I was transfixed recently by a Netflix documentary on the Nobel prize-winning author, Toni Morrison. Two quotes stuck with me.
“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” — Toni Morrison, from Beloved.
“If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.” — Toni Morrison.
We are indeed a mystery to ourselves. I am grateful for those folks who gathered pieces of me and gave them back in the right order. I took too little notice of their gift. They are the people who see the best in us when we can see little in ourselves. Friends of the mind are indeed friends; they have been teachers, lovers, and family on their best days. We spend far too much energy in our lives attracted like moths to the flame of those folks that tear us down. Social media banks on it. Human power dynamics trade in this currency. It also occurs to me that congregations, at their best, are friends of the mind, rooted and grounded in grace; at their worst, good religious folks stand by tearing others down. May we be friends of the mind. For those who have been so to me, including SLOUMC, thank you.
Hope, with a capital H, is the lived conviction in a power that persists beyond the mortal limit of human vision. At best, it is a reality we only catch whispers of. Yet Hope persists. Ancient writers used poetry, symbolism, visions of the end times, and the stuff of our dreamscape to gesture at this mystery they knew by faith. This sermon fragment is a nod to that genre in my experience.
I have performed many graveside services at Green Hils Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes. The cemetery is pitched between the rocky hills of the Palos Verdes peninsula in Los Angeles county, just off the Pacific Ocean. On one of those occasions, I looked down the length of a casket perched above an empty tomb. I raised my eyes from the prayer book and caught a glimpse of a sight that must have gripped the ancient psalmist who penned the words I was about to speak. “I lift my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?”
The response to that question is the Word of grace spoken at creation, promised to Sarah and Abraham, carried by lawgivers and prophets, and confirmed for all people in the first light of Easter morning. “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” At that moment, I sensed that one day, though I do not understand how such a thing could be, the sun will sink behind those hills for the last time, and the dawn of God’s eternal light will fully come. So I climb into the pulpit every Sunday and each Easter morning and proclaim the Ressurection of my Lord. I pass on to you what was given to me: there is nothing in life or death or in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. And now, O Lord --
When I’ve done drunk my last cup of sorrow--
When I’ve been called everything but a child of God--
When I’m done traveling up the rough side of the mountain--
When I start down the steep and slippery steps of death--
When this old world begins to rock beneath my feet--
Lower me to my dusty grave in peace
To wait for that great gittin' up morning—Amen. (1)
(1) From Listen Lord: A Prayer, James Weldon Johnson
Rev. Mark F. Sturgess