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Worth Living For

Sermon - 1/03/10
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Jeremiah 31:7-14

A Christmas story from our house?  New Years Eve watching everyone play Wii and the kids laugh and squeal together.

Did you know that yesterday’s date was a palindrome?  01022010 it’s the same backwards and forwards.  We like palindromes in our house – there is a sweet symmetry to a palindrome, and if you are a nerd like me you like such symmetry.

Oh what a lovely Christmas 2009 was.  We had so many things to be thankful for by the time we got to December – and I may not always get an opportunity to tell each one of you BUT each one of you was one of those counted blessings on Christmas at my house.  A year ago at Christmas our lives were turned upside down and we moved back to the Midwest to begin what we believed might be a 2 year process to help me find a new call.  Both out of work, with a 1 year old, out of a home. 

As I begin to think about it…

            How many people this year were in that same situation – or one very similar – How many wondered in 2009 how to make it to 2010, let alone feel like celebrating the new year?  We know that so many are hurting – from health care to home ownership, investments, employment…so many key pieces of our economic system have been hurt that our lives are also, those lives that are dependent upon that system, are also hurt.

2009 was a full year here - We had 28 people join the church officially, and we honored the lives of loved ones as they passed, you took a huge leap by hiring a young professional woman from California, you’ve survived near death experiences, illness, economic downturn, unemployment, anxiety, war, climate change. Some have had their first winter outside ever.  Others are have nearly lost count of the number of winters outside – and already in 2009 we’ve seen our share of very cold nights. 

How many were Exiled from their homes, living on a prayer, in the cold.

As one friend put it, OK 2009, you were kind of a downer.....bring on 2010!!! 

The people hearing the text in the 6th Century BCE are also exiles.  They’ve had an amazingly difficult year – years – life.  Ripped from their homes from war and not a thing to call theirs (land, food, whatever) except what they could carry on their backs and then to a new culture – as peons, pawns, expendables, when not so long ago they were families and farmers and whatever. chapter 31 of Jeremiah is right in the middle of the Book and also in the middle of what theologians call the Book of Consolation.  Chapters 29-32 are thought to be a unit, a book, with its own style and editing and poetry, and the topic sets itself apart.

So then Chapter 31: 7-14: 

For thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
   and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
   ‘Save, O Lord, your people,
   the remnant of Israel.’
8See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
   and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
   those with child and those in labor, together;
   a great company, they shall return here.
9With weeping they shall come,
   and with consolations
* I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
   in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
   and Ephraim is my firstborn.

10Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
   and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
   and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.’
11For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
   and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
12They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
   and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
   and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
   and they shall never languish again.
13Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
   and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
   I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
14I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
   and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the Lord.

 

What a parade image– I mean he’s talking about bringing everyone back but he names specifically the blind, the lame, the pregnant women, the women in labor – now we’ve already been there on a Sunday morning but for real, what kind of homecoming is that – those that are otherwise focused or still in real pain or can’t even see what the heck is going on?    

Today the parade continues, God is calling us all together -

Today that homecoming of exiles has the faces of people we know – veterans, wounded, troubled, homeless, hopeless, they are family men & women, children without advocates,

Doctors and lawyers, scientists, teachers, society has honed it’s ability to marginalize and so all the outsiders, the exiled are in the homecoming and the exilers are there too.

No matter what you’ve been through with God in the last year, in the last few years, no matter what – God is still with you, and God will bring you back.  That is the message today.

If you’ve read any of the rest of Jeremiah you’ll know why this is called the Book of Consolation – Jeremiah is not short of words of guidance, of focus, of repentance for the people of his time, often with harsh judgments from God should you not obey and then these chapters come just in the middle of 52 chapters and describes the homecoming of the century – the new year indeed! When everyone, and he says everyone, will be welcomed home, will join the party, will know God’s fullness and blessing and more than just understand it, know it, will be filled with it too.

What must that feel like?

Think about the first time you felt at home or experienced this church as  a place for you.  Go to that feeling, sit in it –let it wash over you – were you shopping around, did a friend bring you, remember it – the moment you knew this was a place for you What was going on? What was it exactly that created a moment of knowing – of peace of mind – of joy in your heart – of resolution or welcome – who do you see, what do you hear, Does it smell or taste-  are you using your hands or body in any way?  Let it wash over you.  (if you haven’t had one yet…)

“I will lead them beside streams of water
       on a level path where they will not stumble, “

That is the easy stream, non stumbling path times that Jeremiah was talking about. 

Ask yourself – was it worth the wait to wait for that moment of wholeness?  – It’s worth it, keep going, don’t give up.  It’s worth trying more, trying to make it, it’s worth living for. 

You can come back now, open your eyes…

It was an awesome moment in your life!  The question is, Can you carry that moment, that feeling, inside you to carry you through when it gets dark?  Is that a moment you can rely upon, call out, when sitting with a friend at the end of her rope? Because that hope you felt then is the hope needed to get you through today’s drama. 

Think about all the other times when you’ve had that feeling again – falling in love with a person or with an idea.

Standing up together for the goodness and help of another.

Growing and building something with your own hands – flowers, food, humans, houses, schools, a mission statement.

When we are helping others to celebrate and praying together.

Learning something that expands your consciousness – these are all moments that are worth it – Worth life and the struggles we go through, worth storing up and celebrating with others. 

            It is our daily prayer that we might see clearly and not trip when we’re already carrying the heavy load – that we find people to celebrate with, young and old – who have also made it through the fire, through the exile, through the battles – that we be soaked in that feeling you were just remembering – that feeling of all encompassing love, a kind of being seen for you who are and being accepted and felt whole in that moment .  It’s worth living for, that moment. 

It’s worth living for because we can rely those moments even when we don’t’ have anything else – when there’s no one to share it with and no way to know which direction in life is better – when faced with the unknown

Jeremiah says God will “Turning their mourning into gladness- that we will be under a banner of joy, of renewal.  Imagine that you will be jumping up and down, hands up in the air not because they are ready to fight and cursing the path that got them there but because they are ready to dance, to work it out in an act of worship – work out the labor, the pain, the ups the downs, the fear – and to dance.

Dance in the new.  God has given us something to hold onto when we believe we have lost it. 

Let me read to you something I think is worth living for:

 

We believe in the love of God for all people.
We gather as a worshipping community of faith to follow Jesus Christ.
We delight together in what God is doing through us to bring:

healing within brokenness;
unity within diversity;
joy within grief;
and power within weakness.

Our mission is to strengthen relationships we have with God, with each other, with our families, and with our world.

 

To be living now, retelling the story of the people of hope, of renewal,– these are our words - we are these people struggling and thankful for each chance we get. 

 

And it’s worth living for.  It’s so worth it. 

There is a Buddhist precept that asks us to be mindful of how rare it is to find ourselves in human form on Earth.  To feel enormous appreciation for the fact that we are here as individual spirits filled with consciousness, drinking water and chopping wood. 

That a very small portion of life has the wakefulness of spirit that we call “being human.”  When you think of the ant and antelope, the worm and butterfly, dog and bull, hawk and tiger, the oak trees and the oceans… all of those living things are beautiful, awesome, and our mindfulness of them is unique. 

This Christmas time is precious time.  Time to celebrate our preciousness– our humanness.  Speaking of precious humans Weren’t the Torres twins the cutest baby Jesus’ you have ever seen?  And Hannah was an amazingly cute baby Jesus back in 2007.  But those girls, adorable.  You know on New Year’s Eve John Thompson was seated next to Kiana, asleep in her car seat, one shoe on, one shoe…possibly lost forever or maybe just in the car, we didn’t know.  But Benjamin enters…and she wakes…and she was so glad to hear his story – she was lit up like a star – and being that cute – no one could blame John for getting her out of the car seat and becoming inseparable.

They are too darn precious to let go of.  We are too precious to let go of -  

 This is God’s love for us – the way we look at a baby and know that hardships will arise but all we see is the joy and celebration. 

And connecting with a baby, face to face, making them smile or watching them look around – it’s an instant moment of gratitude for my own life, that I have so much and understand so little and it’s practically a miracle that I’m alive at all.  Knowing that your precious human birth is unrepeatable, and has it’s own unique challenges,  what will you do today, knowing that you are one of the rarest forms of life to ever walk the Earth?  How will you carry yourself?  What will you do with your hands?

Howard Thurman’s shares his advice:  Look well to the growing edge.  All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born.  The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new leaves, fresh blossoms, green fruit.  Such is the growing edge!  It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor.  This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash.  The birth of the child – life’s most dramatic answer to death – this is the growing edge incarnate!  Look well to the growing edge! 

            A few people I know made some great comments online that made me think of the celebration and renewal Jeremiah is talking about –even those in pain, the young and the old, everybody just amazed and thankful and moving with purpose: 

This long, long weekend has been really good for me. Good fellowship, fun, and freedom! As a child of chaos, I say thank you universe!

 

Re-connecting with old friends is so great. Makes you wonder why we let our busy lives dictate so much of our time. 

 

Just home from a wonderful retreat. It was so good to spend time with God and myself - listening to the heartbeat of the Oneness That Is. Such a rich experience.

 

Contemplating the end of a decade. At the beginning of this decade I was seeking a new job and planning for the birth of my first child. Today I have the job I was looking for, have two sons and am wondering what the next decade will bring...

 

A good reminder at the beginning of a new decade that "the cosmos is within us; we are all made of star stuff." May the new year bring peace, connectivity and understanding to the creatures of this small planet. Happy New Year everybody.

 


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