It hasn't happened all that often --and the first few times it felt like pastoral defeat. But, now I know... I know it is commentary on the journey we have just had to get to the edge of the grave. The person saying it wants me to know that I am wrong, all wrong. That heaven's expanse isn't wide enough to include the person we just buried. That God has made throw-away persons. That eternal suffering is, ultimately, God's will. That life is a test, and we will all fail, unless we have JesusChristAsOurPersonalLordAndSavior.
And an academic answer like --The Episcopal Church has no absolute doctrine on hell-- makes it even worse....
But, she obviously wanted to tell me what she thought about hell, so I turned it back to her, asking, 'What do you think about hell?' I suffered in silence as she spoke of hell, of her children refusing to read the Harry Potter series in school because it's all about sorcery and the devil and magic and the bible condemns such things.... She went on and on. It started to rain. The earth stuck to the shovels. A sudden wind gust pushed me off my balancing point on the clump of weeds. The sky descended to the surrounding hills. I had forgotten what winter sky looked like --so close one can imagine touching it --draping the horizon over the next hill.
And I got so sad. Standing there. Listening about hell. Which was made for everyone except her. And her children. And I knew her thoughts about hell were not meant for me, but spoken loudly enough to tell the rest of the family gathered there that they were all bound for hell.
I swear. Even though I knew it wasn't so, prayed it wasn't so, it suddenly felt like all the work of wake and prayers and conversation and presence were a giganormous waste of time.... She got the last word in: Hell. Freakin' hell.
It's enough to give all Christians a bad name... the deceased's father is a Baptist, and he was tormented with the thought that his only and beloved son were going to hell because he had not professed that JesusChristWasHisPersonalLordAndSavior --the father and I had spent so much time over the meals as he shoved his meat around on his paper plate and looked at his plastic fork --Trust God, I had said... There is nothing more powerful than God's love. In the end, that is all there will be: God's love. Trust God.
It was at that very moment of frustration and despair that I coughed, and knew I was sick... I had been fighting it for more than a week. It had been going around, everybody had it --sore throat, enlarged lymph glands in my neck, minor congestion --my body working overtime to keep it at bay. And now, bottabing. The crap incarnate. In my flesh and blood.
And the crud ran through me like a race horse. In the hour-long drive home from the cemetery, I lost my voice and got the chills. I stopped in to the clinic --but they couldn't see me any time during the rest of the afternoon, and my doctor was on vacation for two weeks. Which meant I was going to have to fight to tell the other doctor I was not a 23 year old with a functioning immune system, and I lived in a household with someone with a compromised immune system....
Fight about hell.
Fight about being sick.
I went home and collapsed on the sofa. Joel brought me hot tea. The dogs greeted me as though I had been gone a week... well, I guess I had been... Clergy conference, funeral, Diocesan Convention, Sunday, Sunday night wake, Monday funeral, Monday night wake, Tuesday funeral.... Couldn't stop... gotta teach Wednesday night.
Why the hell do we always start bible classes with the Hebrew Scriptures? Why? Folks grow up thinking that's the Gospel....
--I shut my eyes in a delirium of self pity. Disgust. Frustration. And exhaustion.
At prayer this morning (Acts 21:15-26)
After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.
When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.”
Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.
Paul. Paul. Paul. What a chicken. You succumbed to peer pressure, entered back in to the old rituals of purification to satisfy their demands and postulations that God's grace through Christ was not enough... to prove you had not forsaken Moses....
and this... (beginning at Luke 5:27)
After this Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him.
Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Pharisees and scribes and messy people at the same table? Way to go, Jesus... !
Sinners, --amartolous-- Meaning: --a = without --martolous --from the same root as martyr or witness.... So, sinners = without witness... hmmmmm... unless you are a witness, you really don't have much to say....
Repentance, --is really --metanoia-- Meaning: meta = change --noia = mind. Change of mind.
Those who are well, don't need a doctor; those who are not well, need a doctor. I don't call those who are doing okay and hitting the target; I have come for those who really don't have much to say --to change their minds....
Jesus has come to call those who really don't have much to say to a change of mind....
Yeah. That works.
Or... was that a way tell them they didn't really have much to say... ! I need to find a line like that for those who want to talk about hell.... like... folks who talk so much about hell, really don't know about God's love....
They are wrong about sin. They are wrong about righteousness. They don't have a clue about judgment.... (thank you John).
Well... I have need of a physician....
Off I go.