The Last Word!
Lloyd H. Dunham
Community Unitarian Universalist Church
Daytona Beach, Florida
March 26, 2000
I Corinthians 15:35-44,53-54
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,
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
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
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
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!