Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sermon Year A Epiphany 2

Come and See

I received a wonderful Christmas gift this year
from my son and his family.
It is book titled Listening is an Act of Love.

This book is a collection of stories recorded
by an independent nonprofit project called StoryCorps.
If you aren’t familiar with the book,
you may have heard some of these stories on NPR occasionally.

The mission of StoryCorps is to honor and celebrate
one another’s lives through listening.

Since 2003 tens of thousands of ordinary people
have interviewed family and friends
in StoryCorps recording booths.
Each conversation is recorded on a free CD to take home and share,
and is also archived for future generations at the Library of Congress.

I want to share with you one of these stories.
It is in the book and was also broadcast as a podcast this past week.
If you are hooked into iTunes
you can listen to this story on line when you go home.

It is Martha Conan’s story
and she told it to her daughter in law Brittany.
Martha was one of the survivors
of the deadly United Airlines Flight 232 plane crash
which occurred in 1989.

111 people died in that accident.
But 185 people survived.
However, only 13 people walked away with no injuries at all.
Martha Conan was one of those 13.

She tells of the survivors, of which she was one,
talking with counselors and social workers after the crash.
She struggled to make sense
of why she walked away unharmed
when so many others were killed or critically injured.

A young counselor said to her,
“God must have had a reason for saving you.
You haven’t yet finished
the work God wants you to do here on earth.”

And Martha Conan struggled with those words.
Because if those words were true,
Then what about the 111 people who died?
Was God finished with them?
Was their work done?
Babies and children died on that flight.
How could their work be completed?

Martha Conan cannot accept that explanation—
and neither can I.
We are not marionettes
And God is not some great puppet master out in the cosmos,
jerking us around,
picking and choosing who gets to live and who gets to die,
whose work is finished, whose work is not yet done.

So what does it mean to be alive here on this earth—
especially when others are not alive?

Our scripture readings this morning
offer us some wisdom in that direction.

Isaiah names it well—
God gives us each gifts, unique gifts.
God makes us stewards of those gifts and we are asked to be faithful stewards.
Part of the work of the Church is to help us with stewardship.
to help us celebrate and use those gifts
and to give us strength to oppose the forces
that deceive us into wasting those gifts or taking them for granted.

Whatever our gifts
we are called to view them with the same radiance and beauty
that God sees in each of us--
even, as Isaiah says, while we were in our mother’s womb.

Many of us spend an inordinate amount of time
wishing we were someone else,
wishing our lives were different,
wishing we had received the gifts someone else has received.
This is our 21st century version of
resorting to evil spirits or turning to false gods.
The truth is
we are called to celebrate both our own gifts
and to equally celebrate the gifts of others.
Perhaps the greatest gift we all receive is this present moment.
In reality, this moment,
right here, right now,
is all we really have.

Martha Conan believes that her lesson from walking away from that plane crash
was not to affirm that God chose her over others.
Her lesson was to receive a wake up call to treasure the present.
The gift she received was a deep understanding
of why she needed and now wanted
to change the way she would live her life.

Never again would she walk out of her house angry with someone.
Never again would she fail to tell someone how much she loves them.

Never again would she harden her heart and not forgive someone,
even when someone has hurt her or diminished her.
Never again would she forget to give thanks for simply being alive.
Every day as the sun rises
she is grateful for the gift of being here to rise with it.

The voice of God that Martha Conan hears is one which says:
This is your ONLY life.
Be grateful.
Don’t take it for granted.
Don’t wait for “perfect.”
Live with gratitude and thanksgiving---every day.
Live with gratitude and thanksgiving for each person who shares your life.

I knew an older woman whose last years were lived out in a nursing home.
In my mind,
she deserved better than that.
In my mind,
there was everything for her to be discouraged and despondent about—
most of her family were deceased, the others seldom visited.
Yet I never heard her complain.

She said to me,
My gift here at this time in my life,
and in this place,
is that I have all this time to pray for people.
Isn’t it wonderful that I can lay right here in this bed
and still pray.

And that is how she spent those long hours—praying.
We all know people (maybe even ourselves on occasion?!!!?)
who have lots of time
but jampack those hours
with complaining or criticizing or simply full-tilt busy-ness.
What a waste!

The woman who filled her waking—and probably even sleeping—hours
with prayer, once commented to a friend of mine:
Oh honey! Even when you have lost everything—
if you still have Jesus, that is enough.
That is more than enough.

Isaiah and Paul and John and many others in the Bible
are honest and forthright
because they know
that God’s gift is not getting to live
a perfect, easy, trouble-free life.
That is not the gift we receive
just because we are believers,
just because we are Christians.

But when we open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, —
we see that God is, indeed, our strength.

As the psalmist writes,
God lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay;
God set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing shure.

God puts a new song in our mouths.
And that song is a song of praise and thanksgiving.

It is not a song of complaint or bitterness or regret.
It is praise and thanksgiving that illuminates God’s grace.

We don’t come into the world or into our faith
with a warranty or a money-back guarantee.
We come into this world as beloved children of God.
We are called to see that as pure gift, pure abundance, absolutely enough.

Jesus invites the disciples—and we are among those—
to come and see.
We are invited to come and see where Jesus lives.

Jesus lives in every person, in every place, in every life--
in the good, the bad and the ugly.

Through the grace of God, we have each been given what Martha Conan
discovered when she walked away from that plane crash:

The gift is being here another day.
The gift is this one amazing, incredible life.
Our work is to find the way to live joyfully with thanksgiving.

Jesus calls us to come and see.
Jesus invites us to come and stay.
Jesus encourages us to come and give thanks—always.

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