Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I am a wife, mother, pastor…and I have MS

I am a wife.
I am a mother.
I am a daughter, sister, friend.
I am a pastor.
…And I have Multiple Sclerosis.

This is not s secret, but it's always difficult to share with others because "I look so good" (most of the time)…and I am really very healthy, for me.  However, I have a chronic disease and it sucks at times.

This is a modified sermon that has been preached to a few different faith communities.
It is my "coming out" sermon about my disease based on Psalm 46.


Pslam 46 - NRSV

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

8Come, behold the works of the LORD;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10"Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth."
11The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.


Grace and to you and peace, form God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…

I absolutely LOVE the book of Psalms! In the Hebrew Bible the title of the collection is the Book of Praises (which in Hebrew is: sefer tehillim), it is abbreviated to just the word, “Praises” (in Hebrew: tehillim). I’m sure most of you have a favorite psalm or you’re at least familiar with verses from psalm 23 “The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” or “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” from psalm 8. Even our Lord expressed His grief at being separated from His Father on the cross by repeating the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

If you have ever spent any time with the psalms you will find that the psalms speak personally to us…We cannot read very far in the Psalms without drawing the conclusion that the psalmist seems to have been reading our mail or listening in on a private phone call. How is it that after centuries have passed we find a writer who lived in a different time and culture expressing our innermost feelings, fears, and hopes? It seems that wherever we are in our spiritual journey, whatever emotions may be in our hearts may be feeling, whatever struggles we may be going through, we will find a place in the Psalms that resonates and draws us closer to the Lord.
It was Athanasius, an outstanding church leader in the fourth century, who reportedly declared “that the Psalms have a unique place in the Bible because most of the Scripture speaks to us, while the Psalms speak for us.”
Psalms are prayers, poetry, and song…They are our prayers, our words directed to God in petition or praise, they are like beautiful poetry, poetically formulated language, and they are song, they go beyond the mere speaking or even recital of a poem and become music. Psalms are an expression of worship and praise.
From the psalms we can learn how to enhance our Prayer Life and we learn how to develop our Praise and Worship; the psalms encourage us to be Authentic and Transparent before God and Others; and the psalms teach us more about the Character and Person of God. We learn about God’s Goodness, God’s Sovereignty, God’s Holiness, God’s Wrath, God’s Loving kindness, God’s Mercy, God’s Power, God’s Majesty, and God’s Transcendence. And we become more familiar about our Lord Jesus Christ as we see the Messiah in the Psalms.
Martin Luther said of the psalms: “The Psalter is the favorite book of all the saints … [Each person], whatever his circumstances may be, finds in [the book] psalms words which are appropriate to the circumstances in which he finds himself and meet his needs as adequately as if they were composed exclusively for his sake, and in such a way that he himself could not improve on them nor find or desire any better psalms or words.”
And we, as the saints, can find in the psalms any emotion that we need to express…Our psalm for today, psalm 46, is one of protection, deliverance, and victory…and though, I do not have a favorite psalm, per se, this one in particular spoke to me this week. This psalm tells of God’s protection and defense of God’s people, both thousands of years ago and today. In this psalm we are reminded that God is our strength and help when we are in trouble. Though there will be natural disasters and political turmoil, God will not be moved, God will remain constant. God is supreme over all the earth! God is with God’s people and keeps them safe!
The psalms have been re-written and interpreted by different writers, poets, and musicians for years and years…One adaptation of psalm 46 that I found really intriguing comes from a little known Episcopal prayer book that was published last year, called the Hip Hop Prayer Book…Psalm 46 is re-interpreted by Hip Hop artists in the vernacular used by the kids who live in the South Bronx so that they would feel more comfortable in worship.
So, I share with you this translation…
God is our refuge. If troubles test you
He’s who you step to
We kept cool when high tides swept through
And earthquake shakes right and left moves
We bless you!

There’s an estuary, that rests very high
With a river in the middle set by El Shaddai
Kept wet, never dry
Its water runs before the sun hits the sky
And with one little cry…
Heathen schemes seem really weak and
He brings kingdoms to their knees and
Humiliates them
So we praise him, God of Jacob.
Hey kids, ladies gents, attention please
He who plants seeds and keeps the peace
From the West to the East
By break’n weaponry over his chest and knees
Has requested you attention please heed his speech
Stop and see that I preside over every rock and tree.”

I’ll try not to be faithless
It’s He who made us.
God of Jacob.
However, whether the psalm is spoken in Hip Hop or in the language of the King James Bible, it has still been on my heart this week. I know we have all had times in our life where the world seems to be crumbling around us and we have to “Be still,” and know that God is with us. Be still…slow down…and know that God is our refuge and strength.
I can think of quite a few times in my life where things seemed to be falling apart. However, in the past several years, my life seems to crumble a whole lot easier…or rather my body seems to crumble...You see, I have Multiple Sclerosis. Which is not something that is a secret, but it is also something that is hard to share, especially to a new faith community. 

First let me explain a bit about Multiple Sclerosis is a disease that affects the central nervous system.  The synapses, or nerves, spontaneously and without explanation develop scars which leads to the nerves misfiring or not, in some cases not connecting at all, which is what leads to physical symptoms.   - it’s not disease that gets a lot of press, after all there are only about 400,000 diagnosed cases in the United States, compare that to the one million five hundred thousand cases of cancer that are projected to be diagnosed in the United States this year alone. 

But for the 400,000 of us with MS and our friends and family members the diagnosis is a big deal and something that needs constant monitoring, medicine, and care.  

So, my symptoms on a “normal” day consist of significant memory problems, which means that names and numbers are really difficult for me to retain.  I also have problems with directions, as in getting from point A to point B, even if they’re simple.  I struggle with issues with my balance and fatigue on almost a daily basis and I actually have a lot of pain in my joints pretty regularly.  These are symptoms that I have learned to deal with and compensate for, so you very rarely hear me mention that anything is wrong...because even though it is wrong, it’s kind of normal for me, which is strange.

And so, in the midst of my darkness of a chronic illness, I try to be positive. I count my blessings. I am blessed to have a loving supportive husband. I am blessed to have parents, both Chandler’s and mine, who love and care for both of us very much. Then there is the rest of my wonderful family and friends. And of course, I am blessed to be here with this family of faith.
I count my blessings daily, but that doesn’t stop the overwhelming feelings that life is crashing around me at times. So, I take great comfort in the psalms, especially psalms like 46 in which I am reminded that God is a very present help in danger and that God is with me in my struggles and though everything may seem inconsistent, God will be ever consistent and unfailing in loving me.
However, I can’t count how many times I have told people that I have MS and they say, “Oh, well, it’s part of God’s plan,” or “Well, God has given you MS for a reason.” Now, I know these people are trying to be comforting, but when I hear these expressions, I begin to feel this tightness in the pit of my stomach. And I try to say in a reasonable manner, “Well, I don’t really believe that my leg not working is a part of God’s plan.” When, in fact, I want to yell, “NO! This is not part of God’s plan! God did NOT inflict me with this chronic disease! God does not want my family and friends to worry! God does not want me to be in pain!”
I tell you, God does not cause bad things to happen to us. God does not give a person cancer, or fibromyalgia, or diabetes, or crohns, or multiple sclerosis. God doesn’t cause earthquakes or tsunamis, or hurricanes to punish his people. God does not want pain and brokenness to happen to our bodies and our relationships and our environment.
So, why do bad things happen? Why do people get sick? Why do couples get divorced? Why do natural disasters occur? Why? Because…we live outside of the garden. In the beginning God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. And then humankind wanted to be like God and the man and the woman ate of the fruit and then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked.
We live after Genesis chapter 2, we live after The Fall. We live in a broken world, which was not of God’s choosing, but our own in our attempt to be like God. And because we live in this broken world we all live in an unnatural state…we become imperfect…we become fallible…we become broken and our world becomes broken. We become open to disease and death and bad relationships and natural disasters. We are broken and we are fallen, not because of something God has done, but because of what we have done.
Now, please, do not misunderstand me…WE are broken as a people. Death, illness, accidents, and divorce do not occur because of individual sins. We are all sinners, but my personal sins did not lead to my MS. The fallen nature of creation has allowed sin and brokenness to enter into the world and with that sin and brokenness comes the bad things that happen in our lives.
However, there is hope. We may be broken, but we are not unfixable. We have our hope in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus, who longs to gather us together as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings…Jesus, who longs to protect us from harm…Jesus, who gave himself for us and for our salvation. We have hope and salvation in the body and blood of Jesus. Jesus, who despite what you may have heard in the media lately, was bodily resurrected so that we too have the hope of the resurrection on the last day.
We have the hope of a new heaven and a new earth…a holy city…a new Jerusalem where God will reside among human beings. God will live among us, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death will not exist any more – or mourning, or crying, or pain, or cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or car accidents, or hurricanes, or addictions, will be no more. For God will make all things whole. God will make all things new. We have complete victory through Christ. For neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
However, until the time that Christ comes again, we are gifted with the community of Christ to support us; we have the Spirit to guide us; Jesus walks with us; God empowers us; and we have the immediate hope of the forgiveness of sins and promise of the resurrection in Holy Communion.
And until that day when we are joined with Christ we have the hope in the knowledge that God has been with his people in their troubles, God is with us in our troubles, and God will continue to be with us, even in the troubling times ahead.
Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth." The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.


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