It was 10:45 in the morning but the room was dark. The shades were drawn. The man on the bed looked old, shriveled up, a husk of his old vibrant self. And yet… I knew what to do.
“Bob! I called out as I shook him gently. It’s time to worship! I’ve come to take you.” Bob opened his eyes. They were sad… distant…he shook his head no.
Bob suffers from depression – and it looked like the dark forces of depression had sunk him deep into his bed.
But I had seen this before… and I knew that – at least for Bob – there was a cure…or at least powerful relief from the pain.
I’ve been visiting Bob at St. Therese for years. A few years ago he confessed to me: “When you first came, I voted against you because I didn’t think women could be pastors. But now… you are my pastor.” Bob has become my biggest fan. And so … I said to him with a straight face, “But Bob… you have to come. I’m preaching.”
At that, Bob slowly got up… and let me guide him into his wheelchair, bend down and put his shoes on him (I’d forgotten his shoes the last time and embarrassed him completely) and wheel him into worship. Half an hour later, Bob was beaming. The forces of evil of his depression were beaten down by the power of the Gospel – and he was set free.
Jesus told his disciples, “As you go, proclaim the good news, "The kingdom of heaven has come near.' “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
Jesus admonition to his disciples sounds impossible for our day. We send our sick and lepers, those with physical ailments, to medical doctors. We don’t talk much about “casting out demons” or raising the dead in our culture. And yet… isn’t that what happened to Bob? He was lying there – dead to the world and shrouded in his depression. But the Good News of Jesus broke through.
And Bob is not the only one. I visited Alice recently and gave her a prayer shawl. She snuggled into it and said, “Oh thank you… this is just what I need.” Alice’s memory is fading – and so in the middle of the conversation she said to me… “This is so nice – I love this – I don’t want to give it back.” Again, I explained that the prayer shawl was our gift to her – that the woman who made the prayer shawl was praying as she crocheted and that as she wore the shawl around her shoulders it was like the congregation surrounding her in prayer. “Really?” she asked. “Really.” I said. And then… as I was leaving, she said, “I suppose you want this shawl back” – hugging it close to her body. Again, I said, no, it is our gift to you. And she smiled. The Good News of God’s love breaks through with prayer –sometimes in small stitches.
Jesus commissions us – sends us out -- to bear witness to God’s love. Sometimes it seems so ordinary – a helping hand with a garden, giving a ride to a neighbor, babysitting, bringing a meal to someone. But we do these ordinary acts of love because we have first received Christ’s love. And it is because we know God’s love for us, we can share that love -- and we dare to have hope – despite whatever challenges surround us.
And there are challenges in our lives and in our world. A friend of mine said that he has stopped watching the news at night because he can’t sleep if he does. More than once have I been reminded of the old curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
When Paul writes to the Romans, they were in “Interesting times” too – and they were despairing. And yet, Paul urges them not to despair. Instead, he challenges them to dare to hope.
In what seems like an odd progression Paul writes, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
It’s not that Paul was urging them to suffer. Suffering comes without our seeking it. We are human after all. But Paul reminds us that we can grow in faith through the challenges of life because life’s challenges, especially those times in which we are not in control, can remind us to trust in God and not ourselves. Paul reminds us that we can dare to hope, a hope that “does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”
That’s why we can endure the pain and suffering of this world. That’s why, whatever challenges life throws our way – whether of our own doing or someone else’s, we dare to hope. Because we know the end of the story: God’s love wins. People today often call the ability to keep going despite challenges in our life: resilience. But it’s more than that – it’s resilience based on the knowledge that Jesus Christ is with you and the body of Christ is with you too.
If I have learned anything about the Christian life – it’s that it is not an independent enterprise. Faith is not something that is between me and Jesus. Instead, faith comes through the body of Christ – the community of Christ that gathers to eat together, to take wine and bread together, to worship, to pray, to knit prayers together, to care for one another.
Jesus sends us as laborers in the harvest – together. Have you ever gone out to pick strawberries or blackberries? When I was just a little girl – I would go out with my family. Pick a few…eat a few… It was a delicious enterprise – but even though I missed a lot, even as a little girl I was amazed how soon my basket would be overflowing. We often discount our own gifts and our own ability to be witnesses for Christ. We – at least I – sometimes beat myself up for not being a better witness. But being a witness for Christ is not just about us and our efforts– it’s a family affair – the body of Christ working together and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. Never discount the power of the Holy Spirit.
As I was preparing for today I ran across a blog by a fellow pastor-poet, Steve Garnaas Holmes, who suggested:
Maybe the harvest is not bringing people to Christ
but gathering the fruits of the Spirit God has sown in you
for the sake of the world.
Maybe it's not an act of taking,…but receiving.
The harvest is plentiful but few are the people who have gathered,who have received the gifts, the grace,
the love growing in your heart, and feasted on those fruits
to be strengthened to go out and heal the wounded,
and be good news for the broken of the world.
The field stretches to the horizon.
There are more trees in this orchard than stars in heaven.
What grace have you not yet harvested?
Go into that good harvest.
Here is a basket for your labors. Go. 1
Brothers and sisters in Christ, may your basket overflow with the gifts of God. And then… just like a basket of just picked strawberries – it’s better shared. And so bask in the love of Christ that God has poured out into your heart and share this gift of grace in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane
June 18, 2017