“Hopeful Mourning” Colchester Federated Church, November 8, 2020, (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

One of my family’s Thanksgivings went down in history as the worst.  Our family got into a huge political debate.  Well, screaming match more like it right after the 2008 Presidential election.  In my family we have Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.  We have big personalities, loud voices, competitive natures, and everyone thinks that they are smart and right with a dash of Midwest polite when we feel like it.  It is not an exaggeration to say that this family fight about politics and the direction of our country ruined the holiday.  Considering that we live scattered all over the country and aren’t together very often, that made the whole incident that much worse. 

The next year my grandfather sent out an email to our family about Thanksgiving.  He laid out some rules.  We would not have a repeat of last year.  There would be no discussion of politics at the dinner table.  If someone brought up politics, they would be asked to leave and go into the family room to watch football by themselves as the rest of us enjoyed our meal in peace.  We all behaved.

Now I understand why my grandfather set those rules about silence around politics at Thanksgiving.  But the truth is that the family fight continues in some ways.  It is nearly impossible to have productive political discussions with my extended family because we’ve never really learned how to do that.  Like so many Americans, we don’t know how to speak to one another across our ideological differences.  So, we choose silence to not damage our relationships.  This conundrum isn’t unique to us. 

As was shared in This Week’s Thoughts on Thursday, our nation’s bitter political divide has ended long friendships and caused family members to disown one another.  Jocelyn Kiley (associate director of research at the Pew Research Center) related that political polarization is more intense now than at any point in modern history.  When we feel animosity during political discussions with other folks, when we wonder how things have gotten to be this bad in our discourse—that is not in our heads.  We’re not imagining this toxicity or exaggerating how terrible this often feels right now.  Because it ends up that nearly 80% of Americans now have just a few or no friends at all across the aisle.  “The animosity goes both ways.”[1]

 Now it would be premature to get up here in this pulpit days after a heated election like this 2020 Presidential election and say that all of our problems as a country will be solved and will be solved soon.  Notwithstanding the complexities of this election season during a global pandemic.  It would be arrogant to even attempt to come up with quick and easy answers as to how to address the divisions.  Sometimes people are so hateful that they can’t even affirm our humanity and treat us with dignity and respect.   In those cases, we may have to end relationships and set boundaries for our own mental health.  No one needs to stay in an abusive relationship, even if that involves members of one’s own family.

The truth is that the bitter divide in our society remains.  No matter election outcomes in all sorts of races.  The bitter divide remains in our country, in our state, in our town, in our relationships.  At some point, we will have to contemplate paths forward.

Christians like us are a people who can always have hope.  Maybe we simply start there.  While it would be premature to attempt to come up with possible solutions to our problems today (and simultaneously irresponsible to not say anything about such an important moment), it also wouldn’t be right to live as if we have no hope.  No hope that things can get better.  No hope for healing.  Some of the most important symbols of our Christian faith are an empty cross and an empty tomb.  Resurrection isn’t crucifixion denied, it’s woundedness transformed.  Because death, suffering, and despair are not the final words in our story.  They never have been and never will be.  God always has the final word in our story and God is love.

When Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy wrote to the Christian community in Thessalonica they were writing to address some of that community of believer’s anxieties about the future.  They were writing to a community going through their own stuff.  Those early followers of Jesus were specifically worried about what would happen to those among them who died when Jesus hadn’t returned yet in the way they envisioned and expected in their lifetimes.  The authors wrote, “Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about people who have died so that you won’t mourn like others who don’t have any hope.  Since we believe that Jesus died and rose, so we also believe that God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus.”[2]  More specifics are shared about how this will look with angels, God’s trumpet, and meeting Jesus in the air.  The main takeaway is that we will always be together with God.

That’s the Christian hope.  When there is loss and suffering in our lives, we must never mourn like people who don’t have any hope.  Because one day we will all be together in God.  That is the promise we hear from scripture this morning.  And we can expand upon these words of comfort.  No matter the chaos and divisions.  No matter the animosity and hatred.  No matter if we are feeling anxious or angry or numb or anything else in between this week given the state of our country.  We must not live as if we have no hope.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Tovia Smith, “‘Dude, I’m Done’: When Politics Tears Families And Friendships Apart, NPR, October 27, 2020 “https://www.npr.org/2020/10/27/928209548/dude-i-m-done-when-politics-tears-families-and-friendships-apart
[2] 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, Common English Bible.