My First Sermon

My First Sermon

Written for BJ’s Oregon Memorial Service, and shared aloud on Thursday, July 23:

I wrote a eulogy for BJ. It’s crazy that that’s a thing I had to do, and I hope you read it. But for some reason, I felt like I needed to say a new thing today. I felt like I needed to preach.

Preach is a very scary word for me. And calling this a sermon feels scary. For a long time I thought this was something women “couldn’t” do. But I have had my life turned upside down by the passionate voices of some very influential Christian women. And I’m grateful. I needed to see, to know that God cares about our calling and our gifts, and it goes beyond gender. And though the words sermon and preach feel so scary for me, I cannot deny I have this fire burning inside of me. And though I don’t quite understand it yet, I just know that I need to share God’s love. I believe that God is doing a New Thing. And that New Thing involves unleashing women on this planet. Unleashing us to women be Pastors and Leaders in the church. Unleashing us in this unbelievable, spicy, and exciting way. And I believe I am apart of it. In fact, a few year ago I was given a clear word; “Revival will come when the women gather.”

The night before BJ died, I felt a strong calling to ministry, to seminary. I just had this impression to go to seminary and in my drowsy, half-awakedness I was like, whatever God, I’ll do it. BJ died 8 hours later. It was only after his passing that I realized what I signed up for.

In the days after his passing, I felt even more strongly that ministry has something to do with what I was meant to do, in some capacity. To preach, to lead people, to share God’s love and power. I’m sad that it took BJ’s death to finally get me to stop ignoring God and stop ignoring this calling, but I know BJ would pass out with pride about all this. He was my biggest fan, and he knew better than anyone on this planet how I struggled with my identity, with what made me tick, with where and what God was calling me to do. But know I see a path, it’s muddy and scary and expensive, but it’s a path. And I know BJ is so proud of me that I am taking over his memorial service to preach my very first sermon. I know absolutely nothing would make him prouder.

So go easy on me, it’s my first, AND I’m a WOMAN.

Also, I wrote this a week and a half ago, and today I’m struggling to believe it. I don’t even want to share with you what I wrote, because it’s hard to believe it myself. So maybe I’m preaching to myself today. So I’m going to pretend this is something I want YOU to know, but I think all along this is something I needed to know. Here we go.

I watched the movie Wild two weeks ago. A true story. Cheryl Strayed, portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, goes on a three MONTH solo hike up the Pacific Crest Trail, right down the road from here. She had to hike because of death. Someone she knew died. Someone she loved so much, died. Her mom. It was her mother, she had died of cancer four year earlier. Now in the aftermath of her mother’s death, Cheryl had let her life completely fall apart. Completely fall to pieces, fall in RUINS when her mother died. She became so trapped in grief, so inescapably trapped in her grief that it led her to emptiness, endless sorrow and pain, drug addiction, sex addiction, she just let her life be ruined. She just lost herself entirely after her mother died. She became a shell of the person she used to be.

So my question is, do you know anyone like that? Have you met someone like Cheryl Strayed? Someone who has let someone’s death, or something else utterly tragic in their lives, absolutely ruin them?

I felt myself there yesterday. I feel myself wanting to go there today. It’s an easy place to go.

And we all know someone who’s let tragedy take them there. Let something like this absolutely destroy them.

So as I find myself going to that dark place. As I find myself wanting to let this ruin me, wanting this to be the end of MY life, the end of MY story, I try to think of BJ.

What would BJ want me to do? How would BJ want me to live?

It’s almost a question not even worth asking. Because we all know the answer.

BJ would want me to live with passion, with joy, with gratitude, with abandon. If I’m getting real honest with you all, BJ would want me to date  and get married and have children someday. He’d want me to declare the good news and live with passion and purpose and meaning and joy. He’d want me to live the most full, beautiful life I could imagine.

And in someways, it really is selfish of me to fall to bits, because if I really am thinking about BJ, and not myself, I would have to be strong, be soft, be loving, be trusting, so I could honor his memory.

And when I really think about it, I know it would absolutely blaspheme his memory to anything otherwise. To let his death destroy me. To let tragedy take me down a dark path, instead of a path flooded with light.

Also, when I really let myself think about it, I have to think, if I died, if I die tomorrow, what would I want all of you to do? How would I want YOU all to live? What would I want you to do, to say, to feel after I’m gone?

And though it’s hard to admit, it’s not even a question, I’d want you all to LIVE. I’d want you to dance, and to sing, and to be filled with joy. I would want you to take your life and live and love every single blessed second you get.

And if I believe that for myself, knowing BJ, I know with absolute certainty that that is what HE would want.

So as I was thinking about all of this, this thought came to me so clearly, and I need to stop forgetting it:

We let death beget death when we crumble when loved ones die.

We let death beget death.

We let death beget death when we become a shell of a person, and refuse to move forward in our lives with vigor.

When we go all Cheryl Strayed when someone dies, we are letting death beget more death.

We are letting something that is ALREADY sad, bring EVEN MORE SADNESS.
And that is a crime to our loved ones who have died.

We cannot allow this to happen, especially those of us who claim to love Jesus.

If we love God, if we believe in the Bible, in the gospel, and we let death beget more death? It’s wrong. It’s wrong because we know, as believers, the TRUTH about death.

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
John 11:25-26

If we believe Jesus was who he said he was, if we truly believe in the power of the cross, we know the TRUTH about death. And we KNOW with certainty that death is NOT the final word.

If we believe in what Jesus did on the cross, if we believe in Heaven, in salvation, in the resurrection of the living God, we cannot believe that death is the end. We know that death isn’t the end. We KNOW that death is actually the beginning. And we know that death is not death, we know, in the backwards kingdom of God, we know that death is LIFE.

Do you not believe that?

Do you not believe that death is not the point of death?

Don’t you see that the point of death is LIFE?

It is ALL OVER the Gospel. Death is not death! For those who love Jesus, death is life!

Don’t you see that death should beget LIFE? LIFE not Death. We want LIFE to spring from death, not more death. Don’t you see that with the God we follow, death shall bring life?

So how dare we minimize God, and in some ways, how dare we grieve, with the glorious news that death is NOT the final answer.

Now it isn’t wrong to grieve, but I think it is only because we are finite humans that we can continue to grieve, because if we lived our lives knowing what death REALLY means for those who believe in Jesus, we would not grieve. We COULD not grieve. If we really could understand what God was up to, we would rejoice. We would sing praise.

And I am almost there, I am so close to joy. I get close, and then I get far, I get close, and then I get far. I feel far now, but I want to feel closer to joy. I WANT to believe all the things I’ve just said.

Since BJ’s death, I have never felt closer to God’s presence. I don’t feel it right now as strong. It ebbs and flows, but by His strength, I want to continually and daily choose to say NO the death.

I need to daily say NO to MORE death in my life. I need to work on saying YES to God and YES to life.

Because in my heart, I do NOT want to let BJ’s death beget more death. There is enough pain, sickness, sadness, and death in this world without me wallowing, I do not want add more to the pile.

So will you join me? Will you join in doing a NEW thing? A radical thing? A GOD sized thing? Will you ask God to give you HIS eyes when it comes to BJ’s death? Will you let him show you how he is doing a New Thing? It’s hard. It might seem impossible at times, but with God, no thing is impossible.

When we think of BJ, we think of how loving, joyful, likable, and friendly he was. WE think about how he loved God deeply. And we cry out “He was taken too soon!”

But I can’t help but think, just maybe, maybe in our finite, limited, human minds, that he got the better deal. That he GOT greatness. Think about it— right now, right this very second— he is looking into the face of the living, resurrected God. He can SEE the FACE of God. He has looked Jesus up and down, and worshipped at his feet! Who has time to mourn? Who can do anything but CELEBRATE that?

My friend emailed me a few days after BJ’s death about a dream he had. 
He dreamt he was sitting at a wooden table. He was sitting there alone when suddenly BJ appeared, looking like his normal BJ self, and then BJ started chatting away. Before my friend could get a handle on the fact that BJ was in front of him, BJ vanished. My friend said he felt terrible because he wanted to ask BJ questions but hadn’t asked them in time. But then BJ appeared again, and started chatting away again, just relaxed in conversation. My friend didn’t want BJ to vanish again before he had gotten the chance to ask him his question, so he cut in: “BJ, have you seen Jesus? Have you met Jesus?” BJ replied, “Yes. He is beautiful. At first I saw him and thought, ‘This guy looks a little sleepy,’ but then I saw him, and he is beautiful.”
I am SO grateful my friend told me that. What comfort it gave me. I just DIED at BJ saying Jesus looked sleepy! Can you imagine? I took it as this— BJ was so hopped up on life, so full of excitement and passion and vigor, that to him, Jesus, the Perfecter of Peace, who knows know stress, no anger, only love and joy- seemed SLEEPY to him, in BJ’s excitedness and newbie status in Heaven, Jesus looked sleepy! But isn’t that amazing? BJ has SEEN JESUS. And don’t think I’m crazy. I believe this with every fiber of my very alive self. I have seen visions and signs and wonders of the Living God. I know he is real. And I know BJ has seen him.

ANYWAYS. I know many of us here claim to be Christians. And if you don’t, I’m sorry this was all very Jesus-y for you. But for those of us who claim God as our Savior, for those of us who truly believe in a God who conquers death, who TRULY believe in Heaven and Salvation and that BJ loved God— we can’t let this ruin us.

It is going to be so hard. For some us, maybe the hardest thing we will ever do. But if we loved BJ, we can continue to love him by moving forward. By finding joy. By pursuing our passion. And by pursuing God himself.

And by the way, Cheryl Strayed went on to do great things. She wrote a best selling memoir. She was able to heal her wounds of addiction and sadness and grief. She was able to move forward, and to love well. She did have to endure a grueling solo hike that involved blisters and rain and walking for over ninety days. So I am just trying to spare us all of a 90 day hike with this sermon. Spare us of the spiral downward, and help us all use this tragedy to help us spiral upwards, towards love, towards joy, towards friendship, towards peace, towards God.

It’s what BJ would want.

Don’t you believe it?


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