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.

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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.

It’s Getting Scary

 

families stay together

Mark 4:35-41 NRSV

There was a great church pianist and composer studying in Chicago who was known throughout the Midwest as Georgia Tom. He was scheduled to help with a revival at a large church in St. Louis about a month before his wife was due to have their first child.He was afraid to leave her so close to the due date, but he was committed to fulfill the promise he made to the church over a year earlier.

As soon as he got off the train in St. Louis, someone handed him a telegram which read: “Congratulations, you are the father of a new baby boy. However, it is with deep regret that we inform you that your wife died during childbirth.”

He boarded the next train back to Chicago. Overcome with grief, he arrived at the hospital to hold his new born baby in his arms—however, shortly after he arrived, this little boy, the only part of his wife that he would ever be able to hold again, passed away in his sleep.

Georgia Tom took a leave of absence from his studies, and his ministry. He moved to South Carolina where he did little but grieve. It was sixth months before was able to sit down at the piano and compose a song. When he did, these first words that he wrote and set to music were the following:

Precious Lord, take my hand. Lead me on, help me stand. I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Thro’ the storm, thro’ the night, Lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord; lead me on.

Georgia Tom, or Thomas Dorsey, as evidenced by this wonderful hymn and a long-life lived in dedication to God, knew what the disciples knew about Jesus. That Jesus is the one who helps us overcome our fears. Jesus is the one who helps us get through the storms of life, get through the night time of our fear into a peace that is beyond all understanding.

In today’s lesson, Jesus and the disciples are in a boat. It is night, a dangerous time to be on the sea. And sure enough, “a great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.”

The fearful disciples cry out to Jesus who is sound asleep on a cushion in the stern: “Teacher! Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Of course Jesus cares. He wakes up and stands up. He immediately rebukes the wind and speaks against the waves. And a miraculous calm settles over the sea.

This is what Jesus does. When we call on Jesus in the stormy nighttime of our fear, it may take time, but if we allow him to take our hand like Thomas Dorsey did, a miraculous calm will settle over us.

This is what makes our scripture lesson this morning so strange. After Jesus rebukes the wind and speaks against the waves, after he brings a miraculous calm, notice that the disciples are still afraid.

The NRSV’s translation is not quite strong enough here in verse 41.  Mark says, literally in the Greek, that the disciples not only feared, but they “feared a great fear.” After Jesus calms the storm, the disciples become more afraid than ever.

It is then Jesus asks: “Why are you afraid?” I’ve stilled the storm. I’ve calmed the waves. Why are you, even now, afraid? And then, fearing a great fear, the disciples begin to ask one another, “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?”

The disciples were afraid, but now they are afraid for a very different reason. I believe it’s a very different kind of fear. First, there’s the fear of the death-dealing storm. Death, divorce, disease in a thousand different ways, the storms of life come. You receive a grim diagnosis. A good friend loses their job. A child dies. Winds are howling. Waves are crashing. And we cry out to Jesus, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus cares. He wakes up, stands up, rebukes the wind and speaks out against waves, and all is calm. And the disciples have never been more afraid.

This is the fear that comes from standing in the presence of the one the wind and the sea obey. I believe this is the fear that comes with the realization that this one who has been teaching them how to love and who to love is none other than the Creator of all that is.

This is the fear that comes with waking up to the realization that when any of God’s children are perishing, it is God who is calling the disciples to care, to wake up, to stand up and rebuke the winds of injustice, to speak against the waves of violence.

This is the fear that comes with waking up to the realization that if they want be on the side of the Lord of hosts, the Master of the earth, wind, fire and sea, then they must be on the side of the poor and the oppressed.

If they want to stand with the Most High, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then they must stand with the sojourner in their midst, with the vulnerable, with those who mourn and grieve, with all who hunger and thirst for justice.

If they want to be welcomed by God, they must first learn to welcome little children.

And with that realization, the realization that they must always be on the side of the underprivileged and the powerless, comes the fear of the push back that will surely be coming their way by the privileged and the powerful. This is the persecution that Jesus points out in the beginning of this chapter when he compares those who acquiesce to evil to avoid persecution, or those who are seduced by power and wealth, to seeds falling on rocky soil.

While I was on vacation, I was asked countless times: how are things going your new church? And each time, I responded the same. Things are great! I love my church!

But perhaps the best way I could have responded to this question is this: “How are things going at the church? Well, to tell you the truth, it’s a little scary. The truth is that being a member of the First Christian Church is downright frightening. And being the pastor of such a church, well, it’s like fearing a great fear!”

However, it is not what you think. It is not so much because people are sick or people are dying.

For you see, First Christian Church are people who believe God, the creator of all that is, is wide awake in our midst. Christ is here rebuking and speaking out against the storm. But at the same time, he’s shaking things up. He’s stilling the waters, but he’s also rocking the boat! He’s recreating and resurrecting. He’s making all things new. He’s creating a brand new world: a world where every human being is loved equally, where no humans are called “animals” or an “infestation,” where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. He’s creating a world where no person, whether they live in Idaho, Texas or Central America, should perish but have eternal life. He leads us out of one kind storm only to lead us directly into a different kind of storm!

Jesus leads us into the storm that he forecasted when he said:

49‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three (Luke 12).

In other words, Jesus says to his disciples: “Because you care, because you are awake, because your love for people has no borders, because you stand on the side of the perishing (the poor and the marginalized), not only will you be on the opposite side of the flourishing (the rich and the powerful), but members of your own family may shun you, turn against you. For righteousness sake, you will be persecuted in ways that you never thought you would. Good friends will betray you. People you respect will forsake you.”

So you see, during these very serious times, being a part of a church that is committed to following the way of Jesus can be a most frightening venture.

But here’s the good news. When Jesus cared, woke up and stood up, rebuked the wind and spoke against the sea, I believe another realization came: This way of Jesus, this way of inclusive, sacrificial love, has the power to literally change the world!

When we follow the way of Jesus, when we care, wake up and stand up, rebuke the wind and speak out against the waves the whole world can change.

When we care, wake up and stand up, rebuke the wind and speak out against the waves by standing with children, an immoral and inhumane immigration policy can be reversed.

When we care, wake up and stand up, rebuke the wind and speak out against the waves by standing with poor people, then poor people can receive affordable housing, healthcare and education. They can earn fair living wages.

When we care, wake up and stand up, rebuke the wind and speak out against the waves by standing with the oppressed, discrimination of every kind will be defeated and liberty and justice will come for all.

So, although none go with us, we still will follow. Although our friends forsake us, we still will follow. Although family members desert us, our cross we still will carry. Although persecution befall us, we still will be unashamed to faithfully preach the gospel and be unafraid to sing aloud with the Psalmist:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord…
…He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire…
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge (Psalm 46).

Let us pray.

O God, we have come here this morning because we are trying to love you.

You have certainly loved us.

You have come into the storms of our lives, touched our fevered souls, healed our diseased spirits and stilled our troubled, restless hearts bringing us a peace beyond understanding.

Yet, in coming to us, in loving us, you also give yourself to us in all your awe-inspiring glory. You shake the foundations of our lives. You stride forth, calling us to walk with you, no matter where you go. Thus we fear.

We want to love Christ, but we also fear that he may be more of a Savior than we really want!

Help us to follow Christ wherever he leads.

Help us to listen to Christ, no matter what he says. Help us to love you, no matter what that loves costs us.  It is in the name of Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.