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Signs of Life

by The Rev. Kaji Douša, Senior Minister, The Table:  United Church of Christ of La Mesa

Kaji Spellman2Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. – John 20:1

One of the things that always strikes me about the resurrection narrative – the story of Jesus’ triumph over death – is how hard it is for Jesus’ followers to grasp that he was alive. It took quite a while for them to get it. Despite all of his promises and even the signs of life around them, they were so stuck in the death narrative that they were unprepared for the resurrection.

Sometimes I wonder if the same might be true for us, too.

Part of what makes our faith so countercultural is that it takes the scariest, strongest force: death, and sets aside its power. Sure, it’s still scary and strong. Death matters. But it’s not the final word anymore. And because of this, we are called to mourn loss, yes, but not to fear death.

In one of my Lenten sermons called “Live and Let Die”, I challenged us to embrace the death of some things that need to die. (Things, not people). Here’s what I said:  There’s a project I’m interested in. It’s called 40 Bags in 40 Days: the Decluttering Challenge. In this, participants are challenged to find areas in their life where they can just offload some stuff. 40 bags, 40 days. Just get rid of it.

A “bag” can be a trash bag of stuff. But it also can be the trash bin on your computer. Or, the embodiment of a resentment. It can be anything you’re holding on to that you should just, in the constantly repeated words of Elsa in the Disney movie Frozen: “let it go.”

Let it go.

This has theological significance, of course. I don’t mean to make light of it. Jesus talks about the grain having to die in order to multiply. Of course he is talking about himself – how his death would be awful, but God would make something good of it, as God does. God can turn the most atrocious thing into a blessing for all of the world. God does this, even with the injustice of Jesus’ suffering, even with the horrific truth of the Cross. And God does this every day, in our lives, again and again.

The worst doesn’t have to be the worst. Not for long.

So Jesus is proclaiming this. But the challenge for us in church today, is this:

What, in our lives, needs to die?

Otherwise put:

What are we clinging to at our own peril?

This is why I like the power of the #40bagsin40days challenge, because it offers a very practical challenge to the “stuff” of our lives, some quite literally, some even figuratively. We hold on to so much, and again and again, the Gospels tell us that when we hold on to anything other than God, we do so at great risk!

We’ve got to let some things die. Again and again, in different parts of our lives.

I could probably come up with 40 bags just by emptying my garage. But that’s not the challenge, really. In some ways, it’s too easy.

But what would it be like to finally get over that thing I’ve been angry about for years?

What would it be like to give up on that project that really just doesn’t work?

What would it be like to say goodbye to that person we know is just toxic in our lives, but we hold on to the relationship just because we feel like we have to?

What would it be like to evaluate the things that suck our energy – as a church, even – but do not yield the fruit of service, transformation…giving?

What would it be like to just simplify our lives?

It’s not just a sense of a clean house. It’s about cleaning house so that we leave more room for God to do what God does.

To make things new.

To bridge the gaps.

To close the doors that, for God’s sake, need to close once and for all.

Because when we make the space for God to do what God does,

God will make:

All.

Things.

New.

And, because if there’s no room in our lives, there isn’t any room for God.

Point blank.

Well. Yes, God can break through anything. It’s not a matter of ultimate concern: God has our backs. But why suffer in life? God doesn’t intend this for us.

Instead, we need to make the space. We need to clear the clutter. We need to bag up the crap. And we need to say goodbye, once and for all, to all the things that would serve to stand in our experience of God’s way.

As we embrace and even celebrate the concept of resurrection, we don’t do it be ignoring death. We do by allowing death its place. And then, we make room for God to do what God will do.

From there, it is our work to look for the signs of life. Look for Jesus in our lives. Look for the ways the Holy Spirit is active in our very own spirits. Look for the chance to hold out a hand to another and in so doing, be an active participant in God’s love.

In our community, I see signs of great life and love. I see people banding together to form our children and youth in Christian life. I see people seeking justice on immigration issues. I see people coming up with new ways to encounter the divine in worship while holding on to important traditions. I see picnics, and dinners for eight, and new altars being planned. I see teams dreaming up new ways to structure our worship space to match our congregational polity. I see people caring for our buildings and grounds as if they were their own home. I see a community feeding people, caring for each other in times of need, visiting with people who are shut in. These acts in which you’ve taken on the work of God’s hands are real and beautiful and they are signs of life.

The resurrection is true and real and it’s all around us, even now. What signs of life do you see?

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