It was two weeks ago – Monday, November 3 – and I was in a major funk. Like most of my friends, my savings were gone and my meager retirement accounts were rapidly disappearing. I had moved from the upper (larger) unit to the downstairs so as to save funds by renting out the bigger space. Kyrie’s adorable pups had gone off to new homes, and she had lost much of her beautiful coat with a skin infection. She looked ratty and I felt the same.
Of course, the real reason for the funk was that I had preached my last sermon the day before and had no idea when I might be called to a new church – let alone regular income. Further, strict (and appropriate) guidelines require me to end all pastoral and social connections with church members — thus requiring me to lose many dear friends. The bleakness of my situation was hitting me full square in the heart. Although I considered staying in bed all day, I decided instead to go to my women’s clergy study group and then remembered that I had agreed to make calls for Obama. And this is when the light began to dawn.
Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14)
My assignment was to call people in the area around Lynchburg, Virginia (Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson country) to encourage them to vote for Obama and to tell them their polling place and give them a number to call if they needed a ride. The first person I spoke with was a man who was happy to chat all day. After explaining that he was semi-retired and had a number of health issues stemming from service in Vietnam, he proceeded to give me the sales pitch on why I should vote for Obama! Yes, he knew where the polling place was and would be there early in the morning. He kept repeating that this was the first time he had voted; his pride in himself and the country spread from rural Virginia across the airwaves into my heart.
Almost four hours later, my last call was to an older woman, who bragged about how she and her neighbors, Annie Mae and Betty Sue, had already set their alarm clocks for 5:30 so that they could be meet at 6:15 to carpool together to the polls.
I went home as upbeat as all the good Virginians I had spoken with and was happy to return early the next morning to make calls to Ohio. There, most of the calls were to answering machines, but of the actual people I spoke with, the majority had or were planning to vote for Obama. That night, a dozen friends came and went to watch the election returns and celebrate the good news.
But that was just the beginning. Email messages came in from friends and family across the country sharing stories similar to mine. One friend had served as a poll worker helping people put their ballots into the locked box. She reported that an elderly black man with gnarled hands from a life of hard work took a long time in placing his hand over hers, tenderly caressing the moment. Videos of celebrations in Europe and Grants Park came in. Hope was blooming all over the world.
It was then that I realized two things: first, Obama’s victory has done more than anything else in my lifetime to give credence to democracy. Whether one voted for him or not, it is clear that the vision of America that represented freedom and opportunity for all people is – though injured – still alive and kicking. I’m not sure what historians will use to describe this new post-post-modern age – the Age of Hope, the Age of Honor, the Age of Horrors, the Age of the (true, nuclear) Holocaust… I’m not sure what it will be called, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is a new age. There is a fundamental shift in people’s thinking that is taking place.
Second, I believe that the name that historians give to the future will (for me and the world) be measured by the extent to which we act like Peter in the story from Matthew. Peter saw Jesus, Jesus said “come, ” and Peter started walking across the water. But then Peter got scared and began to sink. In short, fear will poison our possibilities. Live in hope, live in faith – and we (like Peter) can cross the torrential waters of economic and global terror and make it to safety. But if we let fear guide our actions, then we and the world are sure goners.
And that’s my “sermon” for today … and tomorrow … and, with God’s grace, a lifetime!