A Life in Reverse

{This is the transcript of the sermon I preached at Grace Baptist Church, Kansas City, Missouri, on February 22, 2015.}

Scripture taken from the Lectionary for February 22, 2015. (click to read passages)

I love reading! I love reading books so much! It’s one of my favorite hobbies; however, I rarely read a book more than once. In fact, in all of my reading life that I have been reading adult books (I am not counting the books I have had to read over and over again to my children Ben and Katarina) I probably have only read five more than once. The thing is this–that once you know the end the story changes.

Imagine your favorite book with me whatever it is. Just think of it now and about the first time you read it. Think about the plot progression, the character development, the conflicts and rise and fall. When you think about all that begin to think about the thoughts and emotions and anticipation of what is going to happen next, what is going to happen in this next chapter, how is this all going to get resolved. You go along with the characters and experience it. But once you know the end and you reread it you read it in a totally different way. You think differently about characters, you judge their decisions, you think no don’t do that it will lead you to this conflict, or no do this!! If only. If only…

So that brings us to the place in our story where we are in right now the season of Lent. The definition of Lent is this:

­­The period preceding Easter that in the Christian church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and so includes forty weekdays.

FullSizeRender-10

God bless Google.

Here’s where I want to lead us today…is what happens in our lives, what happens in the way we read the Biblical narratives, what happens in our community when we know the end? We know as believers in Jesus that Christ was crucified, died, buried, and three days later rose again. In just a few weeks we get to spread our arms, link hands, and joyously say Hallelujah! He is risen! He is risen indeed! as we celebrate Easter.

The struggle, friends, is that we are not to the end of the story yet. We have just begun our Lenten journey a few days ago with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday this year was particularly hard for me. I did not grow up practicing Lent or observing Ash Wednesday but came to this experience in college and afterward. This Ash Wednesday was the first time I acknowledged this holy season by myself. I have always found friends to go with me or last year my dad was in town and joined me. This year’s observance of Ash Wednesday was particularly hard because my mom has died. And so as I sat there in the church on Wednesday feeling lonely, feeling sad, feeling overwhelming waves of grief as I contemplated my own mortality. That is HARD. It’s painful. It’s real. If any of you celebrated Ash Wednesday like I did alone or lonely or grieving I am here to say I am with you. I am here to say my spirit feels it with you. Lent is hard. Lent is like the definition says—all about fasting and abstinence.

Lent is the chapter in the story. If we can imagine for a moment–if we even can–that we don’t know the end of the story we don’t know that Christ rises from the deadif we just focus on this moment and this part of the story…ultimately we are going along this journey with an unknown outcome. We don’t know how it will end. We don’t know how our lives will end. We don’t know how things will turn out. We don’t know–for some of us–how we will make it to the end of the month financially, or how we are going to make it through a family dysfunction, or how we are going to make it through a diagnosis. This is what Lent is–this journey of grief and hurt and unknown.

I struggle that in 2015 Easter comes really early. We observed Ash Wednesday on February 18 literally just the week after I took down my Christmas tree (that’s my total laziness on my part and not that I am a Christmas fanatic), but if we think about this…if we think about our timeline…did we not just a month and a half ago celebrate the birth of Jesus and just before that begin the season of Advent? The season when we wait expectantly with anticipation and desire and hope for the birth of our Christ that we get to celebrate a birthday that is like no other! When we get to celebrate a time of absolute joy, love, hope, and peace, right? Isn’t that what we just did? I mean, seriously, just did a month and a half ago.

I have no excuse as to why it took me so long to take down my tree since this is the time it took to put it up!

I have no excuse as to why it took me so long to take down my tree since this is the time it took to put it up!

In the midst of Kansas City’s crazy snowstorms and our 17 degree high today we are trying to usher in this season of Spring with the anticipation of Easter, but we have to journey through this Lenten season of contemplation, of grief, of the unknown. So today I am asking you to hold in tension with me the parts of our story that are Advent and the parts of our story that are Lent.

Truth be told, I am much more of an advent kind of girl! I love the little advent calendars I have for my kids with the drawers I fill with the goodies and coins and stickers! I love cookies and decorating and all that. I am an advent Christian. I am anxiously awaiting the hope and the peace and the love that comes from Christ.

I would much rather sing O come, O come Emmanuel! Rejoice! Rejoice! rather than songs about death, sin, the cross, and blood being shed.

My favorite song of Advent. I sang this to my children as a lullaby when they were babies...no matter what time of year it was!

My favorite song of Advent. I sang this to my children as a lullaby when they were babies…no matter what time of year it was!

But in reality of where I am today in my personal journey, in grieving the death of my mother, and even three and a half years later grieving the end of my marriage, the foreclosure of my home, the end of life as I knew it…in reality I am really a Lenten girl. The struggle is real if we take time to think about our own personal journeys of faith. If you take time and think about your advent seasons of hope and expectations of upcoming births and weddings and whatever that is for you…a new job, a new home…I hate to say that the reality is that most of us are in the wilderness of this Lenten season of our own personal lives. Where we, just as Christ, are tempted and with wild beasts of whatever that may be are in this wilderness season—and that is not necessarily a bad place to be.

I remember in the first year after my marriage ended I was praying with my daughter at bedtime. I was kneeling on the floor by her bed, and I was praying over her. As I was praying, tears were just streaming off of my face and pelting her face. I just prayed, “Lord God, thank you for the hurt because by the hurt one day I will truly know joy and love and hope and peace.”

We all have our Lenten journeys. I am here to encourage you today to be with each other in your own wilderness and to share with each other “Hey this is where I am. This is where I am grieving. This is where I see God today. This is where I don’t see God today. This is my wilderness. This is my unknown!” I encourage you to share that with each other so that we can feel the pain and feel the hurt so when we get to Easter we can truly feel the redemption, the joy, that absolute peace that Christ’s resurrection brings.

I often think about the wilderness and what I imagine it would be. In the wilderness of my imagination there is not a lot of water. In our scriptures today there is a lot of water. In the Genesis passage we get the part of the narrative about the flood that takes over the earth and pretty much just wipes the slate clean and gets it all back to its raw self. And we are promised a rainbow in the sky, right? In 1 Peter, our passage talks about Noah, the building of the ark, and the few that were saved through water…and BAPTISM.

Which now saves you not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

While the flood provided destruction and the rainbow provided the hope of the covenant and while here in 1 Peter it refers to the flood but turns that water into a baptism we move into Mark where we hear of Jesus’s own baptism.

In those days Jesus come from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved, with you I am will pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.”

Friends, I am here to tell you today that our Good News is a book filled with amazing narratives that help us on our journey; our Good News is both Advent AND Lent. It is both anticipation and abstinence. It is both excited hope and fasting grief.

Water runs throughout all the passages of Scripture today. Let’s take a moment to think about water which we have seen in all of its states this week. We have seen it in the rain that we got just the other day. We have seen it in its solid state of snow and ice that we got early this week, and as the streets heated up did you notice that the steam of the melting snow coming off the streets? So, we have seen water in all its states, but I want to take it further. Water destroys and can kill you OR it can quench your thirst and bring life and sustain life and clean you. We have flood. We have baptism. We have destruction AND we have GOOD NEWS.

I am here to tell you today that during this Lenten season as we contemplate our own mortality, our own faults, as we ponder what it would have been like for Jesus to be in the wilderness for forty days and be tempted and tried and hungry and thirsty and suffering that as WE are tempted and tried and hungry and thirsty and suffering we continue on the story because ultimately WE ARE THE LUCKY ONES. We know the end! That shapes our reading of the book, that shapes our life shapes our own Christian journey. I challenge you today to live a life as a story in reverse.

I have had so many challenges in my life; we all have. Like I already said my mom has passed away, my marriage has ended, I have been a Stage III cancer patient, I have had my salary cut almost in half, not had health insurance for over two years. Focusing on those kinds of plot developments can really affect the way you read your own personal life story, and I am here today to tell you to read your story in reverse. Look at the end. Think about the end. We know Christ is RISEN! He is risen indeed!

That changes the way we look at everything! It changes the way we read our story. The reality, friends of Grace Baptist Church, is that there are people who don’t know the end of the story. They are caught in a Lenten season not even knowing what Lent is, but they ARE caught in this season of penitence, abstinence, and fasting that they call despair, grief, and lack. They don’t know the end. It us up to you, Grace Baptist, that during this Lenten season you tell people the end of the story. You tell people how the plot changes. You tell people, “Things HAPPEN! BIG THINGS! HUGE! EXCITING THINGS! And it will change your story! It will change your life. It will blow your mind.”

This is my prayer: I pray we live our lives as stories in reverse.

Holy God, we ask you today that in our despair and grief and sadness and whatever it is we feel like we need to focus on during this Lenten season that you will comfort us where we are and remind us of the epic, fantastic ending of the story. You are a god of grace, hope, mercy, and love and for that I pray that you will bestow upon the people here today in amounts and blessings and ways that will changes these lives forever. Let us live our life as a life in reverse.

Amen.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “A Life in Reverse

  1. Absolutely beautifully conceived and stated. I’m so proud of you. And I can testify that sometimes when you least expect it God can do “much more than all we can think or imagine.” That’s my prayer for both of us.

    I love you. Dad

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s