Singing in the Rain: A Sermon for the 26th Sunday After Pentecost and the Election
The thesis of today’s Gospel Lesson from Luke could come down to this: Don’t get too excited about things that look permanent-they aren’t. Or about bad news, it will change, or worry about opposition, it will come. But you will be given wisdom and words to say that cannot be contradicted. And, by enduring, you will gain your very souls. And nothing about you- not even the hairs on your head will perish.
Now in Luke’s context, the things Jesus has foretold have already happened. The temple has been torn down. Families have been torn apart by conversions to Christianity, thrown under Cesar’s bus, hauled into court thrown into prison-fed to lions and crucified. Luke is preaching to the choir. The early Christian community to which he addresses his Gospel has already experienced these things. They are up against it.
This past week, we had a clergy forum meeting with our District Superintendent, who had just returned from a conference on Church Strategic Planning. The speaker there delivered what I thought a chilling pronouncement; “The culture has our strategic planning for breakfast”, meaning, that the larger context in which we are struggling to live out our discipleship has the arena. We, as church in 2016 look a lot more like First Century Christianity than the boom of Christian America in 1950. We are up against culture and it doesn’t care about our values or our mission.
So what are we to do? The image that surfaced in my mind as I pondered this Gospel, our situation and the events of this week, is the one of Gene Kelly, swinging from a lamp post, singing in the rain. Gene Kelly’s iconic dance in the rain communicates such irrepressible joy, that it is easy to miss the dances’ underlying message-that when love consumes your heart, even the downpour of rain cannot dampen your joy. Singing in the rain is hard. Hard to smile in the wind, or breath in the raindrops. Without a sustaining song on the inside of us, the cold damp of trouble will stifle the song we sing to the outside.
Luke’s Gospel was to his audience-but his message resounds with every age. WE can put faith in institutions that will only ultimately be torn down, or be dismayed by events natural and political, or we can choose another option.
Sing in the rain. To sing in the rain means to draw on a deeper truth, held in the heart that is not oblivious to reality, but impervious to circumstance that would thwart the love we know to be our deepest truth.
This presidential election is ultimately not about our candidates-either one-it is about our slippage as a nation in our commitment to one another. It is about not having enough love in our hearts to hear the despair of our brothers and sisters. The noise of this contest was really about our peoples failure of faith in each other-and can only be repaired in our turning toward a renewed commitment to the truth of our love for another.
One of our members, a writer, Stephanie Hall blogged these words on November 9, 2016
“We” by Stephanie Hall
“Let’s remember who we are. We, not the government, fought for the right for women to vote. We, not the government, fought against Jim Crow. We, not the government, are fighting for Flint to have drinking water and for the disastrous effects of being poisoned to be rectified. We, not the government fought and fight forward to end. It is not the government that forces change to make things right. We do.”
We have to word as Christians and as Americans, and as citizens of the world to enter the arena of culture and make things right for each others.
We are weary. But Scripture says, “Never weary in doing right” We are discouraged by divisiveness-half the nation doesn’t understand how the other half can think the way they do-and it is profoundly alienating. But Scripture says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, all are one in the love of God revealed in Jesus. We are worn. But Scripture says, “Suffering produces endurance, endurance produced hope, and hope does not disappoint for Christ’s love has been poured into our hearts!” Endurance- the message of Luke’s Gospel this morning- by endurance we will regain our souls and we -and the nation will not perish. Scripture says “Trouble comes, but joy comes in the morning.”
To dig down to the core of our being; to the part not battered by circumstance-or drowned in the noise of commotion; the deep place that sings in the rain-is what we must do as individuals to survive our own life’s “crosses” and what American the beautiful must do now-dig deep into the soul of who we are as citizens together and sing in the rain- and find that glorious feeling of being happy again. Happy, because we are doing the right things. Living our deepest values and commitments-also known as integrity; the rule of law for the people and by the people. When we are living our deepest values as a nation we live in the value of being here for each other-a dynamic too long ignored, hence our current political climate.
And who, then but the Church of Jesus Christ, from Luke’s time to ours, knows better how to sing in the rain of division and oppression? The Church, its faith, is the muscle of endurance which produces the hope for the future we long for. Like pushing up from the bottom of the deep end of the pool-having found footing on a foundations that gives us the needed resistance to rise to the surface again. The foundation of what we know for sure; the love of God for us in Jesus that cannot be shaken the true and the good.
This week marked the passing of Leonard Cohen, a Jewish Canadian songwriter, poet, and essayist whose work has influenced millions and changed the world. He was 82. One of his best known songs was “Hallelujah”. It had dozens of verses and unfortunately-at least to me- became so popular in Christian circles that many new verses of it were written to make it more “religious”. My problem with that is that Cohen’s words were already profoundly religious and faithful because they were authentic and true. Cohen wrote, “There’s a blaze of light in every word-it doesn’t matter which you’ve heard- the holy or the broken Hallelujah.” Shades of Johns Gospel prologue,”In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the Word was God.” Our language, our ability to name our experience, becomes our vehicle for faith.
Leonard Cohen’s lyric about a blaze of light in every word, and whether it is a holy or a broken Hallelujah, could be said of the cross the immense work of love God wrought upon it and the immense mystery of the human enterprise. Cohen continues, “And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand be for the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” If that isn’t singing in the rain, I don’t know what is.
So even when it all goes wrong-whatever that might be, we can stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on our tongues but Hallelujah. That is singing in the rain, my friends. And you know what? To quote Walt Whitman, “I hear America Singing” not a song of division, not a song of partisan victory. I hear America singing in the rain with a holy and a broken Hallelujah, with an endurance born of suffering that produces a hope for the future that pushes up from the bedrock bottom of the true love with which we hold one another, that freedom and democracy may not perish from the earth.
Leonard Cohen also wrote the words, “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in.” How fitting that our Liberty Bell has a big crack down it. That how the light get’s in. We will get through this time. God is working in the midst of all things to bring about God’s purposes. All things work together for good with those who love God, Scripture says. And if we hold fast, endure and push up on that foundation of love- the Church of Jesus Christ can help heal our nation. We will pray for our leaders, pray for our process, and pray for ourselves. And we will sing in the rain, and let the word on our tongue be Hallelujah, because we have a great God, and we have been given gifts, and we have a love that holds us-always. Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are pure if there is any excellence if there is anything worthy of praise- think on these things and the God of peace will be with us. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Linda Farmer-Lewis, Central United Methodist Church, Lansing Michigan Nov. 13, 2016