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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sermon on Isaiah 53:4-12

For National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Commemoration Service

The phone rings and the voice says “It’s cancer.”
Quiet, controlled, simply: “It’s cancer.”
In this case, breast cancer. I knew the test was being run.
Then the dam breaks. The control is lost. The will to fight the tears ebbs.
The voice floods the receiver: “He’ll leave me now. That’s it. The last straw. “
The weeping begins.
She is not worried about her life. The chemo. The possibility of radiation. The surgery. The medication. The follow up appointments wondering if they got it all. If it will come back. If it will kill her like it killed friends of hers. Young friends of hers. Friends in their prime with husbands and children. No.
She is worried about the impact a mastectomy will have on her husband’s ability to love her. To stay with her. To keep the vows made on their wedding day – To love, honor and cherish in sickness and in health. And now the sickness has come in the form most insidious. Most personal. Breast Cancer.
What does one say to the one weeping?
What words of comfort shall one speak?

Another woman. Another time. Addie’s breast cancer came back and had metastasized which is a fancy medical term for spread to places it had not formerly been. More chemo. More radiation. But the stubborn cancer would not let go. She began to bleed. Blood was donated in her name. She went through two sometimes three pints a day. Day after day. There in the hospital she no longer worried for herself. She knew what was coming. She had made peace with that, with the end, trusting that the end was not in fact the end at all, but a tough stop on a longer journey. But she feared for her family. Leaving three kids and a husband. And so she hung on for them. She hung on needing to experience some peace. That they would be OK. That she had done everything that she could even as the cancer had left her unrecognizable from the woman in the photos next to her bed. She hung on as her family wept.
What does one say to the weeping?
What words of comfort shall one speak?

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases,” declares Isaiah.
And because he has, there is promise that remains. Promise that can stand up to chemo and radiation. Reconstructive surgery and years of Tamoxifen. There are words of promise that cannot be silenced, even by death.

I do not say such things lightly, but out of a wounded life that has seen the power of hope stand up against the ravages of breast cancer in people that I love; my own mother a survivor these past three years. I have also held the hands of others for whom the disease has come calling more than once and powerfully and sometimes fatality.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases,” declares Isaiah.

And then in Romans Chapter 8, Paul picks up this very thought:
Paul says that we are more than conquerors who him who loved us. Loved us enough to take on the same frail flesh. The flesh of lumps and biopsies and scars. Marked by ports and blood test pricks and IV’s. The same flesh that feels the pain, that remembers long after. We are more than conquerors. Not just victors. Not just triumphant. No we are more.We are more.We are more why? Because Christ’s love for us knows no limits, no boundaries.Christ himself crossed the boundary into death. Destroyed the power of death for you and for me, for those with Breast cancer and bone cancer and lung cancer and ever disease that has a name and even those that do not. Did so in order that whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s. Safe in his love, his peace, his strength, his embrace.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases,” declares Isaiah.

So we do not bear them alone as lonely as our diseases may be to us. As isolating as they may seem to us. As dark and numbing. No. We do not bear them alone and they do not get the last word for us. That word was spoken from the cross in a cry of Good News that echoes loudly still in my life and your life and the lives of those we love and the lives of all. And that word is a word of life strong enough to conquer death. To show death a vision of an inbreaking future in which has no more sway, no pause, no place. That future has broken into our world, our lives, our present.

Addie looks up at me, tired and worn and , yet strong enough to hold on for her family even as she held my hand. I try to look into her eyes and see the person that I had known for four years, yet I struggled and my heart kept breaking. “Will they be OK?” she said.
And I told her that they would.
She told me that the Kingdom was waiting for her.
And I nodded.
And Christ was not long in coming, bearing away her infirmity and carrying away her disease.

When I was a kid, I thought that my mother was indestructible. Oh, I am sure that she got sick from time to time, but I took no notice. Nothing slowed her down, nothing crushed her spirit. And I am sure that many nights she took her concerns for my and for my sisters to God in prayer. She cooked, she cleaned, she folded clothes like nobody’s business. And she still does, though we wish that she would slow down a bit and sometimes her body makes her take a breather. Three years have now passed since the phone rang and the woman who once prayed for me and likely still does, asked me to return the favor; her son, the pastor, her rock.We think rocks are strong. But they crack and splinter. They wear and turn to dust in time. Big rocks become smaller ones and then turn to dust. And so it would always be except that God could not stand for us to be dust again.

We return to Paul: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We are not dust, but through Christ we are more than conquerors. We are children of God and inheritors of God’s Kingdom. We who were no people, have become God’s people. And God will not suffer to let us go. And in that love is a strength that knows no bounds. No limits. A strength in which we now share. A strength through which we now live triumphant even in the most difficult times.Thanks be to God! Amen.

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