June 23, 2019 – Following by Staying

Text: Luke 8:26-39

Sometimes you don’t have to be present to experience something deep. Hearing from someone who was there can be as much powerful as you would have experienced yourself.

Our friend Rosalind Dearing passed away last Tuesday at her home. The date was set by Rosalind some time ago as part of her decision of medically assisted dying. She was surrounded by her husband, Dick, their children and grandchildren. Dick initially asked me to say a prayer of blessing at her deathbed, but then he learned that only the immediate family members were allowed. “I will be there in spirit, holding you and Rosalind in prayer” I said to Dick on the phone whose trembling voice made my heart tremble. On the following day we talked again on the phone. This time the tone of his voice was much calmer and assuring. Dick used the word, “magnificent” to describe the whole process of her departing. Rosalind asked Dick to hold her hands, and then she was blessed by the presence of their children and grandchildren.

I imagine how love touched everyone in the room deeply – the powerful love that could carry all the family members not only on the day of her passing but throughout the rest of their lives, and the amazing grace that surrounded Rosalind. She was held in the unconditional love until her last breath. We give thanks to God for the life of Rosalind, for all that she has meant, and will continue to mean for us, for all that she did for us and with us, for all the love and care she has shared with us. The incurable disease made her body weak, but she didn’t let it define her. She chose dignity over weakness, love over fear, and peace over confusion. The hymns that Rosalind chose for a celebration of her life say something about what she truly believed in: Morning Has Broken, In the Bulb There Is a Flower, and We Shall Go Out with Hope of Resurrection. She also asked Winnipeg Male Chorus to sing Hallelujah and You Raise Me Up.

Rosalind set an example for us how to navigate in times of difficulty. It is true that life overwhelms us sometimes. When we are in the middle of a long tunnel, and we don’t see the end, it’s easy to feel discouraged, hopeless and dismayed. But last week I saw a glimpse of what is possible in the midst of overwhelming suffering. Love is more powerful than fear. We must learn to surrender to love so we can float in it, not go against it. There is nothing or no one in the world we can ultimately protect from any harm. The more we try to protect our loved ones or ourselves, the harder we try to be in control. And the harder we try to be in control, the more we experience a sense of failure or a sense of inadequacy toward others as well as ourselves. Love becomes an impossible task as long as we think we are in charge.

We can see how the people in today’s story experience a sense of failure precisely because they want to be in charge. A man runs to meet Jesus. We don’t know much about him except that he has been kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles because he is considered unclean. The community takes control of the person. They determine his place, isolated from his family and friends. The interesting part is what happens after Jesus heals the person. The community becomes so fearful that they ask Jesus to leave. What are they afraid of? It’s not so much the healing power of Jesus as the new reality he brought. Now that the man becomes “normal”, they have to endure the newness of the person. For he is not the person they used to know, or they thought they knew. They are so worried about losing their power or control that they ask Jesus to leave – a threat to the status quo. There is no room for mystery so they don’t celebrate what God has done in their midst. The only one who is able to recognize what God has done is the one who is marginalized – vulnerable yet brave. The hope for the community is that he is commissioned by Jesus to remain with them. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Following Jesus doesn’t mean leaving everything familiar to us. Rather, it means staying where we are, bearing witness to the power of God in our own lives.

It is true that life can bring us many challenges. Sometimes they are so overwhelming that we can only name them as legion, multitude or mob, like the man in the story did. However, it is equally true that we can be overwhelmed by the love and care we share right where we are even in times of great sadness or grief. When that happens to us, we are invited to return to our home, our community again and again and declare what God has done for us. Each of us is commissioned by Jesus to do that task because all of us have heard from someone who witnessed to the transforming power, or have firsthand experiences. There is nothing to be afraid of. There is nothing in the world we can ultimately control. All we have to do is to surrender to love, and to float in it, trusting that the power greater than ourselves can hold us safely and carry us through.