Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Time is Coming When All Shall Be Well

(Read Revelation 9:36-43 and Psalm 23)

This week I spent some time with Frank Evert, Doug and Audrey’s son, who runs the non-profit Water Without Borders. Water Without Borders was created from the understanding that lack of safe drinking water is the leading cause of disease, civil strife, hunger and birth defects in the world. WWB is committed to providing safe drinking water to the world’s citizens wherever they may be. They have worked with the Dakota tribe in South Dakota and with an orphanage in Africa. Most recently, Doug went to Haiti to see what they might be able to do down there to help.

Doug said that the need in Haiti is greater than we can imagine. The hungry and thirsty are everywhere. He visited the town of Jacmel, which was devastated in the recent earthquake. Jacmel had drinkable city water before the earthquake, but the system of pipes and filtration was destroyed. Doug doubts if city water will be restored in Jacmel within 10 years. When Doug arrived, the Haitians took him to see the current source of water for the city. It was a water hole of sorts, and not only were there people drinking out of, there was a pig laying in it and some men washing in it. He said it was horrible even to witness, let alone drink from.

Doug also visited a community of Haitians who lived up in the mountains. These people had not been affected by the earthquake, but because they lived up high, where it was difficult to transport resources, they too struggled to get clean drinking water. They too were thirsty and hungry. In order to get water, these people had to walk two hours to the nearest water sources; one was downhill, the other uphill. The problem is, even this water that they retrieve is contaminated. The best solution for the mountain people is to have small filtration systems in their homes so that they can clean the water themselves after they fetch it.

Witnessing such great poverty was very upsetting, but Doug said the most disturbing thing he saw was a baby girl dying of malnutrition. Doug went to a Bible study one morning, and the baby was lying in a woman’s lap. Doug said she didn’t look much bigger than a doll; she was incredibly skinny, her eyes weren’t open, and she wasn’t moving or crying or laughing, but just lying there. The woman explained that they had just rescued the girl the day before, that she was starving and that she was five months old.

Many, many people in Haiti hunger and thirst.

But we know the problem is bigger than Haiti. Many, many people in Ethiopia hunger and thirst. (65 percent of the world's hungry live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. (Source: The State of Food Insecurity in the World, FAO, 2008)

Even in the United States, there are many, many people who hunger and thirst. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that in 2008:Of the 49.1 million people living in food insecure households (up from 36.2 million in 2007), 32.4 million are adults (14.4 percent of all adults) and 16.7 million are children (22.5 percent of all children).

To hunger and to thirst is part of the human condition, and it is both a physical and a spiritual matter.

There is a great spiritual hunger in the world right now as well. People are hungry for love and family and community. People are hungry for a sense of wellbeing. With how busy everyone is these days, and all the demands we face each day, just to feel relaxed and not rushed is a luxury. Perhaps the reason we are seeing so many people on anti-depressants is because the current pace of societal life is just too fast and overwhelming to the senses.

Oftentimes those with a spiritual hunger try to fill their voids through physical consumption. We long for peace, but we don’t know how to get it, so we take drugs and drink alcohol. We long for love, but we don’t feel it from anyone around us, so we eat macaroni and cheese and ice cream and potato chips, and let them comfort us—temporarily, of course.

The Christian hope is that a time will come when all this suffering will end. A time when we will hunger no more, thirst no more, cry no more. A time when all will be well.

In Revelation: 7, we are given a prophecy that describes the final consummation of all things. Now there is lack, but then there will be nothing lacking. Now there is suffering and crying, but then there will be no more suffering and no more crying. Jesus’ message is called “Good News” because it offers hope to the oppressed, deprived and downtrodden.

A wise theologian wrote, “In heaven, tears have no future. They only have a past.” He means that in eternity, we will remember the former things, including the pain, the sorrow, the loneliness that we went through. We will remember our trials and tribulations, but that’s all they will be-memories. We will never have to live through them again. “In heaven, tears have no future. They only have a past.”

Revelation says that a great multitude has gathered together at the throne of God and before the Lamb, and they are crying out in loud voices, “Salvation belongs to our God” (Rev 7:10). And they are worshipping God, singing praises, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev 7:12). The multitude, which includes people of every nation and tribe and language, is incredibly grateful. They are ecstatic! That is because God has just rescued them from a great ordeal.

I don’t speculate to know exactly what this great ordeal that they have come out of looks like, but I’m sure it was a scary time, filled with great hardship and suffering. And I do believe that it is God who rescues them and brings them safely to a new place. “A place where “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat…[the shepherd] will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:16-17).

As we go through our own great ordeals in life, as we hunger and thirst in this world, as we cry from lack and want, it will help us not to be short-sighted, but to step out of our present moment suffering for a moment to remember there is a bigger picture. The kind of reality that humanity must endure now will not go on forever. It will come to an end. Some of the healing will come in this life. ALL OF THE HEALING will come in the next.

I finally understand what Paul is saying when he writes, “I understand that the hardships of this present reality are nothing compared to the glory about to be revealed to us.”

What is to come is glorious and safe and loving for all people, and so we can make it through the difficult times, we can endure because we know something better is coming.

The time is coming when all shall be well. The words “All shall be well” should remind you of the saint Julian of Norwich. She was a mystical young woman that I think we all can relate to. She went through rough periods in life when she suffered greatly and doubted the presence of God’s existence and help. Then, she would go through peaceful, and even joyful, periods in life when she was happy and felt God’s love. One might say she went through periods of desolation and consolation. She prayed to God about this, and one day, the Lord answered her in her understanding: “And so our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts which I could raise, saying most comfortingly in this fashion: I will make all things well, I shall make all things well, I may make all things well and I can make all things well; and you will see that yourself, that all things will be well” (Norwich, Julian. Classics of Western Spirituality. pg. 151).

The vision Julian had was so powerful that it was able to sustain her with some hope and comfort even during periods of desolation. That’s what this vision in Revelation can do for us. It can sustain us more completely during the bad times because we know that the day will come when the tragedies of time will be replaced by the endless joys of eternity.

The Haitians will no longer hunger or thirst.

The Ethiopians will no longer hunger or thirst.

The Americans will no longer hunger or thirst.

Not in a physical sense and not in a spiritual sense either.

Evidence of God’s saving power is already around us. Remember that little 5 month old baby that looked as though she was going to die of hunger? The Haitian woman who rescued her began feeding her this peanut butter mix that contains all the nutrients necessary to sustain life (it’s one of the great developments we’ve had to fight against malnutrition), and within five days the baby was already gaining weight. Frank Evert said that when he saw her again, her eyes were open, her cheeks were getting chubby and she was cooing.

Life is amazing! Life is resilient!

Those people who live in the mountains in Haiti, WWB’s figures that for $100, they could have home water filtration systems, which would save 100s, 1,000s of lives. Life is resilient because it keeps coming back. It keeps finding ways. Even in the devastated town of Jacmel, clean water is available to the people for as little as $175 a week. It is possible that they will not hunger or thirst much longer.

And what about us here? How resilient you are to come back time and again from your struggles, your pain. We see signs of the eternal promise around us, and we can feel the eternal promise within us whenever our hope returns and our hearts open back up.

Now is just a hint of the glory to come. One day we will truly know what it means to say, “The Lord is my shepherd. I do not want. I do not lack. I lie in green pastures. God is leading me beside still waters. My soul is restored. I am walking the right path now. There is no more stumbling. There is no more dark valley. No more evil. No more enemies. There is no more thirst. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life, and I am dwelling in the house of the Lord now and forevermore.

Life Will Surprise You

(Read John 19:19-31 and Acts 5:27-32)

We’ve come to expect that certain things go certain ways.

When someone spine is e damaged, doctors pronounce that they will never walk again.

When a woman has several miscarriages and the doctors run tests, she is told she will never be able to have a baby.

When kids are labeled as slow or disturbed, their parents are told they will be lucky if their kids ever finish high school, draining parents’ hopes and dreams for their child’s future.

When a prisoner is released, their parole officer expects to hear of another conviction.

And yet, it happens that people with spinal injuries do learn to walk again.

And yet, it happens that woman who are pronounced infertile do conceive and bear a healthy child.

The kids who no one thinks will succeed do. They surpass the expectations of those who doubted them.

And the incarcerated can be set free and contribute as decent members of society.

A long time ago, all that was expected of women was that they bear and raise children and keep house. Then, society (at least some of them) granted that they could be secretaries, nurses and teachers. Now women can do whatever they choose. They have surpassed the limits once placed on them. Woman can now choose between being a nurse or a doctor. Between being a secretary or the CEO. Between being the teacher or the principal.

At one time, the only thing we knew to do with the mentally handicapped or disabled was to put them in institutions. Now many flourish in independent living situations.

Lorina is a woman in her 50’s that I met in church who is emotionally and mentally disabled. She’s funny and sweet. At Bible study, she said, “When I was just a little girl, people told my mom to lock me up and throw away the key, but my mom said, ‘No way am I doing that to my daughter.’ And look what a great life I’ve had because she kept me. I have my own apartment. I have a job. I have a boyfriend. And I have all of you.” Lorina doesn’t speak up often in Bible study, but when she does, she always touched our hearts and spoke words of wisdom.

What we once considered the norm is not the norm at all anymore. Limits have been broken. Expectations surpassed. What we once doubted possible has proven itself to be possible.

It’s natural to doubt that which we rarely or never see happen. Yet, doubt is a spiritual sickness that the Holy Spirit is continually trying to heal in all of us.

No one can blame Thomas for doubting that Jesus had risen from the dead. I’m sure some of you here doubt it as well. That isn’t something people expect to happen. Just like no one would blame a doctor for saying a patient with stage four lymphoma cancer will not live, because usually they don’t, no one blames Thomas for being skeptical of the resurrection. In fact, many of us can relate to his doubt.

Thomas thought, I’m not going to believe it until I see it. Thomas said, “Until I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20: 25). He wanted proof!

And what happened?

The Risen Christ, the Living Lord came and showed him what he needed to see in order to believe. Jesus said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20” 27).

And that is what Thomas did. He touched Jesus. He touched his scars so that he was sure it was Jesus Christ raised from the dead. And he believed!

…Do not doubt but believe...

You have heard of the term “doubting Thomas,” someone who doubts until they have proof, and maybe even still remain skeptical with proof.

The Risen Christ has come, is here and will continue to come to heal our doubt of the resurrection and our doubt that life is a blessing and a gift.

Those who doubt see the world differently than those who believe.

Through the eyes of doubt it’s harder to get up in the morning and you have less enthusiasm for the day ahead. You aren’t as curious or friendly or engaged. Blessings are poured upon you and you hardly notice. Miracles happen around you and you take them for granted.

Though the eyes of faith, each new day comes as an opportunity. You get out of bed with hope and optimism, knowing that you will see the Lord among the living in a variety of forms and people, feelings and situations. Through the eyes of faith, you notice the sun and sky, and the sun is brighter, and the sky is bluer. Your heart loves and your spirit laughs.

Our experience of reality comes down to the way we view and interpret situations and people.

What about you? How has doubt obstructed your vision? Has it made you weary that you will never feel better or that you will never find what you are looking for? Has it made you bitter towards your spouse or children or parents? Has it made you angry at God?

When we have never witnessed the unexpected, when we have not seen the outcome we hope for, when it has been a long time since we’ve been surprised in a good way, it becomes easy to doubt.

The resurrection message is for all who have ever doubted. If God raised Jesus from the dead, and he did, then anything is possible. The Book of Acts records the witness of the disciples saying, but Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:29-32).

“We are witnesses!” If you have seen the Living God, witness to that because someone out there is doubting that life and love and peace and joy are possible.

I have seen the Living God, more than once actually, many times. But the most indelible on my memory is when Jesus came to me as a ray of light one morning when my faith was hanging in the balance. It was as if he walked right out of the sky and through my window. And he said to me, “I am the way for you. Follow me.”

I have also seen and experienced the Risen God through the eyes of faith in other ways….

I have felt God’s presence in your presence and in the presence of many people, family and strangers alike.
I have seen God because I have seen the lame walk, the broken healed, the addict set free.
I’ve sent the weather person predict snow and instead it was a beautiful day, sunny, blue skies, 65 degrees.
I’ve seen an angry selfish father change and become loving and giving to his family.
I’ve seen a broken, abusive relationship transform into one of mutual love and respect.
I’ve seen anger turn to apology. Loneliness turn to love. Death turn to life.

Yes, in those ways I know that I have seen the risen Lord.

Have you?

My friends, do not doubt but believe. Life can, no, life will surprise you. The unexpected will happen. The Living God will reveal himself.

Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. I prefer the latter.” There are two ways to look at the world. One is through the eyes of doubt. The other is through the eyes of faith. I prefer the latter. How about you?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Anything and Everything. Today and Tomorrow. Oh, The Possibilities!

We all know what it feels like to be deeply disappointed:

My friend Staci graduated from NYU, and her boyfriend of two years didn't show up for the ceremony or the celebratory dinner afterwards.

As a five year old, my friend Kristen would wait on the steps for her dad (parents were divorced) to pick her up on Friday evenings while her mom was already at work. He often didn't show.

People break our hearts all the time, not intentially even, but because they themselves are broken. Quarrels. Break-ups. Lonliness even in another’s presence. Abandonment.

There are other kinds of disappointments as well:

Not getting accepted into a certain school or program
Not being hired for a certain job or getting the promotion
The house deal falling through
The bills continually mounting too high
Eating right and exercising faithfully but still not reaching your optimal weight or
Lowering your cholesterol

Disappointment leads to disillusionment, which leads to doubt.

First, You didn’t get the one job you really wanted. Then you start thinking, You probably won’t get any of the other jobs you applied for either. Until you finally reach the point where you wonder if you’ll ever find a job that you are qualified for and is meaningful and you enjoy doing/like.

Kristen, the girl who lived across the street when I was a kid. The first couple times her dad didn’t pick her up she was just disappointed. Then, she stopped making plans to go to his house. When he said he was coming to her college graduation, she smiled and said, “Great,” but there was a part of her who seriously doubted if he’d show up.

Disappointment also leads to sceptiscim, which leads to suspicion.

I can easily picture Mary Magdalene at Jesus tomb. Can you? It’s dark still. She’s consumed with sadness. She can’t sleep so she goes to the tomb where her Lord is laid, and when she gets there, the stone has been moved.

The mild disappointment that Mary Magdalene felt a few years back when some of the Jewish leaders rejected Jesus has escalated and grown into full blown suspicion and fear of what they’re capable of doing. She runs back to Peter and John and proclaims, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have [put] him.” Suspicious. She thinks someone stole the body.

Peter and John fear the worst as well. They run together to the tomb and find it empty as Mary said.

That moment. The moment of fear. Of seeing through weary and doubtful eyes…What does it take to restore hope? For the disciples. For you and I. For the parents in Haiti and the children in Africa. What does it take to give hope to the poor and the sick?

To restore hope people have to experience an outcome that is good for us. They have to see their needs being met and their God-given dreams coming true.

If all you’ve ever known or predominantely known is losing, then you think of yourself as a loser. That is, until you win. Then, the possibility that you’re a winner comes into your mind.

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to write or paint or sing, but the blocks have been greater than the inspirations. And then one day, beautiful work just flows out of you. And maybe its not just one day, but becomes the new you.

Or perhaps your child or grandchild has made a mess of his life up until now. But then, he acts in a new way or accomplishes something you never thought he could do. It’s then the possibility of a new future is reborn.

Yes...Hope is reborn when we start to see happening what we know is possible. Where as perfectly as you can dream it, it appears. Maybe even better.

Restoring hope is one of the prime messages of resurrection.

Jesus was murdered. We know from watching many others die that he’s gone forever. But maybe that night after the crusifiction, Mary or John or Peter laid in bed dreaming, praying, hoping, what if he comes back?! God bring him back! Didn’t he say he was going to come back?!

And then, he comes back. He’s alive! God, an amazing, loving, awesome God, has risen him from the dead!

The Gospel of John says that John and Peter believed first. They looked in the tomb and the linen wrappings that had been on Jesus were in one spot, and a different cloth which had been on Jesus’ head was in another spot. And it was rolled up carefully, like someone had done this purposefully. Thieves are hardly likely to roll up the cloths and linens. They probably would have stolen them. Between the cloths and the missing body, and even moreso, all the things that Jesus told them were going to happen, Peter and John figure it out. It’s just what they had been dreaming about, hoping for last night. Jesus is not dead and gone forever.

He is not in the tomb.
He has risen!
Hope is reborn!

Mary takes a few moments longer than they do to start believing in something so unfathomable, so monumentous that it will change the history of humanity forever (Can you imagine if there was no Christian message?)

Mary is in the garden crying. Even when she sees two angels, her disappointment, her disillusionment, her doubt blind her to the message the angels bring. She says to the angels as well, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Doubt has the power to do that. Doubt has the power to blind you to all the good things that are going on around you. It has the power to make you blind to God’s encouragement and signs and wonders that blessings and abundance are all around you.

Mary is so dismayed she doesn’t even recognize Jesus when he’s standing there before her. This happens to us all as well. We are in that negative, doubting place and we don’t see God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit guiding us along, walking and talking to us.

When Jesus calls her by name though, then Mary finally sees. (Jesus calls all of us by name.) Her hope is reborn. In that moment, she knows in her heart that God has done something miraculous. God has defeated death. Mary thinks, Just because everyone else who has died has remained dead doesn’t mean that Jesus can’t be raised from the dead. But wait a minute, even as she’s thinking that last though, she remembers Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus who were both raised from the dead by Jesus himself. Now she’s getting excited. Now she’s starting to believe. Maybe this means other people will be raised from the dead! Maybe it means death will be no more.

Brothers and sisters, today I proclaim to you that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ there is hope for you, for me, for all of creation. Anything and everything is possible. It could happen today or tomorrow or the day after that. Just do not doubt. Believe.

The implications of resurrection affect every aspect of our life together. Anticipation and excitement replace dread. Regret gives way to peace. Cynicism vanishes before joy. Self-control conquers addiction. Purpose usurps futility. Reconciliation overtakes estrangement. Well-being calms anxiety. Creativity flows freely. Death gives way to life, darkness to light, fear to confidence, and despair to hope.

On this day, Jesus wins. God wins. Life wins. We win.

Now you know why we say, Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen,

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Give It to Jesus to Take to the Grave

(Written for Good Friday)

Why would one person give their life up for another? I suppose there could be many answers to that question, but think of a parent giving up his or her life for their child. The parent must love the child so much that he or she wants their child to live more than they want him or herself to live.

When Jesus willingly gives up his life for us, he is saying, “I want you to live. Your lives, all of your lives, are more important than my one life.”

Since he died that we might live, it’s part of our responsibility to make sure we live as fully as possible. But really it’s more than a responsibility; it’s a privilege; it’s the desire of my heart. I want to live because God wants me to live.

So doesn’t it make sense for us to figure out the ways that we are contributing to our own death and stop doing them? Good Friday is the perfect night to let stuff go. Pastor memories of pain and suffering. Old grievances or people you haven’t forgiven. Whatever is holding you back, weighing you down, killing you off in body or spirit. Tonight is the perfect night to let it go.

The paths we walk to death can be obvious or subtle, quick or slow. One of the greatest problems for disciples walking the spiritual walk is that we often don’t realize the ways that we are hurting ourselves, killing ourselves. And not only ourselves but others as well. Jesus died for us all so anything that I do that destroys myself or someone else is contradictory to his sacrifice.

Ask yourself, look deep inside yourself one more time, what things are you thinking, doing and saying that are killing yourself and others?

Some ways that lead to death are obvious- jumping in front of a moving vehicle, getting shot in the head, being hung on a cross.

Many paths to death were not so obvious at one point but now, because of all the talk about them, are becoming more obvious – smoking cigarettes for many years, enduring long periods of stress and fatigue, eating large quantities of trans fats. When it comes to things like this, how much is too much? I don’t know. You have to ask yourself and be honest with yourself because your body is speaking to you.

Even less obvious are attitudes, thought patterns, ways of being that kill us. Resentment. Jealousy. Worry. Doubt. Fear. Too much pressure. Too much control. Too much analyzing. Not enough laughter. Not enough love. Not enough carefree living.

Not once, not twice, but three times Jesus prayed to God that he wouldn’t have to die. The traditional record of Jesus prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Mt 26: 39). The modernized Message translation says, Jesus “fell on his face, praying, ‘My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?’”

But he went through with it, he died so that we might live. Out of respect, in gratitude, let’s symbolically give Jesus all the things that we’re doing that are diminishing his sacrifice. Take a black stone or several stones, and pray into them everything you want to let go of, release, move past. Then, place them at the foot of the cross (or somewhere else that is meaningful to you).

I’m not suggesting this so you will feel guilty; I’m suggesting this so that you will be free to live. In hope, perhaps this symbolic gesture will translate into these things really leaving our lives.

Scripture says that Jesus dies for our sins, that he takes our sins and the sins of the whole world upon himself. And the way I understand it is that when he dies, our sins die with him. So at the appointed time, bring your sins, your death seeking behaviors, your life-taking attitudes to the cross.

Let them go to the grave with Jesus so that on Easter morning, the morning of new life, none of that stuff will be a part of you anymore. Death will no longer be a part of you.

Love One Another

(Written for Maundy Thursday)

A few years ago, a best friend of mine named Brittany finally found a job at a university in Texas. I say finally because she had been looking for over two years. We were both sad she was moving far away, but we were very close so we promised to keep in touch with each other. Not long after she left I started going through a difficult time, so of course I called on my best friend Brittany. I wanted to see how she was doing and I also wanted to tell her what was going on with me. But Brittany didn’t call me back. I left like six messages! Eventually, I left her a nasty voicemail telling her she wasn’t being a very good friend at all. I had no idea why she wasn’t calling me back. I started to think she didn’t care about me. I wondered if I had done something wrong.

One of the hardest things about fulfilling Jesus’ command to love one another is that its difficult to love others when our feelings get hurt. When we feel like we’ve been mistreated, misunderstood, neglected, ignored, it’s hard to open ourselves up and be vulnerable, giving, and loving. When our feelings get hurt, that’s when we either want to retreat and hide or when we lash out in anger, attacking.

The nasty voicemail I sent Brittany was me lashing out in hurt and anger. Then, I retreated. I stopped calling her.

The problem is, Jesus command to love is not a conditional statement. He does not say, only love others when they are being good to you. He does not say, only love others when you are in the mood to be loving. Jesus says, “love one another. As I have loved you, love one another.”

We know from the stories in the Bible that Jesus offered love to strangers on the street and to those rejected and despised by society. He offered love to his friends, even when they betrayed him, even when they denounced him. (Our church just put on a production called , In the Shadow of the Cross, and in the last scene, which takes place after the crusifxtion, Peter feels so guilty and horrible about denying Jesus in Pilates’ courtyard. He tells this to Mary Magdalene nad Mary, Jesus’ mother. Both of them assure Peter that Jesus would not hold this failure on Peter’s part against him. The woman assure Peter that Jesus would forgive and love Peter even though he wasn’t perfect, and even though he had abandoned Jesus in his hour of need. God loves us no matter what, whether we fail him or sin or whatever.

On this night as we receive the mandatum novum, the new command to love one another, I am asking you to reflect on how well you are able to remain loving, especially to those closest to you, when your feelings have been hurt, when you are feeling defensive.

I’d like to tell you a story:

A young man went off to war, leaving his pregnant wife behind. Two years later, he was able to return home, and the young woman went with their young son to meet her husband. They cried together out of joy. They decided to celebrate by having a fancy, family dinner together. The wife went to the store to buy what was needed for dinner while the husband remained at home with his son.

During this time, the young father was trying to convince his child to call him Daddy. The little boy refused: “Mister, you’re not my daddy. My daddy is somebody else. He visits us every night and my mommy talks to him every night, and very often she cries with him. And every time my mommy sits down, he sits down too. Every time she lies down, he lies down too.” After he heard these words, the young father’s happiness entirely evaporated. His heart turned into a block of ice. He felt hurt, deeply humiliated, and that is why, when his wife came home, he would no longer look at her or speak a word to her. Anger flared within him, and a profound sadness as well. He didn’t know what to do, so he ignored her. The woman herself began to suffer; she felt humiliated, hurt. Why was her husband doing this? What had changed? But neither said a word to each other.

She made the dinner in silence while he sat in the living room. When the family sat down to dinner, again no one spoke. After dinner, the husband went to the local bar. He tried to forget his suffering by getting drunk, and he did not come back to the house until very late at night. The following day, it was the same thing, and this went on for several days in a row. The young woman could not take it anymore. Her suffering was so great that she took her own life.

When the young father heard this news, he was very upset. He went and lit a large oil candle that he and his wife often lit when they would sit together in the living room. It was one of their favorite ways to spend a quiet evening together. Upon lighting the lantern, Suddenly the child cried out: “Mister, Mister, it’s my daddy, he’s come back!” And he pointed to the shadow of his father on the wall. “You know, Mister, my father comes every night. Mommy talks to him and sometimes she cries; and every time she sits down my daddy sits down too.” In reality, this woman had been alone in the house too much and so she would sit in this special spot, light a candle and “talk” to her husband, by talking to her shadow. She would day, “My dear one, you are so far away from me. How can I raise my child all by myself? ….You must come back home soon.” She would cry, and of course every time she sat down, the shadow would also sit down. When she would lie down, the shadow would also lie down.

When the husband realized the he had misunderstood the whole situation, his heart broke in two. All along she had been faithful to him, but in his own pain, in his own pride and defensiveness, he had not been able to talk to his wife about what was really going on. Now she was dead. It was too late. (adopted from Thich Nhat Hanh. True Love. Pg. 25-29).

This story is very dramatic, but miscommunications and misunderstandings of all sorts happen all the time, whether between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parent and child, friends, co-workers…

As a child I thought, as do most children, that when one of my parents yelled at me, that they didn’t love me, that I was bad or had done something wrong. Then I would go and hide or yell at my brother or sister or hit the cat. Children don’t understand that the parent could just be having a bad day.

The point I am trying to make is that we have to be very careful about shutting down and blaming others when we feel hurt. Oftentimes, our pain will lead to greater ruptures and more fighting within a relationship or family. But if we could just stop, and talk to each other. If we could tell each other that our feelings have been hurt and sit down with one another instead of withdrawing from each other or yelling at each other, we will save ourselves from so much pain and suffering.

If we could just tell each other what we need, we really will help love grow and fulfill the new commandment to love one another.

When Jesus was alive many people came to him asking for his help. If they needed something, they asked for it.

The leper came up to Jesus and say, “Lord, if you choose you can make me clean.” (Mat 8: 2). He was asking for help.

When the centurion’s servant was sick, the centurion appealed to Jesus, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” (Mt 8: 6-7). He was asking for help.

A leader of the synagogue came to Jesus and said, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” (Mt 9: 18). He too was asking for help.

The list of people who asked Jesus for help goes on and on to this very moment. Whoever asks for help, he helps them.

Why don’t we do the same thing. If someone asks for help, let us help them. Also, when we need something, when we need help, why not ask for it from the people we love. There’s a line in a popular song now that says, “If you want more love, why don’t you say so.”

How can we love each better, more, like Jesus loved us? Let each other know when we need love and give that love to one another.

When my friend Brittany finally did call me back, I certainly didn’t feel like opening up to her about everything that was going on in my life nor did I want to hear what was going on in her life.

But then, she opened up to me and told me that the reason she hadn’t called back was because she was depressed. She felt very alone in Texas, far away from family and friends. Work was stressful; some of her colleauges were being mean and competitive. She told me that she hadn’t called me back because she had barely been able to get out of bed and do her job. She didn’t have the extra energy to reach out, even to her best friend.

Of course, as soon as I heard that, all the pain and anger and hard feelings towards her I had went out the window. What she essentially told me was that she needed love and understanding even more than I did.

Brothers and sisters, on this Maundy Thursday, I say to you what Jesus has said to us all: Love one another. One of the ways that we fulfill this most noble and high command is by telling each other when we need love. May we all learn how to ask for the love we need. May those in our lives be willing and able to give us the love that we need. And when someone asks you for love, may you have it to give.