Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Second Sunday of Easter, April 7, 2013
“I am just tired of living.” That’s what a woman told me this week as we sat on the steps right outside the chapel door. This comment came after her question to me about suicide. She wanted to know if God forgave people who killed themselves; if it was possible to ask for forgiveness before they did it and still be forgiven. It did not take me long to figure out that she was asking about herself. When I asked her if this was about her, tears began to roll down her cheeks. She looked to be in her early sixties, although it was hard to tell. The description of her life of drugs and prostitution must have added more than a few extra years to her face. She had been able to quit crack and had been clean for 18 months. The cost of quitting drugs and business at night meant that she was now homeless. She described the ups and downs of sleeping on the streets, not knowing what each day or night would hold. She also was now living with her emotions, the true self she was before smoking that first hit of crack years and years ago. She never had to cope with life because there was always a drug she could take. If she was ever without it, she could sell her body to get more. The coping was now proving to be more difficult than she thought, especially now that she was not able to fill her prescription for blood pressure and an anti-depressant. $8.21, the amount most of us hand over with ease for lunch at Wendy’s, was yet one more thing she didn’t have to keep moving forward. The stress, anxieties, and difficulties of life had become too much and she was ready for it all to end. All she wanted was a real chance at life done right; a breather from her pain; a peace that would outlast her problems. (You would be glad to know that, due to what you give to the Grace Fund, we were able to fill her prescriptions, and buy a bus pass to get her back home, to kids and grandkids)
How many of us know that feeling? Have you ever been there, maybe not in a situation just like hers, but at that point when you would trade your life for true inner peace? The sad news of Rick Warren’s son taking his life just yesterday confirms that this kind of tragedy is common to us all. It is, in fact, all too common in our world. I read this morning something his son had said the last time he wished to end his life, “I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?'” Warren recalled.
While we may not all have arrived at that dark point of taking our
lives, all of us have probably been to the brink of wanting to give up; of becoming so tired of fighting our problems and anxieties that we give up on finding peace.
The friends and followers of Jesus who had just witnessed his arrest and torture must have been at this point as well. They had given up careers, family, friendships, reputation to follow this man named Jesus who entered their lives in such a way that they could do nothing else but follow after him. He saw, understood, and loved them like none other ever had. He painted such a bright vision of the future that they could see themselves and their nation in it. But, Jesus exited their lives just as dramatically as he had entered. Their hearts were full of raw grief, their hopes for the future had been dashed, and their lives were now at stake. The peace they knew when being with Jesus was gone, smothered out by the anxieties of the one who held their future in his hands.
It was in the midst of this thick cloud of anxiety that Jesus entered not long after his resurrection. The walls (physical and emotional) they had erected against their fears and problems were the very ones Jesus walked right through to be with them that day. His words broke through them as well as he said, Peace be with you. The presence of peace they had been missing just reentered their lives. It stood among them, right in the middle of the problems they were left to face. Jesus knew exactly what they needed, invoking peace before inviting hands-on investigation. The stuffy air in the room of their despair had changed with just one breath of resurrection. Peace is what they needed the most. So he gave it for them to receive, creating them to be carriers of it as well.
On this weekend of all things basketball, I read a story about one of the greatest players of the game; of how it changed the air he was breathing after a while. Jared E. Alcantara writes of hall-of-famer Jerry West, who wrote in his own book West by West: My Charmed and Tormented Life,
West decided to write about his struggles with anxiety and depression. It turns out the man who earned the nickname “Mr. Clutch” because of his outstanding performances under pressure and who inspired the official NBA logo was also debilitated by such high levels of game-day tension that life became almost unbearable for him. One of his biographers, Roland Lazenby describes West’s early days on the court: “As he gained more confidence and took on more responsibility, West became wracked by incredible game-day tension. He would become a pacing nervous animal each game day, with the tension building moment by moment until he was absolutely beside himself with anxiety over his coming performance. It was a condition that threatened to take down his legacy before it ever got started. ‘I’ve always been a nervous person,” West admitted many times.’” (http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2011/december/7121211.html)
What happened to “Mr. Clutch”? Simple. He forgot how to breathe.
The same thing can happen to us. You and I can be doing so well under the pressures and challenges of life one day, only to find ourselves in shambles by the same tension the next day. We can be walking with Jesus, his words and actions fresh on our minds, feeling on top of the world one day, but gasping for our breath knocked out of us by the inevitable unpredictability of life the next. One day we are boldly standing with Jesus. The next, we are cowering in a hideout.
So, how do we make it? How can we get to a peace that overpowers and outlasts our problems? Simple. Breathe. Easter has made breathing so much easier. The heavy smog of anxiety of our lives has been cut by the new exhale of Jesus’ resurrection into our world. When Jesus breathed on the disciples, he breathed on us all. Just as the flap of a butterflies’ wings creates a tsunami a million miles away, so Jesus’ breath has set into motion peace that rushes over and into our lives today. It filled the room then and it can fill the room now. It calmed minds and hearts then and it can calm them today. It broke through walls of fear and depression then and it can break through them now. I say it “can” do all of this because it sure seems Jesus made it an optional breath then, as it is now. Jesus said to “receive” it, as though there would be any reason they would ever want to turn from it. How is it that we can turn away from the fresh breath of life and peace Jesus is blowing on us for our own stale and stinky halitosis? It seems that we, too, have forgotten how to breathe.
Communion this morning is an opportunity to learn again how to breathe. It is a great breathing exercise for us, allowing Jesus to enter our space, to get close to us, and to receive from him the peace of his Spirit. Ready to take a deep breath?