The Last Word!

 Lloyd H. Dunham

Community Unitarian Universalist Church
Daytona Beach, Florida
March 26, 2000

Scripture:

I Corinthians 15:35-44,53-54

Acts 9:3-9

What is the Last Word about life and faith? What is the Word that gives meaning to our days and reason to continue into tomorrow?

Is the Last Word one of chance, a gamble, a great big maybe?

Is the Last Word one of loss, of hate and defeat and death, of meaninglessness?

Is the Last Word one of hope, of love and life and meaning?

It seems to me that this must be the basic question for humanists, pagans, Buddhists, agnostics, Jews and for Christians. What is it about tomorrow that keeps us going? This is Easter, which is the reason that we gather on Sunday instead of the Saturday Sabbath. What would you expect a UU Christian minister to say on this festival Sunday? I am not going to say what a few of you may be anticipating. I'm not going to talk about an empty tomb -- because I don't believe there was an empty tomb unless someone stole Jesus' body or unless he revived and escaped and disappeared, as some serious historians believe . Frankly my faith does not stand or fall on what Mary Magdalene found when she and the other women went to the tomb the morning after the Sabbath. I find the apostle Paul makes better sense for my mind when he talks, not of physical resurrection, but of spiritual resurrection. If I am to eventually move on to another life, please don't make me take this tired old body!

But that is not my question for today. I believe the more important question is -- what is the Last Word about human existence on this planet?

I'm here to say that I believe the Last Word is: love over hate, goodness of humankind over inhumanity toward one another, dawn after darkness, triumph of good over evil, life over death, hope over despair.

It is interesting that the symbols our culture chooses to celebrate Easter as a secular holiday, are symbols of life! Our secular culture uses bunny rabbits, colored eggs, and flowers, symbols which come from a pre Christian era, all symbols of life, not death, symbols of hope and not defeat!

Lite gives evidence of its power over death. Cecil B. DeMille once told how he was in a canoe in Maine one summer day, just drifting through the water in a shallow place near the shore. He could see the bottom of the lake and noticed that it was covered with water beetles. One of them crawled up on the canoe, fastened its feet in the gunnel and died.

Three hours later, still floating in the warm sun, DeMille said he witnessed a miracle. The shell of the water beetle cracked open and a tiny head emerged. Then the wings unfolded until finally a beautiful dragonfly with an iridescent body and gossamer wings left the dead carcass and sailed across the surface of the water, shimmering in the afternoon sun -- going farther in a half second than the water beetle could crawl all day long. The dragonfly sailed across the surface of the lake, but the water beetles below, unaware of the miracle of metamorphosis, couldn't see it.

DeMille said, "Do you think God would do that for a water beetle and not do it for you and me?"

Many people are relieved to hear such stories as they struggle to understand. It is helpful to know that the letters of Paul were written twenty to forty years before the Gospels and thus can be expected to be much more accurate records. Paul never once mentions anything physical about resurrection. Paul firmly believed that he had come face to face with the post-crucifixion Jesus on the Damascus Road. It was for him a spiritual event and not a physical experience.

When we can reach beyond the physical, it is amazing what love can do, how love often becomes the Last Word. A powerful Easter message of love's redemptive power comes from a Jew. It's a true story.

A cantor at a Reform synagogue in Lincoln, Nebraska began receiving many harassing phone calls soon after moving to Lincoln some years ago. The cantor's name was Michael Weisser. The phone calls were coming from Larry Trapp, a Neo-Nazi and grand dragon of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Larry Trapp had lost both legs to diabetes and was confined to a wheelchair. His own father had ridiculed him for his disabilities. Certainly Larry Trapp had reason to be a bitter man. He heaped abuse on Michael Weisser, the Jew!

After a while Michael Weisser grew weary of the harassing phone calls from Larry Trapp and he decided to fight back. He confronted Larry Trapp, saying: "You know, Larry, with your physical disabilities, the Nazis would have made you the first to die I hope you also know that one day you will have to answer for all this hatred." Michael left Larry with time to think.

What more went into that confrontation we do not know. But something amazing happened. Not long after, Larry Trapp phoned Michael Weisser. This time he offered no Neo-Nazi racist diatribe. He called to talk seriously. He wanted to talk to the cantor A relationship slowly sprouted. Unbelievably, the entire Weisser family began helping Larry Trapp. They went shopping for him. They took care of him. Eventually, Trapp shed his hood and gave away his weapons and resigned from the Klan.

He decided he owed it to himself to learn about these people he had despised and find out how they had survived centuries of irrational hatred. The cantor helped him. In June nine years ago, the ex-Grand Dragon converted to Judaism and joined the Reform congregation.

Larry Trapp soon became too weak to care for himself. The Weissers took him into their home and cared for him. Trapp found a way to order flowers for Julie Weisser who had quit her job as a nurse to care for him. With the flowers came a note: "Thank you for changing me from a dragon to a butterfly."

In September of 1992 Larry Trapp died surrounded by the Weisser family. He was eulogized by Donna Polk, a black activist, whom he had previously harassed. She commented that "one never knows what love will do to ignite the spark of the truly human in a very mean world." Love worked a miracle!

The certainty of hope and love as the Last Word is well illustrated in the story of a group of men who owned a lake fed by a deep spring, a natural artesian well. The water from such a well rises to the surface under natural pressure from deep within the earth. The result is a steady, clear, very cold stream of water. The only problem was that this was a lake used for swimming. But the water was always very, very cold.

The group of men decided on a solution for their problem. They sank a six inch steel pipe in concrete and placed it over the well, driving it deep into the lake bottom. Then they threaded the top of the pipe and placed a cap tightly over the end. They made sure it was all very secure. They stood back and with satisfaction said, "There! That takes care of that!"

As they stood there dreaming of warm comfortable swimming, the irresistible force deep within the earth simply lifted it all - pipe, concrete and cap - right off the lake bottom. The cold clear spring water again gushed forth.

Such is the power of love and hope as the final Words in our world. Sooner or later God, Spirit of Life, Creative Spirit, the Ground of Being will have the Last Word.

Paul declares victory for sacrificial love over loveless power! He does not try to prove it. He affirms it but because he knew the reality of Love!

Even in the face of death itself for Paul the Last Word is a good word: hope, love, reconciliation, life, the final triumph of good will!

The wonder of Easter speaks to the darkness and despair and gruesome horror of every day tragedies of our world. Few dare to really look at what those horrors and pains are about. The darkness, the desolation, the pain, the defeat, the ugliness of it all -- we'd rather look the other way. It is the same with the darkness of our world today. Who will even look at the real pains of our world! Mother Teresa of Calcutta stood apart as a healer of the world's most miserable agonies. Who will stand on the edge of oblivion and dare to look over the edge? Yet if we will face reality for what it really is then Easter has a crucial and needed Word, a truly hopeful and powerful Word for us. THE GOD OF MANY NAMES WILL HAVE THE LAST WORD!

"A man, looking at the Grand Canyon for the first time, remarked, "Something important must have happened here." A person looking at another person who has the conviction of love and hope, in his or her heart and life, would also say, "Something must have happened here!" Such a witness is far greater than too many words repeated too frequently too glibly."

The forces of right, the power of love and hope, the Spirit of life which many of us call God, will have the Last Word. If we believe it we need to say it! If we believe it then we need to live it!

What is the Word of hope, the Word of triumph and victory at Easter to a world that stands at the cross roads in a race to death or a race to life? That Word is hope! That Word is love! That Word is life!