Born Holding Hands

Twins holding hands at deliveryLast Sunday in Ohio, which just so happened to be Mother’s Day, a rare set of mono, mono twins, Jillian and Jenna Thistlewaite, were miraculously born holding hands.

One of the most popular songs when I was born back in 1966 was entitled, Born Free.  “Born free, as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows, born free to follow your heart.”

It’s a nice song.  However, when you take a good look at Jillian and Jenna Thistlewaite who were born this week holding hands, we learn something completely different. We were not born to be independent and free, but we were born to be very dependent on one another. We were born to need one another. Jillian and Jenna remind us that Christ has commanded us to love one another, to link up with one another in mutual care and concern, and to feel responsibility for one another. We were born to live in community.

We were not born free, as the song goes. We were born holding hands.

So, perhaps the worst kind of evil in this world is failing to accept one another. Or alienating another. Or living a self-absorbed, self-centered life.

Finish the Fight

finish the fight

I have preached more than my share of funeral or memorial services for people who have died with cancer. Near the end of the many eulogies, including the eulogies for both my maternal grandparents, I have closed by confidently sharing the following words that I have heard other preachers share at funerals. I keep the words saved on my hard drive, so I can easily copy and paste it.

Cancer is so limited.

It 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. Amen.

You, every person who has supported Relay for Life in this community, some for well over a decade now, you are how I am able to speak those words, even in the face of death, with such confidence.

Former North Carolina State Women’s Basketball Coach, Kay Yow, who passed away in 2009 after a courageous battle with breast cancer once said, “I felt like I had zero control over getting cancer, but I have 100% control of how I will respond to getting cancer.” She then said something that was absolutely inspiring: “When life kicks you, let it kick you forward!”

Just look around you tonight. Everywhere you look you will see people who have been kicked by cancer. You will see people who have lost some of the people in life they have loved the most. You will see people who have lost parents and grandparents, husbands and wives. You will see people who have heard their brothers and sisters who were experiencing unimaginable suffering with cancer say, “I do not wish this on my worst enemy.” You will see people who have lost friends and family members who died way too young. You will see people who have lost their children. And you do not have to look hard to find people who have themselves been personally kicked by cancer. There are people here who are survivors and there are people here who are still fighters. There are people all around us tonight who have been kicked by cancer and kicked hard.

Yet, you will nonetheless see them. They are here tonight. Cancer did not cripple them. Cancer did not shatter their hope or corrode their faith. Cancer did not destroy their confidence, silence their courage or quench their spirits. They are here tonight to continue to do whatever they can do help find a cure for this disease. They have been kicked by cancer, they have been kicked hard, but they have been kicked forward!

Now, as exciting as this night is, as hopeful as this night is, when battling something as enormous as Cancer, I realize that we can easily become discouraged. As I said, some of us have been supporting this Relay in Farmville for over a decade, and today our loved ones are still being diagnosed. Our parents and our children are still dying.

We need to be honest and admit that there are very few things in life more discouraging than trying to put an end to a disease like Cancer. The needs of cancer researchers are so great and our resources are so limited. Sometimes, we can be easily tempted to give up, quit, lay down, throw in the towel.

Jesus knew something of this temptation. Jesus commanded his disciples to do great things, to give sight to the blind, to heal the sick, to bind up the broken hearted, and even to raise the dead. And Jesus knew that whenever one is commanded to do big things, the prospects exist for big discouragement.

So, one day, Jesus told a story of a widow who had some type of opposition in her life, something was discouraging her, tempting her to give in and give up. She had been kicked and kicked hard. She kept going to this judge asking for help. She went time and time again, for maybe a decade or more, and help never came. But she kept persisting, she kept fighting, she kept working to get help, until one day, the judge finally helped the poor widow.

Jesus was saying that God wants us to always be persistent! No matter how hard we are kicked, God wants us to keep at it, never let up, never surrender, never throw in the towel. And no, we may not be able to find a cure for cancer this year, or next year, or even in this decade but I believe God wants to keep trying, to keep forging ahead, keep the faith until that day comes when cancer is defeated forever. We need to keep doing what we can, when we can, however we can.

Despite our good efforts, the little bit of money we raise tonight is not going to fund all of the research that is still needed. But we’re going to keep at it.

Despite our tireless work, we may not find a cure before we lose another loved one, but we’re going to keep trying.

Despite the many hours of our lives we sacrifice each year for Relay for Life, we may succumb ourselves to cancer before a cure is found, but before we do, we are going to keep persisting and never lose heart.

And for those of us who are suffering today with cancer, despite still being kicked by cancer, we are going to let it kick us forward.

We are going to keep buying a ribbon, keep selling baked goods, keep playing Bunco and keep making donations. We are going to keep lighting a luminary and keep walking this track.

And then we are going to keep praying. Keep asking God to take our meager, small efforts and use them. We ask God to do for us that which we cannot fully do for ourselves: Help us finish this fight and defeat this disease forever!

Until that day comes when preachers everywhere can take that poem that has been read at countless funerals and delete it permanently from their hard drives.


Church or Club

inclusive church 2

One day, a long-time, very wealthy church member approached a new pastor and asked: “Pastor, are we going to be the kind of church that welcomes and accepts those people?

By “those” people, I am sure he was referring to people of color, people who do not speak English, people from other faiths, poor people, people covered with tattoos, undocumented people, mentally-ill people, LGBTQ people, people with police records or anyone who does not look like or think like him.

The new pastor answered, “Of course we are going to be that kind of church.”

The wealthy man replied, “I suggest that you do everything in your power to prevent that from happening, or I am going to take my family and my money and find another church!”

The new pastor responded: “Well, you are in luck. Because you will not have to search very long to find another church where you will be more comfortable.”

The sad truth is that there are more churches that practice an exclusivity that is anti-Christ than there are churches that practice an inclusivity that is Christ-like.

Which begs the question: “Can a church practice exclusivity and continue to be a church?”

Of course, the answer is “no.” Churches that do not love and welcome all people in the name of Christ are not churches at all, but are only the worst kind of club.