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We are the Family of God

October 31, 2020
A large elk herd at the golf course next to Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO.

Tonight is All Hallows’ Eve, Samhain (pronounced sow-win), or Halloween depending upon your perspective. Literally All Hallows’ Eve means the night before Hallowmass (All Saints’ on Nov 1st and All Souls’ on Nov 2nd).

In the ancient Celtic tradition, Samhain was the Festival of the Dead. It was a festival to mark the end of the harvest season and to usher in the dark half of the year. It was also a time when the veil between the physical and the spiritual worlds was very thin. It was a time when your ancestors were honored. Bonfires were lit as jack-o-lanterns were carved initially out of turnips and later out of pumpkins to celebrate this sacred time. The early Christian church gave these festivals new names and new Christian meanings.

Today, All Hallow’s Eve is Halloween and many of the customs (wearing costumes to fool the evil spirits and jack-o-lanterns) have carried forward into the present day. In some of the more remote parts of Ireland and Scotland though, the spirit of Samhain and the bonfires is very much alive and well.

Today has been an emotional day for me. We attended an on-line retreat through Abbey of the Arts with Christine Valters Paintner. The Samhain retreat was titled Listening at the Threshold: Voices of Saints and Ancestors. It was a time to spend reflecting on ancestors and those who have died. While I was a pastor in Estes Park for five years, I officiated at 50 funerals. That doesn’t include our mothers and several other friends, colleagues, and extended family members. That’s a lot of death for one Padre to absorb. When you consider that all of this was pre-COVID-19 it blows my mind that I didn’t have any pandemic related deaths from March through the end of August. I am thankful for that both for myself and more importantly for my former parishioners. However, COVID-19 did take the lives of family members of parishioners.

Now, we are on the cusp of the annual All Saints Day service at Carrollton Presbyterian Church. There have been a lot of stories and people on my mind and in my heart. During today’s retreat we explored the family connections we all have. There is the family with whom you share DNA and there is the family you choose or who choses you. I am so incredibly thankful for such a cloud of witness who are present and who have passed through the veil. Each one has made a tremendous spiritual impact on my life.

In the first letter of James, we read the following: Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (1 James 3:2) This is the same letter where we read this about love: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

Beloved, let us love one another… In these uncertain times of politics, fear-mongering, hatred, and pandemic we definitely need more of that sort of love. In addition to that concept of love, we need a radical re-framing of who is our neighbor/family.

Jesus did re-frame who our neighbor is. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), he turned the tables on the religious elite in a philosophical and political sense. He would later turn the tables on them literally when he condemned their use of the Temple as a “Den of Thieves” when he entered Jerusalem for the last time.

Blessed are… the poor in spirit… those who are physically and spiritually dragging thanks to the oppression of the religious and political system… not blessed are the kingmakers or the powerful elite. Blessed are the poor in spirit… theirs is the kin-dom of heaven. I say kin-dom because instead of Empire, it emphasizes the connectional and familial nature of the concept Jesus called kingdom.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted… that comfort often comes from strangers in these COVID-19 days. The nurse, the technician, the doctor, the chaplain… the one who pause to simply let the dying person know that they aren’t alone. That hopefully brings at least some measure of comfort to a family who cannot be with their loved one in their final moments. I have experienced this as a chaplain and pastor. Such holy moments hopefully means so much to so many.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. The meek who are often buried in the shadows of the rich and powerful (those who have sold their soul to the Empire)… they shall be given a precious gift which they will not take for granted.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. They won’t be filled with empty promises and half-truths or outright lies. They will truly be fed spiritually and physically.

This list goes on through the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. This upside down economy of the love of God will create families and siblings connected by the Spirit, not by DNA.

The bottom line for us is this: We are the family of God, sisters and brothers literally and spiritually. As the family of God, we must be examples of love, justice, mercy, and peace. May it be so, Amen.

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