Bread from Heaven

 

Bobby Hodge
Bobby Hodge, Jr and Bert Warren. Bert is an Angel Runner an pushes Bobby in races today.

John 6:25-35 NRSV

With the newspaper article that came out on Monday, and with our One-Year Anniversary Dinner and 5k coming up next weekend, many people have recently asked me, “How did you get started with Ainsley’s Angels?”

I know this may seem strange to many, but there’s perhaps nothing I like more than waking up at 4:30 am to lace up my running shoes and run 5 or 10 miles.

I love the way running makes me feel. I love the endorphins that it gives me. I love the way it keeps me relatively thin. I love the way running allows me to enjoy nature. I love the way it gives me opportunities to see some glorious sunrises. I love the way running gives me opportunities to make new friends. I love sense of accomplishment completing a race gives me.

Do you notice a common theme here?

“Me, me, me.” “I, I, I.”

I must confess. I run for many selfish reasons.

Running for all of these physical benefits might be what Jesus called: “working for bread that perishes.” This bread might help me endure temporarily, but not eternally.

However, thanks to a wonderful organization called “Ainsley’s Angels,” three years ago, I was given the opportunity to taste a slice of bread from another loaf. Another runner, and a member of our church, Bethann Wilkie, was contacted by Ainsley’s Angels inquiring if she knew anyone who was differently-abled who might enjoy riding in a race. She called me and asked me if I thought Bobby, a member of our church with Cerebral Palsy, might be interested.

I will never forget my response: “Bobby? He’s 48 years old! Why in the world would he want us to push him in stroller! Naw, I don’t think he would be interested.”

She said, “Would you at least go over to his house, show him some pictures and videos, and ask him.”

I said, “I will, but I cannot imagine him being interested.”

I went over to his house, showed him some pictures and a video. This was late November of 2015. I told him there was a race coming up on December 6 that we could be in.

Then Bobby, who has never taken one step in his life, looked at me with this indescribable expression of excitement and said, “Jarrett Banks (Bobby always calls me by my first and last name), Jarrett Banks, you mean to tell me that I can be in a race!?!”

Shocked by his response, I remember grinning from ear to ear, shaking my head saying: “Yes, you can!

“Okay!” he shouted, “I never thought I could be in a race!”

After talking it over with his parents, I told Bobby that we would get a chair and take him on a training run before we register him for a race that was coming up in about three weeks. Ainsley’s Angels delivered Bobby’s chair at church the following Sunday. It was a cold and rainy day, so we ended up pushing him up and down a hallway in the education building though. Bobby loved it.  After checking the weather forecast, Bethann and I we made an appointment to meet Bobby in his home the following Thursday at 3pm to take a 3-mile test ride.

Bethann met me at the church, and we ran with the chair to Bobby’s house which was just a few blocks away. We rolled right up into the carport and found him sitting on the floor inside the door.

He hollered out, “Mama, Jarrett Banks and Bethann are here!”

His mother came to the door and said, “It is about time you got here!”

I said, “We’re not late, are we?”

She said, “No, but he has been sitting here on the floor waiting for an hour! You would think it is Christmas morning! This is all he has talked about!”

We loaded Bobby in the chair and started out. I don’t even think we got a block down the road when Bobby spoke up, “Jarrett Banks, my neighbor who lives right here doesn’t know about this. We need to tell her.”

I said, “Okay, when we get back from our run, we’ll tell her.”

He said, “Jarrett Banks, I think we need to tell her right now!”

For you see, whenever one is included, whenever one is accepted, whenever one is empowered, whenever one is loved, they cannot wait to tell someone about it!

So we pulled up on the sidewalk that led to her front porch and rang the door bell. As soon as she came to the door, Bobby started telling her all about it: “Hey, you will not believe this, but I am going to be in a race! This is my preacher Jarrett Banks and Bethann. I never thought I could be in a race before, but now I am!”

She graciously responded, “That is amazing Bobby! I am so happy for you!”

“Maybe you can come and watch me in the race!” Bobby said.

“Jarrett Banks, when is the race?”

Thrilled that I Bobby was so excited I smiled and said, “It is December 6.”

She smiled and said, “Well, I will have to see if I can be there!”

Bobby said, “Okay!”

I said, “Bobby, we have to go if we want to finish this run before it gets dark!”

He said, “Okay!” So off we went.

I think we made it two more blocks, when he said, “Jarrett Banks. My neighbor who lives right here does not know about this either.”

So, up on the side walk we went. I rang the door bell. She came onto the porch. Then Bobby started, “You will not believe this, but my preacher and I are going to be in a race!”

“That is wonderful Bobby! I love your new chair.”

“You need to come and watch us in this race? And so on and so on.

It was then I said, “Bobby, we really need to finish this training run before the sun goes down and it starts getting cold. Let’s wait until later to tell others about it.”

Bobby said, “Okay!”

For about two miles, Bobby laughed at every bump we went over. He waved at every passing car. And he pointed out all of the places the sidewalks needed ramps in the curbs at the end of a block. Every time we passed someone’s house he knew, he would tell me that we were going to have to come back and tell them, “’cause they don’t know about this.” I think he told us umpteen times “Jarrett Banks, Bethann run faster.”

After about two miles, Bobby got quiet. For about a quarter of a mile he didn’t make a sound. Bethann and I were quiet too. Running a little faster pace, we were just trying to breathe!

Then Bobby broke the silence, “Jarrett Banks, I know you are going to be mad at me.”

I said, “Bobby, I will never be mad at you.”

“Okay!” Then he said. “My Nanny does not know about this. We need to show her.”

Assuming he was talking about one of his caregivers, I asked, “Well, where does your Nanny live?”

He said, “Okay! I will show you!” We went about a block when he said, “Turn right here.” A few moments later he said, “Turn right here.” We did. Then he said, “Turn left.”

We pulled right up into a cemetery. We didn’t go very far, when he said, “Jarrett Banks, stop right here.” Bobby then pointed to the headstone of his grandmother who passed away in 1989.

As soon as we pulled up to the headstone, Bobby said, “Nanny, you will not believe this! But I am going to be in a race! Nanny, I never thought I could be in a race before! But this is my preacher, Jarrett Banks, and this is my friend Bethann, and they got me this chair, and Jarrett Banks, when is that race?”

Overwhelmed with emotion, I could barely speak, “It’s December 6th.”

It was then he said: “Nanny, please tell God to tell the Angels watch over me and my preacher Jarrett Banks and Bethann in this race and keep us safe, and take care of my dog that died.”

And I believe that was the moment I tasted it: holy manna, true bread from heaven that endures for eternal life.

And once you have tasted this bread, once you have allowed this Holy manna to feed your soul and fill your heart, there is just no going back to any ordinary bread that perishes.

This was the day Bethann and I both became Ainsley’s Angels. For how could we ever lace up our shoes and run for any selfish gain again? Bethann currently serves as the Ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels in Greenville, North Carolina.

And the good news is that you don’t have to run and push a full grown man in a stroller to receive this bread from heaven.

This bread is offered each time we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, every time we meet someone’s need, every time we forgive someone who has wronged us, every time offer grace, extend mercy and show kindness.

We can taste this bread when we feed the hungry.

We consume this bread when we give drink to the thirsty.

It fills us when we welcome the stranger. It feeds us when we defend the rights of the oppressed.

It satisfies us when we accept and empower the differently-abled.

It nourishes us when we love others the way Jesus loves us, selflessly, sacrificially, graciously.

And once you have tasted this bread from heaven, there is no going back. Our tastes change, our thirst is transformed, and we experience a different type of hunger all together. Our temporal hungers fade away.

Money and possessions no longer matter. Spiritual wholeness becomes more important to us than physical healing. The needs of others become more important than our own needs.

The way we measure success also changes, even in the church. The number of people that are serving the community every day becomes more important than the number of people attending the service on Sunday morning. The number of people who are out in the community doing what Jesus taught becomes more important that the number of people who are sitting in Sunday School studying his teachings. Following Jesus becomes more important than worshiping Jesus.

And we become convinced that this bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, to a world that doesn’t even know that this bread exists. The world hungers, yet knows not what it hungers for.

And we are given this holy sense of urgency.

As Bobby would say, “They don’t know about this! And we need to tell them, and we need to tell them now.”

We need to tell them that Jesus is the bread of life. We need to show them that the way of Jesus is the way to life, abundant and eternal, and whoever comes to Jesus, will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Jesus will never be thirsty. Amen

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More Than Enough

Anthony Baptism

John 6:1-21 NRSV

It is believed that St. Francis of Assisi once said: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary use words.”

I believe the baptism of Anthony Truong preached this morning’s gospel lesson from John this morning without using a word.

People had gathered together “because of the signs that Jesus was doing for the sick”: for people who could not see, for people who could not hear, for people who could not talk, and for people who could not walk.

Then came a logistical conundrum.

Jesus said to Philip, “Where on earth are we going to buy enough bread to feed all of these people?”

“There’s just no way,” answered Philip. “Six months wages would not be enough to feed this crowd!”

Andrew spoke up and said, “But there’s this boy here!”

I like that. “But there’s this boy here. He has 5 loaves and two fish, but not enough to feed five thousand people.”

However, the good news is that although what the boy possessed did not seem like enough, with Jesus, it was actually more than enough!

After everyone ate (notice verse 11 and 12) “as much as they wanted” until they were “satisfied,” the left overs filled twelve baskets!

When Anthony expressed his desire to be baptized, we were also faced with a logistical conundrum.

Someone said: “How are you going to have enough strength to carry Anthony up and down those baptistery steps, baptize him, and then carry him back up and down so he can dry off, get dressed and be back in the service before communion. There’s just no way.”

I started thinking: “Maybe we could baptize him by pouring water on his his head; that way, he would not have to get into the baptismal pool.” So I asked Anthony. To which he responded and I quote, “No, I want to go all the way.”

So to the question of “how are you going to make this happen,” my answer is: “But there’s this boy here!”

“But there’s this boy here, and although the faith that he possesses may not seem like enough, I have a feeling that it is more than enough!”

As soon as the newsletter was emailed on Tuesday announcing the baptism, John Mundy, Steve Parke, Randy Alexander, and Dan Marshall immediately agreed to help with the baptism to make sure it was more than enough.

The good news is that this is exactly how our God loves to work in our world. When there seems to be no way, God loves to make a way. When it seems like it is not enough, God makes not just enough, but more than enough!

Our Hebrew lesson this morning from 2 Kings 4 illustrates this good news: During a famine a man brings the prophet Elisha a prophet’s tithe: Twenty loaves of bread and some fresh ears of grain in a sack.

Elisha accepts the tithe, but says, I want you to take this food and give it to the poor.

It is then the man points out the logistical conundrum: “But there’s just no way. There is not enough food here to set before a hundred people.”

But Elisha assures the man, “Because of your great faith in bringing this tithe during a famine, I have this feeling that it is more than enough.”

The man set the food before the people, and sure enough, there was not only enough, but it was more than enough, as they had leftovers.

This good news was also experienced by Elisha’s predecessor Elijah.

In 1 Kings 17, the prophet Elijah is sent by the Lord to visit a woman widow in Zarephath who will feed him when he arrives.

When he comes to the gate of the town, just as the Lord had said, he meets a widow who is gathering a couple of sticks to build a fire for dinner. He called to her and said, “Pour me a glass of water. And while you are at it, bring me a morsel of bread.”

Confronted with a logistical conundrum that has life and death consequences, she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug.” In other words, “There’s just no way. I simply do not have enough for you in this famine.”

Elijah says: “Do not be afraid.”

Old Testament Professor Katherine Schifferdecker imagines her saying:

“Easy for you to say! You’re not the one preparing to cook one last meal for yourself and your son before you die. You’re not the one who has watched your carefully-hoarded supply of flour and oil relentlessly dwindle day-by-day, week-by-week, as the sun bakes the seed in the hard, parched earth and the wadis run dry. You’re not the one who has watched your beloved son slowly grow thinner and more listless.”

“Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son” (1 Kings 17:13).

“How dare this man of God ask me for bread, knowing that I have so little? Who does he think he is, asking me for bread before I feed my own child? There’s no way. I told him that I have only “a handful of meal, a little oil, and a couple of sticks. There’s not enough. And Death waits at the door.”

Then the good news:

For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah (1 Kings 17:14-16).

There was not only enough. There was more than enough.

Diagnosed with scoliosis, the doctors wanted to perform surgery when you were 12 years old. During the surgery you suffered a spinal stroke that left you paralyzed from the waist down. Some thought there was no way. They said, “there’s just not enough left.” But, you didn’t give up. You kept going. You kept fighting, and you kept living. You joined a wheelchair basketball league. You stayed in school. You went to church. And six years later you joined Ainsley’s Angels and completed a 5k and a 15k. Soon after that 15k, you ended back into the hospital for the second time with a severe infection. On a respirator for nearly three weeks, some feared there might not be enough antibiotics, love or faith to see you through. They feared you might be running out of sticks, your jar was almost empty, your jug was beginning to fail.

But the good news is that you came back, and you came back strong. You completed not one but three more 5ks. You enrolled in college. You joined a church. And this morning you were baptized symbolizing that not only did you have enough sticks, enough meal in you jar, enough oil in your jug, you had more than enough.

And the amazing news is that there are countless more stories just like Anthony’s in this room. Your marriage failed. Your son was killed. A child died. You lost your job. You lost a business. You lost your home. You became addicted to alcohol or drugs. You received a grim diagnosis. People said there was no way. They said you were all about out of sticks. However, you never lost your sense of gratitude. You kept the faith.  In the face of your suffering you continued to worship and thank God for the gift of life. Somehow, some miraculous way, your jar never emptied and your jug never failed, and you have always found that you always seem to possess a great big pile of sticks! And not just enough sticks, but more than enough.”

Not only does the baptism of Anthony this morning proclaim the text about Jesus having more than enough to feed 5,000 people, it also proclaims last part of our text about Jesus walking on water.

It was the Sunday after Hurricane Floyd flooded the first house Lori and ever purchased in eastern North Carolina. To say that we had a logistical conundrum would be making an understatement.

I had been wading in waist deep water that Thursday and all day Friday trying to salvage our possessions. And then on that Sunday morning, can you believe that one of the first things that I did was to climb down the steps of our baptistery into waist deep water to baptize a new member of the church?

I’ll never forget the first words I spoke. I looked out into the congregation from that baptistery, and I said, “You know, you would think that standing in waist deep water is the last place I would want to be this morning. However, it is actually the first place I need to be this morning!”

I then said: “Before today, baptismal water had always represented purity and refreshment to me. It was a water which cleansed one’s spirit and refreshed one’s soul. It was a renewing, invigorating water, life-giving water. However, on this particular Sunday, this water represents to me something more, something dreadful, something heinous, something sinister. This water symbolizes destruction, despair and death.”

I believe Paul understood the destructive forces of sin and evil in our world and that water was symbolic of of those chaotic forces. This is why he wrote to the church in Rome: ‘Remember that you have been buried with Christ by baptism into death.’

And this is why the picture of Jesus walking on water in the darkness amidst howling winds and crashing waves is so inspiring. Jesus was doing much more than walking on water. That would be enough in itself. Jesus was walking all over the forces of evil like they did not even exist. Which makes it more than enough.

This morning, Anthony, was buried with Jesus into death, and he rose from death into the newness of life, symbolizing that he will always have more than enough to conquer any storm, flood or chaotic force that might come his way.

And the good news is that God is still walking on water. God is still raising people up. God is still serving bread. God is still filling jars and replenishing jugs, and in God’s kingdom, the sticks that fuel the fire of the Holy Spirit never run out. So do not be afraid. Despite every logistical, physical or spiritual conundrum we face, there will always be enough. No, in God’s abundant mercy, there will always be more than enough. Thanks be to God.

 

Take a Vacation

Hammock

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 NRSV

A couple of weeks ago, we were reminded that God does not work alone in this world, and God has never worked alone in this world. Since the beginning, God has always used human beings, very ordinary people, folks like you and me, to accomplish the divine purposes for this world: God’s work of healing and justice, grace and love, mercy and peace. God uses people like you and me and the unique gifts that God has given us to respond to the needs of a hurting world.

Last week, I called loving this world as Christ loves this world a “dance”—a dangerous dance of sacrificial, self-expending service. And I said that God is calling each of us to enter that dance, to get busy selflessly pouring ourselves out into the world

These texts of scripture from Mark 6 have come at just the right time as we are currently encouraging members of our congregation to sign up to serve on a ministry team. And during this next year, I expect us to be very busy disciples being a blessing in our community.

In this morning’s scripture lesson, we notice that Jesus and his disciples have also been very busy.

They had just returned from a mission trip where they were busy using their gifts for ministry. They came back and reported to Jesus “all that they had done and taught.”

And notice how Jesus responds. “Good, don’t stop! Let’s keep going! Let’s keep working!” No, he says: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.” In other words: “It’s time to take a vacation.”

Mark says that Jesus commanded this vacation because “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Getting away on a boat, on some cruise to some far-off peaceful place!

But when they get there, it is anything but peaceful, and Jesus and his disciples are forced to spring into action once more to meet the needs of others.

Later, when they cross over to the other side of the lake (perhaps in one more attempt to get away from the crowds), the “people at once recognized him,” so Jesus and his disciples had to go right back to work. Because this is what Jesus’ disciples do. They work, they serve, they love their neighbors by meeting the needs of their neighbors.

Hopefully, as we answer the call of Jesus to do ministry here in our community, to follow the way of Jesus by being a people who are on the move, loving kindness and doing justice while walking humbly, we are going to be a very busy disciples.

But, here in this text, if we are truly going to be the people Jesus is calling us to be, I believe we must hear another call of Jesus. It is the call to relax, slow down, take it easy, take some time off, turn the cell phone off, forget your worries, and go somewhere and get away from it all. It is the call to take a vacation.

Now you are probably thinking: “Finally, something that Jesus commands me to do that I might be actually good at! Jesus says, ‘Relax, take a break, take a vacation.’ Sign me up right now!”

But I’m not so sure this is as easy as it sounds. For it has been my experience that it is the most sincere, dedicated, and earnest disciples who are the worst when it comes to honoring the Sabbath, taking time off to just rest.

But I believe honoring the Sabbath is something that is absolutely essential, not only for our bodies, but for our salvation.

I’m sure that we do not intend to do this, but our disregard of the Sabbath, our busyness and ceaseless activity, might give the impression that we believe that it is up to us to do good, or good will not be done. It is up to us the set the world right, or the world is lost. Behind our busyness may be the blasphemous belief that we are the saviors of the world; we are the solution to what ails the world, because we have all the answers.

The truth is, not taking a Sabbath and trusting that God is God and we are not, can be very dangerous, not only to ourselves, but to the world in which we live.

Thus, I hope that in my recent sermons you did not hear me say that God created the world, but has now left it entirelyup to us!

For our God not only created the world; our God is still creating. Our God not only sent and resurrected Jesus, but our God is still resurrecting, and is still sending God’s self to us through God’s Holy Spirit. Our God is not dead, inactive or ineffective. Contrary to our Deist founding fathers, our God did not create the universe and then go on some cosmic vacation.

And because of that, the good news is that we cango on vacation. Because God is continually acting, we can relish times of inactivity, reflection, and the good grace of doing absolutely nothing.

Now, I am by no means inferring that it is okay to sleep in on Sunday morning and skip church. For I believe here in this place, our Sunday worship can actually be a sacred time of rest.

While we do a lot of activity during this hour, little of it is useful, productive, or essential as the world defines these matters. We call this place a sanctuary. It is a safe-haven from our worries, an escape from the rat-race of life. We are here relaxing, resting, simply enjoying being with one another and with God.

Some, who I see nodding off when the sermon begins every Sunday may even relax here a little too much!

But I believe that’s okay. Because Christians have always believed that these Sunday mornings are a foretaste of eternity when we shall have nothing better to do but to rest from our labors, to relax, and enjoy being in the presence of God, not just one day a week on Sunday, but forever. Our destiny is rest in in the hands of God: Sabbath rest forever.

Sabbath rest is a great tribute to God. For it declares that our ultimate destiny is not in our hands. Our ultimate salvation is not the result of our vigorous, hard work, or even what we think is our good, holy work. The significance of our lives is in what God is doing, never in what we are doing.

Now, I know that this flies in the face of what I often preach; that church is where we come to get encouraged to make a commitment to pick up our crosses to serve God in this world. That’s why the last hymn we sing is called a hymn of commitment or a hymn response. It is a hymn of action. That’s why we end our services with a commissioning, as well as a benediction.

But church should also be a place of rest. We come here to celebrate not only what we have done, but to glorify what God has done in Christ, to rest assured in the grace of Christ.

One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, reminds us that the commandment about the Sabbath is the longest of all the commandments. More is written about the Sabbath in the Hebrew Scriptures than any other commandment.

And she points out that the Sabbath is the only one of God’s creations called “holy.” Everything else is called “good.” Only the Sabbath is called “holy.” She points out that the sanctification of time preceded the sanctification of persons or the sanctification of places. People were not sanctified until they became the chosen people. Places were not sanctified until the Tabernacle was built. The Sabbath, however, was the first and truest medium of God’s presence and holiness.

This is why after Jesus’ disciples report to him all the good things that they have accomplished as his ministers in the world, Jesus invites them, permits them, commands them, to get away from the press of the crowds to relax, rejuvenate, and be restored.

We stress the other commands of Jesus: Love your neighbor, pray for your enemies, feed the hungry, heal the sick, free the oppressed. Why not equally stress the command to rest?

The good news for us this day is that Jesus commands us to take a vacation! The good news for us is that the good Shepherd wants to lay us down beside some still waters and restore our souls.

Do you know what would be a good idea? While we are encouraging every member to serve on a ministry team, what if we started a Sabbath ministry team that will help us all take a vacation! Seriously, let’s start a ministry team to plan a Caribbean or Alaskan cruise!

We can do God’s work as it is entrusted to us. We can work hard to be salt and light to the world. We can do justice. And then we can take a Sabbath, resting secure that the most important work is God’s work. Thank God that the world is not in our hands. The future is not solely ours to determine.

So, if you have not yet taken a vacation, gone some place to get away from it all, experienced a change in scenery, seen the ocean or climbed a mountain, taken a break from all of your work and worries, I hope that you will do it soon. After all, Jesus permits, invites, and commands us all to rest!

Dangerous Dancing

Dance

2 Samuel 6:1-5; 12b-19 NRSV

Mark 6:14-29 NRSV

The first test that I took in seminary is called the Myers-Briggs test. It is a test that identifies your personality-type. After taking the test, I met with my professor who saidL “I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that you are an extrovert. You love people. And if you are ever going to be a pastor, then loving people certainly has some advantages. However, the bad news is that it also has some disadvantages. You love people, which means your probably want people to love you. And this is where extroverted preachers like yourself tend to get into trouble. You need to be careful as a preacher that you are preaching to please God and not just to please your congregation.”

That may be the primary reason that I have chosen to use a tool we call the Revised Common Lectionary. It is designed to help the preacher preach the entire Bible, and not just the parts of the Bible that might endear him or her to a congregation.

But I must admit, first thing, every Monday morning, I read the lectionary texts, hoping and praying that it might lead me to preach what we preachers like to call a “sugar-stick sermon,” something that will bring comfort rather than challenge, consolation rather than confrontation, something that will cause people to come up to me afterwards in the Narthex and say: “Thank you for that delightful sermon, pastor. We just love you!”

So, you can imagine my consternation this past Monday morning when I read the gospel lesson about the fate of our old friend John the Baptist, that eccentric character from the Advent season that gets us ready for Christmas every year, that one who prepared the way of the Lord by faithfully preaching the truth in the wilderness, that one who also preached truth to power by calling out the immorality of the King.

And what does he get for faithfully standing for the truth of the Word of God? He gets his head served up on a silver platter.

So, on Monday morning, I said to myself. “Ah man! Nobody wants to hear that!” I think I’ll preach from the Old Testament this week. Let’s see, it is from 2 Samuel, chapter 6.

After King David led a great army to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem from the Philistines, David and his army were so overcome with emotion that they engaged in festive dancing.

The scripture tells us that David danced before God “with all his might.” He danced before God with all that he had and with all that he was, as he was utterly and completely overcome by the joy of God.

Now, this is more like it! Here’s something that will preach! My sermon can be entitled: “Let’s Dance!” And the people will love it!

David danced, affirming the rule of God. David danced, consumed by the Word of God. David danced a dance of total self-surrender. David danced, holding nothing back. David danced giving all that he had and all that he was to God.

Oh, who is not going to love this! David’s dance is certainly better than the dance of Herodias in our gospel lesson this morning!

But then, just when I felt a happy sugar-stick sermon coming on, I read this: “And Michal despised David for it.”

Michal, David’s wife, looked out the window at David’s exuberant dancing in the street and despised him for it.

I like the congregational response that is printed in our order of service after the scripture lesson is read on Sunday mornings: “This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.” However, sometimes, I think we should add: “Whether we like it or not, this is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.”

The truth is, whether we like it or not, the dance of the gospel is a dangerous dance. The dance of the gospel is a disturbing dance. The dance of the gospel is a dance that is despised by many. The active affirmation of the rule of God does not set well with the Michals and the Herods of the world. In fact, people are likely to lose their heads if they claim too much for the gospel.

The dance of prosperity preachers are much easier steps to follow. The message of false prophets who distort the gospel of Christ as nothing more than a little dose of “chicken soup for the soul” is much easier to swallow. If we just get ourselves right with the Lord, if we would just straighten up and pray right and live right, good health and great wealth will come our way. If we just accept Jesus as our Lord and our Savior, everything is going to be alright.

However, the dance of the gospel is radically different. The dance of the gospel contains steps to the beat of a different drum. If we get right with the Lord, if we pray right and live right, if we lose all inhibitions and all restraint, if we completely surrender ourselves to the rule of God, if we love others as Christ loves others, if we allow the Word of God to challenge us, confront us, consume us, to control us, then suffering is inevitable.

For the dance of the gospel is a dance of self-surrender to a very radical drum beat. It is a beat of sacrifice. It is a beat of selflessness. It is a beat of self-expenditure. It is a beat of love and of grace.  And to world, as the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, if we let go and dance to this beat, we are certain to look pretty foolish.

We may look like a fool…

…when we offer friendship to someone who can not offer us anything in return.

…when we spend valuable time volunteering at the hospital, serving lunch in a soup kitchen, visiting someone in prison or working in a homeless shelter.

…when we love our enemies, when we give the shirt off our backs to complete strangers.

…when we give sacrificially and consistently to a church that is always encouraging us to give even more.

…when we speak truth to those in power.

And we might look foolish anytime we love anyone with the self-expending love of Christ—whenever we love someone without inhibitions, without restraints, and without reservations.

I believe this is the dance of the gospel. It is a dance of immense joy, but also a dance of enormous suffering. For the Herods and Michals of the world despise this dance. And they will do everything in their power to stop this dance.

We have all heard their voices, echoes that discourage such dancing:  “Don’t get too close to him. Don’t give your heart to her. As human beings they will only let you down.”

“Don’t bother with church. The giving never ceases. The work never ends. The disappointments never stop.”

“Don’t love that man.  He has done absolutely nothing to deserve it.  And he will probably never be able to reciprocate. Don’t love that woman. She is poor and destitute. She is too needy. She will demand too much.”

The voices Michal and Herod say: “Don’t give yourself away to another. Loving like that is too risky. It leads to too much pain, heartache and grief.”

However, there is another voice.  A voice which was heard by David and by John the Baptist. It is a voice that says: “Dance!  Hold nothing back.  Give yourself away. Surrender yourself to beat of the heart of the gospel.  Love. Love honestly and deeply. Love courageously and graciously.  Lose yourself.  Empty yourself.  Pour yourself out.”

Will this love cause pain? It will cause enormous pain. But the joy of God which will consume you will be so immense the suffering will be well worth it. So, dance.

Garth Brooks once sang a song entitled “the dance.” There’s a line in that song that goes, “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to have missed the dance.”

Loving others will inevitably bring pain.  However, never loving to avoid that pain is never really living.  There is no joy being a wallflower on the wall of life.

The Revised Common Lectionary has a gospel and a Hebrew lesson. It also has a Psalm.

The Psalm for this week is the 24thPsalm. As we avoid the dance of false prophets with steps that are easier to follow and join the dance of the gospel, even if it brings us pain, may we remember these hopeful words:

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?

Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false… They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation.

So, let’s dance!  Let us go out and dance in the streets of our world consumed and controlled by the Word of God, the radical beat of the gospel of Christ! Be warned, we might look like fools, people will despise us, and we will suffer for it. However, the blessings we receive from the Lord, our vindication from the God of our salvation, is well worth it.

Called to Ministry

MISSION TRIP 2018

Mark 6:6B-13 NRSV

I think we sometimes need to be reminded of the peculiar way that the Kingdom of God was started in this world, to be reminded how Jesus began his ministry on this earth ushering in the reign of God. As the Son of the Most High, the Alpha and the Omega, the eternal Word who became flesh, the one through all things came into being and the Messiah of the world, do it all by himself?

He certainly could have. But instead, he goes out, finds, and calls together a group of some of the most ordinary people in the world to do get the Kingdom started. And not only were they ordinary, they were also

imperfect. They stumble, fumble and bumble behind Jesus proving over and over that they have very little idea of who Jesus was and where Jesus was taking them. Yet, this is how God works in our world. It is the way God has always worked.

In Genesis, we read that God creates the world: the mountains and seas; the valleys and streams; every animal, every living thing in the water, in the air and on the land; the sun, moon, stars and all that lies beyond. Then, God creates human beings, gives them a garden, telling them to look after it and tend to it.

It is as if God says, “You know, I have really enjoyed creating all the beauty and order in this world. Of course, I could take care of it all myself, but I want to see you do it.”

Likewise, Jesus comes into the world making all things new, creating, recreating, reordering; ushering in the Kingdom of God. He touches and heals, welcomes and includes, defends and forgives, turns water into a lot of wine and a small basket of food into a great feast, all as a sign of that Kingdom of God was coming. He redeems and restores the lives of the lost, the poor and the marginalized. He chastises judgmental religion and exorcises demonic forces.

And then it is as if he says, “You know, I’ve enjoyed doing the holy work of God, demonstrating the reality of God’s reign, but now I want you to do it for yourselves. Now, it’s your turn. I am commissioning you to do my work in the world.”

Today’s scripture lesson is this commissioning. I believe it’s important to notice here that Jesus sends them out to do exactly what he himself does: to preach, teach, heal, and to overcome evil.

And Jesus chooses people who to these things who, as far as we can tell in Mark’s Gospel, have no apparent qualifications to do these things. Their only qualification is that they are chosen and commissioned by Christ. And that is enough.

If we are to be the church God is calling us to be, it is imperative for us to recognize the fundamental truth that God does not work alone. Our God is in the business of calling disciples, calling ordinary folks like me and you, and commissioning them to be his ministers in this world.

It’s important for us to realize that all of us are ministers—those to whom Jesus has delegated the work of God. My job as senior minister, at best, is a coordinator, and an encourager and an equipper of you, the ministers.

After finding out that Lori was going into the hospital this past week for a procedure, someone came up to me this week and said, “Jarrett, as our minister, you come and pray for us when we have surgery, but who comes and prays for you when you have surgery?” I said, “I’m lucky, for I have an entire congregation of ministers who pray for me.”

One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, has written a wonderful meditation on ordination and preaching, stressing the importance of the preaching of all Christians.  It’s called The Preaching Life.  In it, she writes:

Somewhere along the way we have misplaced the ancient vision of the church as a priestly people—set apart for ministry in baptism, confirmed and strengthened in worship, made manifest in service to the world. That vision is a foreign one to many church members, who have learned from colloquial usage that ministermeans the ‘ordained person,’ in a congregation, while lay personmeans ‘someone who does not engage in full-time ministry.’ Professionally speaking that is fair enough—but speaking ecclesiastically, it is a disaster. Language like that turns clergy into purveyors of religion, and lay persons into consumers, who shop around for the church that offers them the best product.

Taylor writes of the need to revive Martin Luther’s vision of the priesthood of all believers, who are ordained by God at baptism to share Christ’s ministry in this world.

Nowhere in the scriptures do we find God saying: “Go into the world and make nice Christians out of people. Bring them into the church so they can sing some hymns, pray and listen to a sermon that will make them feel like they are good, religious, moral people who are on their way to heaven. Form a type of club. Hire a full-time club president to be there for the comfort, security and entertainment of the club members.

No, what we do find in scriptures is Jesus instructing us to go forth into the world and make disciples. And what do disciples do? Sit on a pew every Sunday? Sing, pray, and dream about heaven? No, they do what Jesus did. They preach, and they teach. They welcome, and they include. They accept, and they forgive. They clothe, and they feed. They heal, and they fight injustice. They love, and then, they love some more.

But you say, “I can’t do those things. I can’t preach. I am no preacher. That’s why we pay you to be the “preacher!”

Barbara Brown Taylor continues writing: “

While preaching and celebrating the sacraments are two particular functions to which I was ordained, they are also metaphors for the whole church’s understanding of life and faith…Preaching is not something that an ordained minister does for 20 minutes on Sundays, but what the whole congregation does all week long; it is a way of approaching the world, and of gleaning God’s presence there.

We are all preachers, and whether or not you realize it or not, some of you have been preaching all week.

Our mission team has been preaching the gospel of Christ every day this week in New Mexico with hammers and nails and screws and saws, helping to add on a room to a church building in addition to leading a Vacation Bible School.

Some of you preach the grace of Christ every week by working with recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Some of you preach the love of Christ mentoring young people as a Boy Scout leader or camp director.

Some of out preach good news of Christ to the poor by making distributing sandwiches to the food insecure through the sack lunch program.

Some of you are physicians who preach the healing of Christ to people who are suffering. Some preach the hope of Christ to people who are homeless. And some preach the comfort of Christ my volunteering at the hospital.

Although you do not get paid by your employer to preach, some of you preach every day at work and at home. Many of you preach a sermon of unrestricted grace to a co-worker, a sermon of unconditional love to a customer, a sermon of undeniable hope to a friend, to a neighbor, even to a stranger.

And many more of you; although you had other places to go, other things to do (some of you no doubt even felt like staying home), you got up this morning to come to this place of worship. You didn’t know it, but your smile this morning made someone else smile. The handshake that you offered was heartfelt. The hug you gave was sorely needed. Your simple words of greeting brought someone encouragement and another peace.

Mark’s gospel teaches us when you do all these things in the name of Jesus, then you are ministering. Yes, I’m happy to say that some of First Christian Church’s best preaching does not come from this pulpit on Sunday mornings. But it comes from the people in the pews who have answered their calling to be preachers every day of the week.

These are serious times, and Jesus is calling. He is calling ordinary people like me and you everyday to do ministry. Where has Jesus called you to ministry?  What is the work you are equipped and called to do? There is perhaps no more important question. For it is simply the way our God works, the way God has always worked in this world.

Let us pray:

O God, you do not work alone in this world. You reach out and call ordinary folk to be your disciples. We thank you for your graciousness in calling us. Give us what we need to be faithful disciples. You have given us good work to do. Keep giving us the gifts we need to keep doing your work. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Invitation to Communion

As we sing our hymn of communion, may we open our minds and  hearts so that we may hear the voice of Jesus—calling us and commissioning us to be his disciples, God’s representatives, God’s ministers in this world. All are invited to receive these elements representing the body of Christ because all are called to be the body of Christ.

He Touched Me

Hisham Yasin dinner

Mark 5:21-43 NRSV

I believe one of the most troubling things about the children who have been separated from their parents at the border is when we learned that the case workers and childcare workers were not aloud to touch the children. Sadly, with the prevalence of physical abuse in our world, perhaps we can understand why. However, we also understand that not touching them can also be a form of physical abuse. So much so, when some of the childcare workers confessed in an interview to breaking the rules and hugging the children who were in their care, we said, “Well, good for them!”

It should be no surprise to us when we learn that our God is a God who uses the physical as a means of grace. Today’s scripture lesson, with its repeated theme of physical touching, is a perfect example.

Through the act of touching, a woman is made whole, and God’s healing power is released.

In these stories, through the power of the physical touch, barriers of society and tradition are crossed. Rules and laws are broken. The woman in the story is ceremonially unclean. It is against the rules to touch her and it is against the rules to touch her. And notice, that she is also unnamed. Then, notice what happens after the woman breaks the law, reaches out and touches Jesus.

Jesus asks, “Who touched me?” desiring to know the woman who touched him, he reaches out and touches her. He commends her faith and calls her “daughter.” Through the grace of physical touch, the woman who was once unclean has been made whole. And the woman who was once unnamed has become a child of God.

In the second part of the story, the corpse of the girl is ritually unclean. Like the woman with the hemorrhage, this girl’s body is also untouchable. Yet, Jesus does the unthinkable and reaches out and touches the girl’s body nevertheless. In taking the girl’s hand, in touching the girl, Jesus reaches across the boundaries of society but also boundaries of death. And her life is restored.

About fifteen years ago, I attended a conference for pastors at Princeton University in New Jersey with the two ministers I met in Memphis a month or so ago.  During our free time, we thought it would be exciting to board a train and visit the Big Apple. Before we left the conference, several frequent travelers New York City, who were also attending the conference, gave us some advice.

“When you are in the city, don’t look anyone in the eyes,” they said.  “Don’t speak to anyone.” “Don’t point, at anyone or anything.”  If you point at a building, someone may think you are pointing at them, and there may be trouble. And whatever you do, don’t touch anyone. Don’t get close to anyone!”

Being a first timer in the big city, and desiring not to be shot or cut or punched in the face, I decided that I better heed this advice.

As we were standing at one intersection in Times Square, waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green so we could cross, I noticed everyone in front of me, looking back over their shoulders. I turned around to see what they were looking at and saw a very elderly man with a long white beard, dressed as if he was homeless. With one hand on his grocery cart, he was bending down and picking up a slice of pizza he had dropped on the sidewalk with his other hand. After he picked it up we all watched as he went to take a bite as he walked down the road.

“Look, he’s going to eat it,” someone said.  But before he could get it to his mouth, he dropped it again. The crowd laughed and jeered.  We watched him yet a third time, pick up the pizza, put it to his mouth only to drop it again.  The light turned green, the and off we went.

Later, we were walking up several flights of stairs as we exited the subway.  My friend, Cary was in front of me and my friend, Steve was behind me.

Up ahead of us I noticed a frail-looking African-American man struggling to pull a large suitcase up the stairs. Cary walked passed the man. I walked passed the man, who I heard grunting with each step, watching out of the corner of my eye, dragging the suitcase behind him. “Should I help him,” I thought to myself.  “No, he might get the wrong idea.” “He might think I’m trying to steal it or something.” I kept walking.

Steve, however, who was behind me, took a risk. Not knowing if the man even spoke English, he asked, “Do you need some help?” As Steve reached out and touched the end of the suitcase, the man immediately gave Steve a fearful, mean glance.  But then, he smiled. I watched as he smiled most hopeful kind of smile, and said, “thank you.” Steve, picked up the suitcase and helped the man out of the subway. At the top of the stairs, the man reached out his arm, looking like he wanted to hug Steve. He stopped just short of a hug and patted Steve on the back, saying, “Thank you. God bless you.”

Once again, God used the physical as a means of grace.  Steve reached out and touched and the power of God, the amazing grace of Jesus Christ was released.  Fear was transformed into joy. We all felt it.

As long as I live, I’ll always wonder what might have happened if I had purchased that homeless man another slice of pizza. I’ll always dream of the possibilities, of what might have transpired, if I ate a slice of pizza with him.  I’ll always think of the grace that might of come, the salvation that might have happened, through the simple act of reaching out my hand to that poor solitary soul who was struggling to survive.

Because our God is a God who uses the physical as a means of grace.

Look at your hands.  They are sacred.  They are holy.  They are the means of God’s grace. The simple act of touching is powerful.  It is sacred, and it is holy, maybe especially so if that touch reaches across barriers of society and tradition.

This past week I received a little push back when I posted a picture of myself with Hisham Yasin with our lunch plates and wrote a caption: “breaking bread with my Muslim brother.”

“How can you call a Muslim, who does not believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, your brother?” They asked.

I then shared with them the story of how I became Hisham’s brother. I said, “The first that I did was to break all sorts societal and traditional barriers by visiting with him in his office.”

During that visit I quickly learned that when it came to religion or politics or philosophy, even sports, Hisham and I agreed on very little. However, I learned that there was one thing that we did agree on. And that is that inclusive love has the power to change the world.

He offered me some dried figs and a delicious glass of herbal tea. He quoted passages from the Qur’an. I quoted Jesus. During our conversation he kept struggling with what to call me. Sometimes he would call me “preacher,” but sometimes he would call me “pastor.” I really got him confused when he just stopped halfway through our conversation, and asked me, “what do you like to be called?”

“Because I am more than a preacher and more than someone who give pastoral care, I guess I prefer ‘minister.’”

During the rest of the conversation, I think he called me all three titles.

After our visit, I reached out my hand to shake his. He immediately reached out both of his hands to hug me. As he gave me this great big hug, he said, “I don’t know to call you preacher, pastor or minister, so from now on, I just call you “brother.”

Now, at that moment, I reckon I could have pushed him away from me saying, “Now wait one minute, Mister, you are not my brother, for you do not believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and Savior of the world!”

But thank God I chose instead to break traditional and societal rules, by hugging him back saying, “I love you brother,” to hear him say, “I love you my brother.” I chose to allow God to once more use the physical as a means of grace. And the power of God, the amazing grace of Jesus Christ was released. I felt it. And I believe Hashim felt it.

This, my friends, is what our world needs. We need to reach past all of the barriers that we erect between ourselves and our neighbors— political, religious, racial, ethnic, economic. We need to reach out and touch them. We need to allow them to touch us. We need to join hands, link arms, rub elbows and see that we have more things in common than the things that separate us. We need to see in the words of James Taylor, that ;there are ties between us, all men and women living on the Earth, ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood.”

Every Sunday morning, when we gather around this table and affirm the grace of the physical. When we consume physical elements of grain and grape, resprenting the body and blood of Christ, we affirm that we have been touched by God through Christ. We affirm that through his touch, we have been made whole. Through his touch, we have all become children of God. But more than that, in consuming the body and blood of Christ, we acknowledge that we are his body and his blood. We are the body of Christ. Our hands are of Christ in this world. Our hands are sacred, and they are holy. They are means of God’s grace. They have the power to heal this broken world. They have to power to accept, to welcome, to love, and to make this world a better place.

After we sing our hymn of communion together, all are invited to consume the physical elements of grain and grape, receive grace, and renew the commitment to be the hands of Christ in this world.

Commissioning and Benediction

Go from this place and remember that, in the words of Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no body on this earth but yours…Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world; yours are the feet with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”

The Power to Heal the World – Remembering Dr. Trevor Soter John Hodge, MD

trevor-hodge-fort-smith-ar-obituary

Read Obituary

On behalf of the family of Dr. Trevor Hodge, I want to thank all of you for being here this morning.

Of course, I want to thank you for the way your presence here gives comfort to his family; but more than that, I want to thank you for the way I believe your presence here gives hope for the entire world!

For you have come here this morning to celebrate and to remember a life that was dedicated to loving and healing this world.

Every Sunday, our church gathers around this table to celebrate and remember the life of another who was also dedicated to loving and healing this world. We share bread. We drink from a cup, and we listen to his words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” If you want to celebrate my life, says Jesus, if you want to remember my life, then do this. Live on earth as I lived. Love the world as I loved. Welcome, accept, forgive, embrace, touch, and heal. Do this.

It is my hope that all who are here to remember and celebrate Trevor’s life understand that best way to do that, is to do it, to live and love as he lived and loved.

Because, my friends, that is what I believe our broken world needs now more than anything else. And I believe the love that Dr. Hodge shared with his patients, the love that this father shared with his children, his family, his wife, his community, has the power to heal this world.

On Valentine’s Day six years ago, Rev. Don Hubbard, a member of this church and former chaplain at Sparks Hospital, had the honor of officiating the marriage ceremony that celebrated and affirmed the love that Trevor and Penny shared with one another.

It was just a few weeks into their marriage when Trevor was diagnosed with cancer. Penny has said that “cancer was their marriage.” Thus, there are probably some, some who do not know any better, who would say: “What a tragic and heartbreaking marriage.” However, what they failed to factor in, and Penny will testify to this, is the power of love.

The diagnosis was grim. Of all people, Dr. Hodge knew it. Understandably, his first thoughts were to concede to the inevitability of it.

However, the love that Penny and Trevor had, that was affirmed weeks earlier during their wedding, does not concede.

For they affirmed the love that the Apostle Paul wrote about in the scripture that Rev. Hubbard read at their wedding from 1 Corinthians 13.

“If I speak in the tongues of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

In a dark world, where even religious voices can be among the most hate-filled voices, by loving others the way Trevor Hodge loved others, we have the blessed opportunity to be a shining beacon of love that has the power to change the world.

The Apostle continues…

Love is patient.  

Love is in it for the long-haul. It never quits. It doesn’t give up, give in or give out. Love is unrelenting, dedicated, and determined. Even when it would take Dr. Hodge two and a half hours to get dressed, and that’s with Penny’s help; even when he could no longer walk, it was a persistent, persevering, and patient love that got him to his office.

Love is kind.

Rev. Hubbard says that anytime he ever conversed with Dr. Hodge, whether it was about the chaplaincy and pastoral care, which Dr. Hodge believed wholeheartedly in, his grandfather, philosophy, fishing, fishing lures, literature, religion or politics, he noticed that Dr. Hodge always wore this half-smile on his face that exuded kindness, a kindness that it soothes all pain and heals all wounds. It shelters and protects.

Thus, it shouldn’t surprise us when we discovered that Trevor kept most of his pain private. He never wanted to bring pain to another, especially the ones he loved.

Love is not envious or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude.

Thirteenth century German theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart is often credited with the following quote: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.”

I believe it is enough, because I believe that this simple prayer indicates that one understands that all of life is a free gift of God’s amazing grace.

I believe there are basically two types of people in this world: People who get the concept of grace and people who don’t get it. People who fail to see the grace of it all are usually not what we call “nice” people. They are boastful and rude. They act as if they have somehow earned their life, done something to deserve it. They walk around with this air that the world owes them something. In their arrogance, they become hostile if life does not go their way. After all, they deserve better.

Then there are those like Trevor Hodge who get it, who truly understand the sheer grace of it all. They understand that all of life is gift. It is unearned and undeserved. It is mysteriously and utterly precious. And these are the ones we generally call “nice” people or “gracious people.”

Love doesn’t insist on its own way.

It is flexible, pliable, and sensitive. It cares for others more than self. It is never “me first.” It is always willing to change courses, take another path, choose another way to love and help others.

One day, walking in Queens, New York when he was young, Trevor’s life changed forever. A student of drama and English literature, medical school was nowhere in Trevor’s future. As he was walking along, he heard this terrible commotion behind him. When he turned around, he saw a man, the victim of a horrific stabbing, lying on the ground, bleeding to death. Trevor said he had never felt more helpless in his life. In that moment, he promised God and himself that he would never be helpless in a situation like that again. He soon enrolled in medical school and never looked back. Even near the end of his life, Trevor’s concern was always for others, his patients, his family and his community.

Love is not irritable or resentful.

It isn’t touchy or cold. It isn’t easily offended, indignant or bitter. It is good-humored, warm and hospitable. It never complains.

And if anyone had any reason to complain it was Trevor. To work as hard as he worked, to care for others as much as he cared for others, without the opportunity to enjoy a well-earned retirement, would make even the sweetest personality bitter. The truth is: a diagnosis like Trevor’s changes most people for the worse.

But not Trevor. Trevor remained grateful for the gift of every day, no matter how difficult that day was. That half-smile he wore as he visited with you never diminished.

Trevor loved to tease and had a great sense of humor. Dr. Auturo Meade, a doctor here from Mexico, remembers Trevor incessantly bragging on his children. “He was so proud of his kids,” Dr. Meade says. “But he was especially proud when his daughter made a movie for one of her classes, a Mexican film that featured Mexican bandits. He was always coming up to me telling me I needed to see this film she made about some bandits from Mexico.”

Love does not keep account of mistakes.

It doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. It doesn’t “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” It never thinks: “I am better than he” or “I am more holy than she.” It never judges, condemns, or discriminates.

People like Trevor who truly understand the grace of it all, that life itself is gift, are the first to extend grace to others.

Love is truthful.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s honest. It’s real. It’s authentic. And it’s all the more forgiving, all the more gracious, because of that.

More than one person has told me that they did not know of a pretentious bone in Trevor’s body. Unlike some with the intellect and talent of Dr. Hodge, he never made anyone feel that they were less human than he. John Mundy, a respiratory therapist said: “Whenever I saw him at the hospital, he would always talk to me as if I was his equal. He was always easy to relate to, and he never met a stranger.” I believe that his humanity enabled him to do something that is lacking in our country today—to truly empathize with others.

Love bears all things.

It is courageous and generous. It is self-expending and sacrificial. It bends over backwards. It is always willing to go out of its way, take an extra step, even walk an extra mile.

In a fight like the one Trevor had with cancer, many would have thrown in the towel years ago. But Trevor had brave, self-denying love in his corner, which helped him, in the words of the Apostle Paul, to fight a good fight. When we have love in our corner, there is no mountain we can’t climb.

Love believes all things.

It always looks for the good, for the very best in the other or the situation, even if that best is sometimes buried deeply or covered completely. It is positive and encouraging.

Although he was sick, every day was a gift. Although he was weak, every moment was grace. In the end, Trevor did not have the life that he expected, but he was very grateful for the life that he had. Perhaps that is why Trevor always told us he was ok, because to Trevor, he was always ok. No matter the situation, he was always blessed.

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, and no fading of its hope.

Love can outlast anything. It can not be silenced. It can never be defeated. Love always wins. It still stands when all else has fallen.

Love reveals how powerless an enemy as formidable as cancer truly is. Just when we are tempted to believe that there is nothing that cancer cannot destroy, we meet a man like Dr. Trevor Hodge, and we learn with the anonymous author of the following words that there are many things that cancer cannot do.

Cancer cannot cripple love.

It cannot shatter hope.

It cannot corrode faith.

It cannot eat away peace.

It cannot destroy confidence.

It cannot kill friendship.

It cannot shut out memories.

It cannot silence courage.

It cannot invade the soul.

It cannot reduce eternal life.

It cannot quench the Spirit.

It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.

And the good news is that there is nothing that love cannot do. Love can change everything.

Love can transform sorrow into joy, despair into hope and death into life.

Love—unconditional, unreserved, unrelenting love—can transform six, tragic, heart-breaking years of marriage with cancer into six amazing, heart-fulfilling years of marital bliss.

Love can transform a funeral service into a service of celebration

Love can heal a broken world.

Love can bring down walls and break chains.

Love can cause hate, violence, racism and all kinds of bigotry to pass away and all of creation to be born again.

So, thank you for being here today. Because of the life of Dr. Trevor Hodge, because of what we are going to do in this world to remember and celebrate his life, there is hope for us all.