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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Life In Pieces

Lent 2, Yr. C
Luke 13:31-35

The pieces of paper lie scattered about. Some are on heavy paper with official printouts and numbers, others are receipts of every shape and size, yet more are little scraps with notes of mileage or incidental expenses. They sit in stacks, sorted by source or category or shared uncertainty. Figures are circled, notes are written, question marks highlighted. I know eventually some of this will head to the trash or shredder, some to semi-permanent files, and some to new stacks that will drift about until I decide where they belong or they fade so much that in they longer matter. It looks like a mess, and kind of is, but woe to the breeze, person, or cat who disturbs them. To be honest, woe to the person who even disturbs me as I sort and re-sort them! In short, it's tax season, and I'm the one in our household who pulls together a year's worth of records into a form our tax preparer can use.

Maybe some of you have an orderly system for doing this. Maybe some of you keep your Quicken entries up to date all year long and reconcile every account within days of the statement arriving. Maybe some of you recall what every expenditure was for without having to dig through online records. If that's the case, I'm in awe of you, because I am so not like that, even though at this time every year I promise myself that I've learned my lesson and henceforth will be that organized.

I may not have any experience with hens trying to gather chicks under their wings, but if I liken it to wrangling the pieces of our family's financial life, I can muster a great deal of appreciation for what God is trying to do with me, with each of us, with our world. I imagine God sorting through the parts of my life--some tidy, some messy, some almost entirely incoherent, riddled with questions and covered in explanatory notes--and attempting to bring all my unruly bits and pieces into a coherent whole that resembles who God has created me to be, perhaps despite my efforts to wander off in my own ways or the external factors that disturb my stacks further.

...That is as far as I had gotten on my sermon by Friday night. And then, suddenly, I was confronted with scattered pieces of life in a horribly real way, not just as a tax season metaphor or a gospel image. Some of you know Susan and Darryl Carr and their 16 year old son Justin, Altadena residents and members here, frequent Catalina Community Camp participants, Justin a Chorister when he was young. Friday afternoon, an hour after calling his mom with cheerful updates about his day, just as he completed swim practice at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Justin collapsed suddenly and died. In an instant, Susan and Darryl's life was irreparably shattered into an unfathomable number of pieces. His dad's heart literally broke: Darryl suffered a heart attack when the doctors gave him the awful news; he remains hospitalized, fortunately in stable condition as of last night. Word began to spread through Facebook, email, and news media; by yesterday afternoon, family and friends were coming together at the hospital, in social media, through prayer chains and phone calls. 

For those who love Justin most dearly, life is now in jagged fragments spread across a hostile new territory. There is almost nothing any of us can say, little we can do. Our prayers feel woefully inadequate--although they're perhaps the best gift we have to offer--and words can't even be formed. None of us are equal to this kind of tragedy...and so we turn to the God who longs to gather our broken parts and broken hearts. God is weeping too, a mother mourning Her beloved child, even as She spreads her wings broadly to draw us in.

There's no repair for this kind of loss, and I've struggled mightily even to find words to talk about it. I know that it reflects the dark shadows that are an all too real part of our human existence. Whether the pieces of each of our lives have been exploded by sudden loss, or have drifted away from lack of meaning and direction, or been wedged apart by addiction or abuse, or separated by dysfunction, distrust, or despair, we know that we're in a broken world. In Haiti, I saw so many fragments of poverty, disease, corruption, and disaster. We'd desperately like to shield our eyes, to cover our ears, to keep our distance from the worst of this pain, but it still finds us.

And when it does, and our own efforts to make sense of it leave us in confusion and despair, we turn to God. I don't even know how, but God does what none of us can, slowly, gently gathering the pieces and holding us in tender care. I hope and pray that over days and months and years, there will be for Susan and Darryl moments of shelter: of God's consoling embrace, of joyous memory, of blessed sleep, of thanksgiving for 16 short years shared. Honestly, as I stand here today, I'm hard put to imagine how this will happen, but I've seen God do it before and thus I have to trust that God will do so again. And with each revelation of grace, a few pieces are picked up and put back, in a new place, vastly different from the old, but with a deep meaning that reflects God's loving care.

We're not passive observers in this process. Jesus was railing against those who try to drown out the words of the prophets who call us to open our eyes and ears and hearts and calendars and wallets to those who are most vulnerable in any given time and situation. We ignore those cries at our own peril, because it's not about those who are drowning and those who aren't, but rather all of us being in the same small boat together, with some just a little nearer the gunwales at a particular moment. With God's blessing and guidance, we're called to do our best in helping each other be true to the task of becoming whole, holy people, while God pulls us here and pushes us there and keeps us all moving in the right direction.

Ultimately, we are to do what you all have done by being here this morning, what our youth have been doing by hiking and listening and praying and learning during their lock-in this weekend, what we do each time we offer up our prayers, what the family and friends who came to the hospital yesterday were doing: we show up. We show up with the pieces of our life, with our notes and questions, with our sorrows and joys, with memories we need to keep and parts that once mattered but no longer do. And then, we hope and pray and trust, God will do the rest and gather us under Her wings, in God's care and love forever.

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