When I was a little boy growing up in New York, I would often hear stories from my parents and grandparents about hardships that they lived through in their lives. They would tell me about challenging periods in their lives -- living through the Great Depression, and World War II. I remember as a boy listening to their stories, and thinking, “How in the world did they live through such scary and uncertain times, times of great worry, and fear, and suffering, and death?”
I thought about that a lot during the pandemic. And maybe that's kind of an unfair comparison to make. I mean, our parents and grandparents, they had to stand on long bread lines for food, they had to go off and fight a war. And all we were being asked to do this past year was stay home and wear masks.
But I couldn't help but think during my times of worry, during the pandemic, that if our ancestors made it through such challenging times together, that we would make it through this challenging time together. And during the pandemic, when I would drive to work, I would pass that old abandoned Hayworth building on Bluestar and Douglas, where someone had painted along the side of it, "We can do this!" I can't tell you how much that brought me hope -- seeing that every day -- "We can do this."
We can and we are.
We can do anything when we come together. And that's one of the lessons I learned during the pandemic. The pandemic also reminded me though, how the world can change in just the blink of an eye, the snap of a finger.
Now, many of you already knew that, because you have gone through periods in your own life, where your world changed instantly. It might have been when your spouse came home and said, I'm leaving you. Or it may be when your boss called you into their office and said, we're letting you go. Or maybe it was when your doctor said you have cancer, or you got a phone call in the middle of the night letting you know that a loved one had died. Your world changes instantly.
And so I'm asking you to think back on that time in your life. How did you get through it? How did you find the strength and the fortitude and the hope that you needed to make it through such a scary and uncertain time?
Well, I've heard from many people that they've made it through their times of hardship, because they discovered within themselves, this inner strength, something they had never experienced before. That it took them by surprise. One of my favorite quotes about this comes from the 20th century Nobel Prize winning author Albert Camus, who said famously that "In the midst of winter, I found there was within myself, an invincible summer."He said, "No matter how the world pushes against me, within me there's something stronger, something better, pushing right back."
And my friends within us, there's something stronger, an invincible place of hope, and resilience.
Now Jesus spoke about this place in the Gospels. And do you remember what he said about about it? He said, within you is the kingdom of God. Do you know how powerful that statement is? Jesus said within you, is the kingdom of God. Meaning that's God's dwelling place. God's presence, God's power, God's love and light is within you.
Therefore, why should we ever lose hope? Why should we ever be afraid? That's what the readings from today are all about. The Old Testament reading that Sue read from us from Isaiah, is one in which God says, Do not be afraid for I am with you always. Not with you sometimes. God says I'm with you always. So do not be afraid.
And in the Gospel reading that I read to you from Matthew's Gospel, Jesus says, Do not worry, but seek ye first the kingdom of God within You, and then everything will be taken care of. That's what Jesus said, Seek ye first the kingdom, and everything will be taken care of. And that's the truth.
That's why when we go through times of hardship and uncertainty in our lives, when we go to prayer, we affirm all shall be well. We're not doing magical thinking, we're affirming the truth --all shall be well. And why? Because God is with us. And within us.
You know, I recently read somewhere that some form of the phrase, "Be not afraid," or "Do not fear" appears in the Bible, exactly 365 times. Now, I don't know if that's true. I didn't go and count it for myself. But I love the idea that God is letting us know for every single day of the year, "Do not be afraid, I am with you. My presence, my power, my light, and my life is with you always. And in all ways."
Now, how do we get in touch with that inner dwelling place? Well, we do it in the stillness. That's why Scripture says, "Be still and know that I am God." Be still and know it.
And that was one of the many blessings of the pandemic. People got still, instead of rushing around and doing a million things people got still. Now I'm not saying that they were in prayer and meditation 24 hours a day, but they started doing things that centered them. People started baking bread, and knitting, and doing art. Families and couples started spending more time together. They were more present with one another. And that shift brought us from a place of fear to a place of love and hope.
And do you remember at the start of the pandemic, people started hoarding things like toilet paper. That was an act of fear. But when you're still and you know, that God is the source of my supply, that all of my needs are being met, on time and in full, then you shift from worry to trust, from lack to abundance, from despair to hope, and from fear to love. You also shift from me to we, you begin to understand that we're all connected, that what affects me affects you, and vice versa.
Now, I think I've been telling you -- for seven years now, in my homilies, it seems like the thing I say the most, because I do believe that it is the key to the spiritual life -- that realization that we're all connected. And that is why we stayed home and wore masks. I got vaccinated not for me, but for you.
And those acts of staying home and wearing masks and getting vaccinated -- they're not acts of fear. They're acts of love. Because we understand our oneness that we are all one. So I want to thank this community for being people of love and hope and resilience.
You figured out how we could be church. You know, I saw that all around us here in Saugatuck and Douglas. I saw business owners and restaurant owners and school teachers and churches figure it out. You said, "Okay, we're not just going to wallow here in fear. We're going to figure this out together." And we did. So thank you for learning Zoom. Thank you for learning YouTube. And I know our churches Financial Secretary thanks you for learning online giving. But thank you, thank you for supporting our community for supporting our local businesses. And especially for supporting families in need in our community. That was such a beautiful thing to see. And I want to thank all of you who reached out and checked in with people in our community, especially those people who live alone.
We are a community of love.
That wasn't new to me. I already knew that. But I think the thing that the pandemic brought home for me was that no matter what happens in the life of our community and in our church and in our nation, we're going to be okay, that we can do this. We can make it through anything. This church was built in 1882. The people who sat in these very pews, they lived through the Great Depression, and the world wars. Some Sundays in the life of this church, there were 15 people here on Sunday. And some Sundays there were 150 people. No matter what happens moving forward, we're going to be okay, we're still going to be here. And the reason I know that is because God lives and moves and has its being in each and every one of us.
For as Scripture says, God hasn't given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and a spirit of love.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
From the book, Bread for the Journey, by Henri Nouwen
Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things --the weather, the economy, the political situation, and so on --will get better. Hope is trust that God will fulfil God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands. All the great spiritual leaders in history were people of hope. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Rumi, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day all lived with a promise in their hearts that guided them toward the future without the need to know exactly what it would look like. Let’s live with hope. If you live with hope, you can live very much in the present. The whole of the spiritual life is saying that God is right with us, right now. Here and now matters because God is a God of the present. Hope is to open yourself up to let God work in you and through you in ways that transcend your imagination. That’s hope, to let yourself be led to new places.
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