November 1, 2020


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Nov. 1, 2020

John 11:32

Last night, we changed our clocks, gaining an extra hour of sleep. Daylight savings is funny, isn’t it? No matter how we explain it, one could say humans are trying to manipulate time – that which is ultimately uncontrollable. And this whole process of falling back in the fall and springing forward in the spring – it wreaks havoc on our bodies – but it’s impressive that someone somewhere decided to do it and we all follow along!

I doubt that many people actually stay up until 2:00 am to watch the time jump ahead to 3:00 am or fall back to 1:00 am! That must be the closest we get to some kind of time warp. I guess it would be a bit like staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, when one year turns into the next; when December turns into January, when today turns into tomorrow. The funny thing about tomorrow, though, is that as soon as you get there, it’s today again, right?

There is a silly song – it was featured on a Muppet Show many years ago – about a small town in southwest Ohio called Morrow (M-O-R-R-O-W), which as you can imagine, leads to all kinds of confusion and lends itself well to all kinds of jokes. The song is about someone who is trying to catch a train to Morrow but missed the train going today and so would have to wait and go tomorrow. The song goes on and on, but at one point, the clerk at the train station sings:
“For the train today to Morrow if the schedule is right,
Today it gets to Morrow and returns tomorrow night.”
Quoted in Homiletics, November – December 2009; pg. 10-11

Tomorrow seems to be one of those elusive places we’re always looking ahead to but can’t ever seem to get there. Remember the musical Annie? – Annie sits at her window in the orphanage and looks toward tomorrow – only a day away – whenever she’s feeling hopeless, because she knows that there’s always hope, tomorrow.

Our traditional word is from the Gospel of John 11: 32- 44:
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So, the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Lazarus is dying, and his sisters call Jesus but he doesn’t come right away, so that when he does arrive, Lazarus has already been dead for the better part of a week. Mary is weeping when Jesus comes to her, and Jesus weeps, too, and everyone wonders the obvious question: Couldn’t Jesus have kept him from dying? But Jesus does better than that: he goes to the tomb where Lazarus was buried, and tells them to move the stone from the door, and then he calls into the tomb, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus does, bound with strips of cloth from head to toe. It’s a strange and sometimes troubling story, one that simultaneously gives us hope and raises more questions than it answers: Did this really happen? Could it happen? Why doesn’t happen again?

Is eternal life something that happens in some far off “tomorrow,” or something that happens now? Where are we? Today, or tomorrow? Are we looking forward to what God has promised us, or celebrating what God has already done? Well, both, of course. That’s the great tension of our tradition, everything we celebrate is based on just that: God has done great things for us, and we rejoiced. And yet, there’s even more! God will do great things for us. It’s like standing at a turning point in history, with the past behind us and the future ahead of us.

This week is a week when we are standing in that in-between space singing with Annie about tomorrow. We are waiting for an important election – not just for President, but for many local, state and national offices. We may differ on who and what we want for the future – but most, if not all of us – are very passionate about who and what we want for tomorrow.

We’re in the midst of our stewardship campaign right now. Every year, as a congregation and individually, we look to the past and celebrate what God has done, and we look forward to the future, making plans and building dreams. It’s fitting, I think, that we’re concluding our stewardship campaign this year on All Saints Day. After all, we are here doing ministry today because of the generosity of those who came before us. They endowed us with a building and a spirit. This is an important stewardship campaign. We haven’t been together for the better part of a year. And we don’t know when we will be able to get back together. Will you make an investment in the future, believing that it will come to be? And it has the potential to be bigger and better than ever? We have fabulous plans to put together a children’s bell choir to enhance the activities for our older children! We want to provide something to excite and involve them so that they will stay and perhaps bring their friends!

Today we honor those people we’ve lost, and in part, it is for them that we look forward. When we look to the future, their legacy is in our minds. Let’s remember; With God’s help, we’ve served people all over the community in all kinds of ways. We’ve donated hygiene supplies and school supplies to people who need them. We are ready to have a baby shower for parents who are welcoming a child but may not have enough to take their little one home. This is the way the saints have set before us. With God’s help, we’ve continued a strong and vibrant music program, even through the challenges of COVID. This is the way the saints have set before us. With God’s help, we’ve done behind-the-scenes work on everything from fixing our aging building – from leaking in the basement to holes in the eaves – all that not-very-exciting stuff that is so important for the rebuilding that we are doing. This is the way of the saints. With God’s help, we’ve gathered for worship in creative and meaningful ways during almost impossible times. We’ve cared for each other when times have been rough, we’ve helped each other grieve, we’ve celebrated together. We’ve welcomed new friends. This is the way of the saints. We can say with the saints: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced!”

Tomorrow is a hard place to get to, and we aren’t there yet. There are dreams God has for us that we haven’t gotten to yet. And maybe we thought we’d be there by now. Like Annie, we may be sitting by that preverbal window seat wondering if tomorrow will ever come. We could be feeling a little discouraged. Perhaps we are anxious about going forward without the presence of some of the saints. Or Coronavirus is wearing heavy upon us. Like Lazarus’s family we wonder why we have to wait so long. Is there any hope? Can we just be honest about this?

A year ago, we might be thinking, we were looking ahead to tomorrow and all that we hoped, and now it is tomorrow, or really today, and we’re looking ahead to the next tomorrow and wondering how all that is going to happen. So, yes. We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got to do be intentional about creating the future we want!
• If it is our church we are talking about, we have to be intentional about creating community in new ways! We have to keep the faith and show up for distanced events, give when it is possible, investing in the future. We have to continue to invite people to church and speak enthusiastically about what our church is doing. Our church is continuing on during this pandemic!
• If it is the election we are talking about, we have to vote. Not only that, we must pull together no matter what offices and who is elected. Our nation has been divided for too long. It is time to come together and be a part of the change we want to see. We need action, not complaining. We need involved citizens making a difference in our communities.
• If it is All Saints we are talking about, we need to take a lesson from our saints and emulate them! It is a good time to dedicate ourselves anew to not only remembering them in our minds and hearts, but remembering them by actively imitating their actions. We can be involved in causes they embraced – donating in their memories; volunteering in their honor; serving in thanksgiving for their lives; making a difference because of them.

Tomorrow. It can be a wistful word. It can also be an optimistic word! On this Daylight savings day when we’ve enjoyed an extra hour, let’s commit ourselves to making a difference! We don’t often stand on the cusp of so many opportunities – there is a little bit of tomorrow – our God promised tomorrow – in our every day. It’s a promise that every day, in every moment, God is rolling away that stone that keeps us inside wrapped up in whatever cloths are binding us, and every moment, that tomb is opened and God is peering in and saying in a loud voice – if only we could hear – “Come out!” Because something happens there.

We do not know what and we need not fully understand, but something happens there at the edge of that tomb when the stone is pushed away (and we are right to think of another tomb, another stone rolled away…) Today we have stood near the edge of the tomb of the saints whom we loved and honored. We can hear some of their voices calling to us today. The saints call us to a faithful tomorrow. Something happens that moves us from yesterday to tomorrow. That there is hope, not just for tomorrow, but for today. The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoice!

Resources Used:
“For All the Saints” sermon by Rev. Lee Hull Moses