I never met her
I don’t think
Maybe passing in a crowd
Yet I still grieve
This sister spirit lost too soon
Sorrow hangs a halo
For what might have been
Given and received
So short our lives
So warm our hearts
Help us heal
And begin again the work
She left for us to do.
For a video of this sermon click (here)
Opening words (click here)
To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose, under heaven. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like that. Sometimes a change happens that makes us angry, that fills us with rage or with grief. I know many of us here today are feeling grief and loss because of our good friend’s sudden death this week. I know I am. Just a few weeks ago, he stood right here before you, sharing his thoughts and his wisdom. What a gift that was, and what a gift he was. It is a gift we should be grateful for.
I don’t know why he had to die. I just found out this morning how he died. I do know that we will miss him. He filled a space in many of our hearts, a space that is aching with emptiness today.
But loss such as this one, my dear friends, is a part of life. We are only here for a season, and then the wheel will turn and things will change. We are creatures of habit, however. We like most things, at least the things we like, to stay the same.
Change does not always feel good. Despite today’s sermon title, I don’t believe that change is always good. The death of someone we love never feels like a good thing, even if it is expected, even if the person has been ill for a long time. Pete Seeger, whose song we just sang, lived to 94 before he, too, died this week. Pete lived a very long life, but many of us are feeling his loss today as well.
Our world seems a little smaller, a little lonelier when good people have left it. There are so many people who I wish were still with us. People I knew personally and people who influenced my life even though I never met them in person.
I know you all have people you miss. It is OK to think about them. Grief never completely goes away when we have lost someone we love. But do not forget that love cannot die. It continues inside of us, it keeps us warm as we remember with gratitude the blessings that loved ones brought into our lives.
But changes will come no matter what we do. Impermanence is the essence of being alive. As in our reading, it is important to accept this fact, even as we struggle to hold on to what we love and what matters to us. Nothing lasts forever, all is Dukkha, and while we suffer from some changes, there are also changes we would love to see both in our lives and in the world.
Change always involves some loss, but it also can create opportunities. And in that sense change is good. It means we are alive and awake to possibilities. Our climate is changing, not for the better, but people are starting to come together, to work with each other, to both lessen the impact of the changes and to work to repair the damage that has been done. We can have cleaner air to breathe. We are a people who want to make things better. We want to bring more justice and freedom into the world. We want the hungry to be fed and the sick to be healed.
We are not content with the world just the way it is.
Change is still hard. It is important to acknowledge all the complicated feelings we can have about any change, about any loss. Our emotions can be very complicated. We can be sad. We can be angry. We can be afraid. All of these emotions are very human. It is good to just let yourself feel them. Cry, shed the tears and don’t try to stop them. We can be angry with a person who has died because they have left us. That is OK too. Fear is normal as well. What will happen and how can we go on? What other horrible changes might be coming?
What is also important to remember, is that change will come to those feelings. Life will go on. You will find other people to love and others will love you. The sun will come out and a small bird will sing. Life will feel good again.
If we don’t understand this, if we do not understand that such change will come, then we could become stuck in despair. That happens to some people. They become overwhelmed and they lose hope because they no longer believe that anything will ever change. It is, in some senses, losing faith in life, because life is all about change. Even rocks are changed as the wind and the rain wear their sharp edges away.
Erik Wikstrom had this to say about change and the church:
“If you are who you were, and if the person next to you is who he or she was, if none of us has changed since the day we came in here— we have failed.”
“The purpose of this community— of any church, temple, zendo, mosque— is to help its people grow.”
“We do this through encounters with the unknown—in ourselves, in one another, in “The Other”—whoever that might be for us, however hard that might be— because these encounters have many gifts to offer.”
His prayer is that people will go forth from the worship service each Sunday, not as they were when they came, but as the people they could be.
Holly Near wrote a song about change. It is a prayerful song. Beth will sing it now.
I am open and I am willing For to be hopeless would seem so strange It dishonors those who go before us So lift me up to the light of change
There is hurting in my family There is sorrow in my town There is panic all across the nation There is wailing the whole world round
May the children see more clearly May the elders be more wise May the winds of change caress us Even though it burns our eyes
Give me a mighty oak to hold my confusion Give me a desert to hold my fears Give me a sunset to hold my wonder Give me an ocean to hold my tears.
I am open and I am willing For to be hopeless would seem so strange It dishonors those who go before us So lift me up to the light of change”
Are you open? Are you willing? Are you ready to be lifted up to the light of change?
Change does not mean chaos. You still have your values; you still have your visions and hopes for what can be. Hold onto them let them guide you. Hold onto each other as well. Lift us all up to the light of change.
Pete Seeger taught me something this week, something I needed to learn. He had a long career as a musician and social activist, but his was full of changes. He sang with the Weavers and with Woody Guthrie; he was a Communist for a time. He was called up before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 50’s and was blacklisted for quite awhile. He was active in the Peace Movement, he worked as an environmentalist to clean up the Hudson River, and while in his 90’s he sang for the Occupy Movement. He did a lot of different things and, as the world changed around him, he also changed. He used his voice and his passion for justice in a variety of different ways, but he also always held on to who he was.
He was always guided by love and compassion. There was anger at times, righteous anger, but it was never mean spirited. He sometimes called the people who had power damned fools, but his song was always the same. Pete Seeger was a good Unitarian Universalist. He joined one of our churches because his values were our values. His songs were always love songs, even the angry ones. They were songs about the love of justice, of freedom, of the planet and of people.
They were songs about the love between and among us all. The love that lasts, that is stronger than death and loss, that is stronger than hatred, and stronger than despair.
If we hold onto that love, we will always know what to do. We will greet whatever changes may come in the spirit of that love.
We will keep singing. We will keep dancing.
I wrote a poem about Seeger the day that he died. It was about him, but it could have been about anyone like him. It could have been about all of the people we are missing today. There is nothing better than to live your life fully in a way that helps to heal the world.
You’ve died in your bed
But your songs they still play
In my head and my heart
No lullabies these
They say wake-up and rise
We will march to the beat
Of your troubadour’s heart
Walking the pathway of peace.
Your hammer we’ll swing
Until justice has come
Your bell we will ring
Until freedom is real
And your song about love
We will sing it for you.
Keep singing the songs. Keep singing the songs for your heroes, for your loved ones, for those who inspire you, for those who are kind.
Sing the songs too for those who are lost, abandoned, or afraid. Bring them hope with the power of your songs, and bring them peace with the power of your love. May it be so! Namaste