Tunnel vision. Flop sweat. Ears ringing. That strange sickly feeling of “I don’t know what I am doing.” This evening’s passage from Acts 4 takes me straight to that moment; do you know the one? When the floor drops out from you, your stomach lurches, and the creeping realization that you’re stuck oozes its way across your body. I’ve had a few of these moments in my life. There have been swims in the ocean where the riptide is so strong I don’t feel I have the strength to get back. Auditions so disastrous I feel like I could never show my face again. We’re not even going to talk about my experience taking the SAT -- Stuckness, and panic. Phew, shake it off with me.
Context is everything. Last week our gospel reading was one of the most famous texts of the Easter season. We hear it every year on the second Sunday of Easter, from the Gospel of John, the story of Thomas refusing to believe in the resurrection until he puts his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands and until he puts his hand in the wound in Jesus’ side. A beautiful story and, in the end, Thomas gets his wish – a wonderfully intimate image, preached on excellently last week by Rev. Tessa.
So, when we hear Luke’s version of the story – as we just have – Jesus holds his hands out to the disciples, he hops on one foot and wiggles the other one around in the air for them, and in our mind’s eye we see those same open wounds that were described to us last week. But that’s not the way Luke is telling it, is it?
This is my wedding ring. It’s a piece of yellow gold. And there’s a story written into it. My ring’s not inscribed with a date or a word or anything like that like some wedding bands are, but the story is in here, in the very molecular structure of the metal of my ring – every atom of gold carries a history that is important to me.
And when I tell you the story of my wedding ring, like I’m about to do, I’m not telling you the story of a piece of gold, I’m telling you a story about who I am and how I honor the vows of my marriage.
I knew the style of ring I wanted – a yellow band of gold, rounded edges, something that’d get all beat up, scratched and pitted over the decades, and show its history. But the idea of just going into a shop and buying this ring didn’t feel sacred enough for what I was going to ask it to do for me.
What is it that you need to affirm about yourself to help you move forward in your spiritual journey? What is it that our congregation needs to affirm about ourselves in order to move forward in our ministry to our neighbors?
In 2006, while I was at Union Theological Seminary, I began a ministry to New York City’s restaurant workers. Being the largely self-proclaimed Chaplain to the New York City Restaurant Industry was a ministry, but it wasn’t exactly a job. And so to pay the rent I was also working in the industry myself as a busser at a fine dining restaurant here on the Upper West Side. I met a lot of great people, including one of my fellow bussers, Alberto.
In 2017, mom and dad both turned 70 – big milestone. And I thought, gee, average life expectancy in the US is 76 for men and 81 for women. Maybe this is a good time to sit down with mom and dad and have a conversation with them about their final wishes. I’m sure they’ve squared some things away, but there are probably some things my sister and I should be prepared for and know ahead of time about their preferences for end-of-life care. But that’s a hard conversation to have. It means I’m going to have to have an early encounter with my feelings about losing my mom and dad one day. That’s scary. And that’s no fun.
You want to know what is fun? Going to see Hamilton. So, that’s what my wife and my sister and I have been planning for my parents – a trip to New York City this spring, Hamilton tickets, a celebratory night on the town. And wills, funerals, and healthcare proxies are still not on the agenda yet. Because talking about the end is hard.