“God In The End”
Rev. Melanie Homan
August 28, 2016
We’ve made it. We’ve finally made it to the end. After 52 weeks of studying Brian McLaren’s book “We Make the Road by Walking”, we’re on the last chapter. It was delayed a few weeks so that the youth could share with us about their mission trips and Katie could preach about evangelism, but we’ve finally arrived at the end.
In the book, we started with Genesis and made our way through the prophets into the Gospels, followed up by Paul’s letters and ending with Revelation. We started at the beginning of creation and conclude with a vision of the end. Julie Konrardy and I led a small group on Wednesday evenings, and we often had very lively conversations filled with lots of laughter. But to be honest, our last small group was kind of a downer compared to our other conversations. Because as much as McLaren tried to be hopeful about “the end”, it left us more than a little depressed thinking about the sun turning into a red dwarf in 8 billion years and incinerating the earth. Which turned to reflecting on the poor dinosaurs, especially the really cute ones portrayed in Ice Age and The Land Before Time and how things ended for them.
When I think about the “end”, there’s the “big end” and then there are all the little endings that happen in life, and in between those two types of endings is death. Just thinking about it makes me sad! Yet our scripture passage for today is one of the passages that I often like to use at funeral services, because to me – it is the opposite of sad. It is the opposite of extinction-magnitude grief. I find this passage to be some of the most comforting words in all of scripture. And I could read them over and over and I do read them over and over, and find in them – not deep despair, but deep consolation. And we all need a good dose of deep consolation in life.
At first, it doesn’t sound like consolation. Paul rattles off this list of things, and they are all pretty awful. Trouble. Hardship. Persecution. Famine. Nakedness. Danger. Swords. These aren’t theoretical things to worry about, they are real things that Paul faced in his life as he tried to faithfully follow God.
And they are all things that had the potential to separate him from God: Trouble. Hardship. Persecution. Famine. Nakedness. Danger. Swords.
We, too, have things in our lives that have the potential to separate us from God. And while our lists usually don’t include things like swords and persecution, at some level, you have known trouble. And hardship. And some of you have known hunger. And worried about paying your bills. And you may know danger. Or addiction. Or mental health struggles or physical health struggles. And if it hasn’t happened to you, it might just be happening to someone you love dearly. And those hard things in our lives that have the potential to separate us from God are the same things that have the potential to separate us from one another.
I’ve given this a lot of thought over the summer, as I’ve posted on Facebook photos of our family doing fun things like camping and traveling. But Facebook is sort of like an art gallery. We cultivate it and carefully select the view of our lives we show the world. And we pick the best of the best. One of the viral posts that was going around this summer was a challenge to post 7 photos in 7 days of you and your spouse. And my feed was filled with all these wonderful sweet and romantic pictures of wedding days and birthdays and anniversaries of friends and their partners. And I couldn’t help but think, “Thank God no one has challenged me to do this”. It’s not that I’m opposed to celebrating some of the great times in my marriage – it’s just that I know that it’s not the whole picture. If I were going to be honest and vulnerable and give people a window into the whole picture of our life, it would have to include posts where the kids are having temper tantrums on the kitchen floor and the stack of dishes in the background is precariously high and it looks like the whole pile is going to collapse at any moment. And the picture of Brennon and I? Well, we wouldn’t even be in focus. We’d be a blur, because we couldn’t really slow down enough for pictures, or for dealing with temper tantrums, or for facing the piles of dishes. The next day I’d have to post a picture of me with my hands on my hips, surveying the “project” Brennon just began in the backyard. There’s this huge hole in the ground and another huge pile of rocks and I’d be staring in disbelief. And then the next day I’d have to post a picture of me shouting at the kids to pick up their toys while folding a mountain of laundry. Because that’s what life is really like. Yes, it does include those moments that truly capture what I often feel: that “life is good” and that I’m lucky to get to share life with Brennon and the kids. But our wedding day photos are not the whole picture. The whole picture is a lot more messy.
Here’s the thing about that carefully cultivated selection of photos that we share with the world – viewing everyone elses picture perfect lives can make us feel entirely and utterly alone. When we scan the social media horizon, it can feel like we are all alone in our “secret” struggles, that we are the only ones not living the good life. It fosters separation from others and separation from God. I think that’s our version of modern day hardship, because isolation is so powerful.
It seems to me that we practically kill ourselves trying to do it all. I’m going to show you a picture. Here’s a picture of our family the first Easter that we were here at Lake Harriet. (show picture) And here’s a little secret. The first year in a new church – the first Christmas, the first Easter…they are really stressful, because you are responsible for leading important traditions for the community even though you’ve never experienced them in the ways specific to your new church.
So I was stressed. And working too much. And a reasonable person, a person who realized that this was not the year to try to be everything to everybody, would have tried to take it easy.
But no. Not me.
I didn’t want to fail the congregation and I didn’t want to fall short with my family.
So I tried to live up to the pinterest driven ideas that were part of my vision of the perfect Easter Sunday.
The first round of ridiculous decision making included hand sewing Rylee’s rainbow dress. Rylee loves rainbows. I wanted her to have a special Easter dress. With rainbows. I could have bought one. But no. I had to turn up the crazy factor and sew it.
And then. And then.
I turned my attention to this. (show picture)
The most awesome rainbow cake for Easter dessert. I found it on pinterest. I watched the 60 second video and I said to myself, “How hard can it be? That person in the video threw it together in 60 seconds, easy peasy”.
I went so far as to special order the 6 inch cake pans, and I was ready.
Imagine, if you will, the Saturday night before Easter Sunday. There was that early morning sunrise service to be up and ready for, and it’s late Saturday night, and I hadn’t started the cake. But I jump in, and start baking 6 different colored cakes. By the time they were done baking, I could hardly keep my eyes open. And the instructions said to cool the cakes for something ridiculous like 2 hours. There was no way. So I skipped that instruction, and after 15 minutes, I started putting the cakes together, to build my amazing rainbow cake.
And then this happened. (show picture)
This is what the world tells us rainbow cake should look like. (show picture)
And this is real life. (show picture) Real life is messy. This cake crushed me.
Everyone elses cakes ended up looking like the picture (or so I told myself) and I felt like a complete and utter failure. I was responsible for providing dessert at our big Easter family gathering, and all I had to offer was a big, ugly blob of cake. And you see how the narratives we start telling ourselves bring us further and further down the rabbit hole of isolation.
I threw in the towel that night. I crawled into bed, only to crawl out of bed a few hours later to come to church. Feeling utterly defeated.
And then I got to church and got to preach resurrection. And new life. And hope. And the reason I am able to get up and preach hope and new life is in part because of these words from Paul.
Paul’s response to the isolation and challenges he faced was to say…NOTHING.
NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.
And those words are salve for the soul. Those words are grace. Those few words remind us that it doesn’t matter what the photos or images of our lives look like. It doesn’t matter if they are messy. Because everyone’s are messy. And there is no part of your life, if it were captured for instagram, that can ever separate you from the love of God. Maybe you look at a photo of yourself – and whoever really likes the way they look in photos (?), but maybe you see an eating disorder or addiction staring back at you. Or maybe self-imposed shame or guilt stares back at you for all of the real or imagined ways you are failing your kids. Maybe you look at a photo of yourself and all you see is a glob of crumbly cake that belongs in the garbage.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
I’ve decided I need to start sharing more photos of what life is really like. Because that’s one of the ways we start to see that we are not alone in the challenges we face. And I think that’s one of the great blessings of the church. We come together as a community of people who are far from perfect. And maybe we make ourselves a bit vulnerable and share some of what’s going on in life, and then support one another in it. Because we believe that there is nothing so broken in us that would ever keep God’s grace from surrounding us.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God. That belief – that we don’t have to be perfect, that we can offer our messy selves to God and to others because God LOVES our messy selves – well, that’s what I decided to embrace that Easter Sunday.
So I shoveled up my collapsing tower of unnaturally bright colored rainbow cake, I plopped it on to the fanciest cake pedestal I had, and I brought it to Easter dinner. My super messed up cake shared space at the buffet table with the beautiful ham, potatoes, and asparagus. At first, the kids weren’t entirely sure what to think. They looked at me, like “are you serious?!?” “Are we supposed to eat that?”
And then they decided that my super messed up cake was pretty awesome. And that it tasted good, even if it didn’t look so great. Thank God. Thank God for assurances that nothing – not ugly cake, not things present or things to come can separate us from God. Nothing in life can separate you from God and nothing in death can separate you from God. That’s our deep consolation. That even in the end – whether it’s the “big end” or the little endings in life, that even in those, God never leaves us. And we don’t leave each other. When we share with one another MORE than the picture perfect versions of ourselves, we see that God is present to us through the people around us. And that is the good news and gift that this community offers one another.
Thanks be to God!!!