Sermon for 5/6/14: Ascension/Turn Around
“Turn around. Every now and then I get a little bit lonely [because I can’t feel you around]. Turn around. Every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears. Turn around. Every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by. Turn around, because every now and then I fall apart.”
How many times have you wished that you could get back someone or something that you’ve lost? How many times have been lost and lonely yourself? How many times have you felt that life has passed you by? How many times have you wanted to turn around?
Carlos had particularly good reasons for wanting to turn around – except that by the time he looked behind him all he could see were the bridges he had already burned. Carlos’ father ran out on his mother when Carlos was a baby and his mom was in and out of rehab for most of his life. But Carlos had one great thing going for him. He had a grandmother – a beloved abuela- who raised him in the absence of his parents, who took him to church, who gave him food and shelter and attention and, most of all, love. Abuela taught him right from wrong and good from bad and shared with him her great love of God.
And then she died – and everything that Abuela had taught him died with her. Because Carlos could not believe in a God who would take away the only person that cared for him. Carlos would not believe in a God that caused a nice old lady to die alone on a cold hard floor, just left there for her grandson to find her. And
Carlos hated a God that said he loved you and then killed you.
So Carlos gave up trying to be good because it was easier to be bad. He got a new family – who said that he mattered to them, that he was important, that they were his blood now. It was so much easier to live in a half-conscious state of intoxicated apathy than it was to think about how alone he felt. It was easier to do what he was told without thinking about the consequences.
So when he was arrested – when he had to go to jail – when his new “family” let him go – when he had to detox in jail – when he fractured his skull banging his head against his cell door – it was too late to turn around. And he fell apart. He fell into darkness and helplessness and cried out for his Abuela. He cried out to be a child again, to lay in her arms, to have her make it right. But there are some things that can’t be turned around – and death is one of them.
Unless you are Jesus, the resurrected Christ. Jesus, who turned death itself around by descending from heaven to live as one of us – as ugly as that was – and ascended again to be at one with God. Jesus, who Abuela loved. But Carlos did not know how to believe in Abuela’s God anymore. He only knew how to believe in hatred and anger and fear.
Mike knew those feelings intimately. Rage and violence and death were his most faithful companions for many years. Mike had never met Abuela’s God, had never believed in any God, had never even believed in his own soul – until he finally committed a crime that even got his attention – when he killed his own infant son in a drunken rage. But he didn’t know how to turn around either. Until one day a prison chaplain walked by his cell and offered him a small book that said “The New Testament” on the cover – and Mike, who was bored, took it and began to read. He wasn’t quite sure what he was reading – he had only a vague understanding of Christianity – but he was drawn to the character of Jesus, who seemed to know what anger and fear and sadness and death felt like. And he liked that Jesus could love people who did bad things. And he began to wonder if Jesus could love him.
So Mike kept reading – and then he began meeting with the chaplain – and then he began praying on his own. He prayed for forgiveness and mercy and grace. He prayed for a spirit to see God – and his faith grew. And as it grew, Mike began to believe that he had to tell other people about this God – about this Jesus – who understood and forgave sins – about this Jesus, who had come down from heaven to be with them and then returned to heaven to wait for them. He needed to tell others what he had experienced for himself, what he had seen, what he knew. He had to tell people that you could turn around.
And so it was that Carlos wandered into the community room of his prison block one night and found Mike reading aloud words that Carlos hadn’t heard for a long time, words that his Abuela had sung to him as a boy. “Sing praises to God. Sing praises. Sing praises to our King. Sing praises.” And Carlos was filled with rage.
Who did this prisoner think he was, praying the same useless prayers as Abuela? And he began screaming at Mike to stop – stop praying –stop lying –admit that neither of their lives meant anything to anybody. And he ran toward Mike to grab the book out of his hands, to hit him until he stopped saying Abuela’s words – to stop making him cry.
But when Carlos launched himself at Mike, Mike caught him and held him tight and whispered, “Peace brother. God told me to tell you my story – to tell you our story.” And he held Carlos while they both wept.
And when their tears dried up, Mike told Carlos what he had seen. He told Carlos what he knew. And he told it with a spirit of power and wisdom and revelation and joy. He told Carlos that God had never left him, that God already forgiven him. He told him that God would always be with him – in this life and ever after – even when it seemed like God had turned his back to him. He told Carlos that he could turn around. And Carlos believed.
Just as we believe. Just as others can believe if we tell them what we have seen, what we know. The Holy Spirit rests on us and in us and by it we show ourselves and others that we can still turn around, if we turn toward God.
Turn around. Every now and then I know there’s no one in the universe as magical and wondrous as you. Turn around. Every now and then I know there’s nothing any better [than you]. Turn around [because] I need you now tonight, and I need you more than ever, and [I know] you’ll be holding me tight.
Forever’s going to start tonight.
Forever’s going to start tonight.
Click below to download this sermon: