Saturday, October 27, 2012

"And in the End..."

I wonder if Paul McCartney got it right.  “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”  The couplet, which finished off the Abbey Road album, is often misquoted, or mis-remembered with the version remembered by John Lennon, like this: “and in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give.” Is love something you take, or is it something you get? Is love something you make, or is it something you give?

In a few hours I will deliver a memorial sermon as I try to help family and friends understand what to make of the life of my friend, Albert.  I have spent these last days remembering my times with Al as we talked about politics and sports and theology and living and, most to the point, dying. Al has been dying for the better part of two years, suffering from a diagnosis which he and I knew was terminal.  Yet he fought. Hard.  He didn’t fear death. He didn’t welcome the thought of dying, but he didn’t fear death. He believed with the apostle Paul that to die is “gain.” What lies ahead is better than what we leave behind. But, he fought hard to hold onto life as long as he could because of his love for is dear wife of over 50 years.  On his 50th anniversary he knelt before her and asked his children rhetorically, “Isn’t she just as beautiful as the day I married her?”, which he followed with a spirited version of “I Love You Truly.”  He fought hard to be with his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren for as long as he could because he loved them and he knew they didn’t want to lose their dear “Papa.”  The love you make; the love you give:  it comes back to you.  Al lived in the knowledge that God loved him and preserved him, so the only question for Al was this: “How then shall I live?” His answer was to serve rather than to be served; to serve grace and mercy and love.

But, now it is in the end.  Sort of.  Al and I talked a great deal about what heaven will be like. We agreed that we had no concrete idea. But, Al concluded after having lots of time to think about “next”, “God has been good to me in all my life, so why doubt that whatever is next, that it won’t be perfect.”  In the midst of his dying in pain that the medication could only mask, his faith sang, like Job, “I know that my redeemer lives…in my flesh I shall see God.” That vision, that song, sustained him during the long nights while he still saw only dimly.  It sustains me this morning. 

My friend wasn’t perfect. Who is?  Certainly not me.  And that is his point. In the end, the love we get, the love of Jesus, is greater than the love we give.  It is a love we take alright, like we get a gift we didn’t deserve, but, if we are humble enough, we take the gift anyway.  And in the End, the love we take is much more than equal to any love we can “make”, that is, offer to God or our neighbor.  The good news is that God doesn’t keep score.  In the end, that is what my friend, my mentor, taught me as he died. Don’t fret over the details of religion and politics and “whatever.” Focus on this: God is love. Jesus loves me. And in the end, that is better than any song any human, even Paul McCartney, could write.  It is a song that was written long before the Beatles.

Al, I am still singing it. Thank you, my dear brother.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

God's Cheerleaders

I was thinking about cheerleaders.  Leaders of cheers.  Which implies that there is something to cheer about, that there is someone to be cheered on, and that there is an audience who would cheer more effectively if only they had someone to lead them.  When I was in high school, now more than forty years ago (ouch!), cheerleaders were a well-recognized, small and somewhat exclusive group of girls. Some of them knew that and acted accordingly. Some of them just were really enthusiastic and genuinely liked to rally the team and lead the cheering crowd.  Cheerleading has undergone quite a transformation in the last forty years.  It is now a televised team sport.  Many girls who would have been cheerleaders are now the athletes for whom others cheer.  And now there are girls and boys who lead cheers, performing complex acrobatic feats.  So, I was thinking, what in the world would make cheerleaders controversial enough to make the national news.  And then, there it was, a story that comes straight from the home of Friday Night Football in Texas.  Texas, where God, high school football and cheering all go together as naturally as Sunday morning praise choruses anywhere else.

The cheerleaders of Kountze High School hand painted some banners that quoted the Bible, proclaiming, for example, “If God is for us who can be against us”.  Some of the banners are called “run-throughs”, because, oddly enough, the team runs through them as they enter the field to, you guessed it, loud cheers.  Setting aside the question of whether Paul ever envisioned that his Spirit-inspired words would be used to encourage high school football players to try harder, this seems to be an innocent event. Unless of course the Freedom From Religion Foundation gets wind of this activity, which it does. The FFRF folks then demand the banners which quote God must stop since this is government activity. The school, fearful of an expensive lawsuit, directs the cheerleaders to stop using the banners. The Kountze cheerleaders go to court and draw a judge up for re-election. And, before you can say “Go Team” the judge decides that the banners are the free speech of the cheerleaders  who made them, not the public school.

Which all reminds me of the time Jesus was entering town and the local cheerleaders were shouting cheers and waving branches. The authorities were offended and told Jesus to tell the crowd to stop cheering for him, to which Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet the rocks will cry out”, invoking the prophecy of Habakkuk, who goes on to say that the “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters covers the seas.”  God’s Cheerleaders. Everywhere. Just try to stop them.