Sunday, September 27, 2009

Backlash of Love

Psalm 124

This is a hard sermon to write. I'm tired. Not just the sleepy kind of tired at the end of a day, but my mind and body are weary. My body and my soul have been working together in crisis management mode for close to three months now. My body feels like it is working a little off kilter, like an engine that is out of tune. I am short tempered, even more so that usual. I have less patience with irrelevancies, and more and more things are falling under the umbrella of irrelevant. I haven't missed the newspaper. I have to fall back on my professionalism to make myself concerned about church paperwork.

I need a break, and there is not one coming. Because of the way I love, and what is happening to two of the people I love the most, there will be no retreat from what's coming, no running and hiding from the hurt that loving well can cause. My mind wants to rebel--to run away to some high mountain cabin, where there is no phone, no internet and a full refrigerator. There are plenty of warm blankets to sleep under, plenty of warm clothes to go walking through the woods in, and all of the videos and books are comedies.

But I can't go there. I won't go there. I want the evidence clear to the end for her and for him that God's love is paramount, that it is ever present, that there is truth in God. And for someone facing an illness, even a dire one, the concerns become very few--am I loved? Am I being taken care of? Are the people I love and feel responsible for going to be OK? I will do everything I can to make sure that she knows that to the very end.

Since Donna has been sick, Justice Sonja Sotomayor has been named, has been interviewed by Congress, and has been approved and seated on the Supreme Court. Michael Jackson died. People have started losing their minds in public life, even to the point of heckling the President of the United States during a joint session of Congress. I try to keep Donna up on these things, and she does watch TV, but none of it is sinking in. It just doesn't matter.

She wants to know what Joe is doing. She wants to know how his grades are going. She loves seeing pictures of our new chosen family niece, born in Boston three weeks ago. She could care less about Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, but she'll tell you the baby's name is Yaela quick as lightning.

In the end, the final concern is love. They don't care where they will be buried, in the end. They may not even care about the pain they suffer. In the end, they want to know if their child will have every chance to grow into a fully realized, ethical and compassionate human being.

She is being attacked by an enemy that is swallowing her up whole. She is being swept away by a flood. Physically, it will win. There is no avoiding that truth. This is a particularly virulent and stark version of the monster. There will be a time, maybe even soon, when she will be no more. That is true of all of us, by the way. I've come to dislike the term terminal illness, as in, "oh, that's what she's got? So she's a terminal case, then." We're all terminal, and no one has ever given me the location of a line that separates the time frame between terminal and not terminal.

Physically, it will win. Emotionally, it has already lost. The presence of some diseased cells in Donna's brain has caused people to gather together, over 550 strong, to demonstrate their love for her, and her cup runneth over to such a degree that Joe and I are blessed by it, we who are not even sick. It was visible. These sick little cells have caused such a backlash of love that one can't help but marvel.

Blessed be to the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.

There's a quote by Irving Greenberg, a scholar, that goes like this;

"The Holocaust confronts us with unanswerable questions. But let us agree to one principle: no statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of the burning children."

It's a fair line to have hovering over your shoulder as you write, because it is a warning against traveling down a path that leads to separation and mistrust and ignorance--and from ignorance comes hate and fear.

But the line could be changed very easily to read:
"Cancer confronts us with unanswerable questions. But let us agree to one principle: no statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of those who suffer it."

It would seem to be the height of foolishness, the unfortunate stretching of credibility, to claim what this Psalm claims, that God is with us and that we have been victorious. 12 million people died in the Holocaust. Since I have been here at the Center Moreland charge, a fair number of people whom I have helped to memorialize and funeralize have died of cancer. It has been called the plague of the 20th Century, and nothing in the 21st century has shown that it has slowed down.

But out of that, love has been very strongly in evidence. In every case, the wider community, even people who did not know those who died, could see very clearly that people cared, people loved and people supported both the one who was ill and their families. God's love was seen in each action, in each word, in each covered dish and donated check, no matter the amount. It was seen in the participation of people who may not have even known Aimee, but went to Nay Aug Park two weeks ago. It was seen by the need for folding chairs, and in the end a standing room only crowd, for Dave James' memorial service. It was seen in people who may have never met Donna, but came to eat chicken and biscuits.

God did not give Donna cancer. If there is a cause for it, it is much more likely to be some man-made substance or environmental source than God. God has, however, make considerable use of Donna's cancer. Through her being ill, people have changed their minds about each other as they come together to work. I am sure I am not alone in marveling in the outpouring of love and support from far and wide, and acquaintances and long ago friends who have come to mean a lot to me and to Joe in a short time.

It's a paradox, but cancer has caused an increase of love in our lives.

2if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,
4then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;
5then over us would have gone the raging waters.
6Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
8Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.


  1. Thank you for a sermon that touched us where we are all hurting. I am guessing that the cabin in the photo with your sermon is where you had hoped to vacation,again, this summer. We all grieve with you that that never happened.

  2. my friend meena led me to your sermon ... i will share it with friends in my congregation at old first reformed ucc in philadelphia, and many of us will be holding you in our prayers. thanks for sharing, for spreading the love and the wisdom even further through your blog.

  3. As always Drew, powerful words... you amaze me.