August 1, 2010

Nothing Will Be Wasted

In my relatively short time as a pastor to D.B.—two years
I have nevertheless embraced the privilege
of offering this particular passage of scripture:
Romans 8, the groaning of creation, the coming redemption of all things

... the privilege of offering these gospel words
to D. and M. over the course of a
half a dozen home communions

Neither I nor the Deacons who have accompanied me
will forget those encounters anytime soon

You see, it is one thing to say to one another
We believe God is here with us now
but is quite another to share in the generous fellowship of food
and to say
Take, D.  Eat.  This is his body broken for you.
Swallow this bread
and take his life into yours

And with each recent gathering,
the words of Romans 8
filled his sun-drenched bedroom
on the southwest corner of the B. home

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.

I have spent a great deal of time with these words
both in my study and at bedsides crowded by machines
and as a result
I do not imagine for a second that the Apostle means to say
Our sufferings are worthless, without weight of meaning

I think—indeed, I know—Paul means to say:
For now, there is real suffering
In the world, in this life, in these bodies

We would only disrespect the courage, patience, faith of our brother now departed if we suggested otherwise

But the stunning newness that God will soon transact
in the resurrection of his people and the recreation of creation
(a newness tasted in the appetizer of Easter morning)
When you catch a glimpse of that new world moving toward us
even if but for a moment
you will find that the sufferings of this present time are subdued into that glorious new perspective

It will be sort of like the way you go to visit a dying friend
starved of meaning in your spirit
tempted by the darkness of his circumstance
all ready to feel sorry for him

Only suddenly your find yourself leaving
warmed by the suffusing light of those rooms
with generous food in hand for your family -- Presbyterian Pesto
feeling sorry that you ever intended to feel sorry for him

It’s sort of like that, I think

A conversion of perspective
not because we settle for the bones of denial
but because we are richly fed, in the meal of grace

We come to consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed among us

To sojourn with D. and M. in these recent years
has been to know a well-attested hospitality
Many of you know of this meal far more than I
the warm welcome
the gracious space
even if shaky, the outstretched hand of fellowship
the twinkle in the eye, illuminating until the end

and as a postlude

a package of peppers or pesto to go home to your family
just because
it is in the nature of things there

This week
on the cusp of my departure
from a time of prayer and scripture with D. and family

I stood in the B. kitchen
and listened to gladsome talk
and food and meals and traditions

On the matter of M. making good use of every ingredient
she dispensed an off-handed comment about her mother

I guess I have a bit of her in me
She was of the Depression
When it came to food,
nothing was wasted, 
everything was put to use

Those last words shot through me like watts of electricity

And at the great risk of melodrama
right there in the foyer of their home
it was though Romans 8 came together for me
and I could see it again, anew
what God is up to in these broken, beleaguered bodies of ours
what this God is doing amid the groaning of this world

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, those who have been called according to his purpose.

Nothing is wasted
Everything is put to use

This does not mean that all things are good
This does not imply that
we are not Cold Stubborn Fatalists

We are Easter Christians
warmed—embraced!—by the news that
nothing will finally escape God’s
dogged insistence to deliever a new creation
from the groans of our painful labor

The recent journey of our brother is submerged in mystery, to be sure

But let the mystery rest in why it is God’s otherwise good creation
so regularly resists his call to abundant life
and appears so prone to stubborn decay

And in parallel
let there be no mystery about this news:
That what God is working for is freedom—the freedom of his children
That the Spirit is not the cause of the but the help in our weakness

That this God is, in fact,
more acquainted with our sufferings than we are
and therefore able to pray for us
to intercede for us
with groans of longing we ourselves cannot even name

That in all things God works for the good of those who love him

That in the end
in the sweeping newness of that great Easter morning to come
nothing will have been wasted
not even the loathsome persistence of Parkinson’s

The markers of this promise even now?
an infectious smile
a glimmer in the eye
a deep Friday-like concern for others
a hint of Sunday-mischief to enliven the day

It appears that many people picture
God up on high
dispenser of pain and pleasure
kind, maybe, but mostly indifferent
distributer of circumstances
with which we can only learn to cope

What if it turned out
that God was more like
a Depression Era mother
insistent that nothing be wasted
determined that no single ingredient will spoil the meal
finding divine gladness when everyone is fed

That his baptism marks his belonging to this news
That he is for now held safe in the care of this God
That in the resurrection he will be raised up, healed and whole

this is the pesto of our praise

(for DMB)