Sunday, January 17, 2010

Today's Sermon

Tomorrow, we celebrate and we remember Martin Luther King Jr., who just a few months before his death spoke these words:

Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.


What I wanted to tell you about today was Corinth, Corinth the city to whom Paul wrote that snippet of letter you heard today. And it’s a good story about an interesting city. But this week, every time I sat down to write it, this interesting story about this ancient city, Haiti kept coming into my line of vision.

Here’s what I know. Today is not the day to tell you about an ancient city in Greece. Today, is not a day to look back and wonder, as fascinating as that may be. Today is a day to look at what is happening right now. Today is a day to look to the future and to hope.

So today, instead of telling you about Corinth, I’m going to tell you a story, a story written by Kim Bentrott. Kim and her husband Patrick Bentrott are friends of Mark Roberts – they worked together in DC. Now the Bentrotts, are working as medical missionaries in Port Au Prince Haiti. They were in their third floor apartment when Tuesday’s earthquake hit, and somehow they emerged unharmed.
Here’s what Kim says about the hours that followed:

“I loaded up the injured from our neighborhood with plans to take them to the hospital. Patrick took Solomon to Walls International guest house to check on our visitors that were staying there…There is no way to accurately describe the streets of Port-au-Prince as I made my way to the hospital. People were streaming from homes, down sidewalks, flooding streets. The religious were praying out loud, giving thanks to God. Others were evangelizing, predicting this the beginning of the end of the world. Many were wailing, crying, desperately searching for loved ones. Others were quiet, stunned. I scanned the streets for injured, stopped when people looked horrible and their family loaded them into our truck with words of thanks. Soon the truck was packed with bleeding and battered women, men and children. No one cried. Silvia was still praying at the top of her lungs. The old woman beside me was telling me her body was going cold, stiff, that she was dying. With my one-handed exam, I could gently reassure her that her heart was beating strong, her skin warm... that fear was responsible for the cold…

When we finally got to the hospital through inching traffic and streets flooded with people, the scene was heart breaking. Tap-taps full of injured were parked outside of locked gates, ambulances were lined up and blaring. A woman came to our window and said that the hospital had collapsed and they were trying to get some of the injured doctors out, that they couldn't see any patients, there was no need to stop. "People are only coming here to die."

Inside the car, the anxiety increased. Everyone started shouting out names of hospitals all over the city. I chose the closest one, but only found more of the same. It was decision time. I was almost out of gas and desperately needing to see Patrick and Solomon again. I told them all that for tonight I was going to take them back to their families since there was nothing to do right now.

Slowly but surely I got people back. …I found myself yelling out first-aid instructions to people hovering over people with broken extremities. We inched through traffic. The last rider in the car was a man with a broken leg, horribly broken and crushed arm who endured the bumpy ride without so much as a moan. We left him outside the television station with his family after searching for material to make a basic sling….

(Kim met her husband and son and together they walked back to the guest house where a visiting mission ary team was staying)

We stayed there for the remainder of the night, trying to send out text messages, trying to make calls to no avail. All systems were down. The aftershocks were so disconcerting... happening every 5 minutes or so, some stronger than others... Sleeping on the ground, you felt every shake, and looked up to see if anything was going to fall. There was no sleeping that night…

The sky was full of stars... We could see Orion, Andromeda, Scorpio, the dippers, Mars. I've never seen a sky like that in Port-au-Prince. Hymns rose up all around us from groups gathered: How Great Thou Art. When the music subsided, the wailing resumed, then the music rose up again, as if to add comfort for those enduring such pain, such loss. Everyone in the guest house camp was taking care of each other, sharing water, divvying up snacks, taking turns sleeping or sitting on mattresses, offering a back rub or support. The night guard kept watch all night with rifle by his side, not leaving his job despite not being able to get in touch with his family, not knowing…”

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity
.

Friends, today is not the day to tell you about an ancient city in Greece. Today, is not a day to look back and wonder, as fascinating as that may be. Today is a day to look at what is happening right now. Today is a day to hear a word of hope.

Here’s what’s happening right now, here’s a reason to hope. In a scene of unimaginable disaster, people look up and see the stars for the first time. People sing How Great Thou Art. People share water, divvy up snacks, offer one another back rubs. They try to love one another. They try to love and serve humanity.

It’s s special kind of love to see a problem that needs addressing, and to act on it. It’s that kind special kind of love we see Mary, Jesus’ mother, exhibit in the gospel story we heard today about the wedding at Cana, the turning of water into wine.

Pastor and writer Martha Hoverson writes, “She identifies a problem, then asks Jesus to do something about it, then ignores him when he says it’s not his time! 'Do whatever he tells you,'she informs the servants at this wedding, sure that he can work a wonder, and more than that, sure he will. It’s a funny little story,” Martha goes on to say. It may even seem insignificant. “Recently-baptized Jesus, making water into wine because his mother pressured him, may seem like a weak link in the divine chain of being. It’s such a minor miracle, hardly more than a sleight of hand trick.

But, seeing a need, and responding to it – is there any greater miracle than that? Maybe, like Mary at a family gathering, you see a gift in another and help to draw it out and that’s how you see that need and meet it. Maybe like Martin Luther King Jr, you are ready for your whole life to be an act of giving, you are ready to see all humanity as somehow belonging to you, and that’s how you see that need and meet it. Maybe you are sleeping with a group of strangers on the ground, naming the stars and passing snacks around, even as the world crumbles around you.

Open the vessel that is your life.

Jesus has taken what it once was – something clear and tasteless and ordinary and made of it something rich and nourishing and precious, something to be shared. Here and now, today, there is a need to to be met here. Long ago in the fascinating anceint city of Corinth, Paul assured his dear friends, and his words cross the generations and reassure us too, that in the Body of Christ are all the gifts that are needed. Each one of us has something to contribute. Each one of us has something to give.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.”

1 comment:

Songbird said...

It was really hard to get a handle on all the things that needed saying this week, wasn't it? I like the way you did it. (I mean, not just because you quoted me!)