University Congregational Church
May 10, 2020
A Resurrection Shaped Life: Mending Loss and Sorrow
Matt. 25: 1-13
Me: Hey God.
Me: I’m falling apart. Can you put me back together?
God: I would rather not.
God: Because you aren’t a puzzle.
Me: What about all of the pieces of my life that are falling down onto the ground?
God: Let them stay there for a while. They fell off for a reason. Take some time and decide if you need any of those pieces back.
Me: You don’t understand! I’m breaking down!
God: No – you don’t understand. You are breaking through. What you are feeling are just growing pains. You are shedding the things and the people in your life that are holding you back. You aren’t falling apart. You are falling into place. Relax. Take some deep breaths and allow those things you don’t need anymore to fall off you. Quit holding onto the pieces that don’t fit you anymore. Let them fall off. Let them go.
Me: Once I start doing that, what will be left of me?
God: Only the very best pieces of you.
Me: I’m scared of changing.
God: I keep telling you – YOU AREN’T CHANGING!! YOU ARE BECOMING!
Me: Becoming who?
God: Becoming who I created you to be! A person of light and love and charity and hope and courage and joy and mercy and grace and compassion. I made you for more than the shallow pieces you have decided to adorn yourself with that you cling to with such greed and fear. Let those things fall off of you. I love you! Don’t change! … Become! Become! Become who I made you to be. I’m going to keep telling you this until you remember it.
Me: There goes another piece.
God: Yep. Let it be.
Me: So … I’m not broken?
God: Of course Not! – but you are breaking like the dawn. It’s a new day. Become!!! – by John Roedel
During this stay at home time, I’ve had much time to ponder the idea of loss and sorrow. I have always believed what Jesus said is true when he proclaimed, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”. (Matt. 5:4) It is in the deepest recesses of grief that we are being born into something far greater. I know this from experience, and I know it from watching it happen to you.
Three congregations ago, I knew a woman I’ll call Joy. She came to church alone. Regularly, she spoke of her greatest hope – that her sons and her husband would find faith and some peace in their lives. She wanted them to come to church with her, but even more than that, she wanted them to know the faith she had found and to learn to have some peace in their lives. When I left that congregation, Joy (against my wishes) followed me to the new congregation I was serving and joined there. It was closer to her home and she was growing older. Joy became a beloved member at that church over the years, but her husband and son did not attend. When Joy died, we held her service at that church. Through the process, I ministered to her family and loved on them quite a bit. They were lost without her. After a few weeks, her husband showed up at church. He was an old codger.
Soon after, her youngest son showed up. They were an odd couple. They sat on the back row – smelling of pipe and cigarette smoke and the previous night’s alcohol. Even in the front row where I sat, I the smell was palpable. But I knew Joy was smiling, and I smiled too. Before long, they started volunteering for odd jobs. Her husband volunteered to work in the office on Thursdays. He tottled in on his walker in all kinds of weather every Thursday morning and answered the phones for me, occasionally cursing at telemarketers when they called on the church line, much to my dismay.
Her son volunteered to give the communion meditation, and sometimes had alcoholic DT shakes obvious to everyone. But these rough men became beloved members of the church and were faithfully there every single Sunday for years. In the church they found the faith and peace that Joy had, years earlier, hoped they would find. They also found new friends, support and opportunities for volunteerism, meaningful interaction, and worship. The son decided that he needed to become sober. Father and son died one day apart, and their joint funeral was the last I conducted at that church. Joy’s death and their mourning brought new opportunities to their lives and they truly lived in meaningful ways!
“Grief is human”, writes Jake Owensby, the author of A Resurrection Shaped Life.
“It comes with loving in a world where everything passes away. Sorrow provides an important key to understanding the place of hope in our day-to-day lives. We cannot will sorrow away; it is part of the human condition. When we love, the beloved is woven into the fabric of our lives. A loved one’s death painfully tears that fabric. God promises to vindicate our love, not by anesthetizing us, but by bringing greater life from the depths of our sorrow.”
I believe this is true of every kind of grief – whether it is the grief over the loss of a loved one or the grief of the loss of some other kind… a divorce, the loss of a job, the loss of an ideal, the loss of health, and so on. In our traditional word for today, Jesus taught a lesson about the wise and foolish bridesmaids. They went out to meet the groom. They didn’t know his precise time of arrival. Half of them prepared in case he was late. They had lots of extra oil for their lamps. The other half didn’t bring extra oil. The groom took lots of extra time to get there. Here is the story…
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matt. 25: 1-13
It is easy to assume that the groom represents Jesus. And the story has often been told to give us the message that God might come at any time to take us off to heaven and we better be ready.
However, Jesus tells us that this parable is about the Kingdom – and Jesus represented the Kingdom as the present day – wherever God brings things to new life! Jesus asked us to think about where and when we would encounter God as the Kingdom. It is in the here and now:
• When that child is trying to get your attention but you have other pressing needs and you tell her to wait – that’s the Kingdom of God.
• When the homeless person is walking along the street – that’s the Kingdom of God.
• When a friend tells you he’s depressed and feeling isolated – that’s the Kingdom of God.
• When your spouse says she just wants to be held – that’s the Kingdom of God.
• A friend’s off-putting anger masking his anxiety – that’s the Kingdom of God.
• The elderly person alone in the nursing facility waiting for the call – that’s the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is nearer than you think. It’s on top of you. It comes in unrepeatable moments. We can be so preoccupied or indifferent or fearful that we simply miss those moments.
Owensby writes, “Let go of whatever obscures the divine presence from you or lets you distance yourself from it. To put that another way, God’s love is coursing through the people and the animals and the plants and the sunsets and the starry skies and the fuzzy slippers of your everyday life. Show up and look alert.”
When we make ourselves available to our own pain and to the pain of others, we make ourselves available to the resurrection. When we leave a part of ourselves behind by paying attention to the needs of others, God gives us new life!
Owensby, Jake. A Resurrection Shaped Life; Dying and Rising on Planet Earth. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2018.