I bring you greetings, friends,
from the students at The Edge House campus ministry at UC
—we are always grateful for you
and your continued ministry here at Prince of Peace.
Alas, my students could not be here
because of work and classes and not-being-in-Ohio,
but they send their love.
They also send me as an emissary
to share with you a little of our pilgrimage
to the Rocky Mountains at Spring Break this past year.
Each year we offer our Spring Break as a tithe of sorts
—time away from our normal schedules and busy-ness
to observe God’s action in the world
and to give back what we have been given.
This year, we restructured our trip as a pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage is a journey to a place of special spiritual significance.
There’s a fine line between that and being a tourist
—the idea is that we’re going somewhere
to see something powerful with our own eyes,
not just taking pictures and moving on.
Used to be, folks walked hundreds of miles
to a cathedral or even the Holy Land,
others have needed to go to Ground Zero or to Auschwitz
to see it with their own eyes
—for us, it was the Rocky Mountains.
We were able to worship with our friends at HFASS,
to spend retreat time in the deeply snow-covered mountains,
to work with the Boulder parks department,
and to walk several labyrinths.
For me, the most beautiful moment came
when we were walking our second labyrinth
—our work had been cancelled for the day due to high winds,
so we were at loose ends.
I admit to being angry about the loss of a workday
—aren’t we here to help out?
We searched out a labyrinth in the very public lobby
of a large office building.
It was laid out in the stonework of the floor
—a life-sized recreation
of the 11-circuit labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral.
After walking it, we explored the art gallery
just off the lobby where the building’s developer
had donated his and his wife’s art collection.
It was beautiful.
Sculpture and watercolors and furniture
—just amazing to have it there in a public space
for the folks who came in and out of the office building.
A security guard came over and told me
that the old lady who had just come in was the developer’s wife
and that she had dementia.
Her husband pays for a pianist to play for her in the lobby
twice a week and she sits there,
a look of delight on her face as she dances in her chair.
And then. And then.
On my way out of the gallery, I saw a small painting
of a boy in tall grass next to some large text.
It was a quotation from the developer
saying that their collection had many critically-praised pieces
worth millions of dollars.
And that when one critic visited, he stood still,
taking in a wall of this magnificent art and then said,
“I really love this small one here, the boy in the tall grass.”
And the developer said, “That’s one of my favorites as well.
My wife painted it.”
His wife, who was right there, unaware.
I wept for their life together and for the gift he had given her.
If we had not had our work called off,
we would never have experienced that love.
Dementia cannot separate us from the love of God.
Anger with plans changing cannot separate us from the love of God.
Last week, I helped celebrate at the funeral
of a young adult from Good Shepherd.
Jackie died of a heart attack at 34.
She was a lovely, committed, active woman and she just suddenly died.
At her funeral, I did what I expect most of us do,
grieve her loss but also wonder what I was doing with my life
—what risks am I taking for the Kingdom? Am I?
And then I stood up to read the lessons,
including one of my most favorite passages, Romans 8:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels,
nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And I thought, “yes, yes. Nothing can separate us.
This is our hope, this is my experience.
Even in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.”
Death cannot separate us from the love of God.
Misery and grief and even anger at such a young person dying
cannot separate us from the love of God.
And then. And then.
Thursday this past week, I got a call from my hair salon
saying that the man who has been doing my hair for years,
J who was 49 and snarky and lovely, had died.
I couldn’t process it. I still can’t.
And then I was at the gym on the elliptical,
what’s on the morning show on the TV right in front of me?
A grainy video of a man in India beating a small child.
Played on repeat as the commentators discussed how terrible it was.
And then another video of a nanny doing the same thing.
I couldn’t look away—it was right in front of me and I couldn’t look away.
We know these things happen,
maybe we even try to stop them in a vague kind of way,
but to see it with our own eyes, to really see it…
And then to hear of the death tolls in the current version
of the Israel/Palestine conflict
—yesterday, the BBC reported that of the more than 800 people
who have died so far,
at least 278 are Palestinian women and children.
The UN says 73% of the Palestinian dead are civilians.
I’m very aware that talking about this is going to make someone mad.
I imagine at least one of you out there right now is seething already.
One of the reporters I heard talking about it said that
reporting on anything at all related to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict
will get you death threats
Israel is not a superhero. Palestine is not just a victim.
—it’s so fraught, so complicated,
so emotional for everyone involved,
and even for us who aren’t involved.
What are we supposed to think as Christians
—not as a religious sect or as Christian Americans,
but as followers of Jesus Christ
who preached peace
and also preached not letting oppressors get away with oppression?
What are we supposed to think
when Israel accuses Hamas of using human shields
and Hamas accuses Israel of firing first
and intentionally attacking civilian targets?
And both sides have been fighting over the same tiny plot of land
since at least 539 BCE.
I remember hearing a WW2 vet speaking brokenly
of the invasion of Normandy when the Germans
had put women and children on the tops of the gun turrets
along the beach so the Allies would have to shoot them.
Can you imagine? Who would do that?
If we stop to think about it at all,
if we do any research (and not in the comments section of news articles), we know it’s so very complicated and so very tragic.
So many people are dying and being displaced
there and Syria and Sudan and everywhere over what?
Really, though, over what?
I’m calling BS.
Because it sure looks like something can separate us from the love of God.
Is it easy for us here in safe middle-America
to say nothing can separate us from the love of God
when children all over the Middle East
and even here in our inner cities grow up with PTSD?
Is it ridiculous for us to say that neither things present nor things to come
nor powers can separate us from the love of God?
When our own savior Jesus Christ hung on the cross and cried out
“eloi eloi lama sabacthani
—my god, my god, why have you forgotten me?”
What the hell are we doing to ourselves as human beings? There and here?
What is keeping us from recognizing God in each other?
What is allowing us to insist on our own way
like toddlers refusing to share toys
when those toys are basic nutrition and access to health care
and, I don’t know, not living in fear for your life,
whether it’s in Gaza or Sandy Hook?
This is a difficult time to preach grace. And, really, it always is.
The problem is that grace is staring us in the face.
These moments, these years when we are destroying each other
and ignoring how we’re destroying each other,
this is when Jesus is all up in our business,
refusing to break eye-contact,
standing in front of us awkwardly and saying,
“Please” and “It’s ok.”
And then. And then.
We see with our own eyes, even for only a moment,
that this is not how it has to be.
This is not how it always is.
There’s a moment at the wedding of an Edge House alum
when he blushes at the loving things his best man is saying to him,
and their friendship,
the friendship between an atheist and a Christian,
is the shape of the Kingdom.
There’s a moment when your child snuggles into your bed with you
when you are not annoyed because she’s out of bed
but overwhelmed with love simply by the smell of her sweaty hair.
There’s a moment when slaves in the American South
jumped the broom and got married
because they found love in the midst of terror.
There’s the moment when a mother whose son was murdered
takes the murderer into her life
and they grow to love and forgive one another.
There’s a moment when women in concentration camps
wrote down recipes for foods they would never eat again
because doing so was their resistance, their way of saying,
“this is not the end of our story. You cannot destroy our hope.”
It’s not that Gaza and Sudan and my friend’s death don’t matter
because they really do—but that something else is going on.
We are fooling ourselves if we think we can define it completely
and we are fools if we can define it by what we value here in America,
but our great hope, the good news that Jesus brought and still brings,
is that something else is going on,
something life-giving and creative
and that God is doing something with our suffering.
Not that God planned our suffering or somehow wills it,
but that God can make something beautiful
with even the worst parts of our lives.
And we can participate in that.
And then. And then.
Paul says “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels,
nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height,
nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Terror cannot separate us from the love of God.
Entitlement and complacency cannot separate us from the love of God.
Liberalism or conservatism, patriotism and protest,
rejection and retaliation cannot separate us from the love of God.
Nothing, nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God.