Jesus says one thing three times in the tenth chapter of Matthew, the Gospel for this morning. As the NRSV puts it: “Have no fear” then, “Do not fear,” and finally, “Don’t be afraid.”
And that’s nice to hear but sometimes it’s not easy advice to take because life can be bewildering and frightening and –- let's face it -– it looks none of us are going to get out of here alive. But last Friday morning I preached three sermons that might come together as a three dimensional roadmap for facing life and death and all the rest with a larger sense of living life and a smaller component of fear.
First, this Friday at 9:00am I celebrated the Eucharist for the students and staff of Cathedral College. Since it was also celebrating the feast of the Holy Trinity, for which the Cathedral is named, I told I gave them a three-sided sermon and shared three things:
First, look for God in the big stuff: Mountains, Sea, Sky. For God creates the whole cosmos; and in a world resolutely louder year by year it is important to see the larger scheme of the incongruous and amazing facts of creation. Then, look for God in the small stuff: Feet, food, breath to start; see God’s Spirit animate all the ways we live and breathe and have our being. Then look for God in flesh: in friends, family, foes, the stranger. For if we see what it means to be a human being in Jesus, and then we can explore the expanse of God’s love lost and found in every human being.
There was some method in my madness: young people need focus and direction, both visions and boundaries. Plus they need the wisdom of the body: the deep miraculous wisdom of their own corpus plus that of history, community, wisdom: the body corporate, the body of evidence, the body of belief that enables with healthy feedback and grounded hope and practical help enabling them and us to get on with the hope and the fear and the business of living with all the possibilities. And that’s one part, in my understanding, of what it means to be the church.
From there I went to a 10:30 service of hymns and communion from the reserved sacrament in the Dementia Ward at St Johns Village where I talked about the three dimensions of the Lord’s Prayer there; reaching up to our Father in Heaven, calling for God’s blessing in our lives and asking for right compassion and connection with our neighbour. A fair number of people joined in the three gestures. Then we shared the bread, body of Christ, and peace at the last.
I find being a chaplain on D Ward to be a salutary exercise. It meets me in a place where I need to reminded, healing some old fears that you might share. For me getting older means meeting limits, stretching where we wear out; worrying when the possibilities get fewer, when options narrow, when the memory misses words and numbers. I think we all wonder about D-Wing in the end.
But what I see with the people there reminds me of a quote from Jane Fonda where she said she became a Christian because she found herself “humming with a reverence.” that was leading her to God. I hear that there, a sense of people on a horizon of life praying with, as Paul puts it, “The spirit interceding with sighs too deep for words… groaning for the new creation.” It is deeply moving and surprisingly beautiful.
On the third Friday of the month the 11:15 Nursing Home holds a Memorial Service and Eucharist, with space for a bit of a biography for the person who has died recently (who she was, where she lived, what she liked), then lighting a candle, special prayers, different hymns and the Holy Eucharist from the reserved sacrament. The twenty or so people there, with an average age in the late eighties sang well, prayed and listened quietly
And I talked about the acclamation in the middle of the Eucharist: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” where (quoting, Austin Farrer I think) we are invited to “exchange our living death with Christ’s dying life.” Christ opens the dead-end of life with an endless love that lives forever; he invites us to open to resurrection time, and assures us to abide in that hope until he returns to share eternal life; that’s the faith we follow, the hope Jesus plants in our life, the love that calls us to open new beginning.
And that’s last Friday morning. Let me make an end. Do not fear, because God has created a cosmos in which you can never get lost. Do not fear, because the Spirit will meet you in every moment of life and death, of ending and beginning. Do not fear, because Jesus is wildly in love with you, reaching out his arms of love, willing to share his loving life with you here and now and always,
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.