April 26, 2016

Dear LABC,

I am writing from home today. We recently had an electrical panel replaced and I have been waiting for the inspector. Good news; he just came and the work has been approved. While waiting I have been responding to email and working on “Sister Death,” my sermon for Sunday. Here are some excerpts from that sermon.

In the tones of a Pentecostal Preacher, Prince Rogers Nelson, “Brother Nelson” to the members of his Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Minneapolis, Prince to the millions of his adoring fans, spoke these words to begin one his most famous songs, “Let’s Go Crazy.”  Dearly Beloved, We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Electric word, life. It means forever and that’s a mighty long time. But I’m here to tell you there’s something else – the afterworld. A world of never ending happiness. You can always see the sun, day or night. So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills, you know the one, Dr. Everything Is Going To Be Alright, instead of asking him how much of your time is left, ask him how much of your mind, baby. Because in this life things are much harder than  in the afterworld. In this life you are on your own.

Regardless of whether we agree with his theology or not, one of the reasons that Prince’s music mattered to many was that it spoke to things that people think about – love, loss, life, death. Certainly, though it can be hard to do so, we think about death. Sometimes dreading it, sometimes denying it, sometimes detesting it, sometimes debating it. In this we are not alone.  The definition is a subject of ongoing medical debate. Not all doctors, not all cultures, not all state laws define death in exactly the same way.

Jesus speaks of death. He said of Jairus’s daughter and his friend Lazarus, both  of whom who had recently died, “They are sleeping.” He teaches that death, like sleep, is not eternal. It is ultimately reversible, ultimately impermanent. To the one whom, while being crucified with him,  requests, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he answers, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” He makes it clear that even the awful death of crucifixion does not endure forever. In John 5, in an effort to say  clearly that he spoke the very words of God, he proclaims, “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.” There are several ways of interpreting these words but one of them is that even in death the voice, the love, the words of Jesus find us.

The apostle Paul wrestles with the relationship of death and resurrection and reaches the conclusion that death is a foe that has been vanquished. In I Corinthians 15 – He shouts out “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory, Where, O death is your sting.” Clearly, for Paul, death is a vanquished foe.  John, the visionary of the Book of Revelation, is on the same page with a slightly extended time line. Speaking of a day yet to come he promises that “Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” The Resurrection, the Resurrected One, are victors over death.

Almost twelve hundred years later St. Francis of Assisi wrote a beautiful poem titled Canticle of the Sun celebrating the ways in which the natural world represents God’s glory. He celebrates Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brothers Wind and Air, Sister Water, Brother Fire, Mother Earth and “Sister Death from whose embrace no living person can escape.” What do you think of the imagery of Sister Death?  Could it be that Francis is saying that even death, once a vanquished foe, is on the road to redemption and can now be referred to as Sister Death?

At the very least we need to  acknowledge that Francis lived what he taught. As his own death approached he asked for his friend, Lady Jacoba, to visit him and bring some gray material for a robe to be buried in, some candles and some the really good almond cookies he liked so much.

Prayers of the Congregation

  • The Buffin family as they mourn the death of Marc’s brother, Thomas
  • All who are mourning the death of singer/composer Greg Murai
  • All who are mourning the death of Prince
  • The ABSW family as it gathers to remember President Paul Martin and as the Board gathers for the first time since Paul’s death
  • John Lee as he recuperates from surgery
  • Evan Wilkinson as he continues his recuperation
  • Joan Thatcher, health concerns
  • Sandra Dunn, health concerns
  • The Nelson and Meads families for Gloria Meads (health concerns)
  • Gloria Meads for the Elias family
  • Ray Rodriguez, health concerns
  • Kimberly Moreland (health concerns)
  • Mary Anderson for Sherrie who is recuperating from injuries suffered in an automobile accident
  • Thanksgiving for the ministry to the Pacific Coast Baptist Association
  • Thanksgiving for the ministry of East Bay Housing Organization all who work for housing justice
  • Kay Baxter for her family
  • Thanksgiving that Imani Hadley was with us in worship for the first time

Paul Martin Memorial Service

The LABC family is invited to the memorial service for President Paul Martin of ABSW who was a friend and admirer of our congregation. The service will be this Saturday, April 30, at 10:00 a.m., at Allen Temple Baptist Church, 8501 International Boulevard in Oakland. All clergy are invited to robe and process as part of the service. If you would like to be part of the procession please meet in Jefferson Hall at Allen Temple at 9:30.