When we come to this place –
we come to worship God
But we also come to question ourselves;
Our beliefs / Our purpose / Our Future
I can only hope that what I have to share
Helps in that endeavor . . .
It was just about this time of year, perhaps a little closer to the first of December, twenty years ago, when Vicki and I were finishing up yet another day at the doctor’s office. Life was crazy then. I was interviewing at churches for a position. She was trying to work as much as she could. We were running our children to all the places that high school and junior high kids have to go – soccer – music – dentists – church groups. I was still serving the little church in Beasley, so between everything else I was writing sermons and caring for my church members, and applying for a full time position in a few different places.
In the middle of everything else that life throws at every one of us, some pain had returned to her bones. And so, we put much of what everyone thinks is important on hold and we went, yet again, to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center for another day of tests.
Bone scans, CT scans, and an MRI in order to see what was going on.
Tired (in fact totally exhausted) by the end of the day, we sat in Dr. Andersen’s office (a Swedish doctor, a lymphoma specialist, not related to the Anderson for whom the great hospital is named) as he told us that the only thing left for us at this point was a referral to Hospice Care. The best had been tried and there were more drugs, but in the end all any of them might do is prolong life by a month or so and in the meantime she would be miserably nauseous. Without further treatment there would be pain but they could administer enough pain medication to be comfortable all the time. The choice to go on Hospice Care was not difficult at all. She had three to six months to live and most of it, we were assured, would be relatively comfortable, considering what was going on in her body.
The drive home was a little somber. Her smile, laughter and enthusiasm for life was dampened, but only temporarily.
The next choice was, for her, not so difficult either. I invited her to dream about what she would like to do while she was healthy and strong enough to do it. “Shall we go on a cruise? Take a trip to Europe? Fly to Hawaii? Drive across country to our favorite mountain? What would it be?” I asked. Where would she like to go? What would she like to do? What is most important knowing there is only six months to live?
Her choice (while it was a little hard for me) was to be the minister’s wife in my first full time church. To sing in the choir, volunteer to teach, drink coffee with the ladies and be there to fix breakfast, lunch and supper for the kids and I. Her goal was to keep life as simple as possible, and to simply be present as much as possible.
Here and now our lives, every day, are touched by the sacred in ways that we rarely stop to think about. We get up in the morning. We have our breakfast (or maybe not). I remember many mornings when I was lucky to remember my girls as I rushed out to bring them to school. We get up, get dressed, get out the door, go to work, school, meet the guys or gals for breakfast, for coffee; we get wrapped up in what we are doing.
The days are hectic, for many of us. Filled with doctor appointments, work, errands, running the kids to this event or that, heading to church for another meeting, soccer games, football, music practice. Then it’s homework or that book you’ve been wanting to get to, the repair that needs to be done and then … the day is done and we are checking our to-do lists for the next day.
Life could be simple . . . but we clutter it with all kinds of extras we are convinced are incredibly important. We do that not only in our lives every day, but with our religion as well.
From the introduction to Hebrews, by Eugene Peterson:
“We can’t get too much of God, can’t get too much faith or obedience, can’t get too much love or worship. But religion – the well-intentioned efforts we make to “get it all together” for God – can very well get in the way of what God is doing for us. Doesn’t matter the circumstance; in good times or bad our tendency is to add on, supplement, and embellish. But instead of improving on the purity and simplicity of Jesus, we dilute the purity and clutter the simplicity. We get in the way of (THE SACRED).
That’s when it’s time to read and pray our way through the letter to the Hebrews again, written for “too religious” Christians. Written for “Jesus-and” Christians. In the letter, it is Jesus-and-angels, or Jesus-and-Moses, or Jesus-and-priesthood. In our time it is more likely to be Jesus-and-politics, Jesus-and-education, Jesus-and-success or even Jesus-and-Buddha. This letter deletes the hyphens, the add-ons. The focus becomes clear: (The Sacred) action revealed in Jesus. And we are free once more for the act of faith.”
The Jewish Rabbis know all this too well, and that is why there are blessings (prayers) written for seemingly trivial things, that call our attention to a new and heightened awareness of the simple presence of God in all we do. It is part of the sacred that moves in and through us all that is present in birth and death. The growth of the food we eat and the changing landscape of the mountains and lakes. The sacred is here, now; changing each of us and those we love. It is calling us to a simpler way to be. It is calling us into a way of gratitude for being.
The letter to the Hebrews which we have been reading from the last few weeks is a complex call to simplicity. It is a theological treatise more than a letter in the way we typically think of a letter, and it reminds us that we ought to be striving to keep it simple.
Think for a minute about Melchizedek.
You may not be very familiar with who he is, but the Hebrew people to whom the letter is written would have known. Melchizedek is mentioned once in the Old Testament. Once again, what I want to emphasize is that the letter to the Hebrews is referring us back to an era of far simpler faith. I talked about it a couple of weeks ago when I referred to when Abraham spontaneously began a new faith, with a new attitude of the sanctity of all life, when he refused to sacrifice his son. The beginning of that change of attitude has its roots in Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek.
The first thing we have to remember about Abraham is that it is a story; a sacred story about the beginnings of a new faith; a sacred story that had been handed down verbally for fifteen hundred years. So what we have to ask ourselves (the same way as when we are reading Bible to stories to our children and grandchildren today) is, “What message is this story trying to teach?”
In order to know that we have to know what the words mean.
Melchizedek is more than just the name of a guy Abraham happened to meet in the middle of the desert on the road!
Melchizedek – the name literally translates to “my king is righteousness”. In other words, Abraham begins to tell the story about how he met a new “ruler for his life” one that he would call “righteousness”. By saying that Abraham met Melchizedek on the road and that he was fed (nurtured) by him… he’s saying he came to know righteousness as his king, and he was fed by that! He treated life itself as sacred and, in a spirit of gratitude, gave a full ten percent of all he had to that which was sacred before him.
Our Judeo-Christian belief system is an incredibly simple belief system which we have cluttered beyond belief.
There is great healing in simplicity.
Though she died, Vicki found great peace and tremendous healing in the simple life she led during her last three months.