Nov 13th, The Joy of Community, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Nov 13th: The Joy of Community, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
Now that the midterm elections are over, I want to publicly declare who I believe eve will lead us out of the mess that we’re in. Hint it’s not those who were elected on November 8. It’s you know, regardless of whether you’re happy or sad about the election results, what’s really at stake in the aftermath of this election is the kind of people we will choose to be and become. I mean, no election can decide whether we will become bitter or better. No election can decide if we will shrink in fear or choose to step up and step in with courage.
No election can decide if we will continue to demonize those with whom we disagree or we will try to see the image of God and everyone. I mean, no election can decide if we will build higher walls or try to build bridges. No election can decide if we will become paralyzed by despair or we will focus on the good that we can do.
Elections can’t make these decisions for us. Only we can make these decisions. Regardless of the outcomes that happened last Tuesday, the world today is still on edge. Fear threatens to overwhelm hate, and violence continues to be on the rise. We continue to experience a mental health crisis.
An alarming percentage of our youth are suffering from anxiety and depression. More and more people are lonely and isolated. People are struggling to make ends meet.
The way we choose to love, the way we choose to meet this moment is more important now than ever. The importance of our church community focused on being the presence of Christ’s. Love in a world that could be so harsh and unforgiving is more important now than ever. So whether the results from last Tuesday’s election is the outcome we feared the most or the outcome we most desired, the holy work of love that is ours to do remains the same.
So our best hope is not in who won the election this past Tuesday. Our best hope is in the goodness. The goodness that is stronger than evil, that resides in your heart. Our best hope is placing our trust in the good news revealed in Jesus that love wins. Love always wins.
And if love isn’t winning, it just means the story isn’t over yet. And our best hope is realizing we we are the storytellers of God’s love.
You know, I confess that sometimes I think daring to trust that goodness is stronger than evil, daring to trust that love wins is completely irrational. And the foolish dream of naive and delusional Don Quixotes swinging at windmills.
But then I ask myself what other kind of faith will change and heal the world? What we need, what the world needs isn’t a faith grounded in reason and rationality, in what is safe and sensible.
We need a faith grounded grounded in the irrational and incomprehensible love of God revealed in Jesus. When’s the last time you risked loving in such a way that people questioned your common sense? When’s the last time we as a church community risk loving and living the spacious and radical love of Jesus in such a way that it shocked those around us?
A three year old girl was diagnosed with leukemia, needed a massive blood transfusion. Everyone in her family was tested to see who would be the best blood donor. It was her ten year old brother. Their parents asked him if he would be willing to be a blood donor, assuming he understood what that meant. He said he needed some time to think about it.
The next day, with just kind of a seriousness in his face, he said that he would do it. He was hospitalized with his sister prepped leanna gurney hooked up to the blood donor equipment. His blood filled a leader bag. He was really pale. The nurse bent over and asked if he was okay, and he said yes.
Then he asked, as his lips quivered, how soon until I start to die?
Wow. There’s something pure, innocent healing, something of God in that kind of irrational love. It’s the kind of irrational love Jesus talked about when he said in John 15 three, there is no greater love than this, that a person would lay down his or her life for the sake of others. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I resist laying down my appointment book for the sake of others. Sometimes I resist laying down my comfort and convenience for the sake of others.
Sometimes I resist laying down my time and my money for the sake of others, let alone my life. I listened to an interview with Rev. Theodore Rachel Nets, who was a pastor in Kiev in the Ukraine, and teaches theology in the Ukrainian Theological Seminary.
Last year, his wife died of culvert. And then bombs started dropping on his city. Family and friends who lived in other parts of Europe begged him, begged him to leave Ukraine and to come and live with them where it was safe. And Reverend Theodore said that I can’t leave.
And every single day, every single day for months, even when warning signs are blaring and bombs are being dropped every single day, he takes food to people who are hiding in basements. He feeds them. He serves communion. And Reverend Theodore said I need to remind myself and remind them that while we are living in hell, that we are not alone and we are never beyond the reach of love. He said, when there is the kind of cruelty that drops bombs on little children, that forces the elderly to hide in basements without food or water, we need to be reminded of the best of our humanity.
We need to be reminded that there is a goodness stronger than evil.
I am sure that rev. And Fyodor is grieving, angry, bewildered. But I suspect he knows the joy, the joy Jesus talked about, because there’s something beautiful, there’s something eternal and Jesus shaped about the kind of irrational love he is living in Kieve.
You know, our theme these last few weeks has been, may your deep gladness meet the world’s needs. Deep gladness isn’t only a sense of bliss.
Deep gladness can also be giving yourself so fully to love that it casts out fear and anxiety. We sometimes think that the challenge to love like Jesus can be so unsettling and make us anxious. But the truth is, we are already anxious. The healing for our anxiety is answering the call to love like Jesus. Today’s Bible story is a remarkable story from the Gospel of Mark, chapter two, verses one to twelve.
It’s a story about four friends, these four friends who were so determined to carry their friend to the healing presence of Jesus that they were literally willing to rip the roof right off. Now, people were flocking to Jesus to hear him preach, to experience healing. And Jesus was teaching in a house thought to be the home of Peter. Now, houses in those days had flat roofs with a set of stairs on the side to the roof. And a roof would be covered with branches and clay tiles and thick layers of mud.
There was a huge crowd gathered to hear and to see Jesus blocking all of the doors and the windows. And here’s the story as told by the Gospel writer Mark. A few days later, when Jesus returned to Capernaum, people heard that he had come home, and there was such a huge crowd that there was no room left and no one could get in or out.
And Jesus was teaching, and four men came carrying a paralyzed man. Since they couldn’t get their friend to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through the roof and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, son, your sins are forgiven. Get up, take your mat, go home. The man got up, took his mat, and walked out in full view of the mall. This amazed everyone, and they praised God, saying, we have never seen anything like this. Now, there are a couple things there are a couple things to notice in this story.
Did you notice the determined love and compassion of these friends? I mean, they dared to do the unusual, the unexpected, the irrational. They weren’t going to allow anything to stand in the way of their friend getting the help he needed and experiencing the healing presence of Jesus. They climbed on the roof and they dug through the branches and the tiles and the clay and the mud.
Now, the reasonable thing to do, the rational thing to do, would have been to turn around, go home, you know, try again tomorrow. Nope. Their love for their friend Sophia so strong, they were willing to rip the roof right off for his sake.
I remember when we opened the door of our church as a warming shelter for the homeless when the weather was so cold last year. We didn’t start by listing all of the structures and obstacles and barriers that were in the way, by focusing on why this really wasn’t a good idea.
We started by saying, our neighbors, our neighbors who are cold, deserve a warm and a safe place to sleep. How can we make this happen? We didn’t rip open the roof, but we did fling our doors wide open so that our homeless neighbors could experience the healing, of knowing they’re not alone, knowing they’re loved and cared for. Did you notice in the story it said when Jesus saw their faith, jesus, the first thing jesus notices the first thing jesus is moved by the faith of these friends. Jesus is inspired by their faith.
The fierce and irrational love of these friends who are willing to rip the roof right off is part of the healing. Put yourself in the shoes of the paralyzed man for a second.
Imagine what it might feel like to be carried when you’re not able to carry yourself. Imagine being loved so deeply that your friends are willing to rip the roof off for you so that you might experience healing.
There are so many who are paralyzed by grief right now. So many paralyzed by hunger and poverty, paralyzed by mental illness and despair, paralyzed by loneliness and isolation. I talked to so many people who were paralyzed by just this sense of feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed by a lack of meaning and purpose.
What would it look like? What would it look like for us as a church community to love with such a bold, determined and irrational love that Jesus would be moved by our faith? Now, something else to notice in the story. After Jesus saw the faith of these friends, he said to the paralyzed man, son, your sins are forgiven. And he told him to get up and go home.
The theology in the days of Jesus regarded paralysis or any kind of other physical condition as the result of a person’s sinfulness. And you were considered unclean, and you were actually forced to live in isolation, away from family and community.
The first thing Jesus does is he declares the man forgiven. He declares the man whole loved. He tells him to go home. He restores him to relationship, to community. Before he heals his legs, he heals his heart.
I’m not sure there’s any greater or more urgent need right now than restoring and rebuilding community then healing broken hearts. Cigna surveyed 10,000 people, 10,000 people, 18 and older. Three out of 560 percent, 60% reported feeling lonely, struggling with anxiety and depression. And you narrow the age range of that from 16 to 22 years old. And the percentage of respondents feeling lonely, isolated and struggling with anxiety and depression rose to 79% almost eight out of ten people.
Wow, there are so many paralyzed by their pain and grief and loneliness and sense of despair right now. Yeah, we’ve taken our masks off, but we’re still masking our pain, still masking our struggle as a community. We’re not okay.
The staff in leadership recently said that instead of just trying to plow through and plow forward, get things done, we want to focus on strengthening our sense of community. We want to focus on building relationships. We want to carry one another. We want to help you carry one another. We want to carry our community through these challenging times.
This at the time of year. We ask you to pledge your financial support for the mission and ministry of our church in 2023.
I’m not ashamed. I’m not ashamed to ask you to make a financial pledge if you’ve never pledged before or consider or consider doing the irrational thing and increasing your pledge if you have pledged previously. I’m not ashamed to ask you to join me in making a generous pledge. Maybe even a pledge that reaches beyond what is reasonable and rational. Maybe a pledge that might rip open the roof.
Because I passionately believe I passionately, passionately believe the healing presence of our church community is needed now more than ever.
Jesus, moved and inspired by the determined and irrational love of these friends, restores the paralyzed man to relationships and community. Tells the man to rise, to take up his mat, to go home. And he does.
I can’t explain that.
And I can’t explain why Father Theodore is somehow able to overcome the paralysis of his own grief and pain and fear, risking his life to bring food and communion to people, to strangers hiding from bombs in basements, when the rational thing to do is to flee to another country and be safe.
There’s a lot of life I can’t explain. I can’t explain why goodness is stronger than evil or why love wins, even though most days darkness does seem to have the upper hand now that the midterm elections are over.
What I do know is who I trust to lead us out of this mess. It’s not those who are elected. It’s you. It’s us. Sometimes we need to be carried.
Sometimes we need to do the caring. When we share a commitment to the holy work of love that is ours to do. And when we love with the kind of irrational love that is willing to rip the roof open, that’s how the light gets in. And that’s how the light gets out.
May it be so.