So, let me tell you about the week I have been having. And it hasn’t been good. First it started with my best friend telling me that the restaurant that he works at had a shooting during his shift. Then later that morning I found out another buddy’s wife was in hospital due to a major infection in her body. Then I found that the restaurant friend’s mom was in hospital because he cancer came back. Then there were more shootings and all that police presence Tuesday morning just by my parent’s house. Then, as some of you know, Wednesday night is when my mom told us that my dad was having a stroke.
And it all went downhill from there. My dad had a stroke before, as you may know, just over 10 years ago. That was really hard on us because it was the first major thing in our immediate family. We’ve had deaths with my grandparents already, but this was different, closer to home, a shattering of that image I had of my dad as this immovable, unbreakable, monster terror that you would never want to cross. Because he would just say the word, “hey…”, and fear would grip my entire body.
My dad is a strong dude too. Probably strongest I know, and I know all of you here so that is testament to how strong he is. So to see him weakened, vulnerable, frail even, well that just told me that a stroke is my dad’s kryptonite. A stroke is what stops this formidable train of might from plowing through anything that stands in his way. A stroke was his only weakness.
And it came again.
At first, it didn’t seem so bad. It was found to be the better kind of stroke in that a simple procedure could be done and he’ll back on his feet scaring the bejezus out of me in no time. I was hopeful. But then they scanned again and it wasn’t that simple. Apparently the clot in his artery was much larger than they thought, and the area they could work with was much too small to guarantee any kind of success. And as things progressed, it looks like my dad will at very least be paralyzed on the left side of his body.
So it was pretty hard. It was the worst way possible to top off an already difficult week. Wait, no, the worst way is that it’s Father’s Day today (in case you didn’t already know that). Although I’m not a big Father’s Day celebrator type person, especially because I was deathly afraid of my dad, it seems that this whole situation is much harder because it is Father’s Day.
I mean, this day that we’re reminded of our fathers and appreciate them for all they have done for us and provided for us and all that, it is hard to think that my dad is just lying in a hospital bed with a tube in his lungs and needles in more veins that I ever even knew we had in our bodies. So today is hard. It’s been a really tough week and it looks even tougher in the next couple days.
And honestly it is even harder when I think of the text for today, Jesus telling his disciples to proclaim “the kingdom of heaven is near.” He says this is good news.
And really, it doesn’t feel like good news right now. It doesn’t even feel like truth. Instead it feels like some churchy preachy made up fairy tale type stuff designed to give us a false hope of what life really is like. What kingdom is near? How does it even show itself? Let’s just be honest with ourselves, the world sucks. There is so much pain and suffering and death and destruction. I mean just look at just this last week alone with the shootings and buildings burning and a US president that is driving us all crazy. Thinking about the wars and oppression and racism and imbalance of power and human trafficking and modern day slavery and you’re telling me the kingdom is near?!?
If this is your kingdom, God, then you can keep it, because this kingdom isn’t working.
I want my dad to get better. I want to be able to tell him that I appreciate him and love him and that I’m sorry for being such a bad son. I’m sorry for all the years that I caused him anguish with my rebellious disobedience and defiance. I’m sorry that we didn’t get to spend more time together because I didn’t want to and I just felt awkward. I’m sorry that I almost punched him in the face because he accused me of not taking care of my car properly.
But I am thankful for how hard he worked to provide for his freakishly large and young family. I’m thankful for how much he cares for his kids and grandkids even at the point of looking like a fool. I’m thankful for him being basically the biggest support for me when I decided to move to Saskatchewan for seminary.
So in my pain, in my hurt, in my current suffering, I can kind of see what Paul is saying to the Roman church today, that suffering leads to endurance, which leads to character, and then… hope. And hope doesn’t fail.
In this anguish that I feel I remember all the good that my dad is. In my pain I appreciate everything that my dad is and all that he has done for me to help make me who I am today. In my suffering, I feel the hope and support from my family, my friends, and my community, standing by me and caring for me in this time of need.
You see? This is what Jesus told his disciples to preach. This is the good news he wanted people to know. This is the kingdom come near.
See the promise of the kingdom isn’t one that has no problems or no pain. The kingdom come near doesn’t mean that there won’t be sickness and death. The kingdom of heaven isn’t one that will just ignore the condition of the world, but instead, will be there in the midst of it. This kingdom isn’t about taking away problems, but it is about helping us through our problems, reminding us that we aren’t alone, and in spite of all the crap we are valued and cherished and worthy of being part of this kingdom.
Today’s gospel lesson had some optional verses tacked to the end of it. I decided not to include them because hey, who wants to hear a longer reading? And when I first planned this service, the optional verses didn’t seem to pertain much to the general gist of what I took the theme to be. But after what happened this week I can see how those verses really flesh out the importance of this “kingdom come near” business. I won’t read the whole thing now, but it talks about the hardships that the disciples will face, the difficulties in their work, and the fact that they are sheep in the midst of wolves. They may not always be appreciated, they may not always be effective, they may not always feel themselves that the kingdom is near. But Jesus promises that it is, and they are part of it, and that all are welcome, whether they want to be or not. This kingdom holds all of us, encapsulates all of us, and holds all of us close in community.
This is a kingdom of love. A kingdom of support. A kingdom of a community of God’s children, reaching out to each other as equals in diversity, strengthening each other in weakness. So it is exactly at times of sadness when we need to hear the promise of the kingdom come near. It is in times of pain when we can rely on the support of the kingdom. It is in times of suffering when we can see the hope of the kingdom, surrounding us with love, holding us up, and telling us in the most real way, “you are not alone.”
Right after we learned how bad my dad’s stroke was, I was heartbroken. A mess, really. My head was spinning and it felt like my world was crumbling apart. Winnie told me that I shouldn’t come in today, that I should put in a backup plan into place so I can have the time with my dad. She said that I needed to take care of myself and not worry about my other responsibilities, and I appreciate and understand why she said that. But the fact of the matter is, I need to be here. I need to hear the good news proclaimed, even if it was me proclaiming it. I need to be reminded of the community, the interconnectedness between us all, and how we are all part of something bigger than just ourselves, and I need to be strengthened to trust in the promise that whatever happens to my dad in the next couple days, that he will always be part of the greater community, the kingdom of heaven come near, the eternal body of Christ, and that his lasting effect on me will always be there no matter where he is.
You see, the kingdom of heaven has come near. Today on Father’s Day and always. And this kingdom brings us all together in mutual love and support for each other, as we together proclaim this exact promise and extend God’s welcome to all we meet. The kingdom isn’t here to take away our problems, but to reveal to us the peace of God in spite of them.
While I still worry about my dad and will probably shed a few more tears in the next few days, I am confident of God’s love for him and me and all of us, knowing that God’s arms of care and support will surround us and pull us into this kingdom of heaven come near.
As we embark together into this season after Pentecost, may we remember our calling into this kingdom, that we may go into the world proclaiming peace and love in our service to God and each other. Thanks be to God. Amen.