Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Remembering Joanne

1 Corinthians 13, page 813
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain; faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The city of Corinth where the Church that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was addressed lies on the Anatolian Fault – the meeting of the Eurasian and Anatolian Plates. These plates have been going against and away from each other for as long as humans have been paying attention.
“Nowhere have civilization and nature waged more persistent war than in this part of the world,” writes Rick Gore of National Geographic.
It was near this fault line that the Colossus of Rhodes was constructed in the 3rd Century, BC, only to fall 50 years later. This region was the home of the Greek island of Thera, buried under two stories of ash and debris, to seemingly disappear and give birth to the story of the lost continent of Atlantis. It was also along this fault line that Antiochus the 1st built his tomb and monument to himself. “There he proclaimed, his mausoleum would be “unravaged by the outrages of time,” as though even the inevitable earthquakes would leave this monument to his life unscathed.[1]
Today the monument that he built for himself is cracked and toppled – his tomb nearly covered by rocks that have tumbled down due to the shaking of the earth.
Along this fault line – even the work of the most audacious human beings cannot last. Unlike the Pyramids of Egypt, the Aqueducts of Rome, the Sky-Scrapers of Dubai, the monuments built by human hands along the Anatolian Fault cannot stand the test of time.
Stone will crack by the forces of collision, the greatest of shipping vessels laid waste by the forces of subduction and extension on the sea floor, homes, stores, temples, and tombs have all been laid waste by the movements of the plates.
What can last then – Paul asks the Corinthians who know to well the earthquakes and volcanoes that can take away their life work. What will truly last the test of time?
Paul writes: “But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
As though he knew that even the work of the ancients could not stand the test of time along the Anatolian Fault, Paul writes of something that can truly last the test of time: “and now these three remain: faith, hope and love.”
Beyond the moving of the plates these three remain.
Beyond the eruption of the volcano, these three remain.
Beyond death, beyond time, beyond the grave, these three remain.
Not far from Corinth, along the same fault line that they knew too well, Antiochus the 1st built himself a monument that he might be remembered as a great ruler throughout the ages. Out of stone he made a name for himself, but by the shaking of time his monument will soon turn to nothing more than a pile of rock – hardly a reflection of a great life lived, more a reflection of time wasted on something that could not last.
So you see – so you already know – Antiochus the 1st wasn’t like Joanne, for while the monument to Antiochus the 1st’s life will soon pass away to nothing, the monument of Joanne’s life isn’t built of stone, not carved out of rock, but built up by the love that radiated from her eyes to the hearts of a husband, daughter, and son who she loved so well. The work of her hands is a family who will never forget her name, her faith, her hope, and especially not her love; because she didn’t build up with stone – she built us up with her words – she built us up a monument to herself with love.
Today we gather here to remember a woman who will be missed, a life that was fully lived, and a heart unlike any we have ever known.
Today we must mourn exactly the gift of God that we no longer have with us – unlike the monument of Antiochus the 1st that fell, the monuments to the life of Joanne Hicks will stand forever.
Her faith in people and her faith in God that gave her peace.
Her hope in the future that enabled her to continue fighting till the end.
And the love she had for us – the love that she built with her hands, spread with her voice, and poured into her family – these things will never leave, will never be shaken, can never die.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away; where there was suffering, it has ceased; where cancer crippled, it has been stilled; where there was worry, it has passed away.
While this time of mourning will certainly last far beyond today, remember, that now these three remain, and these three will remain with us forever: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest – the one that Joanne dedicated her life to – the one that will never die – the one that will bind us together forever – that will never be shake, that will never die, the one that still stands - is love.

[1] Rick Gore, “A History Forged by Disaster.” National Geographic, July 2000. 54.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Wake Up!

Mark 13: 24-37, page 719
“But in those days, following that distress, “’the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
“And at that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
There is a joke I just heard this past week, which was especially funny when I read it after reading this scripture passage on staying ever ready and awake for Christ’s return. A Sunday school teacher asked a class why it was important to be quiet in the sanctuary during the sermon – and a wise little girl perked up to answer – because people are sleeping.
Realizing how tempting it is to sleep during one of the busiest times of the year – the Sunday after Thanksgiving and two record setting shopping days – and during what must be one of the most worrisome economic climates of your lifetime – bringing with it worries over jobs, stocks, and paying the mortgage – though all your kids can think about is bigger and better toys that aren’t going to pay for themselves – the temptation to doze off is understandable.
Recognizing the many challenges we all face during these trying times, I would like to keep you awake this morning with a sermon full of exciting twists and turns – one that will keep you on the edge of your seat with an ever changing plot that keeps you wondering what will happen next. I would love to preach a sermon that is like a good book that you stay up all night to read – one that keeps you turning its pages, not even noticing how tired you are or how soon the sun will rise.
That’s what I would love to preach this morning.
However – our scripture passage today isn’t necessarily suspenseful, though it is mysteriously odd. Its meaning isn’t a mystery, though apocalyptic passages like this one have been made out to be clues laid out for the faithful by modern fiction authors.
Jesus, in this 13th chapter of Mark, doesn’t seem concerned with keeping the reader’s attention. This passage does not employ a tricky plot twist to surprise you or compel you to tune in for the next installment or episode - if anything Mark chapter 13 is the spoiler that gives the ending away 3 chapters early. Here, Jesus tells the disciples what is going to happen in the end. So, as the preacher, I guess I’ll go and do the same thing. The point of this sermon is – Christ is coming.
It feels weird to give the point away like that – but that’s it – Christ is coming. That’s what I have to say – Christ is coming.
I hope I haven’t ruined the sermon or given you permission to catch up on your sleep – but giving the end away is exactly what Jesus does in this 13th chapter.
It’s a lot like the way my wife Sara reads suspenseful books – if things get to be too nerve racking she’ll skip to the last page and read the end before continuing on wherever she left off.
And maybe that’s exactly what Jesus is doing here for the disciples. To relieve their worried minds he skips to the very end, and gives them the last line of the book – Christ is coming.
He had just told them some very bad news – he had just told Peter, James, John, and Andrew that they must be on their guard – for before to long “you will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them… brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All people will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
For the disciples, that is just what happened. After having their palm read by Jesus it’s a wonder they didn’t ask for their money back – truly a wonder they didn’t leave right then and go back to their day jobs. Their futures didn’t hold wealth, prestige, or even health, but according to the Historian, Hippolytus of Rome, Andrew eventually reached his end when he was crucified on an olive tree. James was stoned to death. John died in exile, and Peter was crucified upside down.[1]
Jesus warns them of the hardship that lays ahead, saying, sorry guys, but things are going to get pretty bad.
But then he goes even further here in chapter 13 – drawing them past a sobering, if cruel look at their end – beyond - to the real end – that in the end the owner of the house will return.
Jesus is clear, telling the disciples that hard times are ahead – hard times that may in fact get even harder – but the fig tree that Jesus withered up to nothing back in chapter 11 will soon have tender twigs blossoming with summer’s leaves. That the signs of rebirth – that the signs of Jesus arrival will be all around.
My good friend George takes Jesus’ arrival seriously with a bumper sticker on his car that says, “Jesus is coming – look busy”. The sticker is a warning that seems based on this passage here – “keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back.”
But this passage is not a warning for disobedient teenagers throwing a party, fearful of our parents’ return. This passage is for the children of God – who – after enduring hard times - times of worry, death, sadness, trepidation, facing a future that is at best unknown – and at worst, a future almost certainly worse than the present – that we, the children of God can look forward to the arrival of the one who will put things right.
To the poor and oppressed – your days of want and struggle are numbered – for your liberator is coming.
To the sick – to the heart broken – to the hurting – Jesus is coming – your healer is coming.
To the worried minds left awake at night, searching for some sign that bills will be paid and children provided for – take heart – Jesus is coming.
To the mourning – know that heaven and earth will pass away, but the words of the Lord will never pass away.
And to the given up – to the people of lost hope – Jesus is coming, Jesus is coming, Jesus is coming.
Do not give up.
For the words of Daniel quoted here in Mark are there for us – “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the starts will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” But these sights are only signs that the Son of Man is coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, “from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, and it may look like winter out there – but look to the tender branches of the fig tree – Jesus is coming.
The leaves of this tree spring forth in a world that seems to be increasingly selfish, increasingly cold, but where, in a community where homelessness is rising, jobs harder and harder to come by, here we are - members of a church who has opened her doors to the world – a church whose members gave up their Thanksgiving to spend it with the needy in our Fellowship Hall – a church whose members took the time to bake pies and turkeys for people who they don’t even know.
Barb Kell wrote me an email last Friday with her reflections from Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinner for the community in our Fellowship Hall. She said that “I am pretty sure that everyone who came to eat went home feeling the love of Christ shining through all those who served them today.” “That the light was shining and lighting the path, and while we may not know exactly where it leads – I know that the light is shining to show us the way during uncertain times.”
Today we are a people who know suspense – but it may well be the kind of suspense that burns holes in our stomachs rather than the kind of suspense that keeps us turning the pages of a good book. For that reason Jesus gives us the end of the story. He shows us where our path is leading.
Tomorrow may seem uncertain, but in case you didn’t here it before I’ll tell you the end of the story again – Jesus is coming – Jesus is coming – Jesus is coming.
Thanks be to God.