The Blessing of Loss, Sermon September 2010

This is a sermon I gave last year, abbreviated a little for space. We were still recovering emotionally from Ara’s accident and I was feeling very reflective about losses and how they affect your life.

I have been reading JoAnn Lyon’s book, the Ultimate Blessing, in her chapter about the blessing of loss. Last week I talked about the blessing of holiness, what it is, why we need it and how we can find it in the chaos of this world. God calls us to be holy and expects us to be holy but we can’t get there without loss. Ecclesiastes reminds us that we are born to die, that is our lot in life. How can we face our mortality without a sense of sorrow or fear? Yes, the reality is that all things will end; we may lose our jobs, our spouses, our friends, our favorite hunting dog. You might miss the kids when they go off to school for the day or for a semester. Your best friend, your confidant, may move to another town and you experience a sense of grief or sorrow. The stock market may crash and you might lose a million bucks. How can you face the losses in this life? In 2005 in some of my darkest hours I found this poem by Elizabeth Bishop, called: “One Art”

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

As you grow older you lose your memory, not the one with the kids laughing and the best birthday party you ever had, but the shorter memories like where you were just going, what was on your short shopping list and that last thought you had that was so good. But the loss is not terrible, just irritating. Sometimes I wish I could forget those events that dig down deep and hurt so badly but they seem to be stuck in my soul. They are terrible and painful but I have learned and important lesson on how to cope with them. I have learned the hard way to lay everything down as an offering to the Lord, to depend on Jesus and let the Holy Spirit teach me daily how to deal with my life.

When we are faced with loss, no matter what kind of loss, we have to make choices. We have to choose first of all, how we are going to deal with the loneliness, fear, anger, grief and gnawing pain of loss. Some folks may choose to make it into a public issue, a drama like Shakespeare. Young people can empathize with Romeo and Juliet, the drama of lost young love and death.  The loss here was to the families who lost their children and who had to learn a new sense of right and wrong. The young couple wouldn’t come back, they have gone on, but the parents have to continue to get up and face the day for years to come.

In our personal lives, how can we develop a good attitude toward pain and suffering?  By being in a right relationship with God and most of all, choosing his offer of comfort over our desire for drama. There are promises of help for God’s people in times of suffering

Psalms 46:1-3  1 God is our refuge and strength,  an ever-present help in trouble.  2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,  3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

Consider the emotions Jesus went through in Matthew 26:39: “39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Could any of us say that we have suffered as Jesus suffered?  But Jesus showed us that we must let God rule in our hearts and in our lives. Accept God’s kingship in your life and accept His guidance. Jesus was fully obedient to His Father, laying down His life as He was called to do. Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” We need to focus on a daily life that is as pure as we are able in this distorted and evil world. 

Listen to Lamentations 3:19-26   19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly  for the salvation of the LORD.

We trust in Him who is our Savior, He who sacrificed so much for us. We try to emulate Him in our lives. “Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.” Said Mark Twain.  Our lives may not seem so clearly laid out and easy to respond to the call from God, the issues can be confusing and hard to see.   That’s why we need friendships and a
community to help us. In community we also need to remember that others may also be experiencing a sense of loss. Friends and counselors can help us sort out issues to make them easier to handle. In Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Fear not, He says in  Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Healing after any loss takes time. Losing financial security, a home, a family member, or developing a serious illness such as
cancer all require changes and loses. 1 Peter 5:7Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Try to relax into the fear and let time heal some of the pain. The following prayer might provide you with a way to ask God to bless and heal those grieving from any loss, that they may find wholeness in the midst of their pain: “God, You wept as Lazarus was laid into the tomb, yet You also gave him new life. Grant us new life, too, as we journey through losses like a cancer diagnosis or loss of spouse. Hold our hand no matter how rocky the path, and remind us, no matter how badly we feel, remind us that we are Your beloved children, with whom You are well pleased. Heal me, Lord if you will, in body, mind, and spirit, and make me whole again in You. Amen.”

Grief takes time and energy as an individual heals from a loss. With prayer, you can invite God on the journey through grief to wholeness and rely on God’s power and presence to heal, guard, and bless all who mourn. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 a chapter
called: The God of All Comfort 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

Grieving a loss takes time, but there may be joys along the way, such as a remission of cancer, a new relationship, and new healing within a grieving family. The following prayer thanks God for new life in the midst of grief.  Grieving the loss of a loved one, job, or period in one’s life is normal. The following prayers —prayer for grieving a death, blessing for healing from loss, prayer for tears, and thanksgiving for new life — invite God into your grieving process.

      In this case it is also important to know that we are not victims, and that maybe we cannot avoid feeling pain due to our loss, but that suffering is optional. We choose to suffer. We need to recognize our part in the loss and then we can give our loss, worry, or struggle to God. We can lay it on His altar, to repent and ask for His guidance. We need to know that sometimes people appear in or leave from our lives and it gives us new opportunities. These times can be a gift, a blessing. They help us recognize the things we need to change and work on in ourselves.  If we decide to accept 100 percent of the responsibility and abstain from reacting or blaming, we can really find ourselves and discover how truly powerful we are. Sometimes losses help us find our real inner core, the strength that God gave us to rely on. Then we realize we can change our lives without depending on anything or anybody outside of ourselves.

The Native Americans realized at some point that the power of the invading force of Europeans was more than they could resist. Although some didn’t grasp the huge advancing body of people, others realized that their way of life was coming to an end and just gave up. The pain and sorrow was too much, they were walking around dead like sleep walkers.  Others suffered the loss of their culture by drinking alcohol to drown out the pain. Some gave up their lives in quick suicide and despair. Others turned to God and found solace in submission. I found this Native American prayer called:


“And now, Grandfather, I ask you to bless the White Man. Heneeds your Wisdom, your guidance. You see, for so long, he has tried to destroy my people, and only feels comfortable when given power. Bless them, show them the peace we understand, teach them humility. For I fear they will someday destroy themselves and their children, As they have done so Mother Earth. I plead, I cry. After all, They are my Brothers.”

And then I found this Pueblo Indian Blessing:

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself. Hold
on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here. Hold on to life even when it is easier letting go. Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.”

Yes, even loss can be a blessing sometimes. You don’t learn much from basking in the easy days but you learn much about yourself and others when the tough times force you to think. Remember to relax, take a deep breath and stand straight and tall. Let God direct you on your path to happiness and you will find joy lurking there. Amen.

Dreams About Chocolate

I am happy to say that I made it through the week without incident. My goal was to maintain my dignity and Christian values each day. I was able to explain without rancor that my job position was terminated. Angry customers and friends were pacified and life moves on. “Perhaps this is my reward for faithfully not eating chocolate”, I thought. It has been a year since I vowed obedience and  perhaps now I am being released to do God’s work in the world. This is my chance to be His hands and feet! Rock on! I looked up and said ‘thankyou Jesus!’ for his guidance and sustenance. But you know, Jesus is not just my personal support system, someone I call out to in times of trouble…He is Lord and Savior, King of Kings, Lord of Lords. He is not my buddy, my pal. He is so much more.

   In his first letter to the Colossian church, Paul iterates and reiterates that Jesus is is Lord and that He called us to faith and repentance like the prophets of old. Jesus is the center of our lives, as God and Son of God. This relationship is inexplicable to most, difficult to share for the rest of us. Can I say to you that Jesus cannot be extricated from my life?  How about you? Let’s explore Colossians 1:16-23. There are churches that have done research and used focus groups to study what people want to hear and see in church. What they got back has made some denominations want to ‘deemphasize Jesus Christ’.  They have begun to believe that the name of Jesus Christ excludes people. They believe that because you believe in Jesus you are somehow judging others about what they believe…and in some sense Christ believers are because we are saying what we believe is the truth.  Others may quote Hindu and Zen, mingling in a few verses from the Bible and lines from Willie Nelson songs and say that they are enabling people to discover God themselves, maybe through Jesus, maybe through Buddha or  another natural universal spirit.  As Christians we invoke the name of Jesus the Christ as we have for thousands of years.

What about you? What do you think about this minimalist Christology? This means that pastors and leaders in the evangelical church community are not calling people to faith, repentance and submission to the supremacy of Christ.  You might hear that Jesus wants you to have a happy marriage, a stress free job or cheerful life. And while Jesus will certainly help us with those things when we accept His Lordship in our lives, I believe we need to step away from “What Jesus can do for me” and get much closer to “Am I living in the light of His lordship?  You can’t just add a little Jesus to our lives like creamer in your coffee or a fuel additive in your gas tank. We need to refocus and accept Him into a full partnership into our lives.

In Colossians we are hearing the false teachings that showed up in the church that were minimalizing Jesus as Christ.  People thought He was important but not central.  They gave Him a place at the table and in their lives but didn’t recognize that He demands and deserves the head of the table. Paul talks about three major misconceptions in Colossians 1. He says that  the false teachers taught that God did not create the world because in their view matter was evil and God cannot create evil. They believed that matter was evil, they argued that God would not have come to earth as a human in bodily form. They did not believe that Christ was the unique Son of God but rather one of many intermediaries between God and people. And Paul refutes these in verses 15-17.  Jesus is paramount over everything He has created and He is preeminent over all that he has redeemed in verses 18-23.  He is Lord of everything He has made and He is Lord over everyone He has saved.

Colossians 1: The Supremacy of the Son of God  15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”

     Verses 15 through 23 are so important in defining for us who Jesus Christ is and His relation to us. He is God, and Paul doesn’t mince any words or skirt around the subject. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God,” Yesterday I did a wedding and the groom slipped a lovely diamond band around Ariana’s ring finger. That wedding ring represents that they are a couple, it is a constant reminder of the love that brought them together.  When you see an American flag there is a reaction quickly that might be emotional. That burned and tattered flag flying over the location of the former trade towers in New York evokes even a deeper reaction. But as powerful as these images are, they are only representations of the reality.  The ring doesn’t make Alan and Ariana married, the ring is a symbol of that marriage. If Ariana loses her band she will still be married. The American flag can be ripped, shot at, torn to shreds or burned but it still represents a country that honors freedom. The flag is a powerful symbol but it only represents what our country is all about.

This is the distinction. Jesus doesn’t just represent God.  He is not a just a symbol of God. The truth is that He is God himself.  That is what we believe. The word “image” in Greek is “eikon” and it refers to “likeness or replica”.  In that culture the “image” was a die or stamp that was able to make exact reproductions.  Passports in Paul’s day ad a section called “eikon” or distinguishing marks that said something about the person that set him apart from everyone else.  Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. He is the precise copy because He is God Himself: He both is the manifestation and the representation or image of God in the world.

In John 14:9, Jesus says about himself that “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” In another passage Hebrews 1:3 says “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” 2 Corinthians refers to Christ as “the image of God”. Jesus is the First born over all creation. Some evangelical groups teach that Jesus was a created being and therefore not God. We believe that Jesus as first born ranks above everything else and was the true Son of God. Jesus was, always, and eternal. Paul also taught that all the thrones, dominions, principalities and powers on heaven and earth of the visible and invisible world are under the authority of Christ because he created them. He says that Jesus has no rival either; neither the angels, the seraphim or cherubim or even Satan himself are greater. Jesus is Lord over all. Jesus is the creator of all things. Jesus is the sovereign creator, not created. And as the creator all creation should glorify Him.  Jesus is protecting us from chaos, not just a generalized support. In verse 17 you see that He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Jesus was, is and
always will be. John 8 says “Before Abraham was born, I am.” Jesus is the glue of all creation, everything is held together with His powerful Word. If He were to leave us on our own, everything would dissolve into disorder.

My experience this week has shown me again that God answers prayers to His faithful and that we don’t have to flip out and get nuts when things seem to spin out of control, because they are not out of His control. Through His Word, Jesus holds everything from spinning out of control. There are no crises in heaven, Jesus upholds everything by the power of his Word.

Living a life of Joyfulness

I have found that in my life those people who are truly happy are those who are not constantly focussed on their own trials and tribulations but looking outward trying to solve issues in the world around them.

There is, of course, a balance that we have to strike between looking within and watching without ourselves. Listening, constantly listening to the voice that prompts moral behavior and direction makes life a cleaner safer place.

I tossed and turned the first night after I was told my job was done at the Hardware Store. I was more excited than hurt or angry.  After I looked over my budget and tightened up a few bootstraps, I realized that Ron and I have always lived pretty simply and so letting go of a few luxuries like Friday night fish fry or having friends over on Sundays to eat with the family was not a big issue.

We will turn the lights off earlier, hang clothes on the line and eat more venison and rice. A big worry will be health insurance but alot of people don’t have insurance. We will park one car and ride together; my little pickup is not good on the winter roads anyway. God has been talking to me about not buying anything for a few months and my accountant Randy told me to quit donating money last spring.

I am excited because I have wanted to spend more time pastoring for several years.  I loved being at the hospital’s nursing home and preaching, now maybe I will have more time.  I want to visit the sick, comfort the dying and encourage the discouraged. I pray that God will release me long enough that I can serve Him with all of my heart and soul.

One Day At A Time

On Monday, Sept. 19, 2011 when I came to work, I was asked to sit down and read a letter from the General Manager of the Northern Lakes Cooperative in Hayward, WI. It said that my thirty one years at the company were appreciated and that my job as Assistant Manager was terminated.  I would be allowed to worked through Sept. 30 and they would pay out my vacation I earned this year.  I would recieve one week of severance pay.

I am 58 years old and suddenly my Co-op life is over. I have been a part of the Coop since I was seven years old. It took a few seconds to drop into place but I had expected this for several years and it was a sort of relief to get it over with…I would be free to pursue a life of my own.  Then during the day there were those moments where I realized how I would miss the other employees I lived with most of my adult life and the customers who depended on me. In the afternoon I cleaned out my desk drawers for the new guy. It began to almost feel good. I would be able to finish my book, do some more writing, study and put more time into The Woodland Church and spend some time with my kids.

But then coincidentally my credit card company sent me an email that my credit card limit would be cut to the current balance and I thought about the financial issues.  I would have next to nothing on unemployment and no health insurance.  I worked for so many years at the Coop just for the insurance because my daycare and car expenses took my wages. It gave me a night of tossing and turning. Fortunately Ron’s cancer and my Lupus are both in remission because we take care of ourselves. The medications we take will be difficult but we will figure it out!  Ron and I agreed that we have been poor in the past and we can do it again. God is watching over us.

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