23 November 2010

They're letting me talk again?

I've been asked to talk at church on Sunday. This is my sermon on hope (with names changed to protect the innocent):

Hope. Rev. Erin talked about hope a few weeks ago when she talked about God's dream for us that is outlined in Isaiah. She said that God's plan is for a paradise on earth, where no child dies, where there is no illness, no poverty, no crime. That we're not there yet is our failing - not God's. But it something we can hope for. Something that we can work towards. That's a pretty awesome source of hope. But what if we lose hope? What happens when we look at the world around us and see it going to hell? We see war, poverty, misery, drug addiction and might say 'Forget it. God gave up on us. There's no hope.'

Have you ever seen hopelessness? True hopelessness? It's one of the most miserable things I've ever seen. And I can't even fathom how it must feel from the other side of those sad, defeated eyes. Without hope, what reason does anyone have to live? Why even get up in the morning? For some, it's to look for a moment of numbness at the bottom of a bottle. For others it's because they're simply afraid to die. That's what living without hope is like.

And yet, there is always hope. Always. Even if we don't see it. Just like the sun is always there, even when there are clouds, and the world is always there, even when we close our eyes to it. God's plan is here. God is here. And God loves us infinitely. That is cause for hope. But if we're too broken to grab hold of it, then what? What of that person living under a cloud of addiction, or with the scars of abuse, who is just too broken to reach for God?

That's where today's scripture fits.

Oh, how I love that scripture! When Erin asked me to talk about Hope, I immediately thought of this scripture. And about 20 more. But I kept going back to this one. The woman in the story had a bleeding disorder. She'd been bleeding for many years. Probably with endometriosis, which is a painful bleeding disorder. I don't know how well you know the laws set out in Leviticus, but that would have made her completely unclean by societal standards. She wouldn't have been able to go for the ritual cleansing baths after her menses, because her bleeding never ended. Everything and everyone she touched would be considered unclean or contaminated by her. She would have been completely isolated and impoverished.

But that lady had hope. She never gave up. And when she heard of Jesus and his healing powers, she knew that she could get better if she just touched him. And what does that say about her? She was willing to suffer the consequences of touching a man who wasn't her husband, while she was bleeding. The consequences weren't laid out in Leviticus, but I don't imagine they'd have been particularly pleasant! The Talmud was written after this time, but the consequences for her actions by its law would have been death. It was likely the law of her time too. Can you even imagine the faith and hope she had? The belief that she would be cured if she only touched him was strong enough for her to risk death for her action.

What unimaginable hope she had. She's an inspiration to me. She really is. I'm not sick like she was. Thank GOD. But I know what it's like to need to hold on to hope.

All three of my kids have Autism. And that's scary. I don't know what's in store for them. I know Snap will be okay. She's high functioning, and is clever and kind. She'll manage. But I don't know what's ahead for Crackle and Pop. Neither of them talk. But they're little and may yet learn. I don't know though, and that's where I have to just cling to God and God's plan for a beautiful world.

Pop was only diagnosed a couple of weeks ago. I'd still be adjusting if I hadn't already figured it out before that! Anyway, when he was born, Crackle had just been diagnosed, and I prayed Every. Single. Day. for Pop to be okay, to not have Autism. Not because I'd love him any less. Not because Autism makes him any less wonderful. But because I don't want their lives to be more difficult than life already can be. And with Autism, it sure can be hard. I prayed and prayed and prayed. And when I figured it out, that he had Autism too, I broke a little. I got damn good and mad at God. I cursed God. I screamed at God. I just had a meltdown that would make Crackle's look minor. And then I fumed. Oh, how I fumed. I sat here on the chairs and fumed about God treating my kids like this. And then, it was like a voice in my head said, "Oh, shut up already. I sent you Dr. Marianne, what more do you want?!" And I almost laughed. It was true. Through a large set of well-timed moves, appointments and random discussions, I found a doctor who works with kids with Autism. She only recently moved to Victoria, and actually works about a half a block from here. Now, of course, she's not going to cure my kids. There's no cure for Autism. But she's already done them some good. God gave me back my hope.

I hold on to the knowledge that God's plan doesn't include Autism. Doesn't include tragic deaths. Rapes. Torture. Starvation. Drug abuse. God's plan is for each of us to have enough. Enough food, a place to live, good health. There's a song I like by the Goo Goo Dolls called Better Days. It's pretty much the perfect song for the first Sunday in Advent.

And you asked me what I want this year
and I try to make this kind and clear
just a chance that maybe we'll find better days
'cause I don't need boxes wrapped in strings
and designer love and empty things
just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words and sing out loud
'cause everyone is forgiven now
'cause tonight's the night the world begins again

I need some place simple where we could live
and something only you can give
and that's faith and trust and peace while we're alive
and the one poor child who saved this world
and there's ten million more who probably could
if we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

So take these words and sing out loud
'cause everyone is forgiven now
'cause tonight's the night the world begins again

I wish everyone was loved tonight
and somehow stop this endless fight
just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words and sing out loud
'cause everyone is forgiven now
'cause tonight's the night the world begins again

'cause tonight's the night the world begins again

That's a song of hope. Hope for life in God's dream world. For enough. Not for "designer love and empty things". Hope for the chance that maybe we'll find better days. But we have to work with God to get that. And we can't do that if we're too broken to have the hope. In Christ, we can heal.

And we need to heal! Every one of us is broken in some way. By tragedy, by sickness, by death. Sure, that doesn't make us people who are mired in hopelessness. In fact, most of us are so aware of the need for hope, that we try to offer it in some of the most clumsy ways. Ever try to comfort someone at a funeral and walk away knowing you said just the wrong thing? Ever been "comforted" by someone who meant well, but really blew it? Erin gave the example of telling someone who is grieving all about the paradise waiting for them in the afterlife where their loved one is now. I've heard it said even more clumsily. At my Dad's memorial, someone told me he was "in happy land now". Someone else told me, "He's not suffering any more". I was, capital N, Not Impressed. He was happy here. And he wasn't suffering. If I hadn't recognised that they meant well, that they were trying to give me some comfort, I imagine my reply mightn't have been so quiet.

And now that I'm dealing with Autism, I get similar platitudes. They're really just clumsy offers of hope, because we instinctively know how important hope is to our souls. People tell me, "Oh, they'll learn to talk! All kids learn to talk eventually". Not with Autism. Some do, some don't. Or, and here's my least favourite: God doesn't give you more than you can handle. Really? There are several problems with that statement, as I see it. First, that assumes that God gave my kids Autism, thinking, "No problem, Luna can handle it". That is not a God I have much use for. Giving kids Autism? Or anything else that makes their lives harder than they need to be? No. That's not God's plan. Second, even if God does dole out the challenges, LOTS of people get more than they can handle. That's why there are nervous breakdowns, drug addiction, and suicide. To say they could have handled it if they'd just tried harder is truly arrogant. I know God heals. I know people can reach out and be healed. But I also know that some people get the short end of other people's free will. It isn't God's wiil that people get so burdened by circumstance that they lose hope. I flatly reject the idea that God manipulates us like puppets. I firmly believe that God can ONLY act through us. That God whispers in our ear what the right thing to do is, and we either do that, or we don't. Every time we do, we get closer to realizing God's dream. And every time we choose the wrong thing, we hurt someone. Maybe ourselves, maybe others. And all we can do is try to do the right thing next time.

God's plan for the world gives me hope. But sometimes, I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to see it. I'm not self-righteous enough to believe that the end days will appear while I'm on this earth. So, I know I'm very likely not going to be here for the fruition of God's perfect dream. And that's okay. I can watch and be part of it. And of course, there is still hope for what comes next, and that's pretty awesome too.

I can't reach out and touch Jesus's cloak like the lady in the story. Not literally. But figuratively, I can do just that. I can reach out to God and ask God to heal my soul and restore my hope. Because some days, it's hard to remember. When Crackle is shrieking every 6 seconds, and Pop won't eat because he wants the blue bowl, but I haven't figured that out yet, and Snap is stressed out because the kids are being too loud, and I haven't eaten in 6 hours except for what the kids leave on their plates. Those moments I need to remember to look to God and have faith that things will get better. That's hope. Faith that things will get better.

Please pray with me:
God of Hope, this Advent, let us remember to look to you, to reach out to you, to heal our broken souls and restore our hope for Better Days ahead. Remind us that you are here for us. That we are special and beautiful because you love us. Give us strength and courage to reach for your healing power, so that we might better be useful to you in realizing your dream for the world. Whisper your will to us, and remind us to listen. Because only through you is there hope. Amen.