Monday, April 19, 2010

“The Best is Yet to Come”
Psalm 30[1]
I think it is safe to say that most of us are living through something we never thought we would ever experience. I think it is also safe to say that most of us are riding a roller-coaster of emotions right now. Overwhelmed with the immensity of the task one day, and on the next firmly resolved and optimistic about the future; angry at the injustice of what happened one day, and on the next deeply saddened at the loss of our community’s home. I think we’re going to have to reckon with the fact that this is just the way it’s going to be for awhile. It’s the nature of grief, as Ellie shared with our congregation. There is the denial that says, “No way!” to a tragedy. There is the anger that says, “No!!!!!” There is the bargaining that says, “Maybe not if?” There is the sadness that says, “Oh no.” And then there is the acceptance that says, “Okay.”
I’ve shared the whole gamut of feelings you have all had. I must confess that when I think too far ahead in this process, I get pretty scared. I can lay out the origins of the Bible in great detail, and I can discuss the intricacies of the Trinity with the best, but I’ve never done anything like this! On Tuesday morning as I was heading to Livingston for the Minister’s retreat at Cho-yeh, I did have the fleeting thought that “I have a full tank of gas, I have a few clothes and some books and 2 of my guitars, and I could just keep going!” One of the services we had at the retreat was a healing service, where all could just silently present their burdens to God and have the experience of feeling the others lay their hands on us and hearing the group pray for us out loud. One of the Scriptures we used during that service was Psalm 139. In The Message translation, one part of it says, “Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? To be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there!” (Ps. 139:7-8). At one point in that service, I was thinking about how overwhelming the task ahead feels to me, and the thought came to me, “I’m there.” I realized that no matter how overwhelming all of this may feel to us, God is there—in every step of the process. Could we even say that God is already there at the opening service of our new building? I think we can.
But we mere mortals have to go through the process one step a time, one day at a time. We all have to go through the stages: “No way!”; “No!!!!”; “Maybe not if?”; “Oh no”; and “Okay.” If we don’t, we will very likely blow a gasket! The grief process has a will of its own in each individual and it will have its way. If you try to take a short-cut directly from A to Z, it will come back to bite you!
I think for us as people of faith, as people who look to Easter as a sign of what God is doing in the world, there is another dimension to this. I think the fact that God brought life out of death in the case of Jesus of Nazareth points us to the truth that God brings new life out of every death. And so as we look this tragedy squarely in the face and take the grief process seriously, I think there is also an element of, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
I think that is something of the perspective of the Psalmist in our Scripture for today. The Psalmist praises God for an experience of restoration that felt like coming back to life after being in hell (Ps. 30:3). Because of that experience of being restored to life, the Psalmist praises God as the one who “turns my mourning into dancing.” The reality is that the faith of the Psalmists comes out of the depth of pain and suffering. But they look at that pain and suffering from a different perspective. The Psalmists’ praises reflect the joy of redemption —or at least the joy of the hope of redemption. [2]
A few years ago my wife was at a crossroads in her career. She had built her business at the original location to a point where she really couldn’t grow any more. So she had to decide whether to just coast for a while, and let things ride, or to try to open a new store. Well, I don’t think my wife has ever “coasted” for any significant length of time! So she started looking for places where she could build a new salon. At one point, she was worried about whether or not she could handle two salons, and so she asked me what I thought about it. I told her that if she approached it by trying to control the outcome, I thought it would make her crazy, but if she could view it as a venture of the spirit, and let go of the outcomes in the confidence that things would turn out good, then she should definitely go for it.
I think that’s a message for all of us. If we approach the process and the task that lies ahead of us from the perspective of anxiously holding onto the outcomes, insisting that it has to be a certain way, then it will make us crazy, and I think it could even weaken this community. But if we can approach the path that lies before us with the confidence that the best is yet to come, letting go of the outcomes and simply taking each step of this task as a venture of the spirit—or an “Adventure of the (Holy) Spirit”—then I firmly believe we will emerge stronger and more vibrant than ever. I think we can do this—and that we will grow stronger through it. We will have to take it one step at a time, but we can do this. And we can do it in the hope that the best is yet to come.

[1] © 2010 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 4/18/10 at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed our building.
[2] Walter J. Burghardt, S. J. “Gospel Joy,” The Living Pulpit (Oct-Dec 1996): 38-39; cf. also J. Moltmann, The Passion for Life: A Messianic Lifestyle, 72, 73, 74: the praise of the Psalms is the “laughter of the redeemed, the dance of the liberated; cf. further J. L. Mays, Psalms, 140-41; Patrick D. Miller, “In Praise and Thanksgiving” Theology Today 45 (July 1988); Henri Nouwen, Turn My Mourning Into Dancing.

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