Rev. George Miller
April 6, 2014
I have a story to share, it’s one I’ve already told, but it fits perfectly into the theme of yesterday’s memorial service for Joy Spencer. And it’s all true.
Once upon a time, a priest, a Baptist minister, and a UCC pastor were out boating on Lake Jackson when they discovered the cabin was filling with water and they were sinking.
"Oh, Lord," said the priest, "if you let us walk on water as you did your Son, we could make it to the Fountain Head and be saved." He stepped off the stern of the boat and drowned.
"Oh, Lord," said the Baptist minister, "If you would part the waters just as you did for the Israelites, we could make it to Veteran’s Beach and be saved." He stepped off the bow of the boat and was eaten by an alligator.
"Oh, Lord," said the UCC pastor, "did you say to turn the handle on this valve right or left?” When the water left the boat he went to the Sunset Grille for a basket of fish and chips and a nice, cold vodka martini.
It is good to laugh after saying goodbye to a beloved member of our church community.
It is good to laugh as the world holds its breath for more information about the Malaysian airplane.
It is good to laugh knowing people are still reeling from the mudslide in Washington, the earthquake in Chili and the fires in Avon Park.
Laughter is good because it means life still goes on, it means the darkness has not won out, it means that the human will to live stays strong.
Laughter means that we are resilient.
Resilient. Perhaps my second favorite word in the English language. Behind “mm-hmm” and before “no.”
Say it after me: resilient.
It’s a word to describe Celie in The Color Purple. It’s a word to describe the Woman at the Well who we met two weeks ago.
It’s a word to describe those in the Philippines.
Remember back in November when they were hit by a typhoon? Neighborhoods were destroyed. Roads were overflowing with debris, homes were sandblasted, and the city of Tacloban was reduced to rubble.
The landscape was covered with uprooted trees and dead bodies which lay by the roads or were buried under the wreckage.
Over 4,000 people died. Hundreds of thousands of survivors endured the unimaginable: hunger, thirst, makeshift shelter, and waiting days for help to arrive.
About a week later a journalist named Todd Pitman went to visit and was unprepared for what he saw.
There were plenty of people with hopeless, fear-filled faces, but then there were also moments of flickering hope and of life.
For example a group of boys found a basketball hoop in the ruins of their neighborhood. They propped up the backboard with broken wood beams and rusty nails scavenged from the wreckage.
And there, on a bit of land where no debris, no dead bodies, no uprooted trees lay, they played a game of basketball.
Todd was stunned; he was even more stunned when he heard the basketball net was one of the first things the neighborhood rebuilt.
Why did they do it?
The kids needed to play so they could take their mind off of things. Spectators needed something to watch, so they could forget, if even for a moment, what had become of their homes.
The journalist noticed that hope had begun to flicker; people smiled if even briefly. They joked, even in passing.
A kid wearing grimy, mismatched shoes rolled the ball towards Todd and he was encouraged to slam dunk. He opted for a free-throw, and when he sank the first two, the crowd cheered.
Amidst the rubble, they cheered.
When he missed the third throw, some “awwwww”ed in sympathy; others laughed.
Later that day, Todd saw 4 giggling kids jump up and down on soiled mattresses; two women on a hilltop high above danced.
A 21 year-old strummed a guitar and sang and when asked why, he stated “I am sad about (what happened to my city) but I’m happy because I’m still alive. I survived. I lost my home. But I did not lose my family.”
This type of reaction to a natural disaster is not always common. It was not seen in Japan when the tsunami hit.
But this form of resilience in the Philippines has been noted. Some say it’s because of an expression they have: “Bahala Na.”
It basically means: whatever happens, leave it to God.
A local psychologist says her people have grown use to the knowledge that catastrophes happen, from typhoons to earthquakes, even political unrest.
Nationally, they have found a way to make dealing with disaster an art for. Instead of letting life get the best of them, they learn to let it go, let it go, let it go.
Not that they are happy-go-lucky Pollyannas but they are resilient enough to say “I can deal with this. I’m at peace. And whatever happens tomorrow happens…”
Resilience. Bahala Na. Whatever happens leave it to God.
Is this part of what Paul is trying to tell us in today’s letter to the Christians in Rome?
Paul is nearing the end of his ministry and his time on earth. He’s been around the ancient world. He’s done it all, seen it all.
He’s had his share of free throws that made it through; he’s had his share of free throws that have completely missed the net.
He’s had his own dealing with sinking ships and proverbial alligators and religious leaders who thought their way was best.
And through it all, Paul does not lose faith; he does not lose sight. In fact he appears to be even sharper, sounder then before.
Don’t set your mind on the flesh, he states. He doesn’t mean flesh in the sense of what we eat, what we drink, or who we love.
He means flesh as in the ways we can become selfish and self-centered, the ways we can put our egos above all else and the ways we worships ourselves as Gods.
Don’t do that, Paul says. You won’t have a good, full life. You’ll be miserable.
Instead, writes Paul, put your focus on the Spirit. He does not mean spirit as in body, mind and soul.
He means Spirit as in God. As in Holy. As in that which is connected with Christ.
Put your mind on the Spirit because then you will have a good, full life that is stronger than storms, stronger then rubble, stronger then death.
Put your mind on the Spirit, because after all the Spirit of God already dwells within you.
In other words: Bahala Na.
Paul is not separating mind, body or soul here. He is not saying the body is bad and the spirit is good.
I believe that part of what he’s saying is that we are complete beings; whole and holy, and that which affects the body affects the soul, what affects the soul affects the body.
And as Christians we have two ways of living: we can focus on the negative, be in rebellion and only care about what’s in it for us.
Or we can trustingly place our lives in the hands of our Creator and be set free from the things that use to hold us down.
It means that we are no longer just our own, but we belong to God, as made known through Christ, and we belong to one another, and we belong to the greater community around us.
It means we don’t have to stay on a sinking ship. It means we don’t have to hold onto that which pulls us down.
Nor does it mean that life will become perfect and worry free, but it means that when, not if, but when disaster strikes, when storms come along, when we come across a tope, we may suffer, we may cry, we may feel afraid…
…but that ultimately with a combination of faith, trust and good ol’ fashioned common sense we will endure, we will survive, we will have enough.
We will, through Christ, find a way to dig a basketball hoop out of the wreckage and be able to play a game.
We will not be alone; we will be surrounded by others; we will be cared for by Christ.
For after all, the Spirit of God already dwells within us and the promise of the resurrection is ours for all eternity.
Amen and Bahala Na.
***today’s message used a huge portion of Todd Pitman’s excellent article “Signs of Life Amid Misery Reveal Filipino’s Spirit” (Associated Press, Nov. 19, 2013). For an inspiring read, I encourage you to Google it.