Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Through the valley

Psalm 23 (KJV) Sermon Transitions are difficult, even the easy ones, so as we face decisions that signal the end of one thing and the beginning of another, our society has invented things that I believe are designed to help us put off the inevitable. That’s how I feel about the to-go box. Restaurant portions are sometimes pretty big, so what often happens when we go out to eat as a family is that the waiter or waitress will come to our table as we’re getting ready to leave to ask if we’d like a to-go box to take home our left-overs. Now I don’t like to be wasteful, but I’m not a big fan of taking home left-overs from a restaurant, mostly because more than once we’ve come home from the restaurant at the end of a hot summer day, filed out of the car and into the house to brush teeth, read stories, sleep a restful sleep, only to file back into the car and be met by the smell of grilled fish that’s been baking in the car overnight because the to-go box never made it into the house. But then, even if the to-go box makes it into the house it’s not always eaten, not touched even, until I get curious a few weeks later. I’ll open that box of pizza which now looks more like a science fair experiment than anything I might eat for lunch. Essentially, what I hear when the waitress asks if we’d like to take the rest of our meal home with us is, “would you like me to throw the rest of that away now, or would you rather take it home so that you can throw it away yourself sometime in the future?” I feel the same way about my sister’s storage unit. She’s moving, not into a permanent place, but in with a friend until she finds a permanent apartment to live in, so right now all she needs are her most essential possessions – the rest can be put in a storage unit until she finds a new place to live – or that’s what she’s telling herself anyway. The truth is, and if you knew my sister as well as I do you’d understand – what’s going to happen is she’s going to move all that stuff into a storage unit, but after a month or so she’s going to realize that 3 quarters of that stuff she doesn’t really need – that in fact she doesn’t need four sets of luggage and three rotary phones and a box of records without a record player - so if I were a betting man I’d put money on her paying rent on that storage unit for the next year or so, never moving any of it even after she finds a new apartment – I would bet that it will go untouched completely until she gets fed up with paying that rent on the storage unit and drags all her stuff out and into a dumpster. What I hear when she tells me that she’s renting a storage unit is – I don’t feel like throwing this stuff away right now, so I’m going to pay someone to keep it for me because I’d rather throw it away in a year or so. But I shouldn’t complain. I’m not any different. I have my own coping mechanisms too. When faced with a question – waste the food you paid for without eating while families right here in Maury County go without – it can be much more comfortable to tell yourself that for lunch tomorrow you’ll be eating those left-overs even if past experience tells you that those left-overs will probably go uneaten. We tell ourselves things – little lies that aren't completely untrue. Just as we take home doggie bags and rent storage units, when making some of those most permanent decisions, the really big changes, sometimes it’s easier to tell ourselves that it’s only temporary so that we don’t have to face the hard facts right away. It can be good to ease into things – even small things – because reality can be just a little too real to face right away. I believe that’s why couples don’t say they’re getting divorced at first – at first they’re just separated, then they’ll see how it goes, and they say that because in the beginning, even though everyone knows where things are headed, it’s easier to ease into that drastic change rather than jump right down into it. So in the same way Grandpa’s not going to a nursing home, in fact we’re not even going to sell his house yet – he’s just going to try out that retirement community for a little while… it’s temporary. When friends move away they promise they’ll visit – and maybe they will – but the truth no one is ready to face just yet is that some decisions are permanent, some changes really do change us and really do require that we say goodbye to what was. That’s why we stand at the grave, and we dress it up, call the funeral anything but a funeral because funeral just sounds a little too depressing. We go to the graveyard but call it a memorial garden. Dress up the tombstone with flowers and pictures, make it a pretty place – anything to take the edge off the thing that it really is – a death. We are afraid – so rather than face these things head-on our society has invented things that make the change more palatable, but unfortunately, what our society has done is merely delayed the inevitable. And where society can’t help, our religion does not offer us a way out – there is no way around the Valley of the Shadow of Death. No – but Christianity does supply for us a savior who will lead you through it. Who will walk beside you as you face it. I heard a story once about this kind of a savior. It’s about a man who was walking down the street, minding his own business when the ground opened up beneath him and he slid right down into a hole too deep to climb out of. He could still see the street way up above him and he noticed a doctor walking by. He yelled up to that doctor – “Hey, I’m stuck down in this hole. Can you help me out?” The doctor, she looked down on him and told him that she sure was sorry he had fallen down into the hole, and threw down a prescription that might help him out. Now despite the prescription the man was still stuck down in the hole so he called up again for help as a pastor walked by. “Hey pastor, I’m stuck down in this hole. Can you help get me out?” The pastor looked down on him from the street and said a prayer with him but then kept walking and the man was still stuck down in the hole. A few minutes later a stranger walked by. “Hey buddy, I’m stuck down in this hole. Can you help me out?” the man yelled. The stranger looked down and then jumped down into the hole with the man. The man thanked him, but said, “Now we’re both stuck.” The stranger responded, “Yes, but now I’m in it with you. And I’ve been down in this hole before so I learned the way out.” “I am the good shepherd,” he said in the Gospel of John, and “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Indeed our Lord took on our human frame. Rather than look down from heaven sending messengers and laws, our Lord was born of Mary, trained as a carpenter, was baptized by John in the Jordan, healed and preached among the people only to be arrested, tried, crucified and buried. Our God incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ has walked the road of human life and now he will lead you through the Valley of the Shadow of Death as one who has been through it before and knows the way out. It’s hard to put into words just what this means, but I know there are some who would help you deal with the realities of life by pretending that things aren’t really as bad as they seem. They’ll help you deal with the pain by dulling your senses to it, but some day you’ll wake up in the same place you fell asleep, so do not be deceived. There is no way to sleep through the journey we all must go on. And the only true comfort comes in remembering that even in the deepest sadness, the most difficult changes, you are not alone. The Lord is my Shepherd, therefore I will fear no evil, no hardship, no challenge or suffering, for thou art with me, having gone through it before so that you might lead me home. Amen.

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