the fourth sunday of easter …

Acts 9. 36-43
It’s not easter that inspires us to love; it’s goodFriday!

It was about this time, thirty-three years ago, that my mom was diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. She was fifty-eight. She hadn’t been herself, for a while. But not in our wildest would we have guessed this was why. After that, things went downhill, pretty quickly. Within six years, she was gone. And when all was done and said, there was one thing about the whole ordeal that we couldn’t get our heads around. That was why – as my mom’s life got more and more difficult … why the more isolated she became. Why the more friendless my parents got. They’d always been outgoing. People-oriented. But when my mom got sick, lifelong friends became acquaintances. Acquaintances became strangers. Visits … phone calls … letters … all but vanished. In the end, the ones they could count on could be counted on one hand.

A couple weeks ago, I came across a quote my dad had given me, there at the end. It’s one of the few things I still have in his handwriting. He didn’t make too much of it. Knew I liked quotes. When he gave it to me, he said, “Here’s a little something for your newsletter!” Or something like that. It was from Walter Winchell. American reporter. Critic. Columnist. “A true friend,” he wrote, “is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
“A true friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

“A true friend,” he wrote, “is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

I’d thought he’d scribbled it on a piece of scratch paper. Something convenient. Close at hand. So I never paid it much mind. Until this past week. When I realized it was folded over and taped shut. After a quarter of a century, I cut the tape to see what was inside. It was a copy of psalm 102 from the old greenBook …

LORD, hear my prayer, and let my cry come before you;
hide not your face from me in the day of my trouble.
Incline your ear to me; when I call, make haste to answer me,
for my days drift away like smoke, and my bones are hot as burning coals.
My heart is smitten like grass and withered, so that I forget to eat my bread ….

I wish I would have paid more attention, back then. “A true friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

Of course, we understood why. We, probably, would have done the same as everyone else … if we didn’t have to be there. It was painful to watch. Too painful to be a part of it. And it was scary. To realize how vulnerable, how helpless, we are. We had to witness, to experience, a part of living, of life, most would rather pretend doesn’t exist. So, it’s normal, natural, to keep our distance. It’s normal, natural, to close our eyes. As we journey through the valley and the shadows. Especially as that valley gets deeper and those shadows grow darker. The best thing we can do … The only thing we can do … with dying … with death … is to ignore it. To hope it goes away.

Truth is, we’re all afraid of death. And we can’t look it in the eye. When we do … when we try … we blink. We flinch. We walk away. When we’re forced to come face-to-face with our own mortality, we fidget and we squirm. We don’t know what to say, what to do. And so, with the rest of the world, we turn and we walk out. We turn and we walk away.

And that’s what happens when we become focused – fixated – on the resurrection. We walk out on dying. We walk away from death. It’s easier just to look with wonder and awe on the otherworldly and the supernatural. We prefer the things that don’t scare us. Things like the kingdom and the power. Like the grandeur and the glory.

I think that’s why we’re a Christmas and Easter people. We prefer holy days that sparkle and shine. Holy days that don’t make us think much. Evergreens and lilies. Santas and bunnies. Everything cute. Everything cuddly. And none of it … NONE of it inspiring us … NONE of it moving us … to be with people just like my mom and dad. Challenging us to walk in! Daring us to become a true friend! To go where even angels fear! So, we go on … looking for pots of gold … searching for emerald cities. But the world doesn’t need people who look for happy endings. The world needs … my mom needs … my family needs … people who aren’t afraid of dying. People who aren’t afraid of death. People who are willing – and able – to share our cross.

And stories like the one we read just a few moments ago … stories like the raising of Tabitha, of Dorcas … have never offered much hope, much promise. Not to me. Not to mine. No one walked in … No one shared our life … because Dorcas had her own personal resurrection. Sure, people loved her. Of course, they cared about her. They might have thought about her – about us – now and again. Said their prayers. Shared an email or two. Maybe, even, shed some tears. But we never knew. They weren’t there. They walked out. Not because they were bad people. But because they were – simply – people! They were there for our christmases – metaphorically speaking. They were there for our easters. It was just too hard to be there for our goodFridays. They didn’t know what do say. They didn’t know what to do. It was just too painful.

“A true friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”
“A true friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks away.”

My family wasn’t the first. To experience the loneliness, the god-forsakenness. And it, certainly, won’t be the last. After all, it’s the way of the world. This fear – this denying – of dying and death. The only thing that makes a difference, the only thing that inspires … is the gospel, the goodNews! In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die! Given to die WITH us! Given to die FOR us! And because of that, WE DO THE SAME! It’s the cross – not the resurrection … It’s goodFriday – not Easter … that prepares us to be church! We’re not called to be with people god’s already raised from the dead! We’re chose to be here with the ones – the many – the world walks out on! The tired! The poor! The huddled masses! People just like us!

We’re here to give ourselves to those who have no one else! But then, that’s what love does! That’s what Jesus did for us! What Jesus does for us! And because of that, we go and do the same. Not because we choose to. But because we have no choice. That’s how believing works! Jesus carries our cross. And we carry our neighbors’! We’re here to be uncomfortable! We’re here to be inconvenienced! It’s okay … not knowing what to say! And it’s okay … not know what to do! Because it’s enough … doing what the rest don’t! Doing what the rest can’t! And that walking it! Walking in just like Jesus!

My friends, we are the church! We are god’s very own! Marked with the cross! Marked with the cross of Christ! Marked with the cross of Christ … FOREVER! It’s that cross that makes us who we are! Even more, it’s that cross that determines what we become!

Midland Lutheran Church