That six word memoir could be mine. I suspect it could be many people’s. Tell me your life story in six words: Not Quite What I Was Planning.
Something that struck me this Lent is that this six word memoir could be Jesus’, too. I imagine the way the story played out was not originally what he planned. It certainly could be the memoir for all the disciples. This Jesus. This Son of God. This Savior was to free them from Roman oppression not die at the hands of it. This God-Man was supposed to be a warrior that could rival Jupiter or Zeus. Not someone who walked toward Jerusalem armed only with prayers and prophetic words. And yet, that is how the story goes, and if it went any other way, resurrection could not happen.
This Lent I can’t believe the comfort I find in the “not what I was planning” aspect of this memoir. So much of this past year has not been as I would have planned. I never in a million years would dream that I would be a step mom b. ordained; c. a book-keeper; and the list goes on. More than that, if you were to tell me that I would be in a wilderness without a clear career direction and handling health issues, I would assume that I would be devastated. And yet, I’m not. It’s as if this wilderness reminds me that gaining life truly does mean taking the risk of losing the old one first. That God really does show up in the most unexpected ways and places. And that the Christian life can’t be anything that I would plan. Where would there be room for Mystery to enter? How could I possibly preach a story of resurrection if I hadn’t allowed myself to risk?
This open handed, arms wide open love is the hardest thing I’ve ever practiced.
I don’t know about you,
but I find it much easier to say I love
the widow, orphan, or immigrant that I see on TV or walking on the street
than I do to practice the love with those nearest and dearest to me.
This no strings attached,
is much easier to worship is at a distance.
About somebody else.
When it’s in here,
throwing-up at 3:00 a.m.
or complaining about the dinner menu,
this love can feel more like sandpaper than soothing lotion.
All the same, it’s the sandpaper that seems to transform.
To soften my hard edges.
To create something new of me
It’s this love that seems to
carve an empty tomb
in my heart.
I wait for the resurrection
knowing it will come,
trusting this love that breaks the heart
only does so to grow its size.
Last night I had dinner with a dear friend and colleague in ministry. Even though we love to catch up on the details of family and life, our conversation can’t help but include a least five minutes about the church. Last night’s five minutes (and then some) touched on the challenge that not only her parish faces and that I see when I supply preach, but the challenge that seems epidemic in Mainline churches–the struggle to survive. The reality is many congregations face dwindling digits of dollars as well as donors. Add to this the balance sheet that reveals that many regulars donate a weekly amount that is equivalent to a week’s worth of Starbucks coffees. It doesn’t take an accountant to figure out that sooner or later there will be nothing to rob from either Peter or Paul. Both of them will run out of resources.
This challenge is so widespread that books and blogs explore the ins and outs of how to solve this problem. Churches need to do more to attract new people. Churches need to educate people about stewardship. People need to give more. People need to embrace change. Pastors need to preach the Gospel. The list goes on. While I believe that all of the above are true, I think it avoids talking about and sitting with a piece of reality:
People die. Things die. Organizations die.
If you profess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the blessing to the above statements is that death is not the end. Something comes after death. Resurrection. New life. But here’s the thing that I think most people, including myself, struggle with…the resurrection can only happen after the death. To put it in biblical terms, Jesus couldn’t be resurrected until AFTER he was crucified. In order for him to be raised from the dead, he needed to die.
Perhaps the Good News is that none of us, not even churches, need to fear death. Something comes after. Perhaps the challenge of this Good News is that death comes first. And death isn’t easy or fun. Death means change. Change means loss. Loss means grief. Perhaps what we’re most struggling with in the church isn’t to survive as much as it is to avoid the agony and pain of grief. Grief. What does it mean for the place people turn in their grief to be the very place living in grief?
According to Walter Brueggemann, one of the three prophetic tasks of the church is to “grieve in a society that practices denial.” I can’t help but wonder, what would happen if we spent this Lenten season intentionally giving ourselves and our communities the safe space to do this? Rather than starting a new program, beginning an outreach, or initiating a new stewardship campaign, we paused. Rather than giving up chocolate or candy or Coke, we gave up denial. Rather than walking through Holy Week as if it were someone else’s story, we named and grieved the places where it is our story.
What if we practiced our faith this Lent living the belief that death is not the end?