Curing Optic Rectosis

I don’t feel too great today physically or emotionally. It’s cold and rainy, but at least it’s not icy or snowing. Nevertheless, I just feel more than a little bit yucky. Some of it is because I’m a bit uneasy about a few things: Narcie’s next MRI is upon us, another young clergyperson’s cancer has come back with a vengeance, one of our fine associate pastors has declared that he wants to move, we have some folks in the hospital that are going through tough times, and there are others with issues, too. I fly out tomorrow for a meeting in Washington, D.C. where I am the point person on legislative matters for the General Commission on Religion and Race. I am also waiting to hear from a dear soul who I hope will help with our 2014 taxes. Ours are going to be more complicated this year and it scares me. I guess all of this has put me into a funk of sorts. I’m tired of winter!

I doubt most of you have heard of optic rectosis, but I imagine that most of you have had it. Before you think you have some new malady, it’s really not a disease per se. It’s an attitude, outlook, and perspective. Its meaning is “looking at life through your backside; i.e. a messy outlook on life.” It doesn’t seem very Christian but Jesus did have his moment in the Garden of Gethsemane where he agonized over his impending death and “sweat great drops of blood.” The Greek word for what happened is “Agonizomai.” Jesus agonized. We agonize, and ours pale in comparison not only to Jesus but to most other people. I look around and there are plenty of folks who have more legitimate reasons to be upset.

Laughing off our troubles has been attempted by some of the world’s best comics. It sometimes works for me. Sometimes it just makes me feel worse. I was reading about a guy who woke up one morning in a puddle of water in his king-size water bed. In order to fix the leak he decided to wrestle the mattress outside and fill it with extra water so he could more easily locate the leak. Anyway, the waterbed mattress was impossible to control once he got it outside. It started wiggling and jiggling on the hilly terrain and waddled down the slope right into some pretty sturdy bushes. Now he had holes poked all through it. Disgusted he threw out the whole water bed frame and moved a standard bed into his room. The next morning he woke to find a puddle of water in the middle of the new bed. The upstairs bathroom had a leaky drain. Have you ever thought that you fixed one problem and ended up with more? Sometimes what we think ails us is only symptomatic of something we least suspect.

What is really the cause of my malaise this morning? What is the real culprit? I just got a phone call about a member’s tenuous hold on life. It feels like every which way I turn that there’s another shoe about to drop. I am about to get in the car and make rounds at several hospitals. The life of a minister can be a heavy load. One thing I know that I can count on is that Jesus has already agonized about every situation and more. He went through the pain of crucifixion and defeated death. There is no problem or situation that He can’t handle. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is the balm and medicine for all of our dilemmas.

I watched my mother and father take their last breaths. I have probably seen a couple of thousand people cross from this life to the next. For most of them it was a necessary and anticipated transition. They were loved enough by their families that no one wanted them to suffer any more and the only place they would be well again would be in heaven, but the loving cords that bind us are broken and life will never be the same. That reality is so painful, though I know and believe in the Communion of Saints, that there is a mystical comingling of our loved ones who have died in the faith with those of us who are left. This doesn’t diminish the painful reality of death, but it helps. It is our Christian hope that sustains us and helps us to move beyond the shadows and embrace life once again.

Whatever your burden is today, however your eyesight and perspective are overshadowed by a litany of worries, then know this, Jesus is with us all and will see us through. I heard this song this morning and it helped. It’s David Crowder’s “Come as You Are.” Jesus knows our every sorrow and bids us to give him all our burdens. Amen.

Short on Epiphanies

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In two days on January 6 we will celebrate Epiphany Day. The timing is perfect. I have the “crud” again; the whirling dervishes of church stuff are more than taxing; and I can’t get my daughter Narcie and her brain tumor off my mind. The doctor said things haven’t changed since the last MRI but he seemed more ominous this time. His line is on a continual loop in my mind, “It’s not a matter of if the tumor will come back, but when.” That is so scary.
I confess a personal need for God to “show up.” I am well aware that throughout Epiphany season our worship focuses on God’s power and miracles. We need epiphanies in this dark world. By definition, an epiphany is a sudden burst of clarity, a sign from God that He is real. What a difference this can make in our deep winter despair.
But, oh, how we often miss the divine that is right in front of us! At a recent Columbia District Clergy Meeting one of our colleagues shared a humorous story about missing the obvious. It was a story about Sherlock Holmes, master detective, and Dr. Watson, his faithful companion. It seems they were camping when suddenly in the middle of the night Holmes awakened Dr. Watson and said, “Watson, look up and tell me what you deduce from what you see.”
Dr. Watson replied to Sherlock that he saw stars, thereby deducing that there were millions of stars overhead. Watson further deduced that with all these stars there might be some stars, like our sun, that have planets around them. Watson further said that he could deduce that perhaps some of these planets may resemble earth. Therefore, he told Sherlock Holmes that his final deduction was that there must be life on other planets besides the earth. He declared, “There you have it, Mr. Holmes!” Sherlock Holmes stared at Watson dumbfounded at how he could miss the obvious: “No, Dr. Watson, you don’t have it at all! The only clear deduction is that someone has stolen our tent!”
Epiphany begins with a heavenly sign, a star that clearly led the Magi to the Christ Child. After that sign we find many other convincing epiphanies declaring Jesus as Christ. At His baptism, a dove descends on Jesus and a voice declares Him as “God’s beloved child.” With miracle after miracle, we witness countless epiphanies in the blind regaining their sight, the paralyzed able to walk, the dead raised, the sea calmed, the 5000 fed, and the triumphant trio on the Mt. of Transfiguration.
We wonder how the people alive in Jesus’ day could have missed who He really was. We might even say to ourselves that if we had been there we surely wouldn’t have missed it. Yet, I wonder. Like Dr. Watson, we miss the obvious presence of God while we stare off into space. The stranger at our doorstep just might be an angel unawares. The person who is poor in spirit next door just might be God’s final test of our faith before we are called home. What if we miss these epiphanies? Heaven knows what might happen.
I am going to live by faith and hang in there, focusing on the presence and power of God. I will not succumb to the nay saying hopelessness that is anti-Gospel. I’m looking forward to a 2011 that has me perched on the edge of my seat anticipating God’s epiphanies!