Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Prayers for Boston

What a world we live in.  So many of us suffer from tragedy fatigue--for me, it manifests as a slow realization to the extent of the suffering in Boston.  It's been hard for me to absorb what's happened.  This afternoon I noticed a flag flying half-staff at the house across the street from the church (I have a good view of it from my office window).  My first thought was, "I wonder why it's flying so low?..."  Moments later the sadness of Boston enveloped me once again.  This fatigue connects me to those living in places experiencing continual and unpredictable bombings--I can't imagine the terror and sheer tiredness of it.

In the midst of all of the news coverage (don't get me started on the press reporting premature predictions just because they don't have anything else to say and need to fill air time!) I have found solace in--of all places--Facebook.  I see comforting quotes from Mr. Rogers and Patton Oswalt tick through my news feed and it makes me feel better.  Others have connected me with great reflections and stories.  I have few words this day, so I share the words of others.  Prayers fill my heart, even as I feel afraid to pray--just as it feels counterproductive to get too hopeful about a new job possibility or longed-for pregnancy (and no, that's not self-disclosure).  May God open our hearts to trust and daring hope.  May we be compassionate and may it make a difference.

Here are two lovely reflections from two local pastors: John Keller and Glenn Berg-Moberg.

The Blue Room has some wonderful links.

Holy anger and affirming life.

And this:  

May God's peace and hope reign.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Goodbye, Mr. Ebert

I remember Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbooks sitting on the bottom shelf of an end table in my grandma's basement.  I leafed through them, amazed this man had seen and reviewed what seemed like countless movies every year--and giggled every time I came across a turkey symbol next to a hated film.  Siskel and Ebert felt like regular visitors in my childhood home, and I watched At the Movies each week as Ebert struggled through various surgeries and valiantly tried to return to his seat next to Richard Roeper.

Roger Ebert launched his internet presence about a decade ago, and his website has been on my favorites bar ever since.  Every Friday I looked forward to checking for his new reviews.  Soon he began writing his blog, which became more and more autobiographical as his illness progressed and took his ability to speak.  His writing was candid, breathtaking, wise, and heartbreaking. His perspective on life was empathetic and inspiring.  His 2010 cover photo and article in Esquire made me stand up and applaud.  I was awed by his resiliency and hope in the face of his illness, and the courage it took to reveal his true face to the world.  I feel like I lost a good friend and mentor on Thursday.

Goodbye, Mr. Ebert.

Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 Easter Sermon

Sermon for Easter Sunday, 3-31-13
Text: Luke 24:1-12

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! 
Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Kevin Kling is a wonderful local storyteller.  I recently heard him talk about a serious motorcycle accident he was in 10 years ago.  The accident left him with a paralyzed right arm and required surgery to reconstruct his face.  A man who witnessed the accident was so convinced Kevin had died that he started telling people about his death.  Even after this man read in the paper about Kevin's survival, he still couldn’t believe it.  Kevin likes to joke that whenever he sees this man on the bus in Minneapolis, the man still turns white and looks as if he’s seeing a ghost.

Resurrection is almost impossible to believe.  It’s outside of our experience.  Death always seems to have the last word in this life.  How can we believe it?

Luke gives women a big role in his gospel.  He has the most women (at least five, possibly more) on the scene when they go to Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning.  The women are perplexed when they find the stone rolled away and no body present.  The first thing the angels say to them is, “Don’t you remember?”  “Don’t you remember Jesus said he would rise from the dead?”

The women remember, and they believe.

The women don’t see Jesus’ resurrected body.  They only have a story, like us.

But they remember.

The women run to the disciples to tell them the news.  Even though there are at least five women claiming they saw the empty tomb, the disciples don’t believe them.  Instead, they think the women are telling an idle tale.

“Idle tale” is a tame translation of the Greek word leros.  This is the only time leros appears in Scripture.  It’s the root of the word delirious.  The disciples think the women are delirious—crazy—out of their minds.  To translate it crudely, the disciples think the women are full of crap—that their story is bull*^%#.

To dare to believe in the resurrection is an act of courage and faith.  If you have trouble believing it, you’re in good company.

Yet Easter is more than simply saying yes to the resurrection; it’s saying no to the power of death and destruction that surrounds us.  By accepting hope we say NO to the darkness. The resurrection puts darkness and death in their place.  When Jesus rose, death’s power was destroyed.

Last week I talked with someone about time he spent in the hospital several years ago.  He was there due to a serious health issue, and he told me his fondest memories are of the overnight nurses and attendants.  They were often immigrants and people he didn't connect with on a regular basis.  The hardest part of being in the hospital is often during the night, when there is time to think and worry and the visitors go home.  The compassion of the people who cared for him carried him through those fearful hours.  They brought him life and hope and pushed the darkness away.  They walked with him into the light of dawn.

The darkness was put in its place, and it was replaced with hope.  

Don’t you remember?

If you’re in the midst of death, stress, grief, depression, anxiety, darkness, self-hatred, disappointment…

Don’t you remember?

Jesus said he would die and would rise again on the third day, for you.  Don’t you remember?  Alleluia!

Don’t you remember the times in your life when death seemed like the only reality, the only option?  And somehow, somewhere, you found life and hope?  Don’t you remember?  Alleluia! 

Don’t you remember?  Someone reached out to you, or you reached out and found someone, and you recognized each other and found compassion and support together?  Don’t you remember?  Alleluia! 

Don’t you remember?  A warm spring day suddenly appeared in the midst of a seemingly endless winter?  Don’t you remember?  Alleluia!      

Don’t you remember? When new green shoots appeared in the middle of miles of the charred and sooty remains of a forest fire?  Don’t you remember?  Alleluia! 

Don’t you remember?  The time the right dosage was found and the medication finally lifted the depression and anxiety?  Don’t you remember?  Alleluia! 

Don’t you remember?  Death and destruction are in their place, and the hope of the resurrection stands firm!  Don’t you remember?  Alleluia!      

WE SAY NO to the powers of death and destruction, even though they surround us, nip at our feet, and try to tell us they have the final word.  WE SAY NO.

WE SAY YES to the power of the resurrection and hope.

WE SAY YES to the resurrection, here and now.  Eternal life is lived out each day in our acts of compassion, recognition and laughter.  Alleulia!

In 2003, the Massachusetts Mental Health Center was about to be demolished after almost 100 years in operation.  Artist Anna Schuleit was asked to create an artistic exhibition to honor the building before it was torn down.  Throughout her work in various hospital settings, she was saddened by the lack of flowers in psychiatric hospitals and centers.  For her exhibition, she filled the old building with 28,000 potted plants and flowers.  The building was opened to the public for four days during the exhibition. 

She left the building as it was, but filled it with new life.  It was the same, but transformed—just like Jesus—just like us.

And my favorite--she took the basement hallways and covered them with sod, which was raked and watered throughout the day and continued to grow:

Some people found great healing in that building, and they found her exhibition to be a testament to their experience there.  Others had suffered greatly in the building, and found profound hope in her expression of joy.  They were given a new remembrance of the building.

She then donated all the flowers to psychiatric hospitals, general hospitals, halfway houses and homeless shelters throughout New England.

Darkness was put in its place, and new life created hope and joy.

We are a resurrection people.  That’s why we’re here this morning.

It’s easy to only see death in the world.  It’s much harder to say no to it and claim the hope and life of the resurrection.  There are days when it all seems like bull*%&#.

But in the midst of all of it we dare to be courageous and have faith.

Yes, the resurrection happened.  AND WE HAVE STORIES TO TELL.

Don’t you remember that Easter morning, when Jesus rose and the powers of darkness and death were destroyed?  Don’t you remember?  Alleluia!!