October 5, 2014

Psalm 23
1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

I ran into Amy twice this week while making the rounds at Greenview Hospital. Amy is one of our young adults who also is a Physical Therapist and she has taken a special interest in caring for one of our members, Don Darnell. Carolyn said that Don would tell her excitedly, “Amy is coming today!”
When I was visiting Bennie before his surgery it would have made more sense for them to have put him in an auditorium than a hospital room. It was standing room only, full of friends who cared about him. Bennie doesn’t have much family around, but I’ve never seen a room so full of people before someone went to surgery.

This week I wondered where Farah, Rusty’s daughter was when I went to visit him on Tuesday because she was always right by his side. She showed up about five minutes into my visit, having just gone to Riley’s to buy sweets for all the nursing staff on his floor.

This week. It all happened at once this week. This week I saw illness from hospital beds. I witnessed families surrounding their loved ones in their last days. This week I watched James Westbrook’s great grandchildren climb over pews in the funeral home while their parents tried to teach them reverence before his funeral. This week I stood between Don & Carolyn, holding their hands as he decided that it was time to stop treatment and go to Hospice care, as he shared his trust in God and his readiness for the next life. This week is just not the right week to be challenged by another parable. There will be time for that. But this week we will listen for the some of the most powerful glimpses of grace that are shared through our Bibles and through the open canon of our lives. This week we will encounter some of life’s darkest hours through the words of a Psalm and the Beatitudes of Jesus. This week.

People say that this week is the hardest, but this week we know why we are a part of church. These are the times that grace takes flight and hope wakes up because of the small acts of kindness you offer. I get to see you all show up for one another, and make these scriptures that we study in our heads and hearts each week come to life, be made flesh among us.

The 23rd Psalm requires no exegesis or unpacking if you ask me. In some ways, it is the total opposite of the parables. We read it and we immediately understand. These are some of the most well known and powerful words of comfort. Dementia patients who can’t remember their own name remember these words, often moving their mouths to recite them with the reader. Hospital patients passing from this life to the next sometimes have physical reactions to these words, their body relaxing and their gaze softening. When I couldn’t be there this week for my grandmother’s passing, I said to my dad, please read the 23rd Psalm to her. I think it was a bit overwhelming for him because it makes what is going on really real. The Psalms don’t need explanation because we know their truth, we feel it in our bones, and you all are living it as a church community every time you show up.

That’s the thing about these tender life moments. They necessarily remove us from auto pilot and transfer us to a different realm. The phone call comes and you find out that dad is sick. A diagnosis is discovered. A child gets hurt. A tragedy occurs and all of the sudden everything that seemed so important just doesn’t matter anymore.

This week has been a blessing for me personally, because I didn’t have the luxury of fretting over the things that aren’t super important. And it made me wonder how on any given week one of my colleagues who is doing ministry somewhere in the country is having a week like this one. You see, this week, is always happening, but it just may not always, God willing be on our doorstep.

It does give us moment to pause. To consider these words of assurance that are meant not only for life’s tragic moments, but for all times and all places.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me. I know this to be true because you all were there. You were at Bennie’s bedside, you were at Rusty’s right hand, talking to him not as if a respirator was breathing for him, but the same way you did when you were in high school together. You wiped Don’s brow after he got sick. You visited Mary even when it seemed like her body was just a shell. You showed up and so God did too.

There are so many questions that we could discuss in worship and Bible study, at Youth Group & EFM about theology and faith and ecclesiology, the study of what the church is and should be. But today, there is just grace in knowing that this week the church showed up. You showed up through deviled eggs and jello salad. You showed up through text messages and emails. You showed up by being present to one another in life’s most tender moments.

I wish that we could be so careful with one another all the time and not just at these times. Because if you think about it, there is always someone who is having this kind of week: struggling with a diagnosis or dying loved one, facing the loss of a job or home, suffering through the pain of a broken relationship and trying to pick up the pieces.

There is a lot that I do not know or understand about life after death. But this week, because of your actions- your prayers, your visits, your cooking, your calls, I feel more aware than ever that there is a world that is beyond the one we see. And that world comes alive when we wake up and decide to participate in it. When we put all the unimportant details aside, and choose grace instead. When we stop scratching items off our to do list, and boy do I love my to do lists, and we reprioritize. When we use all of who we are to give ourselves away to our neighbors who are always tender whether having this week or just a normal week.

So. This week has actually now become last week and so we have a whole new week ahead. So what will you do this week?