In September of 2010, syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, made a short film and posted it on the internet. The video isn’t particularly beautiful or well-produced; it’s just a head-on, somewhat grainy shot of the couple sitting in a booth in a noisy restaurant. But this little home movie started a revolution. In the video, Dan and Terry talk about growing up as gay men, about how excruciating it was to be bullied, and beat up by their school peers, about how difficult it was to be rejected by their families. Then they talk about their lives now –about how they found each other, how they found acceptance from each other’s families, how they found a beautiful son to adopt as their own, how they found themselves living lives that were and are full of love. It is a heartening story. But the truly revolutionary thing about all this is not what they were talking about, but who they were talking to. Dan and Terry made this video specifically for people they had never met – young people in the GLBT community, so many of whom find themselves depressed or even suicidal because of constant and merciless ridicule and abuse. Dan and Terry made their video to offer hope to these teens; they wanted to tell these young people – indeed, all people – that life will not always be so hard, that they can and will find support and love, that it gets better. And their simple video was so powerful that other people wanted to reach out and make their own, and soon Dan and Terry had so many videos that they had to start hosting them on their own website – and a movement was born.
If you haven’t been to the “It Gets Better” website, I invite you (grown-ups) to check it out. There are thousands of videos there from people all over the world, each with the same message – that no matter what you are suffering right now, no matter why you’re being excluded or teased or tormented, it gets better. Some of the people in the videos are gay, some straight, some are celebrities, politicians, or religious leaders. President Obama made a video, as did Bishop Gene Robinson, as did General Motors and the Phillies and even Kermit the Frog, who describes with detailed vulnerability the moment he finally realized that he was green.
But the most powerful videos, I think, are the ones created by ordinary folks. These are people who just set up a video camera at home and talked about their lives – moments of struggle, moments of grace, moments when they thought they could no longer go on, and then the moments that made them grateful that they had decided to live. There is rarely anything particularly new or earthshattering in these videos. The people in them do not tell you how things are going to get better, and they certainly don’t say that things won’t sometimes get worse. They are just people, sitting down and telling their stories, painting a picture of the world as it can be, sharing a vision of the world as it should be. They smile, they laugh, and they offer hope and reassurance that the current moment is not the end of the story. Again and again they say, it gets better.
In the 5th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus sits down in front of his disciples and tells a story. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. With these powerfully comforting words, Jesus paints a picture of the world as it will be, a vision of the kingdom of God as it truly is. He offers hope and reassurance to all of his followers that no matter what they might be suffering right now, no matter how difficult things may be, it will not always be thus. Follow him; it gets better. The kingdom of heaven awaits them, where they will be richly rewarded.
But notice that Jesus does not tell his followers that they will be blessed. You will be blessed when you’re hungry because you will be filled. You will – eventually – be blessed when you show mercy or make peace. No, for Jesus and his followers, the blessing happens now. Jesus’ disciples are blessed now, in the present, why? Because they know what the future looks like. They have seen Christ’s vision of the kingdom of heaven, where all are comforted and fed and called children of God, and just seeing this vision, just hearing this story, blesses them now. They see what is to come and so they know that the present moment is not the end of the story. Jesus’ mountaintop proclamations change the disciples’ lives now; they are already blessed, because they know that it gets better.
Telling the story of the future matters. Bearing witness to the promise that it gets better is one of the greatest gifts that we human beings can give one another. And this is not only because that witness reassures us that our lives will be better in that far-off, great gettin’-up mornin’, not only because the hope of future happiness helps us to suffer through our lives in a grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it kind of way, but because the gift of that promise blesses us now. Dan Savage knows that. He knows that hearing stories of hope can change lives now. And Jesus, of course, knows that too. The great difference is, of course, that Jesus can tell us how things are going to get better. Through his own incarnation, death, and resurrection, Jesus shows us the way. All we need do is look. Jesus makes things better, no matter who we are, no matter how we’ve suffered, no matter what we’ve done, no matter how dark the world might seem. It all gets better, because Christ makes it so.
This is what we celebrate here on this All Saints’ Day – that there is more to this life than simply the here and now. This great Feast of the Church reminds us again of what our future looks like in the kingdom of God. In this feast, we recollect all of the Saints who have come before, all of those holy women and men who have been through the great gift and ordeal of life. We recall their stories of rejoicing and suffering and loving and enduring. And we reaffirm that all of those Saints still are, that they now sit before the throne of God, worshipping him day and night, that they hunger no more and thirst no more, and that God has wiped away every tear from their eyes. And in this remembering, in this recollection, in this recalling and reaffirmation, we recognize that we are all made one, past, present, and future, Saints in heaven and on earth, “knit together into the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.” Thank God for the gift of this story, for the hopeful witness of the Saints. Thank God that we know their stories and that in those stories we hear the Saints saying to us again and again, It gets better.
But thanking God is not enough. Being grateful is not enough. Because you and I also have a story to tell. We have a picture to paint, a vision to share that the world desperately needs to hear. Our story is the greatest gift that we can offer to another human being. For we know what glories the future holds – the hungry will be fed, the dead will be raised, the meek will inherit the earth, and there will be peace like a river. We lift up our voices to heaven and sing that lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on his way. Alleluia. What better gift could we offer to the world than the chance to know the wonders of the kingdom of heaven, to sing as one with those who shine in glory, to see this great vision glorious. So celebrate with us – sing these hymns and come to the altar and embrace this hope and be changed…now. And then sit down and share this story with someone else. Tell them of your life, tell them of your hope, tell them how tonight we sing with joy because we know that not only will it get better, it already is.
Preached by Mtr. Erika Takacs
1 November 2011
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia