Sunday, June 27, 2010

June 27, 2010 - "Bad Ideas"

Luke 9:51-62

How good to be here today …
God loves us … and wants only the best for us.
God’s grace at every point in time … as needed.
Enabling grace … to see us through.

Whatever the need, the crisis, the sorrow …
Nothing in our life is a surprise to God.
God knows …
And God sets into motion all that we need …
The grace of Almighty God …

If you have a big problem, remember, grace is bigger.
Grace finds us when we’re lost.
Grace opens our eyes when we’re blind.
Always at the right time …
To see us through …

We are each a child of God.
No need to carry a chip on our shoulder … no need for grudges … what others did to us … said to us … or said about us!
 All that ugly baggage that weighs us down and sours the soul …
The grace to let go of the past …
A clean soul … full of God …
Full of grace …
Full of peace …
Centered and confident.
Trusting God in all things.

Yet we have to work at this.
God gives us so very much.
But like anything in this life, we have to work at it.

We have to choose every day our mindset.
Which way shall it be for us?

When Jesus and the disciples are turned away by a Samaritan town, the disciples are angry … Who do those Samaritans think they are? We’ll show them a thing a two. We’ll call down some heavenly fire, and burn ‘em up … they hurt us; we’ll hurt ‘em back.

Ever felt that way?
Ever done that?
Sure, we all do.
It’s a default emotion – we pass hurt back and forth like a hot potato … but Jesus says, Don’t! Don’t pass the hurt on. Let’s move on, instead.

That’s the point, when we start passing the hot potato, it always comes back to us, hotter than ever.
It’s game that never stops, until we make the decision to hold the potato and let it cool in our hands.
The game stops when we stop it!

And there’s no better feeling in all the world then when we stop the hot potato game.
When we master our own junk.
When we make a noble decision.
When we rise above our garbage.

We’re bigger than our garbage, aren’t we?
We’re better than that, are we not?
Jesus didn’t pass on the hurt.
The hurt stopped with him, at the cross.
He held the hurt, and it was painful.
All the junk and poison of human kind:
Every bad thought.
Every careless word.
Every war and every sorrow.
All of our selfish pride and silly self-concern.

Jesus held it, and it hurt him.
Hurt him bad!
But he didn’t pass it on.

And he tells us the same.
Don’t pass it on.
Hold it.
It may hurt.
But let the hurt stop with you.
Don’t pass it on.
It’ll hurt for awhile.
But after awhile, you’ll be proud of yourself.
And whatever the hurt, you’ll heal.
I will heal you.
However much someone did to you, there’s no greater hurt then when you hurt yourself with bad ideas.
Let the healing begin.
Let it begin with you.
And I’ll help you!

The next little episode – folks want it all – they want Jesus, but they want him on their own time, in their own way … and they want everything else, besides.

Life doesn’t work that way.

Life is all about choices.
We take one road or the other.

And there’s no better road than Jesus.
No better choice:
To follow him.
Serve him.
Abide in his love.
Grow in his grace.
To see the world as he sees it.

And there’s no better day than today to make that choice.
This is the day the LORD has made.
To choose Jesus.
To put our hand to the plow and not look back.
To set aside lesser things.
To gain the pearl of great price.

It’s a choice to be made.
And we’re the only ones who can make it.
No one makes it for us.
Neither our parents nor our children.
Neither a friend at work, nor the neighbor.
It’s our choice, and our choice alone.

Friday, the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death.
I found a quote from him, and I share it with you today:
"In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe."

I think of St. Francis and his prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon:
where there is doubt, faith ;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Matt Manzo sang my favorite song today – Somewhere Over the Rainbow …  

I remember a graveside service many years ago …
Oklahoma …
A storm sky …
Huge clouds, black and gray and billowing white …
Blue sky behind them …
I said something about the rainbow …
And lo and behold, there it was, a rainbow off in the distance …

I’ve never forgotten that moment.
The graveside and the rainbow …
A promise …
A promise of goodness and kindness.
A promise that we’ll make it.
No matter what.

No matter the betrayals.
No matter the bumps in the road.
No matter the disappointments.
No matter the setbacks.
No matter the tears and the trials.
We will make it.

Because God is at work.
And there’s rainbow in every storm.
Blue sky behind every cloud.

The musical Finian’s Rainbow …
The theme song:
Follow the fellow who follows a dream

Look, look
Look to the rainbow.
Follow it over the hill
And the stream.
Look, look
Look to the rainbow.
Follow the fellow
Who follows a dream.
Follow the fellow,
Follow the fellow,
Follow the fellow
Who follows a dream.

Jesus our LORD.

Of all the choices we can make, no better choice than to follow Jesus …

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 20, 2010 - "Tales from the Crypt"

Luke 8:26-39

Scripture always surprises me.
Every time I read it, something new.
Or something old, in a slightly different way.

Like touching a pool of water … images shift and flow …

At a nearby movie theater, a large 6 by 8 ad for a new children’s animation – a digital image, with an invitation to touch it - the moment a child puts her hand on it, the image turns to water – colors flow around and into one another.

Take the hand away, and the image settles down once again.

Scripture invites us to put our hands on it, but the moment we touch it, the image begins to move and shift and flow, and who knows what we’ll find!

Let’s put our hand on the story – the healing of the Garasene Demoniac.

On the other side of the Lake.
Foreign territory – Gentile territory.
A wild man … violent and alone.
Lives in a cemetery …
Shouts at the top of his voice when he sees Jesus – What would you have with us? Are you here to hurt us?

And Jesus says, Get out of the man. Leave him be. Let him have some peace.

The demons plead for mercy.
But where shall we go?
You’re not gonna send us back to the abyss, are you?

What’s your name, asks Jesus.
I am Legion … I am many.
How about the pigs?
Send us to the pigs!

Go ahead, says Jesus … pigs it’ll be.

The large herd of pigs, hell-bent for destruction, rushes down a steep embankment and into the lake, where all are drowned.

When the swineherds see it, they run to town and tell everyone.
Folks come out to see for themselves, and they find the wild man - wild no more – clothed and clean and in his right mind, and Jesus with him.

But the pigs.
Where are the pigs?

And the people ask Jesus to leave.

Jesus gets back into the boat.
The man begs to go along.
But Jesus sends the man away.
Go back home.
Tell your story.
What God has done for you.

That’s the basic story.
But let’s put our hands on it.
Like the kids in the movie theater touching the digital ad:
Images swirl and shift beneath our touch.
Colors bright and beautiful, dark and sad.

Let’s ask some questions:

What was Jesus doing there in the first place?
It’s foreign territory, the land of the Garasenes.
On the other side of Lake Galilee.
Pigs are raised there.
A good Jew would have nothing to do with pigs, or Gentiles.

But Jesus pays no attention to such things.
Jesus crosses boundaries, and breaks a lot of rules, to reach us …

Amazing Grace for all of us:
Once I was blind, but now I see.
Once I was lost, but now am found.

No one finds Christ!
Christ finds us.

Yet even for Christ, it’s not easy.
Christ has to cross a wild sea and calm a raging storm in order to get to the other side.

Before our story begins, there’s a nighttime crossing of Lake Galilee …
With a sudden windswept storm.
Violent night winds, as lake and land cool.
Night winds rushing from the east.
Waves washing over the gunwales, flooding the boat.

Ever been in heavy seas in a small boat?
It’s no fun.
One grey summer afternoon, a friend and I set out from Grand Haven, Michigan in his runabout.
A storm the night before - the skies were still leaden with rain, but out we went.
He was an experienced boater – not me; I’m a total landlubber, but he knew what he was doing.
As we left the breakwater, we encountered heavy swells … six, eight, ten feed above my head, the boat straining to climb a wave, only to plunge down the far side into a trough – like a very wet roller coaster.
After a bit of it, my friend said, I don’t like this.
That didn’t sit too well with me.
If he didn’t like it, what about me?
We turned around … and made it back.
Glad to reach safe harbor.

That night on Lake Galilee,
Hell’s fury broke upon Jesus and the disciples.
The demons knew full well what was up.
They shouted at Jesus with howling winds and raging waves:
Never, no never, shall you make this journey.

Hell protects its turf.
Hell does not relinquish its grip easily.
Never without a fight.

As the Apostle Paul would write years later in his letter to the Ephesians:
Our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood.
But against cosmic powers: rulers and authorities of the present darkness.

Jesus is engaged in a battle.
He’s the light of the world.
And the darkness hates him.

That night, hells throws a fit.
A storm.
Winds and waves.

But Jesus calms the storm.
Jesus has a mission.
A purpose.
Boundaries to cross.
A man to save.
On the other side of the lake.

In the early morning hours, they arrive on the east side of Lake Galilee.

Immediately, a man, full of madness and malice, runs to meet Jesus.
Hell isn’t finished yet.
Hell sends its finest work to greet the Son of God.
Hell’s own ambassador.
Deformed and beaten.
Uncontrollable and violent.
But if a midnight storm cannot stand before Jesus.
Neither can hell’s ambassador.
The man falls to the ground.
Oh, how this must have galled Satan.
That his ambassador should grovel in the dirt before Jesus.
Stand up, you fool. Stand up!

But not today Satan.
Not today.

And then in the most bizarre fashion, Jesus and the demons carry on a conversation.
What are you going to do with us? They ask.

Jesus asks for a name.
We are Legion.
We’re an entire army.

It is not by coincidence that the demon’s name is Legion.
A Roman Legion was anywhere from four to five thousand men … heavy infantry, cavalry and specialized soldiers.
The success of the Roman Empire lies with its Legions, highly trained, exceedingly efficient, bloody and brutal … think Russell Crowe and Gladiator!

But not today, O Legions … Not today!

That Jesus would carry on a conversation with Legion has left generations of interpreters without any clear answers.
But in the Book of Job, the heavenly beings gather to present themselves to the LORD.
And among their number, Satan … and Satan and God have a chat.

In the wilderness temptations, Jesus and Satan carry on a conversation as if they’re old friends, debating the fine points of Scripture and how best to carry out God’s purpose.

Satan and Jesus are not strangers to one another.
Satan is a heavenly being … an angel of the LORD.
But fallen and full of darkness.
Consumed with envy and hatred.

Though the conversation seems all too casual, Jesus knows what he’s doing.

In the ancient Middle East, it was believed that demons die in water.

The pigs, full of hell, surge down a steep slope into the lake, and there in the waters of Galilee, pigs and demons die.

What a price to pay for the soul of one man.
An entire herd of pigs – a lot of money!

From our perspective, we might say, The price is worth it.
But what if those were our pigs?

A large herd.
Large enough to hold a legion of demons.
Economic disruption to the town.
Swineherds, butchers, merchants – people out of work.
Not to mention a shortage of pork, and higher prices.
I’m surprised they were so gentle with Jesus.
In the Old West, this tale from the crypt would have ended with a hanging …

Here’s the gospel:
There is a price to be paid for life.
Jesus chose the man over the pigs, and the pigs pay with their lives, but the demons are dead!
A material loss for an eternal gain!
I don’t think Jesus does this with any joy!
For he loveth all creatures, great and small.
But for Jesus, one human being is all the world
One human being - more precious in the sight of God than all the oil wells in the world, or whatever herds we have.
We may have to pay quite a price to set things right in the Gulf, to clear its waters and restore the environment, and keep God’s green earth green.
Jesus invites us to keep our priorities clear!
It’s not about profits and loss, it’s about human beings … and yes, ultimately, fish and frogs and oysters and crabs, who pay the price of our reckless ways.

The man restored to life begs to go with Jesus.
He’s afraid, that’s why! – Every time they see me, they’ll be reminded of their loss; every time they see me, they’ll be thinking of their pigs!
But Jesus is firm:
Go home and tell them what God has done for you.

In other words, be my ambassador now.
Once you belonged to Satan.
But now you belong to me.

Years later, Paul captures this image in the second letter to the Corinthians:
We are ambassadors for Christ, writes Paul.

Go back home, says Jesus –
Your town has been hit hard with loss!
Your people need to hear the rest of the story!

The text ends on a small, but important, note.
Jesus says, tell others how much GOD had done for you.
But it’s not God of which the man speaks.
The man speaks about Jesus, how much JESUS has done for him.

Luke wants us to know and trust that Jesus is God.
God with us.
God in the flesh.
Up close and personal.
If we want to know what God is like, look no further than Jesus!

Years later John would write:
The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

We have all been saved by Jesus.
Our stories are all tales from the crypt.

To each of us, Jesus says, Go home now!
Tell others how much God has done for you.

And that’s what we do.
Where’re our home might be.
Down the street or far across the sea, in a country called Swaziland.
By word and deed, we tell others how much Jesus has done for us.

Amen and Amen! 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

June 13, 2010 - "A Jarring Story"

Luke 7:36-8:3

Did you hear about the priest, the rabbi and the minister who walked into a bar and ordered drinks?

And if it isn’t a priest, a rabbi or a minister, it might be a farmer, a banker and a musician.

How many jokes begin like this? A trio of characters …

It’s the stuff of good story telling …

And Luke is a good story teller …

Did you hear the one about the Pharisee, the sinful woman and Jesus?

Luke is going to tell us a story.

A story about Jesus.
A story about people …

Who’s in and who’s out.
Who belongs and who doesn’t.

A story about love.

To make a long story, short.
The woman comes to the defense of Jesus.
Because he had come to her defense.

The woman and Jesus had met earlier.
What happened and what was said Luke leaves to our imagination.

But something good happened.
And hearing that Jesus was to be a guest in Simon’s home, at a banquet, an event, a party, a public affair - she joins the crowd of onlookers pushing into the courtyard.
She wants more of Jesus.

She arrives probably just before or at the same time as Jesus.
And what she sees shakes her soul to the core.

She’s a witness to Simon’s snub.
For whatever reason, Simon snubs Jesus.
A discourteous act.
Everyone would have seen it.

No water for his feet, to wash away the grime of the day.
No kiss of the cheek or hand to acknowledge friendship and respect.
No oil for parched skin – to make a guest feel good.

Simon makes a statement.
He recognizes Jesus as a teacher or a prophet, and calls him such.
But says to the guests: He’s in my house, but I have no agreement with him. I’m not one of his gaga followers. I’m not impressed with his stuff!

The guests take their place on cushions and throw-rugs around heaping bowls of food, laying on their left side, to eat with their right hand, their feet extended out behind them.

The woman stands behind Jesus.
She sees what’s happening.
And begins to weep.
Weep for Jesus.
That this good man should be treated so shabbily.
Her heart is broken.

Her tears fall onto his feet.
She kneels down and undoes her hair.
Something a woman did only in private …
And wipes his feet with her hair … and like the lowliest of servants, kisses his feet.
And then takes perfume, used in her trade, and pours it onto the feet of Jesus.

At this point, everyone is watching.
Who could miss it?
This public display thoroughly unacceptable.

What will Jesus do?
Will he send her packing?

Jesus turns to Simon and says, I know what your thinking, but let me tell you a few things.

At this point, Jesus breaks convention.
He takes it upon himself to scold the host.

Convention broken all over the place.
Simon snubs Jesus.
A sinful woman shows up and weeps.
Jesus does nothing.

Simon thinks: If Jesus were truly a prophet he’d know what kind of a woman this was.
Jesus knows, indeed.
And Jesus knows what Simon’s thinking.

Jesus speaks to Simon but keeps his eyes on the woman.

What Simon fails to do, she does for Jesus … with a grateful heart.

Jesus makes it abundantly clear what’s going on.
This woman has experienced the love of God.
The love embodied in Jesus and his purpose.

Remember how it begins for Jesus?
Preaching in the hometown synagogue?

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
      “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
      because he has anointed me
      to bring good news to the poor.
      He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
      and recovery of sight to the blind,
      to let the oppressed go free,
      to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

To bring good news to the poor.
Release to the captives.
Recovery of sight to the blind.
Let the oppressed go free.
To proclaim the year of the LORD's favor.

This is Jesus.
And Luke has but one question for us:
Are we with him in this?
Or do we stand with Simon?

As we note at the beginning of the 8th chapter, women responded dramatically to Jesus … they heard the gospel – freedom from oppressive rules and social boundaries.
They heard a message that transcends all social conventions, conventions that kept women “in their place” – to be seen and not heard.

They saw in Jesus something of God’s love.
A great love.
A love that crosses boundaries and welcomes everyone on equal footing.

No one is out, because everyone is in.
No one is excluded, because all are welcome.

To use expressions from our current vocabulary, there are no illegal immigrants in the kingdom of God.
There are no boundaries to be defended.
No social conventions to be upheld.

That’s why the woman was at the dinner that night.

Earlier in the day, or earlier in the week, Jesus had come to her defense.

I think of another story.
The woman brought to Jesus for stoning.
How a crowd of self-righteous men, and probably a few of their women, too – were all there, with stones in their hands, ready to remove this “filth from the community” if Jesus would only give the word.

But Jesus turns the tables on that silly crowd, with their small minds and frozen hearts.
That silly crowd lusting for blood, so they could feel better about themselves.
Remember how the story goes?
Jesus kneels down and doodles in the dust of the road.
I think Jesus did that to settle things down a bit.
To let folks catch their breath.
And then he says to them:
Let the one without sin throw the first stone.
Jesus catches them off guard.
Jesus trips them up.
And they leave their stones behind and walk away.

Jesus the defender.
A court-appointed attorney, if you will.
Appointed by none other than God!

We don’t know how it all ends for Simon.
Did he go to bed that night thinking about his life, his values, his world?
The way he judges people.
How he looks at others outside his gate?

Did he pray to God, Oh LORD, forgive me! Forgive my arrogant ways! Give me a heart, LORD; a good heart, a heart that can be moved. A heart generous and kind.
Or was he angry to have the tables turned on him by Jesus?
Did he awaken the next day read to redouble his efforts to build his boundaries?
Did he institute a campaign or moral reform to rid the town of undesirables?
New rules and regulations to make Nain a place safe from bad women and radical preachers?

We don’t know how it ends for Simon.
But so it is …
You see … the rest of the story is up to us.

We’ve all been set free and given life in Jesus.

Maybe like Simon, we’ve been so busy with ourselves that we hardly have time for others. Maybe we’re rather impressed with ourselves and eager to condemn.

Or like the woman, maybe we’ve gone down a few rough roads and crossed some thresholds we’re not too proud of.

But however it is, we’ve all been a chance.
And it’s up to us to finish the story.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

June 6, 2010 - "Only One Winner"

1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17

This is one of the most beautiful stories in the New Testament …

Jesus and a large crowd make their way to a little town called Nain, 20 miles or so, southwest of Capernaum … and about 5 miles southeast of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up.
As they approach the city gate, they’re met by a large crowd coming out of the city … a funeral procession …
A young man has died, and the town comes out to comfort the mother and lay the young man to rest.
Professional mourners weeping and wailing … a courtesy to the family – so that relatives and close friends can cry their hearts out without embarrassment.
“Weep with those who weep” Paul the Apostle would write some years later …
So here they come, weeping and wailing … on their way to the cemetery … a young man’s body carried on a bier, hefted onto the shoulders of a few good men!
So it goes, they say to one another.
A time to be born and a time to die.
Dust to dust, earth to earth, ashes to ashes.
The way of all flesh.
What can any of us do?

Making their way to the cemetery … likely a small cave in a hillside nearby … where the boy’s father was laid to rest some time ago … and probably grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts, too …

But there’s another crowd on the road.
Coming toward Nain.
Jesus and his followers.
On a collision course, or so it would seem.

Jesus sees the mother, has compassion on her, writes Luke.
The Greek word for compassion, splagcnizomai – literally means inward parts – the heart – the seat of our emotions – something deep inside moves within a Jesus … 
We might say to someone in sorrow, My heart goes out to you.
Or we might profess our faith in Christ by saying, LORD Jesus Christ, I give my heart to you.
Calvin’s motto: O LORD, promptly and sincerely, I give my heart to you.
Or politically we might say of someone with liberal proclivities, She a bleeding-heart liberal.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, the bleeding heart of Jesus - an iconic image of God’s love and mercy.
The heart of Jesus goes out to the woman.

I imagine her walking slowly in the dust of the road, head covered, eyes cast down to the earth … sobbing … she doesn’t see Jesus coming toward her.
But Jesus sees her!
Jesus says to her, Do not weep!

I can only imagine a startled look on her face.
What was that?
What did you say?

Before she has a chance to do anything,
Jesus steps behind her.

I have in mind this image:
Jesus with his hand help up.
Like a cop at an intersection – stop … this far and no further.
He touches the bier.
The procession grinds to a halt.

In a few moments, folks are gonna get real angry.

But before anyone can say anything, Jesus speaks to the boy on the bier, Young man, I say to you, rise!

And the young man sits up and begins to speak.
Luke adds so tenderly,
Jesus gave him to his mother.

A great and holy fear comes upon crowd it says.
They glorify God.
They cry out to one another:
A great prophet has risen among us … God has looked favorably on his people.

I have no idea what I would have done, but I would have done some serious shouting, that’s for sure.
Hip hip hooray.
Yippee ki yay and who let the dogs out.
There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.

From the moment I read this passage, I had an image of a Las Vegas prizefight … bright lights and thousands of fans at the MGM Grand or Caesar’s Palace.
Two boxers making their way to the ring, followed by their handlers and hangers-on …
Into the ring they climb, bouncing and weaving and jabbing into the air …
The announcer steps to the center of the ring …
Grabs the mike …

Ladies and gentlemen …
In the white trucks … life …
In the dark trunks … death …

The boxers step to the middle of the ring for last minute instructions … they tap their gloves together and step back to their respective corners … the handlers climb out of the ring … now it’s up to the boxers … and there can only be one winner!

The bell rings sharply, and the boxers move toward one another, crouched and ready … and before 30 seconds pass, a blow is struck … death collapses and falls to the canvass …

Death has met its match in the matchless grace of God.

I found myself reading John Donne’s remarkable poem this week:

Death be not proud, writes Donne, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

And from the Book of Revelation …
God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
Mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
For the first things have passed away.

From Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, the mighty 15th Chapter:
When this perishable body puts on imperishability,
And this mortal body puts on immortality,
The saying that is written will be fulfilled:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, O Death, is your victory.
Where, O Death, is your sting.

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our LORD Jesus Christ.

All of us are here in this place walk in both processions …
We all walk on our way to the cemetery.
The way of all flesh, indeed.
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
So it is in the land of cabbages and kings.
The last time I checked, the mortality rate was still a hundred percent.
Dadgum it all …

I’m not happy about it, and I don’t think you are either.
But death is the reality of life.
And it does us no good to ignore it.

Every spiritual writer I’ve ever read encourages us to consider our death and to die well …
We’re all on our way outta town to the cemetery.

But at the same time,
We walk in the other procession, too, don’t we?

We walk with Christ toward life.
Life now.
And life eternal.
There’s a song in our soul, and it’s all about life.
To God be the glory, great things he hath done.

Even now, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
We get up from the bier of death.
From discouragement and fear.
From all the things that kill the soul and bury our hope.
Jesus says, Stop, rise and live again!
Join me in the fight against death.

Every time we worship God, we strike a blow against death.
Every time we act justly on behalf of the widow … anyone deprived of a fair chance at life – we strike a blow against death.

Death isn’t just the dying of the body.
Death is the dying of the soul.
The death of hope.
The death of joy.
The death of love.
The death of opportunity.

Every door slammed shut is death at work.
Every deed of discrimination.
Every racist joke.
Every unkind word … every moment of greed and it’s pitiful pride in the bigger barns we’re all trying to build.
Death at work all over the place.

Right now, in America,
Compassion is dying amidst economic panic.
Fearful of not having enough, we grab what we can from weaker hands and poorer nations.

Is not the Gulf disaster a timely reminder of what lengths we go to, in order to feed our fuel addictions?
A way of life unsustainable in a world of 6 billion people?

Jesus puts his hand up, and says, No more of this. Stop!

Jesus sees the woman.
I wonder sometimes what I see?
What are my eyes like?

From the movie Avatar, the natives of Pandora greet one another by saying I see you.

I can’t think of anything more important – to have good eyes … to see one another … to see our world with the eyes of Christ.

As we drive about town, go to work, what do we see?

Whenever our eyes are closed to the suffering of another, it’s death at work; death closes our eyes.
And when our eyes close, so goes the soul!
The eyes are the windows of the soul … when we pull the shades, the soul grows dark!
When we close our eyes, compassion dies!

I fear that America is losing one of its greatest strengths – the common weal – the compassion we have for another.

In a recent study, some disturbing findings:

College students today are less likely to "get" the emotions of others than their counterparts 20 and 30 years ago….
Specifically, today's students scored 40 percent lower on a measure of empathy than their elders did.
The findings are based on a review of 72 studies of 14,000 American college students overall conducted between 1979 and 2009.

"We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000," said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Compared with college students of the late 1970s, current students are less likely to agree with statements such as "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective," and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

"Many people see the current group of college students — sometimes called 'Generation Me ' — as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history," said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry.

Konrath's colleague graduate student Edward O'Brien added, "It's not surprising that this growing emphasis on the self is accompanied by a corresponding devaluation of others.”

What happened in the year 2000?
What’s happening to college students?
Why the significant drop in empathy?

Even as we speak, researchers are scrambling to find out.
But here in this place, we know the cause.
Call it sin.
Call it the Devil.
Call it hell.
Call it whatever you want.

But let’s call it honestly.
Too much materialism and too much self-indulgence.
Too much hurry-up, and too much a focus on possessions.
Too much self-esteem and not enough mercy.
To much of self, and too little of others.
Too much saber rattling and too much muscle.
Too much of the body, and too little soul.
Too much virtual world, and not enough of the real world.

In a survey of college freshmen in 1966, 44% thought it was important to be well off, but by 1996, thirty years later, that number had risen to 73%. In 1966, 83% of the freshmen thought a “philosophy of life” was important, but in 1996 only 42% thought so.

We have to ask ourselves some mighty big questions.
A friend said to me this week, Christians are people who dig around in their souls.
I think we have to do some serious soul-digging.

To have the eyes of Christ.
The heart of Christ.
To raise our hand.
To halt the processions of death.

A medical missionary in Haiti brings life to that island.
A man drilling water wells in the Sudan brings life to the parched throats of a thirsty people.
A woman ladling out beans and rice in a downtown soup kitchen brings life to the hungry and weary of skid row.
A kindly word brings life to the discouraged friend at work.
A protest against war and those who lust for war brings life to a war-weary world.

Our prayers …
Faithfulness to a friend …
To forgive and let bygones be bygones …
To do with a little less and give away a little more …
To let go of bitterness …
To give our lives to Christ ...

A million ways to stop the processions of death.
A millions ways to bring life to our world.

Are you with me on this?
I know that you are.
Because you are Covenant on the Corner.

Amen and Amen!