Betting on LifeBy imironchuk • Apr 24th, 2011 • Category: Pastor's Message
A message given Easter Sunday
by Rev. Scott Summerville
Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Hail!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The Gospels describe the day of resurrection as a day of “great joy and fear.” That is an interesting combination: joy and fear.
At the end of this week in the newspapers there were two reports side-by-side. One was a report about people of Syria marching in the streets, defying orders not to gather, filled with such a passionate desire and hope for greater freedom, so sick of oppression and tyranny that they were willing to march unarmed even as the government promised to shoot them down and kept its promise.
The other report described a survey showing that the people of United States are now more discouraged than they have been in years. We all know the reasons why many of us may be feeling discouraged, but it was interesting to see these two reports side-by-side; one a story of audacious and reckless hope, the other a story of discouragement.
We gather today to celebrate and proclaim the power of life over death, the power of creation over destruction, the power of hope over despair. As we look around the world today, it is not clear which powers are winning. Creation or destruction? Freedom or tyranny? Life or death? We live at the edge of great and awesome changes in human history. We scarcely know what life will be like in 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 years. We look at the children among us and we wonder: what sort of world, what sort of earth will be their home?
We may feel that we have no part to play in the great drama of this earth; we may be anxious or discouraged. But here and now this Easter day we are reminded that each one of us is a part of that great drama of the earth, each has some gift to contribute, individually — and the church has in this age unique opportunities to contribute positively to the future of the world.
The United Methodist Church has set for itself four major priorities. Two of them are things that you would logically expect every church to want to do. One is to start new churches. That is an important thing, and of course every church wants more adherents and more congregations. It is natural that this would be an important goal of the church.
The church has also made one of its four highest priorities the training of large numbers of leaders of clergy and laity to better equip them and to lead ministries of service and witness. Leadership is the single critical ingredient in moving communities from dreams and ideas and talking to actually doing things. This is true of our congregation, and it is true of the global church. Success or failure in any mission depends upon having leaders who are motivated, committed, and equipped to lead.
Those are two of the four priorities.
The other two priorities set by the United Methodist Church are: ministry with the poor and a health initiative focusing on killer diseases, with an initial focus the eradication of malaria.
United Methodist Church could have chosen many things as its priorities, but we realize that we must focus our efforts in order to be effective. As Easter people, as people who proclaim the power of life over death, we have chosen life in a very direct way – by committing our energy and resources to overcoming those diseases that devastate the poor.
I read to you now from a declaration of our United Methodist Church:
We are the Church of the Poor and those in Ministry the Poor. Following Jesus’ example of servant leadership, those who enjoy greater privileges are called to walk humbly alongside those at society’s margins, listening to, learning from, and working in solidarity with them for the transformation of this world.
We are a denomination that has played a significant role in abolishing slavery and advocating for child labor laws, women’s suffrage and civil rights. Our prevailing message is that we have the hope, the people and the power to facilitate change.
[Methodism's Founder] John Wesley understood the deeply intertwined relationship between poverty and poor health….Unfortunately, many of the health issues of Wesley’s time are still a part of the 21st century landscape. Many people and communities throughout Africa, in particular, lack access to the basic rights of nutritious food, clean water, adequate shelter and essential medicines. At a point of great and historic opportunity, we are working with the United Nations Foundation and others to develop a partnership that will bring our existing health programs to a new level….
In the long term, the … campaign to conquer malaria will create a powerful foundation that will build a stronger and more broad-based community health infrastructure to help … in the fight against other diseases of poverty such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
Our congregation has been and will continue to be involved in this effort in a variety of ways: directly through our work in northern Ghana in the creation and expansion of the Methodist Dorcas Clinic and through our financial gifts to the global church and other special projects like the Nothing but Nets campaign. This priority of our church is a direct and tangible commitment to life; it is an expression of our common commitment to put our chips on the table and place our bets on life. As each of us participates in small ways in this global project we commit ourselves to being part of a positive and hopeful future for generations to come.
Even so, each of continues to struggle individually with our own challenges and discouragements.
There is a young woman who recently received some national publicity who happens to be a member of a United Methodist Church in a town in Texas. The name of her church is Community of Hope United Methodist Church. “Community of Hope” – not a bad name for a church. The young woman, Tiffany Chartier, appears to be 30 years old or so from her photographs. When she was fifteen years old she learned that she had inherited a disease of the eye, retinitis pigmentosa, from her father. In her own words: “Retinitis pigmentosa is a degenerative hereditary eye disease that starts by loss of night vision and then slowly steals (like a thief) your peripheral vision so eventually what you see is like looking through a tiny, tiny straw. And eventually it will just all close.”
In light of her medical condition, she has chosen an unusual career. She is a professional photographer. She is already legally blind, without peripheral vision; the lens through which she sees the world grows smaller and smaller, but that does not seem to have slowed her down.At her church she directs a program for youth called CHAOS – an interesting name for a youth group – but in this case the letters stand for stand for: Challenge, Honor, Acceptance, Outreach and Serve. She uses her photography in a special way with young people: she invites them to list seven positive traits about themselves. These words are painted on a backdrop, and with these words of affirmation showing in the background she photographs each of the young people. Her photographer’s eye captures the essence of each of their personalities; the words in the background become a constant reminder to each of the youth of who they aspire to be. This she sees as one way of empowering young people. She calls them “affirmation photos.” She says: “Because I am going blind I give more freely of the talents God gave me,” she said. “And because I’m going blind I refuse to be stingy with joy.”
Her photographic ministry has taken other forms as well. She was approached by a couple; the husband had been diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer; the prognosis was poor. They wanted to have a set of photographs of themselves made especially for their grandchildren. They wanted their photographs to convey to their grandchildren the joy that they felt in life and in their love for them.
Hank, the guy with cancer who had his picture taken, said of this young photographer, “I think because her vision is narrowing, she focuses in on what is important.” As my elderly German landlady used to say, “Dat could be a soimen!” “She focuses in on what is important” – is that not what religion and spirituality are supposed to be all about – enabling us to focus in on what is truly important.
This young woman now has children of her own. Her oldest son has been diagnosed with the same disease she inherited from her father. She knows now how her father felt when he learned that his daughter had inherited the disease from him. She has experienced the sense of helplessness, anger and sadness that her father felt. But she says she is at peace; her life is filled with art and love, giving and creating. She has her own blog, on which she has written these words which may speak to your struggles:
My power is limited, if I have any at all. But my actions are powerful, for good or bad … my greatest weakness is acting as if I have more control than I do.
The bird doesn’t grab hold of the wind to fly, nor does the fish order the direction of the sea to swim. Both know what they can control and, therefore, are free to live fully in their powerlessness….
Indeed, we can each learn from the bird and fish. Both carry on knowing without question there is a power which exists greater than their own: Their life depends upon it. Why do we not think the same?
We must learn how to fly and swim in the moment. Yesterday’s patterns afford us the security of repetition but not the presence to know how to adjust to today’s climate. We must be fully responsive in the moment to wholly surrender to God and be free from our desire to control.
That is a good word for this Easter, when so many people are feeling powerless and discouraged.
Each of us has some gift to offer to this world. Unless we exercise that gift, we will be spiritually stunted, and the world will be missing something. Each of us is a speck in the universe. Sometimes we will feel like an insignificant and powerless speck, swept by forces far beyond our control. Here and now, this Easter day, we are reminded that each one of us is a part of the great drama of the earth; each has some gift to contribute, individually — and collectively as a church we have unique opportunities to contribute positively to the future of the world.
So we borrow this wisdom from a young woman, wise beyond her years: “The bird doesn’t grab hold of the wind to fly, nor does the fish order the direction of the sea to swim. Both know what they can control and, therefore, are free to live fully in their powerlessness…..”
That is a good word for this Easter morning.
Hallelujah, Christ is risen!