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Live Simply: Face The Truth Sermon
Mark 4: 37-41

October 9, 2016


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

I was reading a devotional this week from a pastor who has worked extensively as a chaplain in a cancer center. He says that one of the first things that he noticed was all of the stocking caps. Almost all of the patients were wearing stocking caps. It was so unusual on that first day that he found himself both staring and trying not to stare. But after about a year of time in conversations with those cancer patients, he doesn’t even notice the stocking caps anymore. After dozens of hours of talking with patients about their leukemia or lung cancer while chemo drips into their veins and life is measured and treasured, you don’t notice those unimportant things that stood out in the beginning, like stocking caps. He reflects that these people somehow grow to make life simple in reaction to cancer making life much more complicated.

Many patients tell the story of the day that they were diagnosed. It’s typically a tough and memorable day. It’s a day when one must face the truth that life has changed forever, a day when a huge storm comes up on the lake. And as the days continue there are stories – each one has their own story. Doctor visits, insurance questions, painful conversations with loved ones, updating networks … and of course, the time spent alone when one’s own fears and strengths surface. Then there is the new world of, “cancer treatment.” It is a world that requires copious amounts of time and money, massive amounts of people power, and caregivers who are enlisted to accompany patients through weeks, months, or even years of treatments.

This particular pastor says that at the end of the first day he felt like running out the door, thrilled that he was not in the situation that all of these people were in. It’s a knee jerk reaction that happens with all of us when we experience people for whom a storm has come up on their lake – job loss and poverty, illness, brokenness and divorce, refugees driven from their homes, victims of tragedies of all sorts. We even use the euphemism, “those less fortunate than we” to describe those who lost their homes due to something like Hurricane Matthew this last week.
What does all of this have to do with Living Simply, you may ask? Well, that pastor claims that the common thread that he notices in these patients is a bonding together – they were connected and centered as a community because their lives were on the line, because they were all in this boat on the lake when the storm called, “cancer” hit. And they were either clear about their goal to preserve their lives as long as they can, or to finish this life with grace. They were real; they were honest. They were facing the truth about cancer and as they did that, they were forced to make life simpler by figuring out what life really means. When people are thrust into this involuntary simplicity, they see more clearly what’s important, and that is more often their loved ones and God. They talk about God more often, they look to scripture for guidance and comfort and hope. They hear Jesus’ words on the boat in the midst of the storm, “Be still,” and they live expecting that Jesus really will calm this storm in their lives.
Dealing with any kind of crisis often strips away the pretensions which we hide behind and makes us vulnerable. And in that vulnerability, we see the truth that we need God in the midst of our storms, we need God to help us survive, and God promises to do just that; to be with us through all of this and to give us new life. A simpler life.

As a congregation, we are called to make this place simple by facing the truth about who we are. The truth that the church is here to be the hands and feet of Christ, loving our neighbors. The truth that we are always on the precipice of disaster, at the mercy of some pretty hard unknowns, remaining faithful in spite of that truth. The truth that we are all at the same time sinners and saints, loved by God and yet falling short of our mission to love others. The truth that God loves us and saves us.

At the cancer treatment center, there comes a day when one of two things happen: Either the nurses hold a party because the patient no longer needs chemo or radiation, or the transplant has engrafted and taken hold and life goes on; or eternal life begins for the patient and earthly life continues for others. It is at that point when everyone has to ask the question, “Now that this involuntary simplicity is over and the storm is passed, are we lead to voluntary simplicity, or do we return to our complicated, busy lives before the storm? Once the flood damage is mopped up, the chemo bag is empty, the new job becomes normal, are we different people? Will we remain different, having weathered such a storm? I think that is God’s hope for us. As this story in Mark’s gospel continues, there are people waiting on the other side of the lake for Jesus and his disciples. They must have known about the storm that they endured and wondered at how they survived it all. They must have been eager to receive them and learn from their experiences.

In the same way, often there is immense generosity that is unleashed when patients and their families face cancer. Every day families educate each other, walk with each other, sharing their own experiences about this whole process, comforting one another as only an insider can. They bond quickly, and their generosity is essential for both the giver and the receiver. They ease each other’s paths, knowing how hard it all can be.

Today our theme in this, “Live Simply” stewardship time is to face the truth. This story from Mark about Jesus and his disciples on in the storm on the lake, and the stories from a cancer chaplain pastor all remind us that when the things that we take for granted in life seem to crumble – things like certainty, our plans and systems, and the things that are important to us – the need and the desire to give surfaces. That is the durable value that we all desire – giving. It endures and grounds us when we simplify our values and actions.

When we truly feel connected to others through thick and thin, we express our joy through generosity. That is when we are truly the body of Christ, and in this body that can be ravaged by loss, sin and crisis and at the same time bathed by love and simple purpose, we know that Jesus is among us, accompanying us on this journey of life. When we face the truth, we learn to call upon the one who really saves us and we are changed forever. Amen.