Sermons from First Christian Church

Mahtomedi, Minnesota


Kick at the Darkness

Romans 5:1–11 | Sixth Sunday of Easter | May 10, 2015

This has probably been quite a week for Emily McDowell. McDowell is a graphic designer in her late 30s, living in Los Angeles. When she was 24, she was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She endured nine months of chemo and radiation before the cancer went into remission, the state where it remains today.

McDowell notes that some of things that you go through when you have cancer, losing your hair, being called “sir” at Starbucks because of said lost hair, and sickness from the chemo are easy compared to isolation she felt. Family and friends either stayed away for fear of not knowing what to say or they said the completely wrong thing.

Because of this, McDowell created a series of brutally honest greeting cards called Empathy Cards. The cards are the ones McDowell wanted to receive when she was going through her ordeal. It’s her hope that these cards will be “better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness and suffering.” On her website she describes why she came up with these cards:

Being sick can be really lonely. One major reason is because most people don’t know what to say, so they disappear, or say the wrong thing entirely. And as a friend, it IS hard to know what to say. I created Empathy Cards because I believe we need some better, more authentic ways to communicate about illness and suffering.
My goal for this collection is to help people connect with each other through truth, and to help people with illness feel seen and understood.

As I said, it has been quite a week for McDowell. News of these cards went viral and showed up at various news outfits. I went to look at her website and it seems that orders for the cards have gone through the roof, causing a delay in shipping. The cards are able to reach people emotionally in ways that a “get well” card never will.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share what some of these cards say:

“I promise never to refer to your illness as a “journey.” Unless someone takes you on a cruise.”

“Just so you know, I’m totally on board for driving you to treatment, cleaning your place, helping pick out flattering wigs, coming up with bad-ass visualization exercises, and if you twist my arm, I guess I’d also be cool with lying on the couch and watching trashy TV together. I know, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. I love you.”

“I’m really sorry I haven’t been in touch. I didn’t know what to say.”

“Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason. I’m sorry you are going through this.”

In today’s scripture, we see Paul writing again to the church in Rome. In chapter five he starts focusing the nature of God. Through Jesus, we have peace with God. God showed how much he loved creation through Christ’s death, even though we were sinners. Starting at verse three Paul talks about the advantages of being at peace with God. Even our problems or sufferings seem small. He talks about suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and produces hope.

Now, this passage can be taken the wrong way. People could think this means to ignore the sufferings that come our way. Or that we should get over whatever is dogging us and put on a happy face.

But that isn’t what Paul is saying. Paul is really talking about hope. Paul was well aware that suffering does come in our lives. But Paul wanted to remind people that they are not alone. Suffering can be just as isolating as having a serious illness like cancer. Paul was saying we don’t just put our hope in hope, we place our hope in God. The hope isn’t that everything will be wonderful, but that we aren’t alone, that God is with us, that in the death of Christ, God understands suffering and stands with us.

Hope doesn’t mean the cancer will always be in remission. Hope doesn’t mean that the deep despair of depression will never come back. Hope doesn’t erase the abuse or the divorce. Hope is very much like the empathy cards, it reminds us that God is here with us. For whatever reason, God might not be able to make the sadness go away, but God will sit with us and is there to remind us of a day when cancer or depression or all of the things that hurt our souls will go away.

Hope also doesn’t mean we will never face despair. I am reminded of a scene from the movie Selma which looks at the historic march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The most memorable scene is the one depicting Bloody Sunday, the day when marchers attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge, only to be beaten back by the police. The movie shows people getting the full force of bats or truncheons or whatever the police had their hands on. Protesters were bloodied and injured. A black church in Selma which was the staging area for the march became a makeshift hospital as people attended to the wounded. Some of those who made it unscathed were ready to find some guns and fight back. This was despair. These men had seen people they knew who were kicked and beaten simply because they were black. Nonviolence as a tactic had failed and the only way to respond was with violence. One of the leaders of the march confronts the men, telling them that violence wasn’t going to solve this problem. He was right of course, but you can understand the sense of despair, a feeling that this leader was also probably facing.

Despair will come into our lives. We will get that call in the middle of the night. We will learn that the baby growing will be born with physical and mental problems. We will deal with a relatives that is hooked on drugs. Despair, that sense that things might not get better, is always just around the corner, ready to pounce.

Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn wrote a song back in the 80s called “Lovers In A Dangerous Time.” Towards the end of the song, he says that you and I “got to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.”

God’s hope is one that is relentless. It is something that answers back to the darkness in the world and tells it that evil will not have the last say. God will win. We are not alone. Daylight is on the way. Hope in God prevail. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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