The Coming King: Good News

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Romans 1:1-7

Today my heart is heavy.  Andrew and I learned today that his childhood best friend – his kindred spirit – his partner in mayhem – his beloved Josh – passed away on December 10, 2013 due to heart failure.  He was 29.

Josh and Andrew were true brothers.  They met as many brothers do…in a fight…and following those initial blows they were inseparable.  They were family.  They are family.

Both attended an arts magnet high school in our hometown.  Both endured scrutiny and bullying because they were guys who loved the arts.

Andrew: vocal performance | Josh: dance

They stood up for one another.  They defended the other.  They held one another accountable.  They had so much fun.  They got into a lot of trouble.  They were boys.  They are brothers.  And now Josh has passed on.

Josh is a decorated veteran.  He served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan in elite combat forces with the Marine Corps and Army.  He loved his country.  He loved defending freedom.  Though he would not talk in these words, I believe his true love was for the least, the last, and the lost.  I believe this is a love he found and fostered in his friendship and brotherhood with Andrew.  Their care for one another led him to care for so many – soldiers, civilians, innocents – around the globe.

I ache for Andrew.  I ache for our family.  I ache for Josh’s family.  When we ache it is so hard to remember, think about, and speak good news.

In one sentence – in one very long sentence – Paul shares the Good News with fledgling Christian communities in Rome – and around the world.  He tells the story from beginning to end.  From incarnation to resurrection to discipleship and stewardship of the Good News for our neighbors.

Paul wanted his brothers and sisters in Rome to know the whole story up front before diving into every theological detail and nuance the Roman correspondence has to offer.  When he shared this statement I am sure some who heard it were overjoyed, some overwhelmed, some content, some complacent, some angry, some grieving, some dying.  Though the words may have been a struggle to hear they were shared.  Though the words may have been a struggle to recall they were remembered and have been remembered throughout the ages.

We remember them tonight.  We remember the Good News as we acknowledge our human grief and human loss.  We seek comfort in the promise that we shall be raised with Christ, that we share in his gift of eternal life, that we shall be reunited with our loved ones in resurrection.

In the days ahead we will walk with our grief.  In the days ahead we will remember Josh as we remember the promise of Christ.  In the days ahead we will be mindful of the example of Christ that Josh lived in his life – to care first and foremost of the least, the last, and the lost.

In doing so we will draw near to the Good News and the Good News will heal.

Prayer: “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home; swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.  If you get there before I do, coming for to carry me home; tell all my friends I’m coming too, coming for to carry me home.  Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home; swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.”* Our promise in you, O God, is that we are all coming home.  We thank you for this gift of Good News.  Amen.

*”Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 703.

 

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All Saints Sunday – Worthy of God’s Call

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

There is a banner frame in the Reeves’ front yard that we rotate banners through during the year. Some banners promote upcoming ministry offerings while others speak a word of truth that (we hope) resonates with certain persons in the neighborhood surrounding the church. 

For the past two months we have had a banner out front reading “Grieving? We can help.” And during the past two months I have shared incredibly powerful, incredibly painful, and incredibly passionate conversations with persons who have suffered immense loss. 

Loss of parent. Loss of spouse. Loss of child. Loss of job. Loss of health. Loss of identity. Loss of worth. 

In hearing their stories of loss I am reminded of my own losses as God’s spirit of empathy settles. I admit now as I do at the outset of each of these conversations: I have not always been through the same kind of loss you are experiencing. I won’t say that “I understand” but I will listen. I won’t always have an answer or a solution, but again, and most importantly, I will listen. 

By listening I believe we come alongside those who grieve and help them make meaning – a little or a lot – of their loss. By listening I know we dispel the shame that accompanies grief – that we shouldn’t talk about it, that we should be tough and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that we should rent a uhaul and move on. No. It takes courage to say “I want to talk about this.” We affirm that courage by listening. Will it make us uncomfortable to listen? Probably – but not as much as we originally thought. 

It makes me uncomfortable to think of all the people that are discouraged in their grief sharing. If you have been discouraged, I ask you to extend forgiveness to those who shamed you to silence and I encourage you to continue seeking someone to listen. 

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On All Saints Sunday the church collectively pauses to remember those saints – those brothers sisters fathers mothers friends – in the faith that have completed the journey of faith. At one and the same time we celebrate their new lives in Christ while also recognizing our human loss. 

In worship we will read the names of the saints that have passed this year. We will light a candle and ring a bell for each. We will sing, pray, and share in communion. And then the service will conclude. 

But that doesn’t mean our feelings of human loss will be resolved with the lighting of a candle, the ringing of a bell, song, prayer, and communion – although those in the midst of great loss and great grief would welcome the quick resolution. 

I use this time of remembering to draw near to my personal experience of loss. I also use this time of remembering to draw near to my personal experiences with the hope, growth, grace, and understanding that have come alongside and helped lessen the hurt of the loss. The hurt of the loss will never completely go away…but on some days the pain will hurt less. 

I experience the “hurting less” of the loss when I talk about it. Lord knows I talk to myself all the time; I will remember and then talk myself up one side and down the other about my loss. But the healing comes when I share with someone, when that spirit of empathy settles, when someone affirms “I might not have answers or solutions, but yes, I will listen.”

One of my favorite anecdotes about Mother Theresa is this – once she was asked, “Mother Theresa, when you pray what do you ask for?” “Nothing; I listen.” “Ok…if you listen, then what does God say?” “Nothing; God listens.”

I listen. God listens. Do you? Can you? Will you? And when will you begin?

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.  Alleluia, Alleluia! 

O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia, Alleluia! 

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen. 

*”For All The Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 711.