1/20/2016 sermon “The Cross of Jesus”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: John 11:21-27
Day: Ric Molen’s funeral

“The Cross of Jesus”

“Jesus said to [his good friend Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

RicSo begins our Gospel lesson today. I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ question all week, when it became apparent just one week ago that our beloved brother in Christ, Ric Molen, was actively nearing the end of his life. Do you believe that our physical death is NOT the end of our life? Many of you do, I’m sure; some may not.

Well, let me tell you that Ric believed that death here on this earth is not the end of life. He believed this in theory, intellectually, until his catastrophic heart attack on May 22. More recently, as the medical professionals were running out of options to keep his weak physical heart going, Ric believed in the Resurrection—his coming resurrection—with all his very strong heart of love.

In fact, Ric wondered why he was still alive, why he got to live for almost eight more months than human reason could explain. I’ll let you figure that out, as Ric had to—as I had to—but I’ll give you a hint: the answer to why Ric lived past last May 22 has a lot to do with the Cross of Jesus. Listen for the Cross in the next few minutes, and you will find the path that leads to understanding, to compassion, to love.

You see, there is a difference between plain old community and Christian community. A community is any old assembly of like-minded people, people with a common interest. People in a community get together to live their lives in the here and now. A Christian community, on the other hand, includes everyone whom God sends to us and everyone whom we can bring. And a Christian community doesn’t just hang out together; a Christian community knows that this life is a journey, a journey from God, through this life, and back to God. A Christian community is one in which the members are our traveling companions throughout this life, and often those traveling companions are very different from us.

If our lives are a journey, as we believe, from God back to God, then in comparison this life is a wilderness. We are sometimes fooled into thinking the opposite is true, that this life is all there is and that what lies beyond is the ultimate desolation. But here we are, this Christian community of Resurrection, and we proclaim in our very name that we are not fooled. We know that we are journeying through the wilderness that is this life, to something better beyond where we get to return to God our creator.

I’ve used the image of life as a journey, because if we are a people on the move, a journeying people (as we are) then you know who has been in the lead here at Resurrection these past few years, carrying the Cross of Jesus to lead the way: Ric Molen.

Ric led us everywhere important, carrying the Cross ahead of us. If you aren’t a part, normally, of a Christian community, you might not know that leading the way and carrying the Cross is not a chore: these are honors, because not just anyone can lead the way. Leading the way in a Christian community requires discernment, sound judgment, and a heart and voice and hands put to work in service to others.

The thing about Ric is that he lived to serve. Not because his life was easy, but despite all the hardships this wilderness life brought his way. I’m going to tell you about a few because Ric was willing to share them, wanted you to know the burdens he carried. And because these were Ric’s burdens that he conquered, even as he conquered death itself.

  • Ric suffered all his life from being bipolar. He had planned to tell you, his traveling companions in life, in March when the Rev. Joani Peacock was scheduled to lead a Forum here on the subject of being bipolar (not a coincidence, you understand). A snow storm intervened. But here’s the thing about being bipolar: Ric knew that what is up today will be down tomorrow, and vice versa. From this Ric learned empathy for others, for whatever their burdens of life might be.
  • Ric’s son suffered, too, and had ended his own life. Ric asked me just before his heart attack if this meant that Eric would be in heaven to greet him when he himself got there. “Yes, yes, yes, a resounding yes, if we know anything at all about God.” That’s my answer, my guess, but Ric knows this for himself now.
  • Then there were the divorces, the market crash, loss of his business, house, car, livelihood: everything we falsely hold dear in this life. Everything but his beloved dog Roper and Ric’s Christian community. Yet Ric’s faith and love remained strong, leading those who had and have so much more material things, in the end, that Ric had, showing us the way—the way of the Cross.

“The Way.” That’s what the very first Christians called discipleship, and following Jesus. This was the way of the Cross. Not so much the burdens, whatever they might be, that we have to carry in this life. But recognizing that at the end of our life’s journey is death, which we must conquer to receive new life.

Earlier in John’s gospel, in chapter 5 verse 25, Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” In our lesson for today Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Often we Christians argue among ourselves: Is believing enough, or is doing required, also? In typical Anglican fashion, Ric did both. Knowing that believing in Christ Jesus causes us to pick up his Cross and follow him into living a Jesus life of loving and helping all people, as surely as living a Jesus life causes us to believe.

I have no doubt where Ric is now:

  • Ric is with God, in the loving arms of Jesus, with his own beloved son.
  • Ric also lives in our hearts, even as we relinquish him to Jesus. We are, after all Resurrection people.

There are two more things I want to tell you about Ric. He was willing for me to share some of his story with you because he wanted you to know that ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE HERE IN THIS LIFE, just as his presence among us made a huge difference in this Christian community. But he also asked me to tell you (not in a chiding way at all, but in love) that we shouldn’t let one person do it all alone, that we are a Christian community. The Cross gets heavy sometimes, and there should be others to carry it forward. The journey gets lonely at times, and we need to be here for each other—all others—as you were there for him, and he for you. That’s Ric’s testimony today: the journey of life and carrying the Cross of Jesus are not meant to be solitary endeavors.

The last thing is this: Worship really mattered to Ric, not just THAT we worshiped, but HOW. The one thing that Ric really wanted in worship that I wouldn’t let him have, or do, is to use Sanctus bells. These are bells rung in devotion to Jesus at the holiest moments in our liturgy. “Too Papist,” I told him you would say, or maybe just think. Well today is Ric’s Day, a joyous if tearful celebration of a life well-lived, and for Ric we will use bells. Listen for them and rejoice in your heart, if you can, that Ric is with our Lord and Savior, sill leading our way.

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