Tuesday, August 15, 2006

08/13/06, Sermon

Take it as it comes and do what you can with it. That’s my best advice. Life will bust you a good one every now and then. Lie there as long as you have to, then pick yourself up and get yourself going. And, if you wonder why. If you wonder why try. If you wonder why should you even think about giving it your best when it treats you the way it treats you. If you wonder what are you getting out of all this. If you wonder what’s in it for you that you should get yourself up and get yourself going. If you wonder for what do you keep on. If you wonder what is the point of it all. I am here to suggest to you that it all comes down to life, and living, and being alive. We live to be alive. And, if life busts us a good one, then we live in the aftermath of that, as well as we can, to bring life to life and be alive, because being alive is what we are here for, and living as well as we can for as long as we can is what it’s all about.

We cannot do anything about most of the stuff that gets us down. What does that tell you? We can sit looking into the ugly face of the stuff that gets us down, or we can get up and get on with our lives doing the things we can do about the things we can do something about. What’s it going to be? Life is lived on different levels. There isn’t much I can do to impact life on the global level. I can’t do anything about Al Qaida or Iraq. I can’t even impact development in my own city or region. The things I cannot do would comprise a long list. But, I can impact the people whose lives intersect mine. I can bring good to life through the way I live my life. I can be a source of life and light in my world. So can you in yours.

There is a lot we cannot do, but there is no reason to let that prevent us from doing what we can with what we have to work with. We can be a caring, compassionate presence. We don’t have to succumb to despair, and we don’t have to live in denial. We can be very clear about how things are on all levels of life, and live lovingly on our level anyway, nevertheless, even so.

The investment is always in life, in the future. We do not sit staring into the Void. We give life a chance. We live as those who believe in life. At the darkest moment, we shine. We live as lights in the darkness, voices crying, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord of Life!” Our lives are testimonies to Life!

And, if you think it hurts to much to be alive in this world where anvils fall out of the sky and life busts us a good one right on the chops, for no reason, with no warning, just because we happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there is nothing right or fair about it, and you are going to quit in protest, because why keep going when you can lose everything in a blink, I am here to suggest to you that it is about living even amid the ruins. It is about being alive even through the loss of everything.

It is not easy to be alive through the loss of everything. It is much easier to be alive when the humidity is low and the temperature is in the seventies and there are puffy clouds scattered across the sky, and there is money in the bank, and food on the table, and people who love you are all around. Given a choice, we would all choose ideal living conditions. Given a choice, we would not have heart attacks, or cancer, or car wrecks. Nobody asks us. Life just makes its deliveries, and we have to deal with it. How shall we live with the complete loss of everything? Or, with the complete lost of the most important things? What does it mean to be alive then, there? It doesn’t mean what it once meant. Now, we have to be alive knowing. Now, we have to be alive with scars, and a limp, and a wound that won’t heal. Now, it’s a different deal.

But, it is the same challenge: To live even here, even now. To bring life to life, here, now. To be alive within the conditions and circumstances of our lives. “How do we live with this?” is always the question. “How do we live here, now?” is always the question. But, sometimes we have to wait until we are ready to ask the question. After life smacks us a good one, we have to lie there for a while. When life steamrolls us, we don’t pop right back up like a Bozo the Clown boxing dummy. We must suffer what must be suffered. We must mourn what must be mourned. We must grieve what must be grieved. In order to live, we must die. No death, no resurrection. If we want to craft the art of life—if we want to “have life and have it abundantly”—if we want to be alive, fully, completely, unreservedly, in all of the moments of our living, we are going to have to learn to die.

The church has taken dying away from us, and kept us from being alive. “There is a reason for everything,” says the church, implying, that we should dry our eyes and get back to normal. “Let go and let God,” says the church, implying that we should be ashamed to want what we cannot have. “Things always work out for the best,” says the church, implying that we should never think of anything as a loss, defeat, or failure. “God is in control,” says the church, implying that our devastation is invalid because God has a plan and this is just a bump on the way to something grand. “There is always someone who has it worse than we do,” says the church, implying that we should be thankful it isn’t worse. “We must not question God’s will,” says the church, implying that God is behind it all and we have no right to complain. In a thousand ways, the church says, “Stuff it!” to those who suffer. And “good Christians” are those who walk unfeeling through life, denying their pain, and saying they are fine, but their stiff, scripted, robotic ways suggest that they are going through the motions of living and don’t have what it takes to be alive.

“Those who seek to save their lives will lose them,” says Jesus, “but those who lose their lives for my sake and the gospel’s will save them.” “You cannot be my disciple,” says Jesus, “unless you pick up your cross daily and follow me.” I’m here to suggest to you that losing our lives for Jesus’ sake and picking up our cross daily means simply having the courage to step into life as it is and be alive there no matter what. The spiritual task is to be alive, but being alive is a lot like dying, because it requires us to live with our eyes open, in the space between denial and despair.
When life plants a big, juicy, wet one right on the kisser, we look right into the ugly red eye of the awful thing that demolished our lives, and live on. That’s what the resurrection is about, you know. Life can go on, somehow, some way. Jesus was raised from the dead. You have been, too. Don’t tell me you haven’t been. You don’t get to be as old as you are without dying and being raised from the dead. Some of you have died and been resurrected a number of times. I know you don’t want to think about it. But, you can’t deny it. Sometimes, somehow, some way, life goes on. That life goes on is as much a miracle as the fact that life is at all.

Resurrection is real even if it is “only” metaphorical. We think it doesn’t count if it is metaphorical. We think it doesn’t count that we have been raised from the dead, some of us more than once, because we didn’t “really” die. Of course, we did really die and we were really raised from the dead, but we discount it because we continued to breathe. We think psychological, emotional, spiritual death doesn’t count as much as physical death. We think waking up is easier than having a corpse come back to life. We have never actually awakened anyone, any more than we have called a corpse back to life, but we all would agree that we should have an easier time with the former than with the latter. I’m here to suggest to you that it is a wash. It is exactly the same degree of difficulty, waking up the living or bringing the physically deceased back to life. Resurrection on either plane is an absolute astounding miracle, and we should be more attuned to it, and in awe of it, than we are.

Sometimes, somehow, some way, life goes on. Our place is to assist and participate in that process, that miracle. We are here, not only to wake up and be alive, but also to serve life, to help others wake up and come to life. And this in spite of the fact that being alive is a lot like dying. It is like dying in that it requires us to see what we don’t want to see, hear what we don’t want to hear, and understand what we do not what to know. We cannot wake up, we cannot be alive, without putting the truth on the table, and keeping it there. And, that’s like dying.

When we put truth on the table and keep it there, we know what the deal is, and live anyway, nevertheless, even so. We say exactly everything that can be said, and allow nothing that is said to keep us from being alive in the moment of our living. We look into the ugly red eye of the awful thing and live on. In so doing, we live as witnesses to the power of life, to the possibility of life, to the reality of life—abundant life, pressed down, over-flowing, yes, unending, infinite and eternal, coming to life in us and through us into all the world. We are here to serve life, to bring life to life in ourselves and others. That means living on in the face of all that would destroy us. Not just breathing on, LIVING on—with zest, and passion, and enthusiasm—with our heart in what we are doing, exhibiting grace, and mercy, and peace, being good company, and loving one another in every moment.

Of course, we don’t do that automatically, naturally. We do have to lie there for a while. But, eventually, we are able to pick ourselves up and step back into life as those who are sources of life in the land of the living. It helps, while we are lying there, to have someone serve us as the source of life. This is the proper role of the church as the community of life. We resurrect the dead. We keep the spark of life alive. Primarily by being alive ourselves. Primarily by putting truth on the table and keeping it there. By saying everything that can be said. By seeing what is and what also is. And, by believing in the power of life over death.

Death does not cancel out life. Life trumps death. Life can go on, and on, and on. Life does not have to quit just because it’s hard. Dying is easy, living is hard. Yet, there is a resilient core to life that takes it all in stride. We only have to find the core. When living takes the life right out of us, can we believe that life exists beyond our ideas for life? On terms other than our own? Can we open ourselves to the life beyond what once was our life—beyond our idea of life? Can we touch the core of life, the heart of life, and be raised from the dead? And LIVE on?

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