Sunday, April 22, 2001

Spring Cleaning

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Philippians 3:1-11

"For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as trash, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection."

Christians facing the 21st century have some Spring-cleaning to do. To be Christian in a new millenium will mean facing and solving two trash-removal problems.

None of us hears, or hears easily, the ringing sentence of St. Paul in Philippians. We do not expect the Bible to speak the way it does about faith. Either we have come to think that faith is a matter of a momentary conversion, an intense experience of God, a religious thrill, or we have come to think that faith is just another word for every day. St. Paul, right here in plain view of the rest of the Bible, says something completely different. He says that faith is not something he has obtained, or that he possesses or that he owns, or that he controls. Rather, faith holds him. Paul says of himself, that he "presses on", that he "strains forward", that he "presses toward the goal" in order that he then, subjunctive, "may know", that he "may share", that he "may attain", that he "may gain". Paul, St. Paul, the greatest Christian of his generation says candidly, says flatly, that it's not over until it's over. And he makes it even more plain. Says Paul, "I have lost all things and count them as trash, for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus." In other words, faith requires some trash removal.

I wonder how many of us here today are ready to live with this truth.

Trash removal is to make the first point, a physical problem for the faith community of the 21st century. To know the fullness of the Second Person of the Trinity, in a new age, we all will have to deal with our trash. To know Christ we will have to relearn that old moral, "waste not, want not."

Trash is a real problem for the faith community. Look at the facts. We produce mountains of trash in America:

  • 700 million pounds of garbage a day3 billion tons of solid waste a day
  • 3 pounds of trash a day for every person
  • 16 million disposal diapers a year
  • 2 billion plastic razors
  • 220 million tires

NYC sends 25,000 tons of trash a day to a corner of Staten Island, which will soon be a mountain in its own right, the second highest point on the East Coast! Many dumps in our country have higher copper contents, higher percent of copper than Rocky Mountain mines! Yes this is the age of Junk. Junk food. Junk mail. Junk bonds. We want to throw it all away. But as my friend points out, and others with him, "nothing ever goes away, because there is no "away" for it to go to!" Think about it.

The Bible teaches us, in Genesis and in Proverbs and in the Parables of Jesus, that we are to be good stewards of the earth. We are to take care of the earth. That is the Bible teaching. Not to sack, pillage, and burn, but to cultivate, protect, "have dominion". The steward is one who has been given the responsibility for the management and service of something that belongs to someone else."

In ways great and small we are slowly learning to deal with our trash. We notice the ways our families are carefully following county regulations about trash removal. We appreciate the efforts made in our city to stem the tide of garbage. We salute the attempts made to convert from Styrofoam to paper cups. We are learning again the value of composting. We can acknowledge the importance of new forms of waste beds. We can grow in our capacity to recycle. And, most importantly, we can produce less garbage. Being a person of faith in the 21st century will involve facing and solving our physical trash problem. What we throw away, how we throw it away, and how often we throw it away will define in part who we are in the new age. Let us make a decision or two this morning to be more sensitive to our role as stewards.

St. Paul claims to have left much behind, and counted it as nothing, rubbish, trash. In this trash removal, he indicates, lies a part of your walk in faith. "I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as trash." Straining forward, leaving behind what is past – this is the posture of faith, says the apostle. Some of us have another kind of trash removal problem today. Maybe part of the reason for our monstrous physical waste problem may be found in a spiritual trash problem, hidden but powerful, which feeds in an insidious way, the visible issue.

Trash removal is, to make the second point, a spiritual problem for the faith community of the 21st century. A modern monk has written that our inner life involves treasures, baggage, and garbage. Treasures: our sources of strength and integrity. Baggage: internal furniture of our lives, not harmful, not essential, just there. Garbage: that which needs to be thrown out. Some of our most industrious people create the most spiritual garbage. If you are industrious, you are going to create trash. The question is how you will deal with it. St. Paul speaks to us today of leaving behind what is past, and counting our losses as trash. Have we learned the lessons of spiritual trash removal?

Sunday is a good time to take out the spiritual garbage. All that pent up spiritual trash. You know what I mean and you know where it is collected and you know how bad it smells, on a warm day. All that trash. All that bitterness over something lost. All that jealousy over someone else's good news. All that envy of another's gifts and graces. All that guilt. If thing else, Easter banishes your guilt. All that regret. All that pride, that cuts you off from others. All that crazy, even wanton hubris that says of any situation, "this is mine, I will do as I please". All that hurt, deep hurt, personal hurt, sometimes regrettably more cherished than all the sunny days of summer. All that faithless worry, worry, worry. You look around the rooms in your soul, the attic of your heart, the garage of your spiritual life and tell me there isn't any trash to take out! On the contrary. The cans are full to overflowing. Today is trash day. Put it on the curb.

And hear the gospel: "Brethren, one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

You can compost your trash. Some of that spiritual refuse, left on the compost heap of life, and pressed down over time, will provide rich soil for growth, perhaps for yourself, but more likely for others. Countless Christians who have turned the rubbish of their bitter experience into nourishing soil for other's faith. How? By taking out the trash, in this case by composting, letting it alone to decompose. "Rise above it!" said Rhoda Riegel or you can put your trash in a waste bed. We don't like waste too much, but fallow fields and times are very good things. Many of the things that our society calls a (waste of time) are the waste beds of faith. Reading. Praying. Worshipping. Loving. Friendship. Sunday. Do you really want to go through life and get to the end and be able to say, only, "I don't waste any time"? Tombstone: "he never wasted an hour." Wow. What a confession. Trash is transformed in the waste areas of life: in sanctuaries, in theatres, in poetry classes, in parks, in snow days, in boat shows and train exhibits and symphonies. Baseball is a real waste of time. Opening day has come and gone. Were you there?

Or you can recycle your trash. I think we learn more sometimes from our failures than from our successes, if we know the art of recycling. Some of your mistakes have in them hidden wisdom. Recycle them. Some of your sins have in them hidden wisdom. Recycle them. Some of your angers and fears have in them hidden wisdom. Recycle them. Here is a strange truth: God can use the most unpromising parts of your life as channels of grace. Isn't that odd? But true. God can recycle especially the worst parts of your experience and behavior, to help someone else. You wait and see. Sometime that misstep, of which you are so rightly embarrassed, will be recycled to someone else's need. God can bring treasure out of the trash of our soul. God brings good out of evil every day. What? Shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid. But spiritual trash can be recycled, too. Isn't that the word of Easter. A sign of cruelty, ugliness, death – transformed by God.

I want a decision or two made today to put out the trash, composted, wasted, or recycled, or all three. Why? "So that we may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible we may attain the resurrection of the dead."

Sunday, April 15, 2001

Surviving Survival

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Luke 24:1-12


Since it is Easter, we may as well go for broke.

Looking back at all of your life to this day, what is the single most traumatic experience that you have survived? You survivor, you.

Here you are, part of the Easter parade. You made it, you got through, you survived, you survivor you. Just what did you survive, though? Look back and be honest. You may never have spoken of this to anyone, and you may not need to. But for the next 17 minutes of a Gospel both too true to be good and too good to be true, pause before that one great frightening tomb of your life to date. What is the single most traumatic experience that you have survived to date? You survivor you.

Easter promises you resurrection power to survive your own survival, liberation from survivor's guilt - personal, generational and congenital. From the cross we learn to die. From the resurrection we learn to live! Why do you seek the living among the dead?

1. Peter and You: Personal Salvation

Our Scripture today, in the 12th verse, brings Peter to the tomb. Not a part of the original text, this later and highly appropriate addition reconnects the Easter Gospel with Peter. Peter comes and sees and wonders. He is waking up on Easter morning, a survivor.

Have you named your greatest trauma? Death of a brother. Loss of a son in law. Expiration of a mother. Pink slip. Bone cancer. Hospital closing. A phone call from the Bishop announcing your displacement. Moving after 25 years. Abuse at an earlier age. A child's suicide. An unexpected pregnancy. A plane crash. Divorce. A car accident. A run across an open field, with live ammunition coming at you.

Preaching without any sleep the one day the Bishop shows up.

In the first three Gospels, it is centrally Peter who faces trauma like this. He has left all. He has followed. He has stayed. He has loved. He has waited in the dark courtyard. But then - his singular existential trauma - he has denied his Lord thrice. And Jesus has died and Peter has survived, watching the death of his Beloved.

The Gospel accounts of Peter's denial, or betrayal, form the rich heart of the passion narrative. How powerfully Carol Trout read the passage on Thursday night. The pathos, the hurt with which the accounts are given reach to the depths of our hearts, even 2000 years later. Yet, through it all, Peter has survived. What remains for Peter, and for us, is to learn how to live as survivors, to survive our own survival.

I am not a psychologist, nor the son of a psychologist. But I know that "survivor's guilt" is real. Do you remember the film "Ordinary People" (based on Judith Guest's novel), about two brothers who capsize in a boat? One dies and one survives. Mary Tyler Moore oversees a spotless home where "everything is in its proper place - except the past." Berger, the counselor says at one point: "a little advice about feelings kiddo, don't expect it always to tickle." Conrad, the survivor, very nearly takes his own life, saved at the last by wise, loving, intervening words of his counselor, and friend, who asks repeatedly, "What is it that makes you feel so bad?" The answer, at last: "I survived."

Never doubt the saving power of personal presence and a word fitly spoken.

You too have survived. Something. Two years ago we were grieving the Columbine tragedy. The kids there testified, truly, that a strange guilt followed their grief. This is the tragic guilt of the innocent, survivor guilt. "Megan hid her tears behind sunglasses: 'I just feel so lucky to still be here." Greg Martinez said, "You almost feel guilty, about, you know, having your kid get out." Their counselor said those who feel guilty for making it out alive "need to be reassured that they can celebrate their survival." (AP, A Levinson, 4/99).

Here is a description of the effects of survivor's guilt: "general anxiety, depression, inability to sleep, poor memory, difficulty concentrating, difficulty completing tasks, an inexplicable sense of guilt." (Borgess).

That sounds a lot like human life in general!

In the light of Resurrection, Peter finds the power not only to survive but to prevail. He finds the power to enter a new life, to change, to risk. He finds courage that will take him beyond mere survival and will help him travel throughout the known world, and, if legend serves us, to die a martyr in the far off city of Rome. He survives his own survival.

Here is a promise for all of us. Whatever lingering survivor's guilt attends our survival through trauma, here is a power that frees us for a new life, beyond that great past tomb.

God had a purpose for Peter that went well beyond his late night denial. On this Rock, God built a church. God has a purpose for us that should lift us beyond whatever lingering connection still chains us to the past. Yes, you survived. Maybe another did not. But you did. This is the day of Resurrection. Are you ready to survive your own survival?

Even more. Something from that trauma you may fashion into a great gift for others, this side of Resurrection. Your loss will sensitize you to others. Your illness, to that of others. Your demotion, your failure, your dislocation - these now are gifts in your love for others.

For something happened, on Easter, that took a suffering survivor, bitterly weeping at the foot of the cross, and made him a fisherman for God, on whom the whole church has been built. What happened? Something happened. Something that saved Peter from his own survival.

Just as something has happened, that has taken a 175 year old church like ours, moved us through survival of location change, pastoral change, pastoral death, and given us the grace to survive our own survival.

2. Luke and Vietnam: Generational Salvation

What is true of individuals like you and Peter, is also promised today to generations, like yours and Luke's. What is the single greatest trauma your generation has survived?

For the people to whom Luke speaks, now toward the end of the first century, one great generational trauma overshadows their life. Thirty years earlier, in the year 66 AD, the Jews began a tragic, and losing, conflict with Rome. The war ended with the burning of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.

Did you ever wonder why Rome, not Jerusalem, is so central to Christianity? Jesus, Peter, John, James, Paul - all Jews, all focused on Jerusalem. The earliest church - that in Jerusalem. But by Luke's time, all that has been destroyed. And Luke's church is adrift. They have survived the destruction of Jerusalem. Others have died, including perhaps the brother of Jesus, James. But they have survived this central generational trauma. Now the question is whether they can survive their own survival.

Have you named your generation's greatest trauma?

For one generation today, located halfway between my father and me, that trauma is Vietnam. This conflict, in the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta, on the grassy lawns of Kent State, in the classrooms of Columbia University and the boardrooms of America, traumatized a whole generation. The trauma is not limited to one political perspective. All, all have been traumatized, to retranslate Romans 5: 12. All, the whole generation, all have been traumatized and stopped short of the glory of God. Tour the Eastman exhibit, and weep before the photographs of the fallen. Ask yourself, then, whether you doubt the venerable teaching about the "fall" of creation. Our Good Friday service spoke in eloquent image, music and silence of this generational trauma.

Still, as a generation, you have survived. You survivor, you. The Chevy 409 is gone. But here is the Chrysler Sebring. Arnold Palmer is retired. But here is Tiger Woods. You got through. Not all did. But you did. Do you come through with some generational survivor's guilt? Does it continue to carry the potential to hobble, maim and kill. For another generation, the trauma was that of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. (Still a great film). For you, it is Coming Home, The Killing Fields, Apocalypse Now, Platoon. Public trust, the place of authority, community commitments, and your relationships to other generations are overshadowed by trauma past. Yes, you survive. But the Easter gospel brings power to survive your own survival.

You remember Apocalypse Now. It is truly fascinating that Luke 21, three chapters before our reading, converts all of Mark's little apocalypse (we might call it Apocalypse Then), into an interpretation of his generation's greatest trauma, the fall of Jerusalem. For Luke, Jerusalem. For you, Saigon. Here is power to survive survival.

Here is historical fact. Something happened on Easter that 60 years later still had the power to take a generation like Luke's, a church that had lost its Jewish moorings and was adrift in a punishing and forbidding culture, and make a movement that became an Empire wide community, full of men and women ready to die in public rather than call Caesar God.

What happened? Something happened. Something that saved Luke's generation from its own survival.

Even more. Something from that generational trauma you will be able to carry forward, from many perspectives, to make a new way, for a new day. God had a purpose for Luke and his generation. And God has a purpose for you and your generation.

Resurrection is cutting you free from generational survivor's guilt. This is unspeakably good news, like fine wine, 30 years in the making. And one day, a generation we have hardly seen in church since teenager years will come home, surviving their own survival. Coming home, this generation situated half-way between my father and me. Coming home out of survivor's guilt, to explore the use of a great wave of treasure, a huge transfer of wealth (and I would like to speak to some of you personally!). Coming home to a new rebirth of wonder, and a new global community, with one shepherding Lord.

Der Herr ist mein Hirte!
El Senor es mi pastor!
The Lord is my Shepherd!
Kyrios Christos!

How will this occur? In church. But, you say, the church is so…. Yes, the church is always both a representation and a distortion of the divine. But how can you love God and hate the things of God? How can you come near to God at a distance from the grace of God? How can you experience God without praying, singing, communing, hearing, giving, serving? No, you will have to find a church. Maybe not this church, but a church.

Christ and Humanity: Congenital Salvation

Could it be that the salvation promised to you and Peter, the power given to your generation and Luke's, is also conferred upon the human race?

For a third time I ask a question. What is the single greatest trauma shared by the human race? All of us together?

Peter runs to the tomb, sees the linen clothes, marvels and wonders. It is Paul who puts the unspeakable into words. It takes him all of the Epistle to the Romans. He reminds us that all have been traumatized and fallen short of God's glory. Individuals, generations, races - all for some unknowable reason - are tinged with survivor's guilt. It is an irrational, inaccurate, unfair, untrue sense of ennui, gonewrongness, fallenness, exile. It is what the Bible means by sin - not something we do, but the air we breathe. Paul understands that God has subjected the whole creation to futility, for the final purpose of saving the whole creation.

Just here, St. Luke has much to give us. Luke emphasizes the will and plan of God. Luke explores the nature of the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. Luke proclaims as far back as Christmas Eve: "all flesh shall see it together." Luke repeatedly uses a little Greek verb, found also in verse 7 of today's reading, dei - it is necessary, it is purposefully required, it is providentially needed, it is necessary. Luke holds all life in three parts: the time of Israel, the time of Jesus, and the time of the Church. For Luke, this time - our time - is the greatest of times, the time of the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. For Luke, there abides a twin craving, held at the heart of the universe: a craving for a faith that appeals to culture and a culture that is attractive to faith. When church and city, faith and culture dance together on the bandstand of brotherhood - that is the Kingdom of God! And Luke, with scholarly Paul (Gal 3) and wondering Peter (Acts 10), means this for all people. All.

What great trauma do all people share? What great trauma has every one in this room experienced?


You by virtue of your lonesome journey through birth are an heroic survivor. You by virtue of your gestation for nine long months, are an heroic survivor. You by virtue of your sudden, violent and cataclysmic deliverance, through natal Red Sea waters, are an heroic survivor. You made it. You got through. Others may not have. But you did. You survivor, you. And there you are, crying and all messy, pink and little fisted and wrinkled and wailing to beat the band. You survived.

Not unscathed, but undefeated. Bloodied but unbowed. I have not read it anywhere, and have not time to write my own book, but I think that with birth survival must come a kind of congenital survivor's guilt, way down deeper than words, that we all, every human one of us, we all share. Not something we have done, but the air we breath. All, all have been traumatized and stopped short of the Glory of God.

This is our condition. "Like the beating of the heart, it is always present." (Tillich). It? Tragedy, estrangement, sin, unbelief, hubris, concupiscence, separation, guilt, meaninglessness, despair, anxiety. Existential survivor's guilt. "It is experienced as something for which one is responsible, in spite of its universal, tragic actuality." (Tillich).

As Jim Croce might have written, had he survived: I've got those steadily depressing, low down, mind messing, existential post-partem blues.

Easter is a promise of salvation from survivor's guilt. You just may survive your own survival. The resurrection saves us from the lingering effects of birth by giving us - second birth. "Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth." Friends, on Easter we are set free to live in the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of love and light!

Look around the lake, and you will see what I mean. In Toronto there lives the great Jewish teacher, and Holocaust survivor, Emil Fackenheim. Once he was asked, "How can you practice faith in God after the horror of the Holocaust?" (That may be the single most important theological question of our time.) His reply: "I practice faith, in the face of Holocaust, "in order not to permit Hitler any posthumous victories." He survived, and survived his survival.

Look around the lake. In Montreal there lives a great French Canadian teacher, Jean Vanier. He left the pastoral life to create a movement of caring ministries with developmentally challenged people. Working with survivors to help them survive survival. His organization, L'Arche, has attracted great acclaim, including the service at the end of life of Henri Nouwen.

Look around the lake. When our first two little survivors arrived, we lived in a little cottage in Ithaca, around 1980. In the 1930's, Pearl Buck and her husband had lived there as he served that church and studied at Cornell. I think of her celebration of Chinese survival, and her effort to save the survivors there, here evocation of birth in the rice paddies of Canton.

With her contemporary William Faulkner, she trusted that the human race would not merely survive, but would prevail.

God is cutting us free from congenital survivor's guilt. We are set loose to risk, to try, to change, to laugh, to weep, to become who we were meant to be. Irenaeus: "The glory of God is a human being fully alive."

For something happened in the raising of Christ Jesus from the dead. What happened? The resurrection is more real than our experience, and that finally it is not we who question the resurrection but the resurrection that questions us. You ask what happened: Something happened! Something happened that even 2000 years later has men and women saying prayers, giving money, offering time, swinging hammers, sorting clothes, attending meetings, singing hymns, loving neighbors and on every day in every way building the kingdom of God. Luke would love it. What happened? Something happened, something that opens life up wide and frees us from our original survival and saves us for a new life, a new way, a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth!


In the cross, we learn to die. In the resurrection, we learn to live.

Our spirit is that of Harriet Beecher Stowe:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me
As he died to make men holy let us live to make men free
Our God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the heart of men before his judgment seat
O be swift my soul to answer him, be jubilant my feet
Our God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave
So the world shall be his footstool and the soul of wrong his slave
Our God is marching on.

Sunday, April 08, 2001

There's No Place Like Home

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Luke 19:28-40

Not So Long Ago

It is not so long ago that we greeted Jesus at his nativity, singing carols and lighting candles of hope. It is not so long ago that we witnessed his growth in wisdom and stature, in the knowledge and love of God, while as a teenager he taught in the temple. It is not so long ago that this mighty young man Jesus stooped, fully human, for baptism in the surging river Jordan, the river of death and life. It is not so long ago that we saw him take up his ministry among us, preaching and teaching and healing. It is not so long ago that with Peter and James and John we saw him ascend the Mountain of the Transfiguration. With him, up through the mountains we have climbed this Lent, step by step.

First, forgiveness. Second, salvation. Third, trust. Fourth, fasting. And now the passion. And now it is time to come down from the mountain, to take the full measure of this Man, and to have the courage to let Him take our full measure, too. The crisp air and vistas of the mountain pass have fed our souls. But now it is time to head home, and turn our face to Jerusalem.

Coming Home

The road down the Mount of Olives, or down any mountain, can tax the traveler. It reminds us all of earlier homecomings.

Odysseus walking the last few miles to Thebes. Socrates walking to the center of Athens and the cup of hemlock. Richard the Lionhearted sailing the English Channel, heading home. A prodigal son, scuffling up the last mile of country road toward a dreaded homecoming. You, returning at last to whatever you have long avoided, wandering as you have in Galilee for the rest of life. At last, there is the Emerald City, and the road home.

Today, I raise just one question. What was Jesus' state of mind? What was on his mind and heart, as he entered the Holy City?

There's No Place Like Home (Loneliness)

It is perilous, even arrogant, at this late date and from this great distance, to try to imagine Jesus' state of mind as he descends the Mountain and enters the City.

Albert Schweitzer, before he went off to heal the jungle sick, showed convincingly how inevitably errant are all such attempts. More recent attempts, even the best like that of Marcus Borg, only confirm Schweitzer's thesis. We paint our own inner lives into the life of Jesus, when we try to see what cannot be seen in Scripture. That is, against some more popular work of recent years, I still fully agree with Schweitzer. And yet, particularly at this point in his journey, at the entrance into the Holy City, and on the threshold of his own death, we are haunted - are we not? - by the desire to see what Jesus saw, feel what he felt and sense what he did sense, coming home.

Now Jesus is walking down into the city, down off the mountain, and down into the heart of his destiny. He is going to his grave.

Some of the Gospel today, as Jesus heads home, is too true to be good. He is not at home, not at home, in a world of injustice, abuse, violence, and death. For him, in such a benighted world, there is no place like home.

As are we all, though it seems sometimes to be a conspiratorially well kept secret. We all are walking down the Lenten mountain and into our lasting, our last future. Every one of us is going to die. We are going home.

Here are two possible sentiments in Jesus' heart and mind as he descends the Mount of Olives. One, he looks back upon his ministry and feels that there is no place like home. He has found no lasting nest on earth, no lasting crib, no lasting domicile. He has found opposition and rejection. He has encountered misunderstanding and criticism. To a harsh world he has brought a gentle manner. To a wolfish world he has brought the labor of love. To a selfish community he has brought the summons to service. To an inconsistent dozen disciples, he has brought the steady presence of peace. He has not found a home, not here. There is no place like home, for Jesus, descending the Mount of Olives. He has even said of himself, "foxes have their holes, and birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

Some of greatest sentences ever written in English are devoted to a similar ennui, a similar existential vagrancy.

And those of us who have been shot out of the saddle, riding for a righteous cause, as we dust ourselves off and bind our wounds, we do so in the best of company, in the company of the crucified, for whom, on this green earth, as yet, there is no place like home. Yes, we have lost a hospital in Rochester. In 1992 Rochester was praised in the national debates as the model city for health care - cooperative, high quality, moderate cost, comprehensively universal. Something happened, over eight years. And some - doctors, nurses, workers, volunteers, donors - who worked hard to save the Genesee, feel shot out of the saddle. But let me ask you something. What other saddle would they have rather ridden? Some losing causes are worth support even in defeat. I would rather be shot out of the right saddle than to canter comfortably all the live, long day in the wrong saddle. So dust off, bind the wound, and get ready to ride again.

For this city, the question is now sharply put. Are we going to hang together, over time, as a community, or are we going to hang separately? The definition of community in Rochester is hanging in the balance. Are we going to shuffle off to 15 little suburban pods, and live apart, or are we going to enjoy the full village green which life can offer us, if we will live together. The death of the Genesee is a stern warning to all urban regional nonprofit historic hundred year old Rochester institutions. Like AFUMC. Just because we were alive last year is no guarantee that we will be next year. We have not a person, dollar, idea or dream to spare. Not one. And it is, let us confess it, an uphill pull. But there is no other saddle I would ride in, for all the risk. This is the place to be!

Only, for this church to have a future we will have to tithe, worship, and invite with disciplined regularity. We are not doing so, yet. The condition of AFUMC in 2020, even its existence, is being worked out hourly this year and next year and the next. Give! Pray! Welcome! Or die.

There's No Place Like Home (Longing)

But there is something else alive in this homeless homecoming. Frederik Beuchner compares the feeling of faith to the feeling homesickness, that longing for the feeling of home. Faith is a heartfelt longing for the comforts of home.

Two, Jesus looks forward to his passion and feels that there is no place like home. He has come and now he must go. He tarries for a while, but he is going home. Only the greatest of the Gospels, that of John, fully and resoundingly displays this sentiment. But it is present, muted, in Luke as well. Jesus must endure the cross, just as we inevitably must endure tragedy, accident, betrayal, injustice, failure and death. We have the finest of company, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, when we endure life's damaging darkness. Some have lost loved ones to death this week. Some have lost beloved institutions to death this week. Some have lost beloved dreams to death this week. And Jesus walks beside you. In fact, this is his peculiarly chosen path, his way, his way of the cross. All of the passion, all of the passion music from a week ago, all of it, the cross itself, acclaim, in passion, the compassion of God in Christ our Lord. God has passion for compassion. So Jesus looks forward - does he not? - to the completion of his mission, to the last word in the soliloquy, to the transition to glory. Again, only John has fully held this diamond. Only he sees the cross as glory, without remainder. Only he has Jesus say, on the cross, "it is completed". But Luke too senses Jesus homesickness at his homeless homecoming. His longing for God. And we sense it too, because we feel it too: there is no place like home.

Some of the Gospel today, as Jesus heads home, is too good to be true. This greatest of passionate tragedies, the cross of Christ our Lord, is the passageway, strangely, wonderfully, to our heavenly home. He dies as we die. And we die with Him. We all die. We are not even temporarily immortal. Yet, attendant upon this road down the mountain and into the city, there resounds, softly at first, a carol of grace, a carol of love, a carol for all, like we, who are going home.

John sees it best. Only John places Jesus in Jerusalem thrice. Only in John does Jesus raise the dead at mid Gospel - "Lazarus, come out!" Only in John does Jesus preach for five chapters on the last evening, washing feet rather than celebrating mass. Only in John does Jesus make the Jerusalem road fully and only a road of glory, from Palm Sunday to Easter. Only in John does Jesus say, "In my Father's House there are many rooms…" He is going home, home. And somehow, again strangely, we know the way where he is going. For it is our way, too. Only in John does Jesus walk serenely to Golgotha. Only in John does Jesus walk to death like God striding upon the earth. Only in John does Jesus pronounce GLORY from the jaws of death. Remember his dying word. Not "eli, eli" as in Mark. Not "Father forgive them" as in Luke. Simply, serenely, powerful, triumphantly, yes, gloriously, he says, in John, "It is finished." It is done, completed, perfected - finished. He dies to rise, and go home, feeling and singing, "there's no place like home."

This homesickness, this spirited sense that home is over the next street, up the winding trail to the cross, this hunger for home, this is what Paul meant: this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison A Summons (5-6).


In Whittier's poem:

I know not what the future hath of marvel or surprise
Assured alone that life and death God's mercy underlies.

And so beside the silent sea
I wait the muffled oar
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.

I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.