From Here to Resurrection
I’ve begun preaching at a beautiful church I once served 13 years ago. For the next few weeks, I hope to share my Sunday morning thoughts not just there but in this blog space with the hope of fostering a broader conversation and shedding a little light beyond the small community of Cohutta, Georgia. If you’re in the area, you’re invited to join us for worship at 11am each Sunday in a beautiful 100 year old sanctuary. Train tracks run through the church yard, so we’ll probably have to defer to the train whistle at least once each week. When I preached here before, my oldest son was two and named this wonderful place “Choo Choo Church.”
The Scripture passages for this Sunday are:
For the past few years, my ministry has been one of helping people wake up. Literally. Bodily. For five years, my work has included making sure that a whole community had coffee brewing for their drive to work – and a fresh pot in the evening for the late night study group. Online magazine publisher and visual designer Nanea Hoffman has launched a whimsical movement with the hope of inspiring people to become what she calls “their most comfortable selves.” Her publication and brand is known as Sweatpants and Coffee, and one of my favorite images she has shared via social media is this one:
See? It’s basic and we have known it to be true since our first remembered stories. Coffee is truly holy water, reviving the souls of millions of human beings every morning. It was the beginning point of the mission of Bare Bulb Coffee, a Presbyterian community of faith in Warner Robins, GA, where I worked until a few months ago. Among other things, spending my days in a coffee shop taught me that this waking up process is different for all of us.
Some of us throw back a shot of espresso, lace our shoes, and power through our day – wide-eyed and ready for what is coming. My husband will tell you this is me. Chemicals are completely unnecessary to get my mind going.
Some of us, like my former boss, have to keep sipping caffeine all day long in hopes of just mustering enough energy to make it through.
And others never make it to the coffee pot at all – instead, pulling the covers back up over our heads and pushing the snooze alarm until we just have to get up.
For some, the new day is brimming with possibilities (or a relentless to do list).
For others, sleep is a welcomed escape from the realities daylight reveals.
And then there are the ones of us who feel like we don’t have anything worth waking up for. The new day ahead is just as empty as the last. It is going to take something more than the powers of coffee to make a new day something we can bear – much less greet with hopeful anticipation.
Given that I seem to specialize in mornings, let me offer you my own best practice for starting the day. I offer it not as prescription for what you should do so you can be as holy as I am, but just as a way of helping us get to know one another. And I can tell you that I don’t always start my day this way. Sometimes I’m in too much of a hurry. Sometimes I wake up and the dishwasher has overflowed on the floor. Sometimes I’m just lazy. And other times I’m grumpy. And then there are the days I just plain forget. But I know without a doubt that my days begin best if I follow a simple, slow routine that can take anything from 10 minutes to an hour. It’s this: I set the coffee pot the night before and wake up to that amazing, rich smell of fresh brewed goodness. I pour my coffee into a favorite mug (yes, there are multiple favorites – just like children!), and I cozy up on the end of the sofa with my magic coffee potion, soft light, and two books: Celtic Daily Prayer, and The Message. The daily prayer book directs me to three short readings from scripture: a psalm, an Old Testament Passage, and a New Testament passage, and it includes a brief devotional thought. It’s your basic devotional program to which you can add (or not) a brief liturgy of Morning Prayer which is also included.
For some reason, this prayer book resonates with me unlike any other I have ever used despite the fact that it is published by a group of people I have never met living in a place I have never visited. It has become an important part of my life. The other significant surprise is that somehow, through these daily readings, I have become a lover of the psalms. This may come as a shock to you, since I am a preacher and all, but for most of my life, the psalms have never really spoken to me. I’ve never really prayed in their language. The images don’t make much sense in my world, and the stuff about smiting enemies and dashing the heads of their infants on rocks is something I’ve often just wished weren’t in my Holy Book. Nevertheless, over the past couple of years, I have come to look forward to the daily reading from the Psalms more than the others. The words have become my comfort and hope, a firm challenge, and a valued lens in the midst of my every day. (There was even a day when I was so angry at an injustice against someone I love that I was grateful the one about smiting enemies – really violently – showed up as my appointed reading for the day.) I guess I have come to a point in life where poetry teaches me more effectively than dialogue or discourse. And second to poetry are the stories. Somehow the two interpret each other, and together they work to interpret me.
So today we begin with the Psalm, and hopefully the story and the poetry from John’s vision will help us make the psalmist’s words our own.
God claims Earth and everything in it,
God claims World and all who live on it.
He built it on Ocean foundations,
laid it out on River girders….
Wake up, you sleepyhead city!
Wake up you sleepyhead people!
King-Glory is ready to enter.[ii]
For those of us who have been walking around in the Christian story for some time, it’s pretty easy to read right over those first words about God claiming the world and everything in it. We get it. The Book starts with God hovering over a chaotic, deep void and ultimately fashioning a seven-day universe complete with a beautiful garden and the first people. We understand. God is the Creator. And on beautiful Fall days like the ones we’ve been having, we even bow to the beauty of God’s handiwork, certain that only God could paint a canvas as beautiful as the one all around us. One look and we know. God made this! And it’s beautiful! When the air is crisp and the yellow leaves crunch under our feet, it is easy to feel awake and alive in the midst of God’s world. As my son says early in the morning when I go to rouse him for school, “I’m up! I get it. You don’t have to keep telling me – and for heaven’s sake, please don’t turn the light on!” Right? Probably more than any other time, when we are in the thick of God’s created world – whether on mountain trails covered in the confetti of freshly fallen leaves, or on hard-packed beaches pounded by relentless waves powered by unseen forces, or floating on the rich earthiness of an inland river – we are convinced of God’s power, and goodness, and maybe even God’s presence with us.
But what about the other days? What about the Mary and Martha days when the best we can offer Jesus is an angry, tear-filled
If only you had been here… our brother wouldn’t have died. . . .I wouldn’t have lost my job. . . . My marriage wouldn’t be falling apart. . . . . I wouldn’t have taken that last drink. . . . . We wouldn’t be filing for bankruptcy. . . . My daughter wouldn’t be pregnant. . . . My son wouldn’t be addicted to drugs. . . . My wife wouldn’t have cancer.
What about those days? Or what about the days that we are overtaken by shame, doubt, embarrassment? The ones in which we fill ourselves with anything that might crowd out the tiniest sliver of the Holy One because we just can’t deal with God right now? The days in which we pull the covers over our heads and hit the snooze button over and over again – not because the sheets are warm and smell of fabric softener – but because our lives are so stinky we don’t care that we haven’t done laundry in ages. Those are the days when we are Lazarus. Dead four days – or longer – in a tomb of circumstance – and we have no will or no way to find ourselves in the land of the living ever again without a miracle. Where’s this Jesus then? Is the God who created it all AWOL? He’s certainly not here. The God of oceans and rivers couldn’t possibly be looking at me.
But the psalmist says God is not only looking at us. God claims us. God wants to be in our midst. Jesus calls us out of our tombs – wakes us from the slumber of even death – that the Spirit might come in and fill us with a glory we can’t imagine. Even in our stinky grave clothes, we belong to God. It’s what the psalmist, John, and Jesus want us to wake up and see: God claims Earth and everything in it. God claims World and all who live on it! Wake up, you sleepyhead people! Open your eyes. The world is not as it seemed yesterday. See! God is making all things new – wiping the tears from your eyes – moving into our neighborhood – making a holy habitation right in our midst.
And here’s the thing. . . Jesus called out to Lazarus while he was still dead – and expected Lazarus to hear him. And the Spirit gave John his beautiful vision – not after John had died – but while he was still alive – in a horrific exile. It is in horrible circumstances – even in death – that God begins this new work – and the beginning of the new work is helping us to open our eyes, wiping the sleepy gunk and the salty tears that cloud our vision so that we can begin to see not only a New Heaven somewhere down the road, but a New Earth. Right Here. Right Now.
May it ever be so.
In you and in me.
In the Cohutta Presbyterian Church worship service, following the sermon is a time of community discussion and reflection. These are some of the questions I may pose there. I offer them here for your reflection – on your own – or, better yet, with others.
- Catholic priest Richard Rohr suggests the stone that guards the tomb – and holds back the stench of death is a symbol of all that we do not wish to confront. Jesus has the people who are with him touch it and move it away so that Lazarus can come out. Then he has the crowd unwrap Lazarus from his burial shroud. The community of faith is invited to be a part of Lazarus’ resurrection. What does it mean for us to do this in our community? What will we have to be willing to touch, and name, and move so that the people around us can experience new life?
- When we recognize that this earth – and its inhabitants are God’s earth and God’s people – how does that rearrange our vision of where we are and who we are and who is around us? What new life – new lease on life – does that offer? What dead relationships come back to life? What dead parts of ourselves are awakened?
Worth pondering during the week. . .
Richard Rohr writes, “In God’s reign, everything belongs, even the broken and poor parts; the imperial system of culture, however demands ‘in’ people and ‘out’ people, victors and victims. Until we have utterly faced the battle in our own soul, we will usually perpetuate it in the outer world of politics and class. Dualistic thinking begins in the soul and moves to the mind and eventually moves to the streets. True prayer nips the lie in the bud. It is usually experienced as tears, surrender, or forgiveness.”[iii]
How does recognizing that all belongs to God help us reorder this thinking and bring all of our experiences and relationships into a unified whole?
[ii] from Psalm 24 The Message.
[iii] Rohr, Richard. Everything Belongs The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, 2003; p. 18.