Tag Archives: faith

4th Sunday after the Epiphany, 2016

4th Sunday after the Epiphany, year C, 2016 (preached 1/31/16)

first reading:  Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 71:1-6

second reading:  1 Corinthians 13:1-13

gospel reading:  Luke 4:21-30


Our second reading for today is so famous that if we’re not careful we could daydream right through it.

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The LOVE chapter.  It’s become a standard reading at weddings as counsel on how spouses should treat one another.

But St. Paul wasn’t writing this “love chapter” to newlywed couples.  He was writing this to a broken community – a community that was broken, fighting, fractured.  The Corinthians were in trouble.  Paul was telling them how to work through their disagreements and jostling for power so they didn’t destroy themselves.

This reading isn’t about romantic love at all.  It’s about a state of being.  It’s about how we live our lives. This kind of love isn’t directed at an individual, it’s something we have in ourselves that flows out of us. For while I’ve said over and over that “love” is a verb, “love” is also a quality that we exude.

And love isn’t something we can manufacture ourselves.  When the pastor preached at my wedding, (not on this reading – we chose something different), he was clear to tell my husband and I that any kind of love we think we can “make” is a pitiful kind of love.

REAL love doesn’t come from us at all, it only flows through us to others.  Real love comes from God.  

  • In 1 John 4:7 we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
  • The gospel of John tells us the reason Jesus was born among us was love.  “For God so loved the world…”
  • And Jesus gives us the new command to carry this love that comes from God through him – to one another.  “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must also love one another” (John 13:34).

And not only that, but this – Jesus also calls us to love our enemies!  We like to forget this inconvenient teaching, but it’s part of the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:44,46 – “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who lo e you what reward to you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”  The Corinthians were certainly dealing with enemies outside of, and even within, their community.

So, like I said, this chapter has very little to do with romantic love, and everything to do with how we conduct ourselves – our demeanor, our personality.  It is meant for each one of us as believers.  St. Paul wrote this for you and me and all who follow Jesus.  It speaks the truth about how we are to BE in the world as believers, and part of that is how we treat one another.

And St. Paul is wise here, because he not only tells us what love looks like, he tells us what love does NOT look like. First, what love IS:  it is

  1. patient,
  2. kind,
  3. rejoicing in truth
  4. bears,
  5. believes,
  6. hopes, and
  7. endures all things.
  8. It is also eternal because it “never ends.”

What love is NOT:  it is not

  1. envious
  2. boastful,
  3. arrogant,
  4. rude,
  5. insistent,
  6. irritable,
  7. resentful,
  8. or rejoicing in wrongdoing.

This is hard work.  Love is hard work.  It is a commitment that goes beyond hugs and kisses, candy hearts and Hallmark cards.

  • Try being patient with a three year old whose new mantra is “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…”
  • Try not being irritable when you’ve had a horrible night’s sleep and a full day of things to do ahead of you.
  • Try not being envious of your neighbor as they fly off on their next vacation while you’re just trying to pay your monthly bills.
  • Try being kind when you have to spend the next two hours with someone who grates on your last nerve.

THIS is what St. Paul is talking about.  This is how you and I are called to live and conduct ourselves with our loved ones and NOT loved ones.

Actually it’s impossible.  Jesus is the ideal for 1 Corinthians 13, you and I are just poor imitations.  It’s a perfect example of Lutheran theology’s “saint and sinner.”  We try, we fail, we try again, we fail, we try again, and so on and so on – with our only fuel for going on being God’s forgiveness – God’s love.

So why love?  Why work so hard to let the love that is in us flow out?  Why try at something when we know we’ll never be perfect at it?  Because, although we know we’ll never love perfectly, love gives our lives meaning, purpose and shape.  It DEFINES us.

It defines us because love is the eternal thing that binds us to God and one another.

All the trappings with which we surround ourselves, even the gifts that God has given us to serve – these are only temporary comforts, successes and talents.

St. Paul opens and closes this chapter with reminding us that our earthly power and success and talent are just just noisy and clumsy without love, and that one day all those things will pass away, just like us. All our earthly gifts will end.  Love will not.  It is only love that carries on – the love from God through Jesus to you and me, and from you and me to each other.

So why love?  Because there is really no other way for us to BE.

It’s work, and it’s painful sometimes – to love does mean to grieve – but the alternative is living death.

Creation came from love, Jesus came from love – Jesus IS love – and Jesus calls us to love.  It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Love is the hardest, but as St. Paul wrote, it’s also the “greatest.”

AMEN.

the disturbing reality of our mortality

My denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, posted this picture on their facebook page for Ash Wednesday:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (facebook page)

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (facebook page)

It’s a beautiful image – yet disturbing at the same time.  In our culture, talking about death is avoided, confronting death in the face – really avoided, confronting the death of our children – avoided at all costs.  Some people might consider the above photo to be in poor taste because it features a child.

Death is ultimate equalizer – no one escapes it.  We might be wealthy enough to afford the best medical care, but in the end, no matter how much medical expertise we can buy, we eventually succumb.  With medical advances (and again money) we may be able to hold it back, but in the end it’s only delaying the inevitable.  We all die.  And with the exception of suicide, we have little control over how and when that happens.   And death is frightening.  It’s frightening because of our lack of control over it, and our lack of concrete physical knowledge of what happens next.  If we could be guaranteed heaven, our earthly death would be no big deal.  Problem is we don’t have that.   I have FAITH there is heaven.  I BELIEVE that Jesus has prepared a place for me and all the baptized.  But faith and belief are NOT the same as knowledge.  Can I prove there is an afterlife?  If we could prove heaven’s existence, no one would fear death and everyone would (not believe) but know there is God and live and die accordingly.  Alas, we cannot.  Resurrection is a matter of faith.

But here is where I find comfort in the above photo, rather than poor taste.  Here is where I find joy in the photo, rather than an affront.

The first time I imposed ashes on the forehead of one of my children I paused.  Looking them in the face, confronting their mortality, SHOOK me.  In that moment I was thinking only of the “here and now,” which, as a parent was completely natural.  I quickly had to remind myself of what I believe and rest in that.  It’s easier said than done, especially when thinking of our children.  I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a child.  I pray I never know.  I have, however, tasted just a morsel of that pain, when we suspected my middle child might have a degenerative disease that would cut her life very short (thankfully it was ruled out, but the wait for diagnosis was torture).

I can’t say I never doubt.  That would be dishonest.  But I DO have faith.  I have faith that the same cross that was traced on our forehead at baptism, the same cross that is traced on our forehead in ash, is the cross that was there for us 2,000 years ago, the cross of death that leads to life.  I have faith that death does NOT have the last word for those who cling to that cross.

The pain of death is real.  Even those who have faith grieve, and grieve profoundly.  But with our grief we dare to have hope that there is more.  And when hope is fleeting, having a community of faith surrounding us, reminding us of the promises and love of God, can carry us through another day.

So I love the photo.  I love that it jolts me out of my comfort zone.  Out of the comfort zone that tells me I’m the master of my destiny.  Out of the comfort zone that tries to have me deny the reality of my mortality.  I’m thankful to be jolted out, because out of that comfort zone I find the love of God I don’t deserve, the love of God that holds my children and all those I love more than I EVER could, the love that holds every one of us as we travel through the trials of this life, and into the eternal joy of the life to come.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).

Suicide: Sin and the problem of Enough

Ok, so everyone and their brother seems to have written a post about the suicide of Robin Williams. Many of them are eloquent and raw, and beautiful – and I am grateful and richer for reading them.

1)  Some, however, have been written that Williams was a selfish coward, and his act a sin.

2)  There are also those who firmly believe that if a Christian prays hard enough, or believes strongly enough in the power of Jesus, that their depression can be healed.  These statements and beliefs need to be addressed, because the ramifications of such statements/beliefs can be dangerous to those who are suffering, as well as their families and friends.

PART ONE –

In and of itself, suicide CAN be viewed as sin, in that it is the taking of a life – in the same way that murder is sin.  But the catch is that we CANNOT look at suicide in and of itself.  Except in the cases of those who plan to lose their lives in the process of murdering others (ex. suicide bombers), suicide is the end result of serious and dangerous diseases – depression, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia to name a few.  I won’t go through the many diagnoses that can lead to the black hole of suicidal ideation and action, but suicide does NOT happen all by itself.

Because I’m Lutheran I look to my tradition first.  The Lutheran Confessions and catechisms say nothing of suicide.  In the treatment of the commandment “thou shall not kill” they say A LOT about how we are to treat our neighbors, but make no mention of self-harm.  Some writers who have condemned Williams have mentioned the Roman Catholic Church’s view.  But even that is NOT so simple.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church DOES say, “We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us.  It is not ours to dispose of.” (paragraph 2280)  HOWEVER there is more:  “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.  We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.  By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.  The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.” (paragraph 2282-2283)

Nowhere have I been able to find a decent definition of “salutary repentance” but from the context I understand that the Roman Church recognizes that while suicide IS the taking of a life, psychiatric diseases sufficiently impact responsibility so that a) we shouldn’t despair over the victim’s salvation, and b) God can do whatever God wants, and if God wants that person in heaven, then that’s where they’ll be.  I’m glad for these clarifications, and I wish those claiming to share Catholic dogma would check their facts.

One who has never been sucked into the dark isolating black hole of suicidal ideation may view it as selfish and cowardly – but the one who has been fighting against the vacuum that is sucking them in, against the thoughts in their brain that tell them their family would be better off, that they’re worthless nothings, may see the act as brave and sacrificial.  That’s the twisted thinking that diminishes responsibility.  I have also known people in such tremendous psychological PAIN – REAL pain, pain that can manifest itself physically all over the body – that suicide “seems” to be the only way to find relief from constant suffering.  I put “seems” in quotations because again, when we’re thinking in a healthy rational manner, we might find there are other ways to cope or wait out our period of desperation if we receive treatment.  Again, this is the disease of mental illness creating “diminished responsibility.”

Is it a sin?  Some say “yes,” many others say no.  But even if it is a sin, it is sin that is covered by God’s GRACE and MERCY and the power of Holy Baptism.  I have never doubted for a moment the salvation of a person who has died from suicide, just as I have never doubted the salvation of a person who has died from cancer or any other illness.

PART TWO –

As for those who think if a person only prays enough or believes strongly enough mental illness will go away I can only ask that they get over it in the same way they expect those with mental illness to get over it.  The last time I checked, the only group that doesn’t believe in medical treatment for illnesses were Christian Scientists.  Of course it’s perfectly fine to pray for someone with mental illness.  It’s perfectly fine for someone with mental illness to pray.  But to suggest that prayer not be accompanied by medical treatment (therapy and/or medication) is the same as suggesting that someone with cancer should just “pray it away” without seeing a doctor.  It’s the same as telling someone with high blood pressure not to take their medication because Jesus will cure them.  It’s the same as telling someone who is blind that if they just believe hard enough they’ll be able to see.  And this is all ridiculous (to put it nicely).

GOD WORKS THROUGH MEDICAL SCIENCE AND MEDICATION.  God has given us the curiosity and wisdom to learn many things about how our bodies work.  As a result we know much about diseases that attack us and the ways we can fight back and find healing through that God-given learning.  Talk therapy is a real treatment for many types of mental illness.  Medication is a real treatment for many types of mental illness.  Talk therapy and medication together are a real treatment for many types of mental illness.  God works through them, because God is the source of ALL healing and life.

The idea of believing enough is damaging because it puts blame on the victim if a miraculous healing doesn’t occur.  So your spinal chord was severed.  Pray hard enough and you’ll walk.  Believe enough and you’ll dance.  What?  You’re still in the wheelchair?  Too bad for you.  This belief in enough is hurtful and downright unbiblical.  Sure, Jesus healed folks and said things like “great is your faith” but Jesus never taught that life would be easy or without suffering.  Even Lazarus who he raised from the dead eventually died.

This unbiblical belief in enough can also be dangerous because a person suffering from mental illness may be praying their hearts out, but if they’re still despondent they can feel GUILT on top of it all because obviously their faith ISN’T enough, or they’d feel better.  So now in addition to mental illness they feel guilt and perhaps even that God doesn’t LOVE them or they’d be healed.  THAT my friends, is a recipe for real disaster for the mentally ill, and for their families, because that leads to HOPELESSNESS.  If I felt God didn’t love me, it would rob me of my hope in a second.  And if I believe God doesn’t love me, then what does my suicide matter in the heavenly scheme of things if I’m unloved anyway…  you see how this thinking can create a dangerous slippery slope?

***Plus, our salvation isn’t about US having enough anyway, it’s about GOD HAVING ENOUGH – because in the end we never have enough (indeed, we have NOTHING), that’s why we need Jesus!***

I am grieved whenever I hear of someone taking their own life.  But my grief isn’t over their salvation, or any unforgiven sin.  My grief is sadness over the pain that must have driven them to such a desperate act.  My grief is over them not getting the treatment they needed (whether it was a total lack of treatment, or not finding the right kind of treatment in time).  My grief is for their families who I know from experience will deal with obvious deep sorrow, but also anger at their loved one (that’s ok) and guilt over what they feel the “could’ve” done to save them.

Nowhere, I repeat nowhere, does judgment enter into the picture.  Amen.

 

***addendum:  I also posted this on my “little” pastor blog and heard back from my BISHOP (fear and trembling!).  She reminded me that the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) DID put out a statement on suicide back in 1999, but that my words were “enough” (I’m not sure if she intended the play on that word!).  I was relieved.  But for those interested, here is my denomination’s statement on suicide prevention (16 pages worth).

Why did God made me autism?

I was sitting in bed, browsing the internet, minding my own business, when my 14 (E) and 11 (G) year old daughters entered the room.  E had a look of “help!” on her face.  They walked over and sat on the bed and E said to her sister, “G, ask Mommy what you were just asking me.”  G looked a little timid, which is unusual for her, then asked,

“Mommy, why did God made me autism?” 

(This is an exact quote.  I’ve written elsewhere that she has problems with verb tenses and sentence structure.)  I’m glad I was in bed and not standing up because I think I might have fallen over.  We had the “autism talk” with her a few months ago, and while it’s come up here and there in passing, she has not approached near this depth of thought about it, at least verbally.  I have had years to work out my own beliefs about God causing things and have even written a bit about it here, but putting all my thoughts and beliefs in words that would make sense to her left me momentarily speechless.  Yet there she was, looking at me, waiting for an answer – one of those lovely terrifying parental moments.  I took a big breath then dived in.

Here’s how it went – paraphrased of course –

Me:  Honey, God didn’t give you autism.  Sometimes things just happen.     G:  How come?     Me:  Well, every one of us is different right?  Some of us have brown hair, some people have blue eyes, some people are tall and some are short.  Sometimes people have special challenges too.  Sometimes a person might need a wheelchair because their legs don’t work right, or remember that girl in your dance class that only had one hand?  I know that having autism can be hard sometimes, but God didn’t give it to you, God helps you so you can be strong and work hard and be the wonderful girl you are!

G:  Did I get it in your belly?     Me:  I don’t know.  Some very smart doctors think maybe autism starts in the mommy’s belly, other smart doctors think it happens after you’re born.     G:  Oh.  Did my friends get autism in their mommy’s bellies?     Me:  We don’t know about them either.  You know there are THOUSANDS of kids and grown-ups with autism all over the world and the doctors don’t know for sure if it starts in the mommy’s bellies or happens after they’re born.  It’s the same with all those people as it is with you.

G:  Do the kids at (the other program site where they have classes for more challenged “lower functioning” kids) have autism too?     Me:  Yep.  There are all different ways people have autism.  You know there’s lots of kids at (the other site) who don’t talk right?     G:  Yes.     Me:  Well, some people with autism have a really hard time talking, and some kids like you talk really well!  But you took a long time to talk and had to work really hard, and we’re so proud of you!     G:  Yeah!

She seemed satisfied at that point and bounced away happily to play while E stared at me with a look of “I can’t believe what just happened.”  She got up slowly and left the room too – then I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief that it was over.

I asked G later what made her think of that original question, “Why did God made me autism?”  And she casually replied, “I don’t know.”  I’m not sure if she was thinking more about autism, or more about God.  She has been asking more about God lately, but putting the two together as a “cause and effect” was a big leap.  There’s definitely a lot going on in that beautiful brain of hers.

You may completely disagree with the answer I gave my daughter about her autism.  It may give you comfort to think that God is in control of the details of our everyday lives.  But that thought has never comforted me.  For me that would make God a dispenser of pain and suffering.  I believe that God is THE loving presence who gives us strength to persevere,  carries us through our pains, comforts us in the midst of our suffering and gives us hope that we are more than the things that challenge us.

God heals our ills, God doesn’t cause them.

family traditions BEFORE Easter

Good Friday is a busy day for our family.  Even when both parents aren’t preaching, there’s a lot to do.

1)  After the kids came along, one of the rituals was cleaning the house.  With so many worship services it became clear right away that traveling to family was just too exhausting, so if family wants to see us on Easter, they have to come to us.  It’s also become a tradition to invite friends whose families are quite far away.  HOWEVER – having guests, even when they are family, means cleaning.  It’s wonderful to have a clean house but getting that way is definitely a chore!  Good Friday means starting the cleaning process that will continue into Saturday.

2)  There is another cleaning ritual I started for myself quite a few years ago.  Both of my mother’s parents died before I was born.  I never met them, and my mother has saved precious little from them.

my grandmother's tea set

my grandmother’s tea set

One of the things my mother passed along to me, after years of me complaining about its neglect, is my grandmother’s silver tea set.  In my mother’s pantry it was gathering not only dust, but turning a deep brown.  When she finally relented to give it to me I promised her that I would keep it well – and I have.  It has a prominent place in our dining room, and while one of the handles needs to be fixed, I keep it in very good condition – and one of the times of year I ALWAYS clean it is in preparation for Easter.  For me it’s symbolic.  My grandmother is one of the saints of God, one of the souls I look forward to meeting when it is my turn to join the cloud of witnesses in the Church Triumphant.  Cleaning her tea set, holding these vessels that she held with her hands, helps me feel connected to her in a very profound way.  I think of her, the facts I know about her life, and wonder about the many things that are still a mystery to me about this woman.  Cleaning her tea set isn’t so much of a chore as it is a joy.

3)  Good Friday is obviously more than cleaning – it is also about our Lord’s death on the cross.  Many years ago, when our children were still small, my husband and I came across an activity that we immediately wanted to start practicing with our young family.  When Christmas is over we save our Christmas tree.  We bring it out to the edge of our backyard and we save it there.  IMG_1327On Good Friday we take this tree, cut off all the branches, then saw the trunk about 1/3 from the top, take the two parts of the trunk, and make a cross.  Then we use the Christmas tree stand to display it in front of our house – a reminder to all of the sacrifice our Lord made on this day.  As the children have gotten older, they help us with the pruning and nailing and it’s a great opportunity for us to remind them of the connection between Christmas – the birth of the savior – and Easter – the sacrifice he made for us.  For Christmas means nothing without Easter.

IMG_1340

4)  A tradition that is my husband’s, although I join him when able, is to watch the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  It is one of the few “Jesus” movies that doesn’t include resurrection.  It leaves you at Good Friday.  Not a comfortable place to be, but we shouldn’t rush too quickly to Easter morning – it’s important that we linger a bit in the chasm left by our Lord’s death.

5)  Of course there is worship.  In the evening we have a service of darkness – in the Latin “Tenebrae.”  The church starts in light, and as the worship progresses lights and candles are extinguished until the church is in total darkness – our lives without Jesus.  Then “the Book” is slammed shut – shaking us all – it is finished.  It’s one of my favorite services of the whole year, along with Maundy (or Holy) Thursday (but since the kids are usually still in school on Thursday our family “stuff to do” doesn’t start in earnest till Friday).

Saturday we will still be cleaning and finally starting to decorate for Easter (my autistic daughter is just about losing her mind wanting to decorate, and has been making me a bit crazy perseverating about it – but we do NOT get out the decorations until the day before).  We try to stay away from too many “bunny” things, but we hang plastic eggs from our front trees, and color eggs and have baskets.  We give presents too, although not as many as at Christmas.  Heck, if we get presents for Jesus’ birthday, shouldn’t we get some for him rising from the dead!  And of course there’s candy, because God’s love is SO sweet.  But before the baskets, candy and gifts, there is more worship.  Saturday night we will celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter.  And this year, it also happens to be the exact anniversary of our middle daughter’s baptism, who was made our sister in Christ 11 years ago at the Great Vigil.

Busy times, crazy times, good times.  Do you have any family traditions/rituals leading up to Easter?

Scripture: not so simple

I read yet another story today about someone who loves someone of the same gender being rejected by the Church.  You know, I’m getting really sick and tired of it.  And if it’s tiring for me, I can only imagine what it feels like if you’re the one being rejected.

I think what it boils down to is the same kind of argument, the same kind of “simple” reading of the Bible, that also rejects women in leadership/authority/pastoral ministry.  This black and white, “well, the Bible says it right here,” “the Bible clearly says…” view of Scripture.  Well, as someone who has studied the Bible, its context, its history, its overall themes, I would like to state that there are precious few things the Bible “CLEARLY” says.  Even Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” and “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Figure that one out.

photo(7)

The Scriptures are truly inspired.  But inspired and inerrant are two different things.  Authoritative, and authoritative in every word are two different things.  Martin Luther said that the Scripture was the cradle in which we find Christ.  Scripture is NOT Christ.  Christ is found there.  God’s message in Christ is found there.  It is through Scripture that we can come to know God, the story of God’s people, and God’s saving message of love in Jesus.  It is GOD we worship, not Scripture.  The Bible doesn’t save us, only God can do that.  GOD is perfect, Scripture is not.  And because of that interpretation can be a struggle.  For me as a Christian, all things boil down to what Christ said are the two most important commandments – to love God and to love my neighbor.  In Christ God showed us what love is.

It is important for us to understand WHY the biblical authors (yes, authors, plural) wrote about certain things, so that we can discern, as best we can in the struggle of interpretation, God’s Will for us.  If it was shameful for a woman to speak in the Corinthian culture, then women speaking in the church would not help the spread of the gospel.  But what would Paul have said about the “PROPHET” Anna from Luke’s gospel, who was speaking about Jesus and praising God in the temple?  Also, women speaking in public was a problem in the United States right through American suffrage – Susan B. Anthony had tomatoes thrown at her when she tried to speak!  But in our current day and age, women hold very important positions of leadership, and speaking in public is no longer a disgrace or controversial.  Would Paul still condemn it?  I really don’t think so.

In the same manner, would Paul look at a relationship of two people of the same gender who love each other and are devoted to each other as equals, and who love Jesus together, and still call that an abomination?  I have a hard time believing he would.  Remember, when Paul wrote those letters, he was writing to specific churches in specific places at a specific time.  Did he think he was writing for people 2,000 years after the fact?  ABSOLUTELY NOT.  He thought Jesus would return any minute, he was in no way thinking decades, or centuries or millennia ahead.  There are fundamental truths that will be for all time, and other statements in Scripture that were meant for the time in which they were written.  It is up to the Church to discern which is which.

For me, the words and message of Jesus trump everything else.  And you know what Jesus said about homosexuality?  NOTHING.  NOTHING.  NOTHING.  He said a whole lot about loving each other, taking care of each other – he said a WHOLE lot about caring for the poor, and taking care of each other’s physical needs.

And even if homosexuality IS a sin, (which I don’t believe), Jesus didn’t rank sins.  He didn’t grade one sin as any greater than another.  He died for it all.  Can any of us say that we don’t sin continuously? Jesus said that if we look at a brother or sister in anger we’ve committed murder in our heart.  THAT is sin – sin specifically named BY JESUS himself.  If we are so quick to condemn others for the LOVE they have, (about which Jesus says nothing), then how much quicker should we be condemning ourselves for the anger and judgment we have towards those others (about which Jesus says plenty).  It seems to me we’re pointing at the speck in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in our own.

Jesus loves me, a sinful straight woman.

Jesus loved my Uncle Bruce, a sinful gay man.

Jesus loves my husband, a sinful straight man.

Jesus loves my friend, Sarah, a sinful gay woman.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross for only some people.  He died for everyone.  He doesn’t just love some people.  He loves us all.  And thank God for that, because if I thought there were some beyond his reach, some people that Jesus could NOT love, then there is the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I AM one of those left out.

“What then are we to say about these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?  Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  Who will separate us from the love of Christ?  Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:31-39c

At the end of all things

Yesterday I received a phone call from the daughter of one of my congregation’s oldest members.  She called to tell me that her father was now receiving Hospice care at the assisted living home where he’s been residing the past few months.  I thanked her for keeping me in the loop (it’s always nice when the pastor is informed of these things, believe me.  We don’t like to be shocked any more than the next person.).

I visited with this man this morning.  Without divulging any confidences, I want to share him with you, because his life is an amazing testimony, not only to faith but to what we have come to call “The Greatest Generation.”  My visit with him also illustrates one of the most touching aspects of serving as a pastor in the Church.

This man served in the army in World War II.  He survived the Battle of the Bulge.  He was present for other less popular conflicts in the war as well.  As his pastor he shared with me many things about his experiences, but also didn’t share the half of it I’m sure.  He is supremely grateful to have survived when many of his buddies did not.  Grateful for each day that he could get up, go to work, and come home to a wife and children when many of his friends never got that chance.  A man with a quick wit, always good for a funny story and a kind yet mischievous smileEven today when we visited, he was still able to flash me that smile.

He is dying.  He is in his mid 90’s and he is aware of what’s going on in his body.  Yet even so he can’t understand how this happened.  In his mind he is still a 20 something strapping lad.   I so applaud that thinking!  How many of us, me included, aren’t half as old as he, haven’t gone through anything like the experiences he’s had, and yet feel as old as the hills?  There are certain people through my 19+ years of pastoral ministry that have stayed with me and will stay with me – and he is one of them.  He makes me smile.  I am proud to have known him, and I told him so.

One of the more daunting tasks of a pastor is to journey with people through illness and death.  It’s a terrible privilege.  Terrible because of the circumstances – terrible to be surrounded with grief, sadness, anger, doubt, fear.  A privilege because you are allowed into to a sacred moment, where time almost stands still, where no one questions what is most important, because it is clear then what really matters in life.

Many people run away from scenes of death and dying as fast as their legs will carry them, and it may also be the first instinct of the pastor as well.  But it is our call to enter into that space and provide the presence of God (not to BE God, but to represent faith, to be a sign that God has not and will never abandon us).  Even after more than 19 years I struggle to find the words to say, though I know better.  There really is nothing to say to make the situation better, to make the pain go away, to truly ease the fears.  This gentleman today took great comfort not in any words I said, but in me holding his hands.

At the end of all things*, these are the things that matter: loving, being loved, a smile, holding hands, making a connection to another – BEING together.  That is “wonder”ful, powerful, mysterious, and holy.

*quote from JRR Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo to Sam on Mount Doom, “I am glad you are here with me, Sam. Here at the end of all things.”