“Rising Up in Hard to Do” – Sermon for April 17, 2016

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Church of the Holy Cross UCC

Preached at
Church of the Holy Cross UCC
Hilo, Hawai’i
April 17, 2016

Text: Acts 9:36-43

In 2001, Buffy the Vampire Slayer died. On television, that is. The show had been cancelled, and she got a bravely dramatic death to end the series.

But in the fall of 2001, she was raised from the dead in a couple of ways:

First, the show was picked up by another network, something that rarely happens, and there were two more seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Second, the character was literally revived in her grave. Resurrected. Called back to life.

In the plot, Buffy’s friends feared that when she died, she’d been imprisoned in some dreadful dimension. It turned out that she hadn’t. She’d been someplace restful and healing; we might even call it heaven. Back in the world, she had to take up her calling again, to go fight monsters. It was actually quite a bit of a shock to her.

So when I read the story of Tabitha, I wonder. Was this woman, whose life was devoted to good works, to giving of herself to her neighbors: How did she feel about being recalled to life? Was she eager to resume her service? Or was she ready to lay down her life and rest in the hands of the loving God she’d served?

The Apostle Paul wrote: “To me, living is Christ and dying is gain.” Of course, he followed the sharing with, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me, and I do not know which I prefer.”

In his vision, the author of the Revelation is told that those who die in Christ are blessed, for they may rest from their labors, and their deeds follow them.

Living takes work. Living makes work. Living is work.

Rising up is hard to do.

Yet there is so much rising to do.

I wonder how we will rise up again from this political season. This campaign has been littered with racism and sexism, with personal attacks, with distortions and evasions, with outright unrepentant repeated lies. How will the country revive from this? I don’t know how – and yet we must, if we are to have the country we want to have.

I wonder how those released from prison will rise up. Incarceration doesn’t prepare anyone to live. A criminal record sets people up; they face a huge obstacle to getting a job, let alone a good job, and crime starts to look like the only viable option. Just two months ago, I heard Connecticut’s Commissioner of Corrections (I’m sorry, a lot of my stories will refer to Connecticut for a while) urge a crowd to support “Ban the Box,” which would prevent employers from asking about a criminal record on an application form. What else needs doing so that newly released citizens can truly be citizens, so that they can rise up into a new life?

This church is bustling and lively. I hear the children arriving at E Maka’ala and singing as I’m drinking my coffee at the parsonage in the mornings. We have warmly welcomed other congregations to share our space and celebrate their expression of faith here. We support those in need through our gifts, our leadership, and our participation with helping agencies like Habitat for Humanity. We care for those who are homebound and hospitalized. We honor the lives of those who have, like Kay Yamauchi this week, gone from our care to God’s. Our people are sought for leadership in the wider church. Other UCC congregations look to us for leadership and for energy.

So we are not dead, or even close to it. But there are signs that we could use a little rising up, now aren’t there?

I’ve sent a letter back to Connecticut, asking to transfer my church membership here. When I join, the average age of members at Church of the Holy Cross will actually go down. Slightly. And I’m 52.

By the way, this is a trait we share with the United Church of Christ as a whole. This chart shows American denominations on a graph that links average member age with years of education. On average, we’ve been to school a lot. But we’re also among the oldest churches in the US.

I’d like to make it clear that it’s not a problem that so many of you have been blessed with long lives. I thank God for that. It’s not a problem that you’ve been loyal to the church. I bless you for that! Further, I think it’s wonderful that your spirits have been fed in, with, and by this community of Christians.

My concern is that we haven’t served other generations as well. Hunger of the spirit, I think, is nearly universal, so there are hungry people out there, who need to have their spirits raised. But they haven’t found that nourishment for the soul in what we’ve been doing, at least, not enough, or they’d be here. They may still be hungry.

Let me take you back a few years to my college days. I didn’t go to church my freshman year, not at all. But at the beginning of my second year, I sought one out, and I was lucky to find one that was walking distance away. Why did I look, and why did I go?

I was tired of spending all my time with 18 to 22 year olds. I wanted to see a wider range of the human family. I wanted to see babies, and I wanted to see grandparents. And, I liked to stand there in the pew and sing the hymns.

I got all of that. What I hadn’t expected was to be completely gathered in by the pastoral prayer. That became the center of the service for me. I still can’t really tell you why. The Rev. Doug Green, the senior pastor, was a wonderful preacher, but I was there waiting for the prayer.

That’s probably unique to me – people who have known me for a long time will cheerfully tell you how different I am. It does show how different people can be fed in different ways.

We need to make sure that your spirits continue to find refreshment and healing here. I do not believe we need to trade the needs of one generation for another. But to serve those who are younger, or come from different cultures or spiritual backgrounds, we will need to try some things. To start, here’s my plan:

Step One: I plan to ask many people many questions.

Step Two: I plan to be quiet and listen to the answers.

By the way, Step Two is a personal challenge. If you ask a New Englander a question, they’ll start talking immediately, and think while they’re talking. I gather that here, people are more likely to think first, and let the silence stretch. So I plan to be quiet and wait.

Out of all that asking and listening, we’ll work together to choose some things to try, things that seem like they’d have a good chance of benefiting people. Sometimes we’ll be right, and things will go well. Sometimes we’ll be wrong, and it just won’t work. That’s OK. We need to know what doesn’t help nearly as much as what does. It just means we’ll have to try something else.

We do not occupy the place of Tabitha, or Dorcas, in this story. We have not died. We do stand in the place of Tabitha’s friends and companions, the ones who summoned Peter. Rising up is hard to do, but it’s also hard to persuade someone else to rise up. It’s a curious question, when you think about it. Why did these faithful women have to call for Peter? As I was reading this week, that question jumped off a page and stuck in my mind, and I haven’t been able to find the reference to give the person who asked it credit.

It didn’t have to be Peter, did it, who asked Tabitha to rise. The women she’d known all her life, the ones who wore the tunics she gave them, the ones who wept for her and washed her and honored her: they could have said those words, “Tabitha, get up.” They didn’t need an outsider. They didn’t need a man.

It didn’t have to be Peter. It could have been them. It could be us.

For those whose hearts are low, for those in whom the wellsprings of the spirit run dry, for those who hunger for justice, or rice, or opportunity, or wisdom: it doesn’t have to be the women of Joppa who summon them to rise. It doesn’t have to be Peter. It can be us.

Friends: Let it be us.

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