I want to begin this morning by thanking our reader for today, Robert Trenary, for selecting and for sharing those two really powerful readings, the one from the Palestinian poet, and the one from the Israeli poet, from the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Lamentations. Both of them are so very timely for what is happening right now in the Middle East.
We know that the people of Israel are beloved children of God, and they are suffering. And we know the people of Palestine are beloved children of God, and they are suffering. And our hearts are with all of them, because we know that we are all one.
Now some of you may remember, I was gifted with this banner, and I shared it with you before, but I thought it was timely to share it with you again. The banner shows the symbols of all of the world's major faith traditions. And it shows the golden rule in all of those traditions. So that golden rule that Jesus shared with us today – to love your neighbor, to love one another – you see that it is shared in Islam. It's shared in Judaism. It's shared in Buddhism, and Hinduism. And as we heard Jesus say in today's Gospel reading, it's also shared in Christianity.
Now, isn't that amazing? That in all of the holy books, of all of the world's major faith traditions, is that same exact rule, that same exact commandment?
So how did that happen? I mean, did all of the other faiths steal that line from Jesus? Well, I've told you before, Christianity is one of the youngest of the world's major faith traditions, which means that Jesus wasn't the first spiritual teacher to give that commandment.
And that commandment certainly wasn't unique to Jesus. I find it so fascinating that these holy scriptures were written by people in different countries, different cultures, in different centuries – they spoke different languages and practice different faiths. And they all have that same rule, that same commandment to love one another.
But then we look at the history of humankind, and we look at our world today with wars and mass shootings. And we think why can't we as a human race, follow that commandment that Jesus included as the greatest commandment? Why can't we get it? Why can't we do it?
But throughout the centuries, throughout human history, there have also been saints, many, many saints, not just Christian saints, but saints of all faiths, holy people who followed that commandment, who demonstrated love for one another. And they give us an example to follow.
Now, as I mentioned, at the top of the service, we're focusing on the saints, because this Wednesday is All Saints Day. And we're not only celebrating the saints that the church has said are designated as saints. When we talk about saints, we're talking about all of our loved ones who have died, because right now they are in the spiritual realm, among the angels and saints. And when I say spiritual realm, I don't mean that they're up in the clouds with pearly gates.
This is the realm, it's just a different state of consciousness. But they're still very much alive, just in a different form. And we can call upon them.
So today, we're celebrating them. And we're celebrating their example, and their love. Now, I mentioned Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. If you were in Mexico this week, oh, you would just be amazed at all of the beauty that surrounds you. Because the Mexican people set up altars in their homes, altars that are so beautiful, with flowers and candles, with pictures of their loved ones who have passed. They have their clothing on the altar. They cook their favorite food in the house. They play their favorite music.
And it's not sad. It's not a mournful time. It's actually a time of great celebration. Because what they're celebrating is the love that we shared. It's still here, their light is still with us. And that's what this celebration is all about. And that is really what our faith tells us.
I mean, that's what Christianity is all about. Our faith tells us that death is not the end of the story. There is resurrection, and new life, new life in the Spirit. But also this week, as we're putting our focus on the saints, we're reminding ourselves that we too, are called to be saints. And I know some of you might bristle at that and say, ‘Pastor Sal, I am not a saint. If you knew what I did in my life, I am not a saintly person, I can't be a saint.’ But you know, if you study the lives of the saints, many of them had a lot of really bad mistakes in their lives.
They were just regular people like you and me. But at some point in their consciousness, they had an awakening. And they realized that call to love God and to love one another, those two greatest commandments that Jesus gives us today. And so that really is the roadmap for sainthood. Really, if you want to ask yourself, well, how can I be a saint? Jesus gives us the two rules to follow, the two commands: Love God and love one another. Make God the priority of everything, put God first in everything. And then love one another, unconditionally. Forgive one another. Instantly serve one another, especially the least of these in your midst. Because what happens is when you start putting that into practice in your life, you die more and more to the ego self, the false self, and you awaken more and more to the authentic self, to the Christ self.
That's why becoming a saint, it doesn't mean that you become some pious, holy roller. What it means is you become more and more of yourself, who God created you to be.
Now look, I still have a long way to go on the way to sainthood. I've shared with you before that it's easy for me to follow the 10 commandments. When I look at the 10 commandments, they're easy for me, it's easy for me to honor my mother and father, to honor the Sabbath. I don't struggle with the urge when I go into a store to steal something.
But this commandment of Jesus's today, to love one another. That's one that I do struggle with. And I'm going to be honest with you. I struggle with it almost on a daily basis. I find it really hard to love those who are exhibiting so much hate in the world. It's very difficult for me to love them. But I know that that's what I'm being called to do.
There's a quote from Dorothy Day, some of you may be familiar with her. She's a 20th-century social justice advocate. And she said, “I only really love God as much as the person I love the least.”
Because you see, to love God and to love one another, they're really the same commandments. If you can't love your neighbor, then you don't really love God. So this commandment, this great commandment, love God, love one another is twofold. Because I think Jesus is calling us to both contemplation and action. So to me, Love God means contemplation. When you love someone, you want to spend time with them, right? You want to spend alone time with them. If you truly love God, you want to spend alone time with God. That's contemplation. And that's why I'm always sharing, almost every Sunday, I'm always urging you to find time each day to be still.
Father Thomas Keating said that God's first language is silence. Everything else is a poor translation. We in the United Church of Christ, say God is still speaking. And that's the truth. But we've got to listen. And we listen in the silence.
So Love God is contemplation. To love one another is the action. Now our church is so good with action. The United Church of Christ? Wow! We're doing amazing things in the world – helping the homeless, we're doing soup kitchens, refugee camps, all great action. But I don't think the United Church of Christ is really good at giving us the tools to be contemplative.
I think with these two commandments, Jesus is saying both of these are important. So in the silence, what we're doing is we're a tuning ourself to the master's voice.
Those of you who have dogs, you know that your dogs follow your commands, right? They're attuned to your voice. Jesus didn't use the dog analogy. But Jesus used the sheep analogy. And he is the shepherd and we are the sheep. He said, ‘My sheep know my voice.’
So in the silence, that's what we're attempting to do, my friends. We’re attempting to get still so we can attune ourselves to the shepherd’s voice. And that voice is always guiding us to more and more love. So that's what I'd like to invite you to do today, this week, this week of All Saints week, if you will.
Find time each and every day to show your love of God. By spending time with God. It could be a nature walk, it could be sitting in a chair, looking out your window. But make sure you find time to do that. And then remember this week, those saints who have been in your life, those who gave you the example of how to love, because all of us have been called to be saints. And all of us have been called to be love. Let us be that love for one another.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
by Mahmoud Darwish
On our last evening on this land we chop our days
from our young trees, count the ribs we’ll take with us
and the ribs we’ll leave behind… On the last evening
we bid nothing farewell, nor find the time to end…
Everything remains as it is, it is the place that changes our dreams
and its visitors. Suddenly we’re incapable of irony,
this land will now host atoms of dust… Here, on our last evening,
we look closely at the mountains besieging the clouds: a conquest…
and a counter-conquest,
and an old time handing this new time the keys to our doors.
So enter our houses, conquerors, and drink the wine
of our mellifluous Mouwashah. We are the night at midnight,
and no horseman will bring dawn from the sanctuary of the last Call to
Our tea is green and hot; drink it. Our pistachios are fresh; eat them.
The beds are of green cedar, fall on them,
following this long siege, lie down on the feathers of our dreams.
The sheets are crisp, perfumes are ready by the door, and there are plenty
enter them so we may exit completely. Soon we will search
in the margins of your history, in distant countries,
for what was once our history.
And in the end we will ask ourselves:
Was Andalusia* here or there? On the land…or in the poem?
*Al-Andulus (now Spanish Andalusia) is considered the apex of Islamic culture in Europe and the Mediterranean; a world center of scholarship, philosophy and science from approx. 700 – 1492.
What did you think?