Thursday, January 21, 2010

That We May All Be One

Text: John 17:15-23 Sermon I preached at Wartburg Theological Seminary, January 20, 2010, one week after Ben Larson was killed among the tens of thousands of people in the earthquake in Haiti:

So many words to say. We need to speak them. For now, we ponder words from John’s Gospel.
Jesus prayed: “So that the world may know that you [God] have sent me and loved them
even as you have loved me.”

This text comes right before the betrayal, arrest and finally the death of Jesus.
We are a community being sustained by prayer these days. In our text Jesus is earnestly praying for the disciples. When in our grief we hardly can find words to pray, know that Jesus prayed for us. Jesus prays for us who are sent out into the world, and Jesus prays that we might all be one.

Jonathan Larson’s words: “The morning before the earthquake we spent walking the slums of Port au Prince with a nurse friend, administering help and praying with the people in pain.”

Jesus did not ask that the ones he loved be taken away from their work in the world, but that they be protected, not from danger, or persecution, but from the evil one, from thinking that evil has won out.
“Make them holy in the truth; your word is truth!” When we can no longer bear to look at the suffering, make us holy in your truth, oh God.
As God sent Jesus into the world, so send us into the world……
It would be so tempting to say, when a person dies on J-Term, “Don’t go out there.” But we will go back to Haiti, and to other places of impossible challenge and danger.
For that matter, where would it be safe to stay? Surely not inside our own churches, nor inside our own homes. Just as Jesus was sent to walk among those who are the poorest and outcast, with crowds pressing in on him in need of healing, Jesus sends us into the world.

Ben deeply believed that. I hear his gentle voice holding strong commitment to the global ministry of accompaniment. He walked and taught and prayed among and enjoyed the people of Haiti and in ultimate accompaniment, died together with tens of thousands in the earthquake.

April and Judd’s words: “In his young death, his life joins the bodies of the poor. In the Haitian rubble, Ben’s life joins these dear, beloved people.”

It is the truth that people die of hunger around the world every day behind the headlines. Jesus prayed that we not be swallowed up in denial, or in being afraid of those who hands reach out for help, but that we might be the incarnate body of Christ in the world.

This is the Week of Christian unity.

Jesus prays on behalf of those who do not believe in him. Jesus prays for all that “they may all be one.” “As you, Abba, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me.”

I loved Ben. We loved Ben. We care about the people of Haiti. But what do we do in the face of such a catastrophe? It’s maddening to watch. Why can’t they just get that food and water to those who hunger and thirst? What do we do now?

Jesus tried to prepare his disciples, but we cannot be completely prepared. Can we imagine even a little bit more what his disciples went through as the events of the crucifixion unfolded? The fear, anxiety, confusion, upset, unspeakable grief? “What do we do now?”

Gloria [assisting minister] and I talked a few weeks ago about this worship service and text in the Week of Christian Unity, and while remembering the life, and commitment and death of Martin Luther King Jr. We said to each other that Christian unity is not just about the scandal of divisions among Christian church bodies, but also about the breakdown between and within churches by race, and class and economics. We live and people die in a world of vast inequality.
And Jesus said, “They are one.” And Jesus walked among the poor.

Oh, I know the complexity. And our complicity in the complexity. We know we are brothers and sisters by virtue of Creation and we believe globally we are brothers and sisters in Christ and yet the great economic gap between nations is laid bare in front of us daily on the TV and computer screen. “Security” barriers are needed, and keep hungry people from being fed.

And Jesus prays that we may all be one.

Jesus’ word of truth is that by going out into the world….there we become one.

We experience that in working together as Lutheran Disaster Response.
We see that in the work of ecumenical and interfaith relief and rebuilding agencies.
We observe that in airplanes and helicopters and ships from nations around the world coming together.

But it is not easy to work together. Lack of communication. Whose is charge? And in the midst I want to shout, “Just feed the people.” But who said that working together as One was ever going to be easy? There was another after-shock this morning.
Who said that working together to change systems that perpetuate disaster in the midst of catastrophe is easy?

In the midst of such fear and frustrations and fatigue, we believe that in diakonia, God builds the body of Christ and binds us together as one, forever.

We see that in the faces of suffering, courageous, Haitian people, sleeping side by side in the streets, who praise God in song.

Rene’s words: I heard Ben’s voice. He was singing. I told him I loved him and that Jon and I were okay and to keep singing. But the singing stopped after he sang the words, “God’s peace to us we pray.”

So, what do we do?
When Rene and Jonathan come back among us, and as we together try to help the people of Haiti, we dare not presume to know what they need. We learn from Jesus. (Jesus did not need people to need him.) Rather he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”
How do we learn how to love? By loving.
How do we learn partnership? By being accompanying partners.
How do we as a church engage in mission? By being part of Christ’s mission, God builds the church.
How do we gain strength after such a horrendous global and personal disaster? By drawing on the Spirit’s power to serve, God multiplies such service and rebuilds our strength.

We cannot bear it and so God bears us up our wounds and binds us together as one.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Accompaniment! Ben Larson dies with the people of Haiti

Ben Larson believed so deeply in walking with one another in the global church. He accompanied the Haitian people during his J-Term as a senior student at Wartburg Seminary. And he died together with tens of thousands of Haitians in the earthquake this week.

I am grieving deeply over the loss of this gentle, caring, pastoral man who loved to collect music of people in the global community. His wife, Renee, and cousin, Jon, also senior Wartburg students, were in Haiti and survived. They will miss Ben. His parents, April and Judd Ulring Larson and Ben’s two older sisters will miss Ben. Ben’s classmates, yet scattered all over the world during their J-Terms studies will miss him. I miss Ben already! The parishioners who will not now have the opportunity to have Ben as their pastor will suffer that loss, too, even though they never will have known him.

Ben’s joy and grace and love live on. I remember so much about him. I see him even now while I sit at my keyboard just a couple of hours after hearing of his death. I remember his passion for justice. I remember the way he had such great appreciation and respect for his parents, a clergy couple. Yes, April was the first woman bishop in the ELCA. And Judd is a caring, loving, gentle pastor. Ben would so clearly say—often—the things he specifically learned from each of his parents. Burton and I relate as clergy couple parents of three sons.

I miss Ben as his professor. He listened so well and then gently offered a profound and kind comment. I see him in front of me now.

re joined in the cross of Christ. We cannot comprehend the catastrophe in Haiti, a country of courageous, suffering people. We cannot make sense of it. Making sense of it is not our calling. We walk with Jesus wherever he leads, and in this accompaniment Jesus’ cross and resurrection is our comfort and our strength.