Does anyone else just love it when you’re filling out an online form and at the end of the form, before you can press the button to submit the form, there’s a box to check: I am not a robot. Sometimes you even get a brief test, you know, to prove you’re not a robot: click on all the boxes that have pictures of trees, or boats, or bridges or stoplights—things that you, as a human, should be able to identify before checking that last box, “I am not a robot.”
I love that question because it’s easy: no, I am certain that I am not a robot. There are enough hard questions that come at me day to day, enough to make me really appreciate the questions that have easy answers. I am certainly not a robot.
And neither are you. Dear friends: of course you are not robots. You are human. You are children of God. You are made in the image of God, precious and uniquely created. And maybe this is obvious to you, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that you’re not a robot: you are human.
And not only are you human, but you are also beloved by God. You already know some of the wonderful things about being human, tasting food and laughing and being in a community surrounded by love, having everything you need and then some, with the ability to be generous. This is God’s dream for all creation—we don’t get to see it all the time, but when you do get a glimpse of that dream of God’s reign, you savor those moments and call them back to memory over and over again. There is joy in God’s presence.
But you also know the difficult side of being human—the feeling of hunger, sorrow, being hated and cast out, pain whether physical or mental or spiritual. The feeling of being far away from God. The feeling of confusion, confronted with questions that don’t have easy answers: why does life have to be so painful? Why do good people die too soon? Why do humans hurt each other so terribly? Why can’t we take care of each other?
Jesus knows the challenges and the joys and the pains of being human, too. Jesus never promised easy answers, but he did give visions of God’s presence. Jesus reassures humans that wherever we are, whether we are mourning or rejoicing, all these are part of the human experience. We will have moments of joy and moments of sorrow, and God is with us through all of it.
Some of you arrived here today in mourning, remembering the loss of someone you have loved, someone we remember on this festival of All Saints. To you, Jesus says you are blessed.
Some of you have arrived here in a moment of joy, celebrating something special that has happened in your life or in the life of your family, and that’s beautiful. To you, Jesus says woe, but that’s not a curse against you or against what you celebrate, just a reminder like telling a horse to stop galloping: “whoah.” When Jesus says “woe,” this is not condemnation, but he is saying: watch out, beware. Even when your happy moment ends, that doesn’t mean you’re outside God’s favor or away from God’s love.
To learn all this takes a heart of humility, and it’s worth noticing the very first line of the Gospel lesson: Jesus looked UP at his disciples. He looked UP. Where was he? Was he seriously sitting on the ground while his disciples were standing? Were his disciples ready to listen to someone who was situated beneath them? Are you ready to learn from someone you look down upon? That’s humility.
It takes humility to realize we’re not in control of every aspect of our lives. All Saints Sunday is a time when we are particularly aware of death, and death is one of those human experiences we can hardly control. But when we know the God from whom we come, the God into whose presence we will be received after death, we claim the power of peace within ourselves. Fear has no power over us. When our life is in God, or the way Jesus often said it, when we lose our life for the sake of the Gospel, we can know what peace really is.
This is not easy stuff. It’s not easy to stay focused on the peace of God while you’re grieving. It’s not easy to live in peace when there’s a midterm election coming up this week, when there’s violent speech turning into violent actions in some places, when there are people who feel comfortable dehumanizing one another for the sake of political gain.
Times like these are when it is most important to remember who you are and to remember that you belong to God. Don’t forget that whatever is going on in this world, whether inflation or wars or natural disasters—it’s nothing new to God. God has seen it all before.
And this is where a weird reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the book of the prophet Daniel, is so helpful to us now. In case you weren’t paying attention when those few verses were read a few minutes ago, we read from the seventh chapter of the book of Daniel. And just so we remember who we’re talking about, there’s one really famous story we know about Daniel—what is it? This is the guy who got thrown into a den of lions because he was faithful to God and refused to bow down to the king who wanted everyone to worship other gods. In fact, that story comes just before this one we read today.
Daniel has a dream at night, a vision of the winds of heaven stirring up the sea—in the ancient world, the sea was the metaphor for chaos and unpredictability. And four great beasts, different from each other, came up out of the sea.
And then the vision gets even weirder, and that’s the part we didn’t read, but I want to encourage you to read chapter seven of Daniel because the beasts are described: a lion with wings, a bear, a leopard with wings and four heads, and then some kind of beast with iron teeth and ten horns and then one of the horns starts talking…
And this vision was so terrifying that he was still afraid when he woke up, and he couldn’t even figure out the meaning of the dream, so he talked to someone. Isn’t that a good way to get something out of your head, by talking to someone else? That’s important to notice. But the friend helps interpret Daniel’s weird dream, saying that these four beasts represent four kings of the earth.
And times might get bad during the rule of these kings. But here’s the really important part: the holy ones of the Most High—and Most High is the name for God—the holy ones shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever.
In other words: kings will come and go. Political rulers will come and go. Empires will rise and fall. But God remains steadfast throughout the turmoil, God is still God, and God remains in charge.
For us, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are rooted in this same foundation as the prophet Daniel: our foundation is rooted in the love of the Most High God. How else could Jesus be so bold as to suggest that enemies can be loved, that acts of hatred can inspire acts of love, that theft can be endured? And this part of Scripture where Jesus speaks has been misused to suggest that survivors of abuse must silently accept abuse or worse, that survivors must forgive their abuser, but that’s not what Jesus is saying here.
Jesus calls us to our better selves, to live with the knowledge of our belovedness in God, that our humanity is not a liability nor a curse, but we are beloved. You. Are. Loved. Live in that truth, and let that guide your actions and your thoughts, and see if that doesn’t help you embrace the kind of freedom that isn’t bothered by elections or their consequences. You are a child of God no matter who is on the ballot, no matter who wins, no matter who claims power.
There is work ahead of us this week, for sure—go vote, as part of your duty as a citizen. But don’t forget to keep breathing. The day after the election, there will still be hungry people who need food, there will be sorrowing people who need love, there will be outcasts who need acceptance. God will still care for the vulnerable. There will still be a kingdom of God coming more and more into focus, the reign of God that becomes evident as we root our actions in God’s love. Will the outcome of any election change your behavior in this regard? I hope not.
Remember who you are, human, mortal, child of the Most High God, who is eternal.