Full Catastrophe Faith

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As usual our most recent Sunday 10 AM service was filled good spirit and amazing members of the Calvary community — as well as guests.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scriptures

Hebrews 5:7-9

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he would die.


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A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.


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Full Text of Sermon

Reptile Brain

How many of you have weathered a storm? An earthquake? A wildfire? While Boston waits for the big thaw, the ongoing drought here in California is our own special catastrophe-in-the-making. In California, it’s easier to be oblivious to the problem. Many of us moved to escape reality. Denial is powerful and sometimes useful coping mechanism, but denial about what actually happening is a catastrophic mistake. Did you know that nine of the ten hottest years on record have occurred since 2000?[1]

Last August, the Napa earthquake woke up Lou and me. Lou simply repeated “Earthquake, earthquake, earthquake!” But I, having grown up in tornado alley, and since it was three o’clock in the morning, reverted to my childhood. I jumped up and, confused, ran around the apartment, trying to find the place to escape the earthquake’s path.

When catastrophe happens, reptilian brain[2] responds: ancient instincts take over. Fight or flight: you know the feeling––the urge to retaliate, or flee, or freeze.[3] Are those really the only choices?

Trust and Obey

In his 1998 memoir, Walking with the Wind, the Civil Rights pioneer, Congressman John Lewis tells the following story about his childhood in 1940s Pike County, Alabama.

“…about fifteen of us children were outside my aunt Sevena’s house, playing in her dirt yard. The sky began clouding over, the wind started picking up, lightning flashed far off in the distance, and… I was terrified. Aunt Sevena was the only adult around, and as…the wind grew stronger, she herded us all inside. Her house was not the biggest place around, and it seemed even smaller with so many children squeezed inside. Small and surprisingly quiet. The wind was howling now, and the house started to shake. We were scared. Even Aunt Sevena was scared. And then it got worse. The house swayed and the wood plank floor began to bend. And then, a corner of the room started lifting up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. None of us could. Aunt Sevena told us, ‘line up and hold hands’ and we did as we were told. Then, she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the front of the house we walked, the wind screaming outside, sheets of rain beating on the tin roof. And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.”

Transcending the Reptile Brain

This is the metaphor, says John Lewis, that inspired him to link arms and march for equality. There’s enough reptile brain in the world. Look at this week’s events, from the horrific violence done in God’s name to the tourists in Tunisia to the last-minute maneuvers of a politician so fearful of losing power he would throw thirty years of peace talks out the window, and then backtrack. Baffling examples of reptile brain, mostly stuck in “fight and flee” mode. When our lives are threatened and all hell is breaking loose, it’s time to rise above reptile brain. “Take hands, children” and let’s walk into the wind together.

Anatomy of Life

I lived long enough to tell you plainly: there are no scenic detours around the storm. Whether your storm is a tornado or an earthquake, allergies or cancer, unemployment or eviction, depression or grief, divorce or marriage––each person here falls into one of three categories. They are:

  • headed toward the storm
  • walking through the storm
  • coming away from the storm.

Persuaded by the words of poet Robert Frost, “The best way out is always through”[4]—how we walk through the unavoidable is what life is all about. The way we walk through these storms determines what kind of people we are becoming, and make no mistake: we are all works in progress.

“It is for this reason I have come…”

Today’s gospel story from John, takes place after Jesus had already ridden into Jerusalem on the donkey, what we will celebrate next week with palms and a lot of music. The rich message of Lent is about how quickly a storm can end the party, how suddenly everything can shake apart. If ever there was a person who transcended reptilian brain, it is Jesus. While the crowds partied and whooped it up at the festival, Jesus, sensing a storm[5] on his horizon, stole away to pray.

He didn’t fight. He didn’t flee. He didn’t freeze. He took time to consider and to pray. He didn’t make promises he couldn’t keep. He didn’t declare himself a martyr for the cause. He prayed. And he continued to teach: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

I learned as a hospital chaplain that the way a person lives determines the way a person dies. Reptilian responders stay that way until the end. But those who have wrestled with God, those who have tried to exceed this world’s programming, face the final storm with creativity and resilience.

Jesus counted on his friends to walk with him, but instead they all deserted him. Our friends might disappoint us. Our families might fail us. But God will always hold us.

Live Your Full Catastrophe

This past Wednesday, Lou and I visited a friend in ICU. In the waiting room, on the coffee table, was the very book for which I named this sermon a few weeks prior: Full Catastrophe Living, wherein Jon Kabat-Zinn writes:

“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison[6] by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and…nature in its beauty.”[7]

I had just been telling Lou about this great book, and there it was! Jon Kabat-Zinn continues:

“None of us has to be a helpless victim of what was done to us or what was not done for us in the past, nor do we have to be helpless in the face of what we may be suffering now. We are what was present before the scarring—our original wholeness, what was born whole.”

In John’s gospel, Jesus is called logos, the Word made flesh, always present and perfect from the beginning, the light that shines in the darkness.

Take God’s hand, take somebody’s hand, and walk right toward the edge of your life that’s shaking and stormy. You can either walk toward it and adapt creatively, like Aunt Sevena, or you can respond with reptile brain and get picked out of the wreckage later, a lovely corpse. (That’s Southern humor, sorry.) When the hour of our trial comes, what shall we say, Lord please take this away from me? No. For this we have come to walk through the stormy moments. Though all others might forsake us, God is faithful still.

Eighty-five-year-old Nadine Stair of Louisville, Kentucky made it plain: “Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.”[8]

Now, please do not hear me saying that you should look for storms. You’ve seen storm chasers on television—bad idea. I hope you will hear me plainly when I paraphrase Barbara Brown Taylor, who says that we must choose to believe that everything that happens for you, rather than to you.[9] Do not remain a single grain a wheat, but grow into a new creation.

A Parable by Sister Joan Chittester

A woman who took great pride in her lawn found herself with a large crop of dandelions. She tried every method she knew to get rid of them. Still they plagued her! Finally, she wrote the Department of Agriculture. She enumerated all the things she had tried and closed her letter with the question: “What shall I do now?” In due course the reply came: “We suggest you learn to love them.”

In the name of one who suffers with us, amen.

“Hard Times Come Again No More” by Stephen Foster (1854)
Keith Perry & The Dave Scott Ensemble

 …Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more!
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh! Hard times come again no more.

[1] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: National Climatic Data Center, Global Analysis, August 2013, accessed online at <http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/2013/13> (March 20, 2015)

[2] Affirming the science of evolution, please see <http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_05/d_05_cr/d_05_cr_her/d_05_cr_her.html> (March 19, 2015).

[3] Three Brains in One: Instinct, Emotion, Intellect, accessed online at <http://www.sustainablesonoma.org/keyconcepts/threebrains.html> (March 19, 2015)

[4] Robert Frost, A Servant to Servants (1914), accessed online at <http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Robert_Frost> (March 13, 2015)

[5] the cross

[6] If we love our life, we must lose it.

[7] Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living: Use the Wisdom of Your Body to Face Stress, Pain and Illness (New York: Random House, 1990), accessed online at <https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/full-catastrophe-living-revised/id629634550?mt=11> (March 18, 2015)

[8] Full Catastrophe Living

[9] TheWorkOfThePeople.org

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