A Sermon for Proper 14: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, Psalm 50:18, 23-24, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40
Last week it was Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The week it was Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Last week it was JB, RW, and JT; this week it was a death, a diagnosis, and a band.
He was a mean crusty old coot. Nothing she and her family ever did was right. Nothing ever measured up to his expectations. None of their desires to improve themselves, nor any of their aspirations for their family measured up against up against his plumb line of life.
Still, when the diagnosis of cancer hit hard, she was the one who refused to lie to him. She was the one who firmly yet compassionately told him that he was not going to get better, or get out of here, or go home, he was dying. She was the one who listened to whispered regrets. She was the one who wiped his tears. None of which mattered the next morning, nothing she ever did, nothing they ever did ever passed muster.
And then he died. She saw the familiar SUV turn the corner and park in the Funeral Home’s lot. She watched the usual and customary exit ritual. As he walked across the grass, she rushed towards him. There was no greeting; she flung her arm around his neck and cried. Quietly and deeply, she cried, oh so deeply she cried.
In the cloudless blue sky of a Delta morning she held tight, she dares not let go. As hard as the time had been, she knew the routine; she knew how to negotiate it. The waters were dangerous, but her map was accurate. And now, with the patriarch dead, everything was unclear. No one could know how the family’s relationships would resettle, you never can. As the thermometer pushed 100, she held on.
He was surprised by how tightly she clung. He was surprised by how calm he was. He kept his breath regular, deep and calm. He stood straight and still. He felt her shake as she sobbed. And only on the Spirit’s breath do the words come to him. Only to her does he whisper “It is amazing how much you love the one who annoyed you so much.”
The call was expected; the timing was not. He left the meeting, so he could speak privately with his brother. He knew the circumstances; he knew what the conversation would be about; he thought he knew how to navigate the conversation and be there for his brother. His brother walked through the past week; all the tests, all the decision points, all the unknowns, everything. At every point, the protocol was correct, decisions were correct, even as they now created some complications. Last night’s decision to go home and tend to other matters is sensible; they expected to learn the results of the latest tests in the morning. The timing was off. The doctors came that evening. Alone, his son and wife heard completely unexpected words “cerebral palsy.”
Actually, his brother’s first words were “It’s cerebral palsy.” He was unprepared. There are things you simply cannot be prepared for. He knew the experience of his first 20 plus years in business were useless. Then it was his responsibility to know the symptoms, know the answers and to execute the necessary corrective plan. In short, it was his job to do. For the last twenty-five years, his vocation was to be. At times he spoke. At times presided. At times he was the manifestation of divine presence. But beneath all of that, the vocation was to be. And now miles of separation prevented that. All the technology of wires, and fiber, and wireless were completely useless; he simply could not hold his brother in his arms in a loving hug. It was a lonely, fearful thing to hear his brother fall into the arms of a loving God.
For more than a decade she and her husband lead their church’s band. Every Sunday they coordinated, and made music and sang praises to God. Every Sunday, with love and purposeful preparation, they created musical moments in which their colleagues, friends, family and the strangers among them, might encounter the transforming love of God. But no more.
Both their parents were aging. Both their parents needed their attention. Weekday responsibilities and distance so shaped the context that weekends were the available times for them to honor their parents. And so they do. They have given over to others the work they so love.
At times she blogs. Friday morning, she blogged about their decision. A high school friend who sometimes reads her blogging saw and read this one. He was caught by her words “As I ramble through my first churchless Sunday in I can’t remember when my heart is heavy and tears well unbidden.” Immediately he knew the connections. The words of the prophets spoke with the clarity God intended. His impulse was to share. He demurred; for good reason, he knew the depth his friend’s faith, even when they disagreed on one point or another.
Well, he tried to demur. However, the urging would not go away. And so, as is his custom, he writes through a private channel:
I read your blog this morning. I am reminded of the prophets, who, after criticizing empty worship, point towards God’s desire which includes care for God’s people. Tending to parents in waning years fits the bill, and you will meet the prophetic understanding of ‘church.’ Moreover, in John 9 when asked who sinned Jesus replies “No one. this man was born blind. Let the work (glory/presence) of God be made known” again you are making God’s presence known. You are not churchless; you are simply in another manifestation of church.
He was not surprised she replied; although the words were more than expected.
Thank you, for taking the time to read my post today, and for writing such words of encouragement. I did need those so much! We know we made the right decision with regards to our mothers. Change is never easy, but knowing God walks with us is a comfort and a blessing. Thanks again, my friend
This morning’s reading from Hebrews encourages us to have faith. The author provides us an example, Abraham. Abraham trusted God and ventures forth into the wilderness with no map and no real idea where he was going. The journey is long, decades longer than expected. He questioned God, more than once, about the promise of countless heirs. He and Sarah did see their son; they never saw a people more numerous than the stars of the night sky. But still they kept the faith, they never lost their trust in God, as shaky as it got. And they were, for the most part, honest with God about his timing.
Luke tells of Jesus telling the disciples to be prepared. He challenges them to know what matters most. He challenges them to be ready for God’s appearance. And in the last bit share with them the curious notion that God’s presence is to serve them.
You can be prepared, but not for everything. You cannot be prepared for a death, a diagnosis, and a band. We’ve been told by various preachers that we can always keep our faith. There are deaths, and diagnoses and moments when faith ~ belief, and trust are shaken; badly shaken; beyond the of point doubt. There are moments when we stand over and see into the very depths of the abyss.
Both Jesus and Isaiah are clear, standing over and staring deep into the abyss of doubt and rejection are to be shared with God. God wants you to share all the depths of your soul, no matter how offensive you think God may think they are. Because God knows that in those moments, you will glean brilliance of a single point of love and light of life.
Your map may be worthless. Your faith may be shattered. Your trust may have faded with the passing of long – gone years. Being prepared may have vanished in the heat of the sun. But you are never alone; those you love are never alone. God’s love bears all things, endures all things, God’s love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)
Last week it was Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The week it was Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Last week it was JB, RW, and JT; this week it was a death, a diagnosis, and a band. The week to come? is not ours to know, except the eternal love of God, in Jesus Christ by the whisper of the Spirit.
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