Monday, January 25, 2010

The Long Reach of the Arm of Christ

Sheepscott Community CHurch January 24, 2010

Nehemiah 8: 1-3; 5-6; 8-10

1 Cor. 12: 12-31a

Luke 4: 14-21

The Long Reach of the Arm of Christ

I was talking with a friend this past week, and she told me that she and her daughter and her granddaughter had gone to the mall, among other things to shop and get their nails done. In my mind I immediately juxtaposed that activity with the pictures and the stories I have heard and seen coming out of Haiti. Haiti, Haiti: that’s been the wallpaper on my mind for the past two weeks. Last week we prayed for Haiti here at church and collected about $120 to send to that country via the United Methodist Church’s channel for donations. The disaster, the calamity has not gone anywhere. We continue to see the images and hear the terrible statistics of the dead, the wounded, the homeless, the hungry and the thirsty, plus a 6.0 aftershock, and the promise of more aftershocks.

I have been asking myself, How does life go on as usual for those not directly affected by a disaster, whatever form the disaster might take, including earthquake leading to death, to multiple deaths, to 200,000 deaths? How does one align getting one’s nails done and disaster in Haiti? How can we eat, drink, sleep, walk, study, write, talk on the phone, email, play with the kids and the dogs while all this unspeakable suffering is happening in Haiti? People sleeping in the streets under plastic sheeting, recycling gutter water to drink, languishing without food for days, not having the strength to fend off rats, dying. Never mind getting nails done, what about the everyday activities of our own lives? How do we keep on with those activities when our brothers and sisters in Haiti are suffering so?

Our brothers and sisters in Haiti? Yes, our brothers and sisters in Haiti. We are indeed all children of the same Father-Mother God, el Shaddai, emanating from that One as so many distinct rays of light. We can also perhaps more easily and understandably appropriate the metaphor of the body, as St. Paul uses it in this morning’s reading from First Corinthians. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” These parts ”should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it...Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.”

Okay, I think we get that. All part of one body. But if part of that body is suffering, how do I think about getting my nails done? How do I think about going forward with the ordinary things of my life? If you recall what I was trying to say to the children at last Sunday’s service without frightening them, but at the same time talking with them about Haiti, the Christ whom we have so recently honored by celebrating his birth and whom we beheld in the play-acting form of a doll in the manger, that same Christ represented is no longer around to be seen. The manger is empty. Where did Jesus go? On high? Below? Still disintegrating in a tomb somewhere in the Holy Land? Where did Jesus go?

The quick and easy answer is the true answer, viz., that he has not gone anywhere. He is here in our midst. he is within us. As he himself said, “The kingdom of God is within.” The Quakers embrace that position with their encoded belief that the light of God is within each person. Yes. We all share the spirit of Christ, and this is bigger than some flitty idea, as in, Oh, isn’t it nice? We all share the same spirit. Fact: We do all share the same Spirit, but there’s nothing nice about it. It’s nitty-gritty stuff. We share the suffering of the Haitian people because we share the same Spirit. With them we long for water and food, distributed by a member of the Red Cross, who is the hand and eye of Christ. We long for healing by the embodied compassion of the Christ, which is that of a doctor without borders. We long for companionship as we die, and yet people hurry by.

One who did not hurry by is Paul Kendrick of Freeport, whom I read about in the Maine Sunday Telegram last week. He was in Haiti for a different humanitarian reason when the earthquake struck Port-Au-Prince about 85 miles from where he was. News of the quake traveled fast and everyone in the countryside it seemed had family or friends there. Although Haiti is a country of 9,000,000 souls, it is like a big family. There was a photograph in the paper of Kendrick grasping the shoulder of a man who was missing five people in his family. He wished he could have done more than “catch the grieving as he saw them fall,” as Bill Nemitz who reported the story put it. “’There’s nothing much more that you can say except, ‘I’m sorry,’” Kendrick said, “and ‘How can I help?’”

If we can’t directly alleviate suffering in Haiti, primarily because of geographical distance, but also for want of skills or equipment or logistics, we can alleviate the terrible fears of someone anxious for his family, as Kendrick did, or hold the hand of someone on the brink between death and life. Such acts of human kindness are perhaps the deepest expression of what it means to be one as the body of Christ and in the body of Christ. That we can do here in Maine. There’s always plenty of suffering around us, if we are willing to look at it and see where and how we can alleviate it.

I suggested to the kids last week, and I suggest the same to us that caring prayer and the conscious willed oneness with the suffering Haitians can make a difference, whether or not we can be there in the flesh. This is where the infant Jesus, the grown, mature Jesus has gone: his spirit is in each one of us. As we are increasingly willing to open to that reality, our consciousness becomes increasingly one with Christ’s and we know ourselves inextricably joined with all others in this human endeavor of trying to make the world a better place. It’s not simply about us––you and me––it’s about all of us, together in Christ.

By consciously not turning away from Haiti and thereby denying it in our thinking, we keep alive a communion with the people of Haiti. We can play with our own kids and the dogs, get a haircut, go to work, make dinner, allowing disparate human experiences in our consciousness at the same time without being undone. The Spirit of Christ does that in us. Openness to not denying our own pain or the pain of others is a great means of God’s grace into the world. Prayer at such a time, when we might feel helpless and wonder what the good of it can be, prayer at such a time reminds us that God’s comfort and help are already present, in Haiti, for instance, even as rescue workers are making an enormous relief effort. Prayer for the safety of the rescuers, for intelligence in planning and executing their tasks, can support their efforts

I am reminded of another tragedy, not on the same scale as Haiti, except for the family who lived it. Devastation is devastation, regardless of scale, emotionally and otherwise. We prayed for a woman late last fall, whose young son had committed suicide. I recently heard from her and she is doing very well, all things considered. She is a person who is not denying her own pain and the pain of her family resulting from this sad act. She told me that she and her husband joined a grief support group, and there she a met a woman whose young son had also died in the same month as hers. The woman, who had no faith or belief and was struggling deeply to make meaning out of this tragedy, could easily see how much better my friend was doing while she herself was close to despair. The two women have become friends, and because of all the grief work my friend has been doing around the loss of her son, because of her own faith and the prayer support and practical support from other members of the body of Christ, my friend is able and more than willing to help the other woman, her new friend, into a place of deeper and possibly even productive acceptance of what has happened.

Which brings me to the gospel for today. Jesus is in his home synagogue in Nazareth, and has read the scroll of Isaiah for the day, which contains the lines, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I think it is true of my friend whose son committed suicide that the Spirit of the Lord who has comforted her is likewise on her to preach the good news of release and recovery, from the oppression of seemingly meaningless and tragic death, to this new friend who is suffering as she herself did. She was willing to receive help and accept what God sent to her by way of help and then to pass it on. Isn’t that the Twelfth Step? To pass on the healing? And then, what seems to be the irony of ironies, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. How could that possibly reflect God’s favor: the death of two young men? I don’t think those deaths are God’s favor, but it is what came out of the deaths––healing and deepened faith from great graces appropriated and shared out of a belief not so much stated as lived: that we are all one body in Christ. Her story is a reminder that death and destruction do not have the last word. Something greater and more positive will have the final say. Think Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

On the larger scale, for our part in thinking about Haiti, conscious prayer awakens thought to God’s preservation and restoration of humanity again and again, through wars, and natural disasters, through countless episodes of man’s inhumanity to man, from ancient times to the present, including in our own life experience.

If I may return to the manicure for a moment with a p.s. Not only is it not to feel guilty about having a manicure or any of those other activities of our everyday living, it is to be grateful that we can freely do those things, have those things, but at the same time not forget those of our human family who do not have or can not do freely by a long shot, to remember them and respond as the Spirit of God leads. Amen.

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