Monday, February 4, 2008

Keep Your Fork

Pastor Brad began by noting that this is Transfiguration Sunday. The Transfiguration was when the glory of Christ was revealed before his disciples Peter, James and John on the mountain. Brad said his sermon for the day would be diametrically opposed to this, as it is about the winter of the soul, when we do not see or feel that glory.

It may have been cold and wintry, but the church was full, and Brad requested a couple of ushers to set up a few more chairs in the back.

We enjoyed seeing Pearl Harmon’s Sunday School class of 8 little children go forward and quote from Galatians 4:4... “God sent his Son.”

Brad began his sermon by confessing that he actually loves the winter season, but he understands that not all feel that way. He then quickly read through a list he had heard given somewhere of the words commonly associated with winter.

Death, ice, hypothermia, wind chill, death, snow shovels, shoveling more snow, buying a snow blower, death, salt trucks, black ice, dead battery, frostbite, gangrene, thermal underwear, decreased mental capacity, seasonal affective disorder, recreational eating, death.

Even Brad, a fan of winter, admits that a setting for the Garden of Eden would not be in Duluth.

Maybe you feel that you have no place to go to escape spiritual winter. Maybe you’ve experienced a loss, something has gone out of your life, and nothing has arisen to take its place. The books of Ecclesiastes, Job and Psalms in the Bible are all wintery books.

“I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.” ~ Ps. 38:8

Maybe you lost a job. Maybe you’re usure of who you are. Maybe you’ve had dreams for your life, and for your children, and now you’ve gotten results from a test from the doctor’s lab, and now you realize you won’t be there to see the things you dreamed of.

The Psalms state “man is a puff of wind.”

Maybe you feel that you’ve failed as a parent and are not sure what will happen with that child you had so many hopes for. Someone you love died. Someone betrayed you. You’ve had a broken marriage. You have a character trait that you battle and can’t overcome. The most painful gap in the world is the gap between the person you long to be, and the person you are. Your heart feels cold and barren.

In Psalm 88;13 the psalmist says, “I cried to you for help, Lord; why Lord do you reject me and hide your face from me?”

The most basic need in a child’s heart is a parent’s touch and face. The most painful thing is to have a parent avert their eyes, to look the other way.

Can I avoid winter? Are there five easy steps for winter avoidance? Some sunny types among us think we can live in a perpetual summer. According to Scripture that is not so. Jesus said that in this world we will have tribulation. Job 5:7 says, “Yet human beings are born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” We think that due to our own cleverness, our faith, our virtue, or maybe our intelligence we will overcome and fare well, but no one of us is under ultimate control. We are a puff of wind. We cannot engineer a trouble free life.

We will be tempted to hibernate, to hide away the wintry part of us from others. Don’t do it! This is when we need the community of others the most. It has been found that the Amish suffer less depression than any other group of people in the US. The Amish have a strong sense of community.

Every fall, the animals make preparations for winter. The bears eat more, the squirrels hide nuts. The birds fly south. And during the first snow of the season the humans are at the hardware stores buying shovels, as if it had not occurred to them that it might snow. We can prepare ourselves for spiritual winter by calling the church, calling a friend, planning to be with people.

When Job lost everything and was sitting on an ash heap scraping his sores, his friends came to sympathize with and comfort him. They wept, and sat down on the ground with him, and didn’t say a word for seven days. We often say words that are not helpful. Sometimes there are no words that can take away the pain. The command from Scripture is to mourn with those who mourn, not to give advice, explanations, or say that everything will be ok. Just mourn with others. You don’t have to have the answers.

Also, mourning cannot be done in a hurry. Job’s friends mourned with him for seven days. God uses winter to grow compassion in us. Some of the greatest Christians such as Luther and Spurgeon suffered from depression.

Don’t give up! When things feel useless, futile and cruel, something is happening underground. Everything is not dead, it is not final -- there will be re-growth. Sorrow may last for the night but joy comes in the morning. Sometimes in winter when the leaves are all off the trees we can see farther and clearer, and it may be a period when we grow the most. You don’t know how long your night is going to last, but there will be morning.

The story was told of a woman who was dying and making funeral plans with her pastor. She told him she wanted to have a fork in her hand in her casket. She explained that at the many church suppers she had been at, after a good meal, she was sometimes told “keep your fork” and she knew that meant that a good dessert was coming. She wanted people at her funeral to ask, “what’s with the fork?” at which time he could tell people that we believers have a promise that something better is coming.

Winter is not final. God resurrects dead stuff. Spring is coming. Keep your fork.

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