Story 1: I want you to imagine a young man. He is 22. He is filled with hope as he graduates college, commissions into the Army, and marries his high-school sweetheart. This new Lieutenant is deploying, but it’ll be okay. He’ll be in Kuwait – “out of harm’s way,” he tells his family. During this deployment, though, this young Lieutenant is assigned to Mortuary Affairs. Day in and day out, his job is to clean and prepare the bodies of servicemembers who died in Iraq before they are flown back to the United States. He and his fellow soldiers prepare scores of bodies, all of whom are brothers, sisters, friends, spouses, and children to their grief-stricken communities back home. For 12 months, the Lieutenant knows and processes every extinguished life that passes through this base. With each body, he begins to feel a bit number to the reality of his job. Then, just about the time he is preparing to deploy home, the young Lieutenant realizes that he is now more accustomed to be around the Dead than the Living.
Beloved, this morning I would like to speak to you about God’s Deeds of Power. But I’m finding that I don’t have the words. It’s a hard thing—let me tell you—to be a minister without words. Christianity loves words, doesn’t it? The Bible, 1000s of pages long, is the called the Word of God. We call Jesus the Logos which means something like “the spoken Word.” And every Sunday we pray words, and sing words, and preach words. After church, people say to us ministers, if we’re lucky, “Preacher, you really brought the Word today.”
How I wish that the Bible had a record of WHAT it was that those followers of Jesus spoke about when the Fire emerged among them. It says that they spoke of God’s Deeds of Power, but not one single word of their miraculous foreign languages, their Greek, Latin, Coptic, or Parthian, is actually recorded. What did they say that convinced 3000 people to be baptized and join them that morning?
So, I moved yesterday. Ai, ai, ai. Moving is stressful. Change is stressful. Now, everything went well on moving day. And this is a good move. I’m thrilled about being moved to Jersey. I’m thrilled about the house. I’m thrilled about the community and the new job. Still. Change is hard, right?
The move got me thinking back to 2011 when I had candidated and been hired as the Associate Pastor at First Church Somerville and all the things that needed to happen to make the big move from New York City to Boston.
It wasn’t easy. At the time I was looking for a room in a shared apartment. It turns out that most of the hip, cool people in Somerville, Mass with a room for rent were pretty pessimistic about the prospects of having a no-fun, judgey, conservative minister move in with them.
When I was 16-years old I entered into a very basic, rather profane covenant with some of my high school buddies. (And I do think this story will help us to get at some of the basic features of living in covenant together with sort of a Lord of the Flies twist.) When I was 16-years old, planning a camping trip with some friends and our fathers, my buddies and I swore a sacred oath that while on the trip we would hunt, butcher, and eat—a frog.
I’m not exactly sure why we decided we needed to do this, but the decision was made. The original plan was to catch enough frogs for everyone to have one for dinner one night. We told our fathers and they said no thank you. We thought that was weird. We’d caught fish on camping trips and eaten them for dinner. But our fathers still expressly forbade us from eating frogs on the trip, sighting questionable health concerns.
So, to prepare for the trip we had to disguise our frog-hunting sticks as hiking sticks—a frog-hunting stick is just a hiking stick with one very pointy end. After all, we had made a sacred vow, and somehow it seemed our very identity depended on doing this thing together—what we promised one another we were going to do.
I’m moving to Glen Ridge, New Jersey in three weeks. It’s a little shocking to say it because if you were to come and visit my apartment, it wouldn’t look like I was moving anytime soon. Well, we do have boxes. We just haven’t put everything we own into those boxes yet. It’s hard, sometimes, to know where to start.
So, as a sort of warmup I’ve been binge watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix. If you don’t know of Kondo, she’s a Japanese tidying guru who helps people with cluttered homes to let go of the stuff that doesn’t “spark joy” in their lives and organize the stuff that does “spark joy.”
Kondo always starts the tidying process with clothes. Each member of the household has to take every piece of clothing they own and make a pile of it. When Kondo tells people to do this, many of them visibly pale or start sweating on camera. And it sometimes takes a long time to make that pile—multiple closets, and chests, and wardrobes, and laundry baskets are all emptied out onto one bed. And usually it’s astounding—one person’s clothes piled from the bed to the ceiling with lots of little piles falling down onto the floor. Kondo tells her clients that she does it this way in order to shock them