Saturday, February 2, 2013

4 Sunday in Epiphany Sermon

It has been a very, VERY long time since I posted on here.  Life has been hectic and there is way more to update than I have time for.  Instead, per request of some facebook friends, I am posting my sermon for this Sunday.

My sermon has a large story sandwiching it.  I felt the Holy Spirit was pulling me to share this story due to the content of the Scripture passage, 1 Corinthians 13 (the love passage from Paul).  Today, there is a 15 year old girl in the hospital who is the inspiration behind the sermon.  Her mother's blog is very moving and has been a major motivator in my pursuit to adopt in the near future. 

I am supply preaching this Sunday at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Renton.  Currently for those who may not know I am in the call process.  Thankfully there are two potential calls at the moment so God willing I will be back in the pulpit regularly someday soon. 

All right, here it is:
Her parents have given her the name, Hasya, which means, “have mercy”.  They chose this unique name for a very specific reason; their prayer to God has been “have mercy” ever since they came across her picture a year prior. 
 It is hard to believe this child, 15 years of age, is still alive.  Her parents continually glance at the faded photo at the online adoption ministry, Reeses Rainbow, a child no more than 20 pounds in a white metal crib with paint chipping off.  Her body is permanently contorted from a life spent in this small bed.  No one to hold her, comfort her, or demonstrate acts of love.  She is removed from the bed only for feedings and occasional clothing or diaper changes.  The feedings take no more than a minute or two, with the white mush coming through a bottle with a nipple enlarged to force the food through faster. 
 Hasya is a special needs child in Bulgaria.  At the age of four, like all special need children who have yet to be adopted, she is entered into an adult mental institution.  The large majority of children will pass away within a years time from starvation and neglect.  Not Hasya though.  Her parents prayer for mercy was answered as she lived not one, not two, but to fifteen years of age.  She waited, patiently, for her new family to find her.
 She is the size of a toddler due to living in the confines of a crib.  Like a goldfish, her body did not grow larger than the cage of her bed.  By the time her parents arrive, her weight has increased slightly to twenty-six pounds.  The institution was given more formula from Hasya’s parents to feed her until they were able to finalize the adoption.
After a long, very painful trip home, Hasya is now in America and in the hospital, receiving the very first real medical treatment in her life.  Born with cerebral palsy, she is in significant pain.  Without proper treatment, her bones are now frozen in place, the only joint movement she is able to make is in her right arm.  She continually sucks on her hand until it has become calloused an raw, a typical institutional behavior.  Her parents believed she had reflux due to a continual gulping sound she makes.  After testing they discover it is not reflux but a result of continual starvation.  She gulps air to fill her empty stomach.
After fifteen years, Hasya is receiving love in action for the very first time.  She may not know it yet, but her life has significantly changed.  Her new family views her worth to be of infinite value.  No matter what the future may bring for this sweet, beautiful child, she is valued and loved beyond measure.
 Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 about the subject of love.  We often hear this text preached in the context of marriage.  It is a text so beautifully written we see it everywhere; on pillows, cross stitches, on posters framed and hung in living rooms…even if a person is not of the Christian faith, you can bet they can recite a line of two.
 What can often be missed is the true depth of what Paul writes.  His words to the church in Corinth is not simply a pretty poem.  Paul is calling God’s people, all people, to action.  As Christians, we often view faith as the most important aspect of Christian living.  We believe a person without faith is lost.  From the time we are children, we are taught that faith is everything.
 Here in Paul’s writings however, we hear that faith is secondary to love.  In fact, if we go back and reflect on the words of Christ, we are told the most important command we are given is to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It seems this goes against everything we believe.  How could anything be more important than our faith?  While Paul does include faith and hope, he says out of “faith hope and love, the greatest of these is love”.  How, can any of us, extol the value of love above that of faith?
 This is what we are going to look at today; how is love above faith?  If we look in our own lives, we may actually see what Paul is talking about when speaking about faith, hope and love.  When we look deep into our lives, and get beyond all the busy-ness that attempts to grab a hold of our attention.  When we stop a moment to really look at what matters most to us, we can see that Paul’s words hold true .
 One of my all-time favorite Christmas movies is Love Actually.  In the opening scene, Hugh Grant’s character as the Prime Minister says that whenever he gets sad or depressed, he imagines the arrival section at Heathrow Airport.  There love seems uncomplicated as people receive and embrace the ones they love. As he reflects on this, he adds, "When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge. They were all messages of love."
 It is a part of human nature to love.  It is the makeup of all relationships.  Whether we are on the “in’s”  or “out’s” with someone, it is the emotion that comes to the forefront.  “Do I love this person”?, “can I forgive this person”? “Am I in love with this person”?  Love is emotion, expression, and action that guides these questions and answers.
 We are all fumbling along in life trying to figure out and live out love in life.  The truth of the matter is, we all need help with it.  If we think back on the institution in Bulgaria Hasya came from, it is evident they are in need of serious help to live out love with the patients.  There is a blanket of coldness and lack of understanding special needs that has taken over not only the institution but many of the people in the culture.  People with special needs are ostracized and left to die.  They are in need of help to understand what love is all about.
 If we take a moment to look in our own lives, I am certain each of us can come up with someone in our lives that challenges our understanding of love.  We have all had times in our relationships when frustration, anger, or bitterness can take over to the point we want nothing to do with them.  In my own life, my younger sister who suffers from mental illness has chosen to have nothing to do with most of us in our family.  I will admit, anger and frustration easily take over for me when I think about her.  It is easier to become angry than to deal with the deeper emotions of sadness and pain.  There are times I wonder if i’ll lose my will to love her.
It is in moments such as this it is evident we need to change our thought process about love.  It is the nature of humans to believe we can control everything and anything about our lives.  Surely, we control the ability to love?  But maybe not.   What if we do not control love?  What if it is more than a simple emotion?  Maybe we’ve been looking in the wrong place?  Maybe we aren’t the source of love.  What if it doesn’t come from us?
When thinking about the nature of love, I cannot help but reflect upon the words Adeye, Hasya’s mother, shared on her blog the other day.  When asked if she or her husband feel anger and resentment towards those who afflicted such suffering , pain, and neglect upon their daughter, Adeye shared these words:
“Do we still feel moments of anger when Hasya is struggling, or when we get yet another prognosis that is less than favorable?  Of course!  We are human. We would do anything to turn back the hands of time and to ensure that Hasya would receive better care from Day One.
But for the most part, we get it.  We understand that we live in a fallen world where sin abounds.  We get it that in many nations, children who are born with special needs will not have much worth or value.  We understand that we’re dealing with cultures and societies which don’t grasp God’s amazing love for ALL children.  We are fully aware that we’re dealing with many complex issues which, very sadly, all contribute to a massive humanitarian crisis that millions of orphans on the planet face every moment of every day.
Do all of those things make it acceptable to treat children in this way?  Is it an excuse?  Absolutely not! I have to remind myself constantly of a truth the Lord began to speak to my heart (for the umpteenth time!) last August when I visited Hasya in her orphanage for the first time…
As God’s people we are called to extend much grace, much love…  Even when we don’t want to.  Even when all we feel like doing is lashing out and setting them straight.  Even when anger rises up in our hearts at the unfairness and injustice of it all.  Abounding grace!  That same grace that has been so freely given to us…in all our own filth and sin.  We are required to pour it out to others.  Because grace and forgiveness are meant to be given away.  Even to those who have done such devastating damage to our sweet, sweet daughter. 
You see, I have learned something through my other adopted daughter Hailee’s life over the past two and a half years.  God’s glory shines brightly through these children.  He takes these precious, wounded, broken little beings and from the moment they are in families…He begins to breathe new life in them.  Abundant life!  Glorious life…and hope.  
It’s amazing to me how the Father uses their brokenness for His glory!  How He takes what the enemy intended for harm, and He shines His light into the situation…And there is healing and wholeness!  REDEMPTION.  They become “New creations in Christ. The old has gone and the new has come.”  ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17  The only thing He asks of us, as their new parents and believers of His Word, is to love…unconditionally, freely, without reservation or holding back…even the ones who have inflicted such harm.    “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we are commanded to do.  When those negative feelings want to rise up in my own heart (and they absolutely do!), I am quickly reminded of the words of Jesus when, in His darkest hour, cried out to His Father in heaven, “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.”  ~  Luke 23
As for me, well, I’ll continue to pray for biological parents who feel the need to abandon their children and for orphanage workers who are meant to care for precious angels around the globe.  And I’ll continue to beg the Lord to intervene and to raise up Godly families who will go and missionaries who will be sent out to places in desperate need.
 Perhaps tomorrow, like today, Hasya will convulse in tears once again because her limbs hurt from stiffness. Or perhaps her tiny little foot will begin to tremor because we have moved her just a little too quickly, and that hurts too.  And I will once again look into her big brown eyes and feel her pain which will break my own heart. Those old feelings will try to rise up once again where I will want to blame someone for this--for every injustice and every hurt inflicted upon this child.  And He will gently remind me for the millionth time that blaming never changed a thing, never helped a single soul.
 That He is her Father, the one who redeems her.  And even now, He is writing her story…and it is beautiful.  The rest? I will do my best to leave that in his capable hands.  Some day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.  But until that day comes…we have much work to do on the earth.   It’s not their problem…it’s ours!”
It is in the words of a mother that we can find the answer to the question I asked earlier.  How can love be more important than faith?  The answer is found in the question, “how can the two be separated”?  Love is the result of an active faith.  It is in our faith that love, God’s love, is birthed.  When we hear the words of Hasya’s mother, we can witness how faith in action has breathed love and life into a beaten, broken, and scared fifteen year old.  Was she never loved?  No, she was always loved.  Our loving Father never left her side.  She was held in the arms of Christ from the time of conception.  It wasn’t until her parents acted upon their faith and opened their hearts and lives to this special child that she experienced love in action.  They were the ones to show her what love is.  What faith is.  What hope is. 
To love means to turn to our faith.  When we do not know how to love, love can be found in our relationship, in our faith, to God.  When we are angry, bitter, or do not understand how such suffering can be found in this world, we can turn our hearts and minds to Christ who experienced the ultimate suffering on our part.  When we want to live out our faith but don’t know how, the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us to places that need to experience the love of Christ more than anything.  And we will be directed to the orphans, widows, the mentally ill, the sick, the lonely, the suffering; where we can learn to experience what love really is all about.  Amen