BAJA EASTER SERVICE 2009
For Christians, Easter is the "New Year's Day of the Soul." There is in the human heart a yearning for significance, a dream that life is more than we have yet experienced, a hope that life will ultimately win out over death, and that love will outlast it all.
The great question of Easter is not, "Who rolled away the stone?" But rather, "Have you and I encountered a risen Christ? Have we been touched by an Everlasting Love?"
The Bible says that those women "disbelieved for joy." They couldn't understand it, but there stood Jesus in front of them. That is what the Bible calls "faith." "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
On Easter Morning…we who have been crushed by broken dreams and broken relationships can dare to hope again.
On Easter Morning…we who have been laid low by illness and hampered by the frailties of our bodies can rise in spirit over our infirmities.
As that great healer, Helen Keller, put it, "The world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it." You and I share a strong sense of "passion for the possible."
Two years ago I began to have panic attacks while breathing and public speaking. When we first met with Dr. Mitsumoto, one of the world's leading ALS doctors, his desk was piled with hundreds of file folders, with hundreds more on the shelves behind him. Each time we met with him, those stacks of file folders – now including mine – had grown even higher. Unlike similar files in a gym or health club, they each recorded progress -but it was not progress toward health and wellness, it was progress toward physical deterioration and dying.
ALS patients typically live only 2 to 5 years after diagnosis. Today, unbelievable as it is, 120 years after this fatal disease was discovered, there is still no known cause nor cure for it. I find that unacceptable.
But this is not the end of the story…this is the beginning of the cure. As Bertrand Russell wrote,
"Extreme hopes are born of extreme misery."
It has been nearly 2 years now and I have lost most of my voice and much of my breathing. I have also lost substantial muscle control in my legs and my upper body. (Fortunately I can still drive my ATV on the beach!) I use a feeding tube and must limit my research and writing to 2-3 hours a day.
But, the GOOD NEWS is that I am STILL ALIVE!
I believe the cure for ALS will be found in Stem Cell Treatment.
As you know, last month President Obama reversed an 8-year ban on federal funding of stem cell research, as part of a broader move to focus on science instead of politics. Former First Lady Nancy Reagan also came out in support of Stem Cell Research. She and Ronald were part of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church when I was the Associate Pastor.
But many religious groups and politicians still believe that it's unethical to harvest these cells. One Kansas senator went so far as to say that it's "Nazism," saying it's "illegal, immoral, and unnecessary." A number of conservative religious groups still believe that we are "trying to play God." Well, why not? Maybe that's what God wants us to do. As a person of faith, President Obama said, "I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given a capacity and will to pursue this research — and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly."
Because of this, millions of lives will be saved from devastating diseases – not just ALS – but from Alzheimer's (of which my mother died), Parkinson's, diabetes, and so many more.
That is the good news of Easter: "Never give up Hope!"
I believe that death is a part of life. BUT PREMATURE DEATH IS NEVER ACCEPTABLE WHEN THERE IS
AN ALTERNATIVE FOR LIFE.
As Christopher Reeves, also known as "Superman," put it so passionately from his wheelchair, paralyzed with a broken neck: "Once you choose hope, anything is possible."
I am a Christian "Pan-en-theist," I believe that God creates life and intends life to continue….If not in one form then in another. We come from God and we return to God. At death, life is changed, not taken away. All life is within God; and God is within all life – interwoven into the very fiber of our being. Further, each of our lives is defined by and interwoven into one another's lives.
God is not "out there" somewhere; God is "in here" with us, in the makeup of every cell, every motor neuron, every thought, every emotion. Everything is in God and God is in everything. So in our quest for scientific and medical truth, we enter more fully into the Mystery we call God…. regardless of what religion we follow – or none.
I've got to tell you, TIME is not on my side. But HOPE IS.
Sometimes I get discouraged. But there never was a NIGHT or a PROBLEM that could defeat SUNRISE or HOPE.
"Dum Spiro, Spero"… "While I Breathe, I Hope"
Having hope doesn't change anything, it makes US want to change it. It's true of medicine, of poverty, of war, of hate, of immigration, of the environment…of everything.
Just saying, "I hope things work out for you" is a cop-out. Nothing is going to work out in the future without someone doing something different, something better, in the present.
Martin Luther King lived that dream: "We must accept finite disappointment," he said, "but we must never lose infinite hope….If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all."
Two years before Bobby Kennedy's assassination, he spoke to thousands of students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa:
"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped," he said. "Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, that person sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistances."
Henri Nouwen, the Dutch priest, said it well:
"Hope means to keep living
And to keep humming
In the darkness.
Hoping is knowing that there is love.
It is trust in tomorrow.
It is falling asleep
And waking again
When the sun rises.
In the midst of a gale at sea,
It is to discover land.
In the eyes of another
It is to see that she understands you.
As long as there is still hope
There will also be prayer
And God will be holding you
In his hands."
They say that they built the train tracks over the Alps between Venice and Vienna before there was a train that could make the trip. But they built it anyway…
Because they knew the train would come!
I know that train will come! Happy Easter.