Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Matt's Day. Again.

December 30th is Matt's Day in our home.

He died on this day at age 23 in 2001. He was killed by a drunk driver speeding down the wrong way on I69 between I469 and the Dupont South exit. We think of him almost every time we drive past that spot. Which is often.

And we do little things on this day to remember him, though I think of him a lot anyway. Today I wore his old Montreal Canadiens NHL jersey. And listened to Rusted Root, Weezer, Wallflowers, and DMB in his honor.

I also make a point to sit and reflect about life and death, love and forgiveness, meaning and hope. I've not always handled well the tragic death of my little brother Matt. Thoughts of his death can easily fuel morose musings of the meaninglessness of life. That's where Kierkegaard comes in so handy. He has been an essential friend and guide in the many years since Matt was killed.

This evening I read and reflect in front of a lovely fire while the temperature outside dips down, down, down into deep chilliness. The heat of the fireplace, though, directs my heart towards learning to love my dead brother Matt.

You'd think that death ends the love two brothers have for each other. But St. Paul writes that "love abides." What does that mean for those that protest death and grieve the dead? Kierkegaard writes words that kindle hope for a love that abides, in this life and the next:
The one who truly loves never falls away from love.

He can never reach the breaking point. Yet, is it always possible to prevent a break in a relationship between two persons, especially when the other has given up? One would certainly not think so. Is not one of the two enough to break the relationship?

In a certain sense it is so. But if the lover is determined to no fall away from love, he can prevent the break, he can perform this miracle; for if he perseveres, a total break can never really come to be.

By abiding, the one who loves transcends the power of the past. He transforms the break into a possible new relationship, a future possibility.

The lover who abides belongs to the future, to the eternal. From the angle of the future, the break is not really a break, but rather a possibility. But the powers of the eternal are needed for this. The lover must abide in love, otherwise the heartache of the past still has the power to keep alive the break.

It is too easy to let hate and bitterness rule my heart in response to the senseless death of my brother. It's been hard work to make sense of his tragedy and let love reign over it. There were regrets I had about our relationship.

I wanted to be a better big brother. I should have been there for him more. More present and interested in him. I was busy launching my own life, getting married, finishing up school, starting a church. I was there for some of his big moments. But not for any of the little ones.

It's been difficult to figure out what kind of future I can have with my dead brother when the years preceding his death were seeds for regret after his funeral.

The whole thing depends upon how the relationship is regarded, and the lover - he abides.

Can anyone determine how long a silence must be in order to say, now there is no more conversation?

Put the past out of the way; drown it in the forgiveness of the eternal by abiding in love. Then the end is the beginning and there is no break!

But the one who loves abides. "I will abide," he says. "Therefore we are still on the path of life together." And is this not so?

What marvelous strength love has! The most powerful word that has ever been said, God's creative word, is: "Be." But the most powerful word any human being has ever said is, "I abide."

Reconciled to himself and to his conscience, the one who loves goes without defense into the most dangerous battle. He only says: "I abide." But he will conquer, conquer by his abiding.

There is no misunderstanding that cannot be conquered by his abiding, no hate that can ultimately hold up to his abiding - in eternity if not sooner. If time cannot, at least the eternal shall wrench away the other's hate.

Yes, the eternal will open his eyes for love. In this way love never fails - it abides.

May these curing words of Kierkegaard impart a fresh perspective on the breaches of love in your life. As you grieve and mourn the deaths in your life, may you learn to abide in love. Death will come for us all. We may not get to choose our death day, but we do get to choose to abide in love all the days we have left.

That's what I'm choosing to learn to do on Matt's day.

Love abides.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Our God Is Able: Martin Luther King Jr. and The Strength to Love

"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling." Jude 24

At the center of the Christian faith is the conviction that in the universe there is a God of power who is able to do exceedingly abundant things in nature and in history. This conviction is stressed over and over in the Old and the New Testaments.

Theologically, this affirmation is expressed in the doctrine of the omnipotence of God. The God whom we worship is not a weak and incompetent God. He is able to beat back gigantic waves of opposition and to bring low prodigious mountains of evil. 

The ringing testimony of the Christian faith is that God is able.

The devotees of the new man-centered religion point to the spectacular advances of modern science as justification for their faith. But alas! something has shaken the faith of those who have made the laboratory "the new cathedral of men's hopes." The instruments which yesterday were worshipped today contain cosmic death, threatening to plunge all of us into the abyss of annihilation.

Man is not able to save himself or the world. Unless he is guided by God's spirit, his new-found scientific power will become a devastating Frankenstein monster that will bring to ashes his earthly life.

At times other forces cause us to question the ableness of God. The stark and colossal reality of evil in the world - what Keats calls "the giant agony of the world"; ruthless floods and tornadoes that wipe away people as though they were weeds in an open field; ills like insanity plaguing some individuals from birth and reducing their days to tragic cycles of meaninglessness; the madness of war and the barbarity of man's inhumanity to man - why, we ask, do these things occur if God is able to prevent them?

This problem, namely, the problem of evil, has always plagued the mind of man. I would limit my response to an assertion that much of the evil which we experience is caused by man's folly and ignorance and also by the misuse of his freedom. Beyond this, I can say only that there is and always will be a penumbra of mystery surrounding God.

What appears at the moment to be evil may have a purpose that our infinite minds are incapable of comprehending. So in spite of the presence of evil and the doubts that lurk in our minds, we shall wish not to surrender the conviction that God is able. 

Let us notice that God is able to subdue all the powers of evil. In affirming that God is able to conquer evil we admit the reality of evil. Christianity has never dismissed evil as illusory, or an error of the mortal mind. It reckons with evil as a force that has objective reality.

But Christianity contends that evil contains the seeds of its own destruction. 

History is the story of evil forces that advance with seemingly irresistible power only to be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. There is a law in the moral world - a silent, invisible imperative, akin to the always in the physical world - which reminds us that life will work only in a certain way. 

In our own nation another unjust and evil system, known as segregation, for nearly one hundred years inflicted the Negro with a sense of inferiority, deprived him of his personhood, and denied him his birthright of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Segregation has been the Negroe's burden and America's shame. But as on the world scale, so in our nation, the wind of change began to blow. One event has followed another to bring a gradual end to the system of segregation. Today we know with certainty that segregation is dead. The only question remaining is how costly will be the funeral.

These great changes are not mere political and sociological shifts. They represent the passing of systems that were born in injustice, nurtured in inequality, and reared in exploitation. They represent the inevitable decay of any system based on principles that are not in harmony with the moral laws of the universe.

When in future generations men look back upon these turbulent, tension packed days through which we are passing, they will see God working through history for the salvation of man. They will know that God was working through those men who had the vision to perceive that no nation could survive half slave and half free.

God is able to conquer the evils of history. His control is never usurped. If at times we despair because of the relatively slow progress being made in ending racial discrimination and if we become disappointed because of the undue cautiousness of the federal government, let us gain new heart in the fact that God is able.

In our sometimes difficult and often lonesome walk up freedom's road, we do not walk alone. God walks with us. 

He has placed within the very structure of this universe certain absolute moral laws. We can neither defy nor break them. If we disobey them, they will break us. The forces of evil may temporarily conquer truth, but truth will ultimately conquer its conqueror. Our God is able.

Let us notice, finally, that God is able to give us interior resources to confront the trials and difficulties of life. Each of us faces circumstances in life which compel us to carry heavy burdens of sorrow. Adversity assails us with hurricane force. Glowing sunrises are transformed into darkest nights. Our highest hopes are blasted and our noblest dreams are shattered.

Christianity has never overlooked these experiences. They come inevitably.

Like the rhythmic alternation in the natural order, life has the glittering sunlight of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. Days of unutterable joy are followed by days of overwhelming sorrow. Life brings periods of flooding and periods of drought.

Admitting the weighty problems and staggering disappointments, Christianity affirms that God is able to give us the power to meet them. 

He is able to give us the inner equilibrium to stand tall amid the trials and burdens of life. He is able to provide inner peace amid the outer storms. The inner stability of the man of faith is Christ's chief legacy to his disciples. He offers neither material resources nor a magical formula that exempts us from suffering and persecution, but he brings an imperishable gift: "Peace I leave with you." This is the peace that passeth all understanding.

At times we may feel that we do not need God, but on the day when the storms of disappointment rage, the winds of disaster blow, and the tidal waves of grief beat against our lives, if we do not have a deep and patient faith our emotional lives will be ripped to shreds.

There is so much frustration in the world because we have relied on gods rather than God. We have genuflected before the god of science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that science can never mitigate. We have worshipped the god of pleasure only to discover that thrills play out and sensations are short-lived. We have bowed before the god of money only to learn that there are such things as love and friendship that money cannot buy and that in a world of possible depressions, stock market crashes, and bad business investments, money is a rather uncertain deity. These transitory gods are not able to save us or bring happiness to the human heart.

Only God is able. 

It is faith in him that we must rediscover. With this faith we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of joy and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism.

Is someone here moving toward the twilight of life and fearful of that which we call death? Why be afraid? God is able. Is someone here on the brink of despair because of the death of a loved one, the breaking of a marriage, or the waywardness of a child? Why despair? God is able to give you the power to endure that which cannot be changed. Come what may, God is able. 

Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom.

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the universe whose name is God, and he is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.

[selections taken from pages 107-114, Strength to Love]

This sermon of MLK was read in preparation for the Easter Sunday 2014 sermon entitled, "The Resurrection and Why God Let's Bad Things Happen to Good People." So much of the MLK sermon connected with my developing thoughts for my own sermon. By typing out many of the thoughts and paragraphs of his sermon, I hope to spread his message while also letting it shape my own.