you’re already dead : lean in [a sermon]

my second sunday in elkhart sort of snuck up on me after being away with the texas youth academy for two weeks–my second sunday in this community found me reworking an older sermon (from youth academy two years ago, it may be familiar if you’ve been around this blog for a bit) for this week. beginning sunday onward we shall be a lectionary community (expect new material!) 

ephesians 2:17 says “so he [jesus] came and proclaimed peace to you, who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him bot of us have access in one spirit to the father.”

one cultural note before we begin: i just spent two weeks with high school youth–who, as you may know, speak their own version of english. still popular today is the phrase: YOLO, which i will say several times below. it simply means “you only live once”. and is the mind-set of a generation that gives some freedom to live life for their pleasure and gain rather than service of others. (and this is not just the younger generation that acts this way, this is just the generation that uses that phrase!)

i love to weave. i am learning how to weave cloth, and my hair-weaving-skills are lacking. but the kind of weaving i mean is the combining of, the shaping of, the melding together of words. this morning i want to add to the tapestry by weaving stories and concepts and ideas with the stories and perspectives of some friends who stand on the same foundation of apostles and prophets with jesus as the corner stone, fellow citizens of the household of god.

this morning i want to take these stories, these beliefs, these theological concepts and, by the power of the holy spirit winding her way among us binding us together in this community bind them together into a word-tapestry to call us out of being a bystander into the waters of baptism. to call us to reconciliation with ourselves. with our triune god. with one another in this gathered community and beyond.

i was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the lord, let us pray:

come, holy spirit. fasten these words together in the way that you see fit. open our ears that we may hear your whisper, our hands that we may grasp yours, and our eyes that we may view the world as you do. may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o lord, our rock and our redeemer. amen

imagine being in high school. not just any high school, but a boarding school. not just any boarding school, but an elite well known boarding school. not just any elite boarding school, either, but an elite boarding school nestled in the quiet village of aboke, uganda–east africa. if you are wondering where uganda is, let me show you on my handy map of africa that i always carry with me: uganda is here… sharing borders with kenya, south sudan, the drc and rwanda.

the students of st mary’s school, and their teachers are aware of the rebels who have been abducting children in the area. they have been taking extra precautions by having guards stand post around their school at night while the students sleep.

but one night the guards do not show up. students are sent to bed anyhow, after long detailed and impassioned conversation on if the students should be moved away from the school and hidden elsewhere for the night. rather than take these students off campus it was decided that everyone would stay put.

meanwhile, elsewhere in the apach district, the parents of students at st. mary’s were finishing their evening activities as well, having dinner and washing up, preparing for the next days work and also laying down to sleep for the night. one particular mama, angelina atyam, fell asleep not knowing that mornings first light would reveal tragedy.

all good theology begins with baptism. this is the crux of the ministry of reconciliation, of discipleship. early christians were plunged into coffin shaped baptismal fonts, providing a symbolic death through the baptismal waters.

as christ had his figurative cross to bear (our sin) and his literal cross to bear so we too have our own specific, personalized and custom-made cross to bear in this life.we read in in luke 9, “we must all take up our cross daily–deny ourselves and follow christ.

in this denial, in this death of baptism, we acknowledge, i hope, that YOLO-ing everything (saying “you only live once”) is not what the gospel demands of us. but if jesus is truly worth denying ourselves for, truly worth dying for, then we are crazy to not believe in the utmost importance of the ministry of reconciliation. reconciliation within ourselves, with our neighbor, with god.

it was not until around 2:00 in the morning when the rebels finally came. sister rachele was awoken by the gate guard, “sister, the rebels are here.” sister rachele, sister alba and sister matilde began to move to the front gate of the school, hoping that the gate would slow the rebels siege. it did not take long for them to realize that the dormitories were already swarmed by rebels who had come in through the back gate of the school. the sisters, knowing if they were caught they would be forced to unlock the dorm doors, went into hiding–spending the night in analysis of the sounds around them–what were the rebels doing? were the students safe? on and on into the night they hid.

as the sisters hid, and the parents slept in their homes wholly unaware of the siege occurring at st. marys, an estimated 200 armed rebels burned the school vehicle, raided the clinic’s supplies and the special treats for uganda’s independence day celebration that was to be held the following day. between around 2:00 in the morning, to first light on uganda’s independance day, the armed rebels forced their way into some of the dormitories, forcing windows and demolishing a wall, kidnapping 152 secondary school girls between the ages of 13 and 16 years old.

as the situation was assessed friends of the school went running into the villages, carrying the news that the girls of aboke have been abducted.

i really hate the phrase YOLO. not only does it give the wrong idea that just because you receive one physical birth and one physical death means you should fill the days in-between those two dates trying to expedite the latter with bad life choices; and it also rejects the idea that we, as christians, once baptized are already dead. when we are baptized as an adult, or confirm our baptism after being baptized as an infant or child, we are already dead. for we have died with christ in the waters of baptism, rejecting seeds of darkness that are not of our god. if we live by the example of YOLO we have no need for the resurrection, and therefore no need for reconciliation. i don’t know about you, but i have been out in many places in this world of ours. i have seen a lot of things in many churches, youth groups, high schools, and homes. in towns, cities, villages, states and countries around the world and know that something we are in desperate need of is reconciliation.

some need reconciliation within themselves, to themselves. those whose inner pain and wrestling that they mark their bodies in acts of self violences. there are those who refuse to eat attempting to starve away the voice that says “you’re not good enough.” but our bodies deserve to be more than war-torn collateral. when god created you, god created you as good. god created you as very. good.

mama angelina atyam was sleeping when the pounding on her window began. “ANGELINA!” ANGELINA! the girls have been taken! the girls have been taken! [pound pound pound] ANGELINA! ANGELINA! the girls! they are gone! the rebels have taken them!” sitting bolt upright in bed the words of the man pounding on her window begin to fall into her ears and she hears him.

“what!” she cries. the rebels were not supposed to be this far south–we have heard the bad things occurring in gulu and are sorry for the situation there, but this is apache, we are safe here!”

some need reconciliation in the home–relationships with mom and dad, step mom, step dad, brother, sister, cousin, uncle or auntie, grand mother or grand father…the tapestry of this relationship is bulging at the seams–threatening to tear at any moment.
ephesians 2:17 says “so he [jesus] came and proclaimed peace to you, who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him bot of us have access in one spirit to the father.”

days pass, some of the students were released and sent with the two nuns who pursued the rebels into the bush but many remained in captivity. the parents of the still-missing children began to gather together to pray. every friday the parents would gather in the church just outside the gates of st. mary’s school and lift their voices in prayer.

one friday, after several weeks of prayers behind them, the parents gathered as usual. and they began praying, “our father in heaven, hallowed be your name. your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. give us this day our daily food and forgive us our trespasses as we…”

they could not finish the prayer. as one body the gathered congregation held the words in their mouths they could not forgive those who had trespassed against them. they could not even say the words any more. their cheeks full of of unsaid prayer the parents silently left the church. there was no “amen.” there was no blessing or passing of the peace. no hymns were sung. hurting, angry and silent shells of parents filed out of the church into the evening air. the last candidates for examples of those to offer forgiveness or reconciliation.

some of us also need reconciliation with god. we have head knowledge that god is with and for us. but them something goes awry. we fall into old habits of skipping meals to feel light-headed and strong for beating our bodies, inflict pain on our bodies to feel again, our tenuous but “its going okay” relationship with a family member or care giver bursts forth from its casings and erupts into anger and we lash out at god for letting this happen. we turn our faces to heaven and say, “how could you let this happen to me!?”

mama angelina is one of those parents who silently left church. who held the words of forgiveness in her cheeks. one of those parents whose child was violently taken away from her, who swallowed those words of forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation where they stayed rolling around in her belly.

she was angry. “why would you do this, god?! how could you let this happen!?” angelina, while angry, stayed in conversation with god–voicing her anger, her pain. and then one day it happened.

she decided, “i must go to the rebel leader’s mother and make peace with her.” angelina wanted her daughter back. and in wanting her daughter back she came to the conclusion that not only did she want her daughter back, but she wanted all of the children back. she says “all children are my children.” and she does not just mean all of the children who were abducted by the rebels are my children, but the rebels themselves, too. for all are children of god.

angelina took herself to the rebel leader’s mother’s village, sought this woman out and sat with her. these two hurting mothers sat together and talked. mama angelina told the rebel leader’s mother “i forgive your son for what he has done.”

ephesians 2 tells us that “Jesus Christ is our peace; that in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the diving wall, that is the hostility between us.”

there are deep, profound and intricate layers of need of reconciliation just within our own hearts, let alone the heart of our neighbor.

mama angelina’s visit to the rebel leader’s mother was not a move of pride. going to sit with the mother of the man who has abducted your child, and thousands of other children is an act of utmost humility. mama angelina had to have truly forgiven this rebel leader. but it began in her heart.

as she continued in conversation with god, as she began to pray again at home, as she told god of her anger and frustration her heart began to heal. and as she began to heal she reached out across the rift, and with the miracle of the power of the holy spirit, “broke down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us”

i really want you to hear what this woman has done–angelina did not know if her daughter was alive. if she would ever see her again; and even if she would if her daughter could ever be the same. she had never met the man who had taken her daughter. and in this time between the abduction and her visit to the rebel leader’s mother she has essentially adopted all children in all the world as her own. and in that place of unknown she said “i forgive him. i forgive you.”

she reaches out beyond the way that now has a whole in it, poking her hands, arms, head and body through and cries out that she has forgiven the one who has inflicted pain on her and all parents.

angelina and many other parents formed an organization to advocate for the release of all children abducted by the rebels. she is not quiet about her desire to reconcile with the man who has led this rebel army. as a matter of fact, she has been so loud with her desire to reconcile, so loud with her forgiveness that the leader of the rebels has been frustrated with her–he promised that if she were to just be quiet he would release her daughter.

she says, “no” i want all of my children.

this is what it looks like to bear your personal cross. this is what it looks like to not YOLO one’s way through one’s life but to know that in baptism you have died and been raised with christ, are a new creation who is charged with the ministry of reconciliation–which really means to love your neighbors. all of them.

a dear friend and professor of peace studies says, “to acknowledge something means we are called to act.” there is a lot going on in our great big world, in our neighborhoods, our homes and in our own hearts that we acknowledge is not quite right. will you choose to shrug it off and say, “eh. you only live once…not my problem” or will you lean forward into the deep rushing baptismal waters, perhaps for the first time ever or perhaps in remembrance of your baptism years ago and let the rushing current remind you of the promises god has made to us as god’s children–shown to us through christ jesus who came and proclaimed peace to us, who became flesh and made us a new humanity reconciled together all as children of god.

lean forward.



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