle on the nightly news.  I was surprised at how much racism there was in my lily white town.  Racial slurs were not at all uncommon when I was growing up.  I found this confusing since I think I rightly guessed that most of the people making those slurs had never met a person of any color other than white.  I never got where the sense of superiority came from; is that racism?

I was devastated when King was assassinated.  I was equally moved when Barack Obama was elected President, though unlike some of my friends I did not quite see him as the second coming of Jesus Christ.  That is way too heavy a load to place on anyone’s shoulders.  But his election demonstrated a huge shift in the thinking of a lot of people. Still, I never doubted for an instant that racism in its more subtle and systemic forms, such as white privilege, still existed.  What has surprised and saddened me is that racism in its more open and frightening forms seems to be making something of a comeback.  Perhaps I should have expected this, but I confess that I did not.

Lots of people I have spoken to in Newburyport over the last fifteen years have protested that “Newburyport doesn’t have a race problem.”  That’s most likely because there are so few folks of other races here.  It’s also not true.  Ask the Brazilian family which has suffered harassment at the hands of their white neighbors here in Newburyport.  Just an isolated incident?  And I bet if you asked many of the Hispanic and Latino and Asian folks who work in local businesses here you might get a different picture of non-racist Newburyport.  I bet if you got a completely candid answer from someone of a different race who grew up here you would find that the picture is not so rosy.  Is it racism when we don’t notice the racism?

Perhaps like me, when you see a black person in your neighborhood here in non-racist Newburyport, your first thought, like mine, I am ashamed to say, is “I wonder what that person is doing here?”  I hate that that is my first thought, and luckily I am aware enough to question it as soon as it enters my head.  But it’s there.  Is that racism?

A couple of years ago I was in downtown Haverhill for a meeting when I was approached by three very tall, young black men.  My first reaction, I am ashamed to say, was, if not outright fear, at least acute anxiety.  Then I realized that I knew one of those young men, a friend of my son Josh who has spent many nights staying at our home, and one of the sweetest young guys you will ever meet.  He greeted me enthusiastically as always that day as “Mr. B”:  “How are you, Mr. B?” he said.  I felt terrible about my initial reaction.  Was that racism?

Is it just my imagination, or has the multi-racial Tiger Woods come in for more moral indignation and opprobrium over his admittedly reprehensible behavior than your normal run-of the mill white philanderer usually does?  Tiger acted the way hundreds of powerful white males have acted down through the years.  It doesn’t make it right, of course, but who set Tiger up as a supposed hero of youth in the first place?  He’s a great athlete, not the second coming of the Buddha.  Who bought it?  Who’s gotten rich on it?  Is that racism?

You know, I am trying to keep an open mind about the Tea Party movement, though the incivility and anger in much of its activities sickens me, and in some of its more radical forms, frightens me.  Are you reassured by modern day so-called “militia men” carrying their AK-47s to Washington to “clean up” our government?  I’m not.  In fact, it feels threatening, and I don’t like feeling threatened in my own country.  Is that really the best we can do with the freedom that Americans have fought and died for?

But I have to admit that this little piece from a sidebar in last week’s Globe really got to me.  It featured a young tea party rallier named Stephanie Scott:

Scott, a 36-year old from Newton who works in sales . . . held aloft a sign that read, “Read My Lipstick—You Are Not Entitled To What I Have Earned.”

“When I see my paycheck going to pay for people who can’t get off their butts . . . it’s very . . .” she said, searching for the right word, “Annoying.”

“Mandatory health care in Massachusetts is exhibit A of the problem,” she said.

“If you’re a 21-year-old and healthy, why should you have to pay outrageous premiums?” she asked.  “Why should I have to pay for everyone who wants to sit on the couch and watch Oprah and Dr. Phil?”

Put aside for a moment your opinions about health care reform, pro or con.  Is this racism?  It feels like racism to me.  Who is she talking about when she talks about “people who can’t get off their butts?”  Probably not white, middle class folks that are, I assume, like herself.

Aside from her amazing mean-spiritedness, what gets me about Stephanie is her seeming naiveté or ignorance of the causes of poverty in this country.  Though there will always be those who take advantage of the system—take Wall Street financiers, for example—someone needs to tell her that most people who are poor are not sitting on their butts in front of the TV.  Many, if not most, of them are holding down forty-hour-a-week jobs.

I have already mentioned in an earlier sermon this year my encounter with Libertarians over their depictions of President Obama sporting a Hitler mustache.  Is that racism?

What about the tea partiers who insist on calling President Obama “Obama bin Laden,” or emphasizing his middle name, “Hussein”?  Is that racism?

In a Globe article this week, Mark Williams, chairman of Tea Party
Express, said of Obama, “Culturally, he is anything but an American.”  Is that racism?  Didn’t Obama go to Harvard Law School?  Williams is one of those who continues to perpetuate the myth that President Obama was not born in the United States, once telling a rally “it was ‘even money’ Obama was born somewhere other than America.”  Is that racism?

As one of my colleagues said in a recent sermon on a totally different subject, “Where’s the outrage?”  Whatever our political persuasion, I believe it behooves all of us to be on guard against such dangerous lies, and I believe that before it is too late it behooves us to speak out against the many provocations to violence that seem to be dominating the rhetoric of the airwaves in these most uncivil days.

Speaking of those provocations, I don’t remember a time in recent years when there has been so much unrestrained anger directed at our public servants.  Could that have something to do with racism?  Is it just easier to be incensed at someone who isn’t just like us?

You know, churches are among the most segregated institutions in America.  On the other hand, churches have often been in the forefront of the struggle for civil rights and the eradication of racism.  It’s a paradox, but one we ought to do more than think about.

A former UU minister who was active in the Civil Rights movement once made the statement, “Religion is ultimate commitment.  And I have found in the Unitarian Church to be many concerned people, and the church at times to be concerned, the church as a whole.  I have found very few committed people, and the church not to be a church of commitment.  It simply is not that.  It’s basically an Ethical Culture Society, a philosophical organization.  And it’s concerned, and doesn’t do s—[expletive deleted].”  Ouch.  Such assessments hurt, and as religious people we need to make sure that they are no more than marginally true.

A few years back, my late colleague Forrest Church preached in a sermon about racism,

I still feel that racism and religious bigotry are based as much upon ignorance as anything.  After all, nothing that divides us can compare with that which we share.  We are all God’s children, homesteaders on planet earth.  All mortal.  All forced to respond to the dual reality of being alive and having to die.  We all fail and fear and dream.  We all have nightmares.  Each one of us is insecure, trying to compensate, trying to impress.  Yes, we may be different colors and have different faiths, and these differences do matter.  They give us a measure of identity, and communality, but genetically and generically we are one: human beings, whose highest aspiration must be to rise to the promise of our shared humanity, crossing back and forth over one another’s bridges until we begin to discover that the gulfs that divide us all spring from the same sea.

Is this possible?  History suggests that perhaps it’s not.  Maybe I am being naïve.  So was Jesus, then, when he told us to turn the other cheek, and to love even our enemies.  But I take hope where I can find it.  Because hope also answers fear, and makes a little space for love.

On that hopeful concluding note, I would invite you to join with me in reading together the “Stand Against Racism Pledge” that is found on the insert in your orders of service, mindful that in Newburyport, Stand Against Racism is led by high school students in an effort to raise awareness that racism continues to exist even in our own beloved community.  Those young people are the greatest hope for our future on this little spinning planet.  Amen, and blessed be.

– The Rev. Harold E. Babcock
April 25, 2010

Reading: from “Brother Fox and Brother Goose,” a sermon by the Rev. Bruce Southworth, The Community Church of New York City


April 11, 2010

What Is Saving Your Life Now?

Filed under: Uncategorized — newbabcock @ 1:57 pm

“All that we lack is the willingness
to imagine that we already have
everything we need.
The only thing missing is our consent
to be where we are.”
– Barbara Brown Taylor

These early spring days have truly been a tonic for the winter-weary spirit, apologies to all the skiers among us.  There really is something about the lengthening days and the earth’s renewal each year that corresponds to the spirit’s longing for new life, for new ways of shining light inward and assessing where we are, where we have come from, and where we might be going.

I want especially to thank Nathan and Merryl Wilbur for sharing Nathan’s father’s wonderful and hopeful poem with me last week; it fit so well with my Easter thoughts about the necessary ongoingness of life and also speaks directly to my sermon topic for this morning: what is saving your life now?  Depending on what is going on there, it is perhaps the most important question of all.

I well understand how those gathering birds of Richard Wilbur’s poem [“Ecclesiastes II: I”] might be a harbinger of hope.  Each year, as my spirits inevitably flag in the seemingly endless final weeks, days, and hours (but who’s counting?) of winter, I await with anticipation the return of birds and their song greeting me through the at-last-open window of my bedroom, and perhaps of my spirit.  It is definitely one of the things that is saving my life now.

April may well have been T. S. Eliot’s “cruelest month,” but it has never been mine.  He, of course, good Christian that he was, was thinking of what happened on Good Friday.  I, on the other hand, share with my late grandmother Gertrude, a good Methodist, a deep and abiding love for this early spring time, “the best time of year,” as she called it, the time when everything is still before us, the full unfolding yet to come, the days of being reliably able to sit outside on the piazza in the cooling evening of a warm summer’s day still a bit of a far-off dream.

Thinking of my grandmother is another thing that often saves my life.  By the standards of my life, of our lives here in the early 21st century, hers appears to have been an enviably uncomplicated one, though I know, of course, that it was not.  But her life’s struggles were blessedly hidden from me, at least when I was a child.  What I saw instead was a quiet and devoted life, a life of integrity, a life of simple pleasures, a life which was the embodiment of Barbara Brown Taylor’s assertion, which I have included on your orders of service, that, “All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need.  The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.”

My grandmother’s life was a perfect illustration, for me, of the aphorism that “more is not necessarily better.”  And though I cannot imagine myself living a life as much at the margins or as spare as hers was, I am grateful for the example of it, and for the reminder that, in fact, I may already have everything I need.

“What is saving your life now?” would seem to be the quintessential religious question.  I think it is the question whose answer we come to church hoping to find.  What is saving your life now?  What could be saving your life now?  Could it be that, as Brown suggests, everything needful is already at hand, in whatever place it is that we happen to be already standing?

One of my favorite stories from the Hasidic tradition of Judaism is the one about the man who dreams that there is a treasure buried in the yard of a house in a certain far away city.  The man travels to the city, finds the house exactly as in his dream, and begins to dig.  The owner of the house, not surprisingly, asks what this stranger is doing digging in his yard.  Upon hearing the story of the man and his dream, the house owner says, “How curious.  I, too, have dreamed that there is a treasure buried in the yard of man in a distant city,” and he goes on to give the name of the city and of the man who is digging in his yard.  At this the first man rushes home to discover that there is indeed a treasure buried in his very own yard.

The story was told hundreds of years ago by a famous rabbi, as a way of asking us to look more closely at the potential treasure in our own lives, and, in Brown Taylor’s inviting words, to give “our consent to be where we are.”

It reminds me of those wonderful words of Garrison Keillor, which I have shared with you many times before, that “Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.”

I suspect that I am not the only one present here this morning who sometimes imagines that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

As a matter of fact, the grass is greener on my neighbor’s side,–but I suspect that the difference is more apparent than real.  We spend so much of our precious time wishing for the things we cannot have and the ways we cannot be.  In doing so, we miss out on the enjoyment and appreciation of the things and ways that are already, and uniquely, ours.  Unfortunately, we often miss them only when they are taken away from us.

One goal of the religious life, it seems to me, is to get us to look more closely at our lives so that we might begin to appreciate all that we have and are.  And that is why the question, “What is saving your life now?” is so important.  Who are the people, what are the places and practices, that make it possible for us to keep on keeping on?

Of course, there is my family, which often loves me beyond my just desserts, and who stand by me through thick and thin.  There are my friends, a perishable commodity about which we can never be too grateful too soon.  Is there someone we ought to be getting back in touch with? There are even all of those good people whose names we don’t know, whose names we will never know, but who sometimes quite literally are saving our lives.

There are the places we go, whether near or far, where our bodies and our spirits are renewed and refreshed.  You know where they are, and can bring them easily to mind.  A walk on the shore, or in the woods, or even on the quiet city streets of a summer’s late night.  Sometimes it is only the refuge of our homes, surrounded by the meaningful objects and memories of our lives.  Even our memories can have a saving grace.

I believe that most of us have spiritual practices which help to keep us alive, thought we might not think to call them that.  The things we do which help us to relax, which really excite us, and which take our minds away from all that ails us and the world.  There is this habit of attending church, which studies have shown can even extend our lives—I know, sometimes hard to imagine!

I think of art and music and poetry as things which have saved my life on more occasions than I can say.  I am grateful to those who are able to capture in these forms what I know in my heart is true, but which I am seldom able to express so well.  What would our lives be without them?

Sometimes it is not the “what” that is important, so much as the doing of it.  My grandfather, an old school country doctor, used to recommend splitting wood as a sure and simple cure for depression.  Just do something, just do anything.

I have found in my own experience that it is good to learn something new.  “Life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday,” as the poet says.  It’s not too late to take up a new hobby, or even to try to learn a new language.  Even if you fail to master it, you will be exercising your brain, and that can never be a bad thing!

With so much information and mis-information coming at us in this so-called “information age,” it is more important than ever that we maintain some balance in our lives.  Too much seriousness kills the spirit.  Learn, or re-learn, how to laugh, especially at yourself.  All work and no play makes Jack or Jill a very dull boy or girl.

We need to know when to turn the TV or radio off, and when to seek the silence or the solitude.  There are people out there in our world who wish to keep us at a high pitch of unhappiness and anger and disappointment and disaffection.  Let’s learn something from the Buddhists and practice a little non-attachment, especially where our prejudices are concerned.  Try talking to people you disagree with rather than making snap judgments about them, and you might find that you have more in common than you imagined.

What is saving your life, right now?  I know that what is always saving mine is what the poet Wordsworth called “little unremembered acts of kindness” and generosity.  What is saving my life now and always is the love of my family, the hope that my children bring, the beauty in so many of the lives that have touched, and continue to touch my own.  What is saving my life now is the thought of planting my garden, of working the soil and watching the miracle of growth and of things coming into bloom and to fruition.  What is saving my life now is the knowledge of friends who stand by me and reassure me and enrich my life in uncountable ways.  What is saving my life now is the possibility of learning something new, the unexpected pleasure of discovering a new novel or poem or song, the thought of all the miles I still have to go before I sleep.  What is saving my life now is the thought that, on balance, life has been pretty good to me, and that there is still more left to do and to discover.

“No one longs for what he or she already has,” wrote Barbara Brown Taylor in the morning’s reading, “and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it.  The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company.”

And as Richard Wilbur reminds us, it doesn’t require total selflessness, either.  “Help us to believe/That it’s no great sin to give,/Hoping to receive,” he writes.  We are all, I believe, hoping to receive whatever it is that will save our lives.  If the meager crumbs of our lives turn out to have been given partly or even mainly in the pursuit of that saving knowledge, I think we can be forgiven.  For unless we have managed to save something of our own lives first, it is unlikely that we will be able to save anyone else’s.  And that the world needs us to save it, as well as the lives of those who are along on the journey with us, seems an inescapable truth.

May you all go forth into the world to discover or rediscover whatever it is that is saving your life, now and in the days to come.  And may your discovery be, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, that you only have arrived back where you started, but now you truly know the place for the first time.  Amen.

– The Rev. Harold E. Babcock
April 11, 2010

Readings: from An Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor;
“Ecclesiastes II: I,” by Richard Wilbur

April 4, 2010

“Soft Sift in an Hour Glass”

Filed under: Uncategorized — newbabcock @ 1:36 pm

“The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse.”
– James H. Leuba

“Save your life, lose your life; lose your life, save your life.”
– Jesus of Nazereth, trans. John D. Crossan

“Life is the greatest gift of all. . . .  So treasure it, and measure it, with deeds of shining worth.”  Few of us, on reflection, probably would disagree with those words from our last hymn.  Most of us would agree with James Leuba, a turn of the twentieth century American psychologist, who wrote that, “Not God, but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is, in the last analysis, the end of religion.  The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse.”

That may sound a little sacrilegious on the surface, but let us consider the holiday that we are observing here today.  Easter celebrates the promise of eternal life.  In the face of all the evidence to the contrary, Easter offers us the promise of immortality.  My immortality.  Your immortality.  The psychologist William James wrote in his classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience, that “Religion, in fact, for the great majority of our own race means immortality, and nothing else.”

One could say that the flip-side of the fear of death is only the love of life.  We humans, as poet Wendell Berry has recognized, are the only animals who “tax [ourselves] with forethought of grief.”  We know from a very early age that we will eventually and inevitably die.  As the English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins put it so poignantly, we know that we are “soft sift in an hour glass,” our time is always and ever running out.

Most of us, I think, even those of us who suspect that the promise of eternal life is not literally true, harbor a secret wish to somehow transcend our death.  We cannot imagine a time when we will not be, in spite of the fact that there was a time before we were!  We want to believe that somehow, some way, the precious essence that is in each one of us, and that is in all of those we love, will live on in some kind of conscious, postmortem state where we can still have some kind of human-like relationship.

Even Robert Ingersoll, the so-called “beloved infidel” of the late 19th century because of his defense of agnosticism and free thought, recognized this longing of the human spirit for eternal life.  He wrote,

Immortality is a word that hope through all the ages has been whispering to love.  The miracle of thought we cannot understand.  The mystery of life and death we cannot comprehend.  This chaos called “world” has never been explained.  Fate is speechless; destiny is dumb, and the secret of the future never yet has been told.  We love; we wait; we hope.  The more we love, the more we fear.  Upon the tenderest heart the deepest shadow falls.  All paths, whether filled with thorns or flowers, end here.  Here success and failure are the same.  Character survives; goodness lives; love is immortal.

In other words, it is the love that we give and receive while we are here on earth that will ultimately survive us.  Death is the great leveler.  But nothing of the good we do will be lost.  Our “deeds of shining worth” will live on, if only in the memory of those who loved us.

This idea is sometimes referred to as “the immortality of influence.”  It is even found in the apocryphal biblical book, the Wisdom of Solomon, where it is written that “The memorial of virtue is immortal, because it is known with God and with the people.”  For some, that is enough.

But for many, that kind of immortality is not enough, it is unsatisfying.  We long for an immortality which is a kind of continuance of the life we now know, a life on this beautiful earth or one very like it, with all of the people and things that make and have made our lives worth living in the first place.  We long for a place where what [UU minister and liturgist] Kenneth Patton called “all the cherished mortalities” are restored.  Some of us long to see our lost loved ones again.

It is for that promise that many people attend religious services.  This is their great hope.  Never mind that biblical images of heaven are hardly of such a mundane sort—streets paved with gold come to mind—or that even so great an Apostle as St. Paul seemed ambivalent as to what the exact nature of existence after the resurrection would be: physical, or merely spiritual?  Never mind that nowhere that I am aware of is such a promise of eternal-life-as-we-now-know-it given.

And this morning I want to leave you all with a different thought, and with a different possibility.  I would like you to consider that this longing for personal immortality, though understandable, is not necessarily such a good thing.  I would like you to consider that, in the context of the on-goingness of life on this little suffering planet, it is at best a distraction, and at worst a destructive delusion.

Devout people for a long time have recognized that the religious focus on another and supposedly better world and another and supposedly better life is not such a great thing in the long run.  They have recognized that belief in a kind of deferred “paradise” after death has tended to take our focus away from the here and now: away from the life that now is, away from the treasure of our present existence, and away from the earth and all the creatures who share the earth with us.  Belief in another world has taken our attention away from helping our fellow human beings in this one, away from the effort to make the “earth more fair, and all her people one.”

All around us we see the results of that lack of focus and attention in the violence and poverty that afflicts so many of the world’s peoples, in the lives of  “quiet desperation” that so many of our fellow human beings are condemned to suffer.

How might we move beyond a selfish desire for a continuance of our lives, to a desire to save Life, itself?  Because I truly believe that this must be our goal: to serve Life, with a capital L.  More than ever before in human history, I believe it is essential that we do this.

This doesn’t mean that I no longer wake up in the night sometimes fearful about my own demise.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t continue to have some hope that something of myself and everything I have loved and worked for will survive the dissolution of “these mortal bonds.”  Rather, it means that I have come to the conclusion that the end of life on earth is what we should fear most of all, for in fact that may be the only immortality we can know about for sure.

I want life to continue after I am gone!  I want our children and their children to be able to enjoy an undiminished earth, an earth by whose beauty I have often been brought to grateful tears, and I want them to have the opportunity to experience all the wonders of life on this little spinning planet that I have experienced, wonders that are not diminished even by the fact of all the tragic circumstances which must be confronted and endured and overcome in this life, and by all of the “causes of despair” that life inevitably brings to each one of us if we live long enough.

My greatest wish is that we as a human race might begin to focus more on the problems that exist in the here and now, and less on the always uncertain future.  There is so much suffering on this earth, and so much that each one of us could be doing to alleviate it.  Imagine if we put all the energy we put into worrying about our deaths into improving what comes before them!  Imagine if all of the time we spent on assuring our personal salvation went into working to make a positive difference for others in this world?

That is my Easter hope, my friends, for this year.  It was Jesus, after all, who suggested that in order to save our lives, we must lose them.  Jesus, I believe, died because he hoped to make a difference in this world.  That is why the Roman authorities put him to death.  He wanted to help the “least of these” who are among us.  He wanted to see an end to violence and to the domination of the powerful over the weak.  And somehow, I think he knew that the effort to make those changes, even if it cost him his life, was worth it, and that it was in the very activity of losing his life that he would save his life, and I believe that he did.  I believe that is a large part of the reason we still remember him on this day.  I wish it was the largest part.

Because that is a kind of immortality—a kind of eternal life—that we can have in the here and the now, whether we believe in a literal resurrection or not.  It is not an end, but, in fact, a beginning of hope, because as we lose ourselves in helping to make a better world for all, we unexpectedly find that we have been given more abundant life than we have known or expected or even, perhaps, deserved.

When the time comes that each of us has accepted the truth of this possibility of more, if not necessarily never-ending, life, then it will truly be, as our closing hymn proclaims, a “day of light and gladness.”  Amen, and God bless.

– The Rev. Harold E. Babcock
April 4, 2010

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