How Resurrection People Cope When Reduced to Bare Goodness

All we had to do was cross the room and shake hands. Greet, as so many times before. And our easy friendship would pick up where it left off. A lovely summer-vacation ritual. Only, not quite the same this time. Sure, the other Ken came forward in his always warm, affectionate way. 'Grip: firm and affirming as always. But there was something different. Eyes, empty. His smile, almost gathered in a question mark at one corner. This year, he didn't know me. It was like we'd never met. Over his shoulder I spied his wife, bags in hand. It wasn't the suitcases that slumped her shoulders, I could see in a flash. It was the weight of the Alzheimer's in the love-of-her-life. This once brilliant, deeply spiritual pastor had been cut down. And I would have been broken up, had I not watched this couple all across that week. So loving, even when he'd wander into the wrong room at night. So attentive to each other at meals, so as not to disturb others. 'Finding such comfort in the prayer-life of the retreat house. So willing to drink-in the lake from the porch, like being filled as Jesus promises, with living waters that sustain the deepest thirst of the soul. By the end of the week, I knew my friends' company had richly blessed me in a startling way. I saw before me, souls reduced to bare goodness!

Many times, in many ways, from youngest to oldest, life has a way of reducing us all. You don't have to have dreaded Alzheimer's, or a tumor, or heart trouble. You can be up-against-it with a classmate. Or just not "getting it" in class. You can be up-against-it with your parents, your kids, your wife or husband. A bottle, or a bottle of pills, or a fist full of lottery tickets reduces some folks. You can just feel so low, blue, depressed, at the end of your rope. Even with a knot tied in it, it's hard to hold on. So here's my question. When life comes at us, you and I, resurrection people we say that we are, are we just reduced to the barest essentials, or instead, to our own bare goodness? How is it Easter People cope? How do we find our way when we don't any longer know the way? Maybe my friend can help us, in the name of Jesus.
Yes, life strips us bare. But Easter people aren't left naked. There's a goodness that clothes us we don't have to manufacture, just wear. Good news! My summer friend reminded me, without a word. We never really lose who we are, because nothing really changes what we are. We are God's own. Awful illness doesn't change that. Debt doesn't. Family friction doesn't. Advancing age doesn't change that. Global warming doesn't. Air pollution doesn't. Why? Because the breath we breathe is God's breath. And the face we show the world is God's face. The Book is right, God created man in his own image, male and female. He said, "Let them have dominion," (power). The Lord formed man of dust, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. You and I can lose everything else. The world can take it away. We can fritter it away, if we choose. (That's sin, more about that in a minute.) But here is the one irreducible thing about us. We breathe God's breath. The 8th Psalm is right to ask and answer, "What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet…." God has set us in motion. And God has set us apart. 'Little less than he. Stewards, keepers, caretakers of all God made to be.

Kadosh. Jesus' word for "set apart, elevated, made special." It's the Hebrew word for holy. Watch the kids throwin' the new mulch at each other on the playground, or the politicians throwin' insults at each other on the news; hear us fussin' at an Ad. Bd. meeting, or cussin' on 295 at 5 o'clock and it's hard to believe. But Jesus knew what God said to Moses was meant for him and for us. "Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy." (Lev. 19: 2) Jesus says it another way, "Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect…." (Mtt. 5: 48.) Months ago I wondered. How is it my namesake can have lost so much, and yet be somehow undiminished? Because he revealed what you and I so often obscure. There's a holiness we're given. We don't need to make it, just wear it. Be in touch with it, and nothing can reduce us beyond our own bare goodness. Are you in touch with the holiness God put inside you from the start? Do you practice it?
Easter folks stay in touch with their goodness through constant practice. They practice saying yes to what is good, and no to the rest. Saying we're holy's one thing, being holy, "walking the way that leads to life," says Jesus, is another. My friend's Alzheimer's finds it tougher to steal his goodness because his heart-for-God is so strong. He labored on holiness all his life, setting and being set apart. That lingers, holds him up. No matter what may want to knock, or hold you down, reduce you, be in touch with your holiness, practice it, and it will hold you up too.

Practicing holiness. A rabbi friend reminds me of Jerusalem's Holy of Holies at the Great Temple Jesus knew. God's dwelling. Earth's holiest spot, they said, curtain draped. Here the four great holies came together. Only on the holiest day, the holiest man (the high priest) goes to the holiest place to pronounce the holiest word, God's name. One false thought here could destroy the entire world. (Some Orthodox Jews still consider the entire Temple Mount off limits, because we no longer know the exact location of the Holy of Holies. They do not want to tread on this spot accidentally.) The point: Holiness is uplifted by making something off limits. Boundaries are set. Our age leaves nothing off limits, by contrast. Much of our sense of the holy is lost. Says Rabbi Gold, "If familiarity breeds contempt, perhaps familiarity is the opposite of holiness."

How to practice holiness? Partly, by what we prohibit. We build holy spaces. Like this. We teach our kids this isn't the playground. Gum, games, shouting, horseplay stay outside. We're not stuffy. We just want our kids to feel a certain awe. Practicing holiness requires making holy time. The Commandments still number ten! Sabbath's still one of them. A day a week, saying no to most everything else, to say yes to God. O, Sabbath can be creative, too. Imagine one day a week avoiding something that distracts us from God. Maybe shopping, house or yard work, unnecessary driving, our business. Imagine the difference if your family said "no" once a week to dinnertime distractions: TV, phone, whatever. Maybe holiness begins when we learn to say no to ourselves. If you think about it, only humans can say no to our appetites. It sets us off from the beasts. Oh, we have our drives: food, drink, recreation, sex, and more. But we can learn to say no. And only humans have the ability to achieve holiness.

In the name of Jesus Risen, Methodists believe in saying yes, too. Yes to regular Bible study, prayer, the Lord's Supper, fasting, conferencing, acts of kindness, works for justice. Sadly, holy time and space, holy acts and attitudes will not cancel Alzheimer's or shut up every put down in life. But they do spare us defeat in the face of disaster. They allow us never to be reduced beyond our God-given bare goodness.

Hey! Easter folks trust the Giver of Bare Goodness. With God in Christ, bare essentials are our future no more. The cross is all about: bare essentials. The empty grave: bare goodness, holiness forever, amen! The cross says our bare essentials are sin and suffering. Jesus endures both for us, us personally. "He breaks the power of cancelled sin, sets the prisoner free. His blood can make the foulest clean; his blood availed for me." The empty tomb says our bare goodness is revealed when we no longer seek the living among the dead. He's gone ahead. And we will meet him there. That's the thing. I've known so many who've known that. My summer friend is just one of them. Are you another? Do you know and are you heading for the place the risen Jesus has prepared for you?

Oh, this is powerful! In this life and for the next. A blind man could see it. (On the Jericho Road, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.") A suffering woman could touch it. (Only the hem of his cloak cured a lifetime of woe.) A crazy soul could feel it, living in the graveyard. (A legion of demons on the dead run.) Trust the Giver of Bare Goodness. I love Legion's story best. 'So bonkers they bound him to live among the dead. 'So low-down he was counted-out. Hospitals have wards like this. Public Schools, maybe unwittingly, put problem kids in places where failure and loss are all that's expected. Nursing homes have a place for those-with-no-place. Public agencies have their backwaters, just like businesses. And every neighborhood's got a neighbor nobody speaks to. Legion's still livin'! Along comes Jesus. Demons are dismissed. Crowds gather at the news. 'Know what they see? Legion at the feet of Jesus. Clothed. (How'd that happen, unless Jesus bared his own back for this brother's soul? Jesus exposed his bare goodness. As among the tombs, so on Calvary's hill.) Here's Legion, in his right mind at Jesus' feet. Dare to sit at his feet ourselves, and all that drives us crazy leaves; all that cuts us off from each other, from life, from God… is put to rest. We are at peace. Restored. Redeemed. Made right. Righteous. Holy. Good. Very good. Just like God said, the first day he breathed into us the breath of life. Bare goodness. If he could, my friend, the other Pastor Ken would tell us, "Trust him like that, and we will know we've been… Saved!"

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