I AM: the Resurrection and the Life

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-hajic-de18ba

John 11:1-44

“If anybody could change our reality right now, it’s Him, right?”

—————–

Note 1: The message herein was written and recorded during a seeming lull between two notable and horrific racial murders in the USA. Grief and death are presented here more generally and vaguely than they might have been had this sermon been prepared immediately after the murder of George Floyd. Grief now (again) has an even more bitter taste. And our hope remains in the Resurrection and the Life.

Note 2: As our church attempts to reenter our building, still working with cobbled-together technology, this recording is not particularly clear. The service was transmitted to Facebook Live via a personal cell phone picking up the external mic’s transmission of speakers speaking through masks. Furthermore, the simultaneous attempt to record an audio file was unsuccessful, necessitating a further recording of the Facebook video via a voice recording app on computer. We thank you for your ongoing patience as we continue to navigate these tech challenges, as well as for your continued listening.

The Right Answer

One of my former pastors–who helped ordain me to the position in which I currently serve, a year ago this week–posted this graphic this morning:

99361459_10157102221131720_7070298141026680832_n

Despite what you might think based on social media (which we all know is so truthful and representative) the last thing the majority of pastors here want is harm to come to their congregations and neighborhoods in any form, including but not limited to the contagion of COVID-19.

Pastors (and I’m sure you’re doing this already, but I need the reminder just as much), let’s get with Jesus on this. Let’s tell Him what we think and then listen to what He and the Father want each of us to do in our specific location and congregation.

Everyone else, we have already heard all the points. Please get with Jesus on our behalf and pray that He gives us clarity borne of His love.

Or, as my wise husband summarized the above even further:

“1 Kings 19:12”

StillSmallVoice

The only right answer to this is to love God and love people. To love God enough to translate His love to the people for whom we’re responsible. What that looks like for any given congregation may not be the same as for another. There’s a whole lot of earthquake/burning-down going on right now. But somewhere in all of this is a still small voice Who may give a way forward we never even thought of.

Something Snapped

I’m not racist.

Neither are most of the white people I know. But finally, at long last, I’m starting to have an inkling that, given our nation’s history and track record (ugh. No pun intended), being “not racist” needs to be a little more proactive and intentional than being passive and “nice,” having brown friends, and telling them they’re welcome to come to church with us.

How was Ahmaud Arbery (whose birthday is today, by the way) murdered in February and I only found out about it three days ago? (Only after I started writing this post did I learn it happened in February.) Don’t even answer that question. None of the possible answers are acceptable.

At the beginning of this week I was still sobbing about my dog–and the grief has not subsided, but you guys, my little black dog had a better death than this black man (and so many others), and today my tears are about Ahmaud and others like him and how silently culpable I and my “non-racist” white brothers and sisters are, for this kind of thing still to be happening. On April 13th (over a month after Ahmaud’s murder, little did I know) I posted a tribute to Oscar on Facebook. Within the first 24 hours, there were at least 150 “reactions” and as many comments. By the end of the week, there were over 100 more.

Last night I shared a poignant repost from Bernard Smith, black friend/brother/colleague of mine:

Realest repost ever…Black people are so tired. 😓

We can’t go jogging (#AmaudArbery).

We can’t relax in the comfort of our own homes (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson).

We can’t ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).

We can’t have a cellphone (#StephonClark).

We can’t leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).

We can’t play loud music (#JordanDavis).

We can’t sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).

We can’t sleep (#AiyanaJones)

We can’t walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).

We can’t play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).

We can’t go to church (#Charleston9).

We can’t walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).

We can’t hold a hair brush while leaving our own bachelor party (#SeanBell).

We can’t party on New Years (#OscarGrant).

We can’t get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).

We can’t lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).

We can’t break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).

We can’t shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .

We can’t have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).

We can’t read a book in our own car (#KeithScott).

We can’t be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).

We can’t decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).

We can’t ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).

We can’t cash our check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).

We can’t take out our wallet (#AmadouDiallo).

We can’t run (#WalterScott).

We can’t breathe (#EricGarner).

We can’t live (#FreddieGray).

We’re tired.

Tired of making hashtags.

Tired of trying to convince you that our #BlackLivesMatter too.

Tired of dying.

Tired.

Tired.

Tired.

So very tired.

#repost

Seventeen hours later (at time of this post going live)? Twenty-eight reactions. I think Oscar’s post had that many in five minutes. Or less.

Look, I get that in Oscar’s case, people who know me (and many of whom knew Oscar) personally, and care about me personally, were responding. I was and am grateful for the empathy and am not sorry it was elicited. But what’s (metaphorically-only) kicking me in the gut right now is the truth Bernard (who was also empathetic about Oscar) expressed when I shared with him:

If your dog was treated like [Arbery was] by these same 2 individuals, it would get more headline, and they may have been convicted by PETA or MSPCA. There would be outrage. But for this jogger, nothing.

He’s not wrong.

Let’s be clear: if my dog were treated like Arbery was by those same two individuals, they should be convicted. (Also, I’m probably not done talking here about the environment, the biblical importance of animals, death of animals, etc.) The point is: if it’s wrong to treat a dog like that, how much worse is it to treat a human that way? And if a dog can get justice, how much more deeply unjust is it for a human not to get it?

And so…I’m not totally sure how this is going to play out, but I’m done being appropriate and quiet about racism. Because my “non-racist” silence and “friendship with black people” is not making this situation better. And frankly, I’m not sure how deep my friendships with black people can ever truly be if I’m not willing to engage this real and ever-present part of their lives–with them, and at least sometimes publicly. The conversations are hard, but as one friend says,

I hate to say this out loud or in text form but until more non-blacks get involved and see this as what it is, there will be more innocent, jogging-while-black bloodshed…You have the power and possibility to reach 1000s who would never listen to me regardless of my education or charisma and Holy Ghost due to my skin color.

I think that friend is overestimating my reach, and it’s a stupid, disgusting reality that the last part of that last sentence is true, but…it’s true. (It’s also ridiculous, because I’ve sat under this man’s teaching in informal phone conversations and he’s literally one of the wisest people I’ve had the good fortune to encounter.)

I’d rather camp out quietly in the comfort of my own outrage, but somehow amid the influx of hashtags about his murder, interspersed with paranoid pandemic conspiracy theories which seem extra galling in light of ongoing real rights violations against people of color, that door slammed shut behind me yesterday. You’re welcome to join me in speaking out. In the meantime, walking, but #IrunwithMaud.

 

The Awful Truth

It’s now two and a half weeks since we gave Oscar his frankly horrible send-off, I’m back to work so I’ve run out of time to write much other than sermons, and yet I’m still grieving, so thanks for continuing to sit here with me for a bit. By this point, I now also have reflections on the current state of CoVid-19…maybe we’ll get to those, too, someday, but for now…

After I reblogged my C.S. Lewis-and-animals paper, an atheist friend of mine said,

I won’t pretend to have read it all [I, Jenn, don’t blame him!], but one thing did stand out for me: the anthropomorphic tendency of christianity. Why shouldn’t an all-powerful god incarnate himself as a dolphin, for the dolphins of this world? Or a whale, for the whales? Or an elephant, for the elephants?

My first thought, on reading his question (because, you know, why wouldn’t it be), was, anthropic principle.

“Excellent question,” I said, affirmingly.

You might read some CS Lewis yourself for a more intelligent discussion of that question, but the anthropocentric tendency is, in fact, a pretty core aspect of Christianity, as you note. For some reason, God chose to “image” Himself through human beings, and through them to care for the rest of creation. Then humans screwed it up (for ourselves and…the rest of creation) and so God self-incarnated as one of us to demonstrate how human life was intended to function–a “viceregency,” as it were, of blessing and goodness, rather than the selfish, destructive type so many of our race (including–and maybe especially–Christians, inexplicably) have practiced instead. So…God incarnating as a human IS in fact also for the dolphins and the dogs and the elephants, because once the humans are renewed, that should address the ills of “everyone” else.

The idea is that at the crucifixion, the God of all this submitted to the atrocities of the humans created in His own image and so in some way to overturn both the physical effects of our atrocities and the spiritual implications thereof–but (and I touched on this in last Sunday’s talk) the fulfillment of what was accomplished that day is still pending, until the incarnate God returns again to stay.

Chapter 8 of the New Testament book of Romans says, “19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. 22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved.

My second thought was, This is why the death of pets is worse than the death of humans. (At least, to me it is, and I don’t think I’m the only one.)

Or more specifically, This is why I can’t get over Oscar.

Because we are the reason death came to stay, and now in our role as broken God-imagers, we actually have a mandated responsibility for the life and death of the creatures in our care–different than the responsibility we have for the life and death of each other. God takes human death even more seriously than the death of His other creatures, because, as He repeatedly reminds us, we were specially created in His image. And yet, we are also the reason death came into the equation at all. Not just our species, but we, individuals, none of whom have ever perfectly imaged God in the world–except for the One who also was God.

Death is our fault. Death is my fault. So I rage against it, but also, no wonder I still feel guilty that maybe I brought Oscar to the vet too soon. And would feel guilty if I had waited and he had had to suffer worse and longer. In a perfect world I never would have had to be responsible for that decision. But this is no longer a perfect world. And so God made Himself a member of the offending species, and accepted the death we ourselves invited right into our own reality by repeatedly in large and small ways rejecting Him, the source of pure life.

If He had shown up as a dolphin or an elephant…or a dog…there would be no present or future hope for restoration, because those creatures–which do, all the same, reflect to us something of God (often better than we; they have not rebelled against the nature their Creator gave them)–were not the chosen image bearers, and it wasn’t their sin, their rejection of the One whose image they were meant to be bearing, that damaged the world. God dying as one of them would have been solidarity with creation, but not salvation for the world. God died (and resurrected) as a human to make restitution for the crime of humans, in order for not only us, but all these other creatures, to have hope of anything better.

Of course…there is the school of thought that if humans had never sinned, God would still eventually have become one of us. But that’s a topic for another post.

I AM the Light of the World

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-es5hp-da7aef

John 9

The purpose of the Light of the World—at the beginning of creation and ever since–is life. It is to reveal and heal (or recreate, or birth) children of God, through whom to shine: more and more life and light, less and less darkness and death.

Pastor Jenn

Deathbed Confession

Less than a week ago I was preaching about how Jesus Christ conquered death and how that in fact has changed everything–both in the here and now, and in the not yet. The next morning I had my dog euthanized.

I still believe every word I said on Sunday, but the fact that a whole lot of it is still “not yet” is front-of-consciousness at the moment, and it’s been a pretty rough week, to be honest. All the emotions have been the ones you just don’t want to feel. On Monday it was shock and devastation. On Tuesday and Wednesday it was deep, deep grief. Yesterday I was just depressed–couldn’t even cry, which was worse than the sobbing. And today I feel pretty darn close to enraged. Enraged, not at God, but at death.

This is the confession–about deathbeds: Death has just never bothered me that much before. I was close to all four of my grandparents, especially my two grandmothers, and I’ve mourned their deaths truly, but I did not watch them die. I did not see their bodies after they had done it. And I had (and have) no doubt that they were going to the better life, the Real Life, that my faith tells me lies ahead, thanks to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. 

I also worked for nearly three years as a hospice chaplain, and you might think that someone relatively unbothered by death would make a terrible one of those, but actually, it helps. As I said to someone about it once, if I were devastated every time someone died, I would be no help to the family who really was devastated in the moment. As it was, I was able to express genuine compassion and support a lot of people this way, and in some cases I even quietly sorrowed if I had developed a close rapport with a particular hospice patient.

But I never felt the heart-breaking affront to all that’s right and good that death truly is. It has taken the death a sweet (but also monumentally annoying) little dog who, in spite of the annoyance, brought joy to my heart every day, to get me to understand why Jesus wept even when He knew He was going to raise back to life the friend He was weeping for. Watching Oscar die, and then taking his floppy but still warm body home, wrapping him up, and burying him in the cold ground in a cairn of earth and rocks while hurricane-force winds and rain whipped around us suddenly made death a real thing. A horror and an offense. It was never supposed to happen this way. The fact that we animal lovers know that we will have to bury our pets, the fact that we humans know we will have to bury each other, the fact that there’s a disease running rampant around the world right now making that happen more and more frequently, is an affront. It isn’t natural. It isn’t supposed to be like this.

It’s possible to believe in the resurrection of Christ without the sense of death being a real thing–because I have believed it, all my life. I think you can even have a spark of intellectual understanding that the resurrection changes everything and that it enables our resurrection without having deeply mourned a death. But I don’t think the resurrection can become a really visceral hope until you’ve viscerally felt death as a real thing. If you’re someone who’s felt that horror, forgive me if I’ve ever come across as callous to you. And I pray you can move from the horror to the hope–because the resurrection of Jesus Christ overturning the way things are is really all I’m holding onto right now. It’s remarkably steady–even in the tears and the “not yet.”

I’m pretty glad we waited until after Resurrection Sunday to bring Oscar to the vet, because I don’t think I could’ve preached the sermon I needed to after it, and definitely need at least a year until the next go-round. But I wouldn’t say anything different. I’d just say it with more passion. The resurrection of Jesus is the only thing that can transform the world–and take death, and end it.

1CFD1FB6-DA4F-4E26-8F87-6D66D8314FB3_1_105_c
The cairn…will eventually be covered over with earth and flowers. Life out of death until the Not Yet.
%d bloggers like this: