Steve Heronemus

Rejoice and Celebrate

Sermon from April 3, 2016 at Carthage College. Text based on Psalm 118:14-29. Spelling “errors” are to get my machine to pronounce words correctly.

Grace and peace to you in the name of Christ our savior. My name is Steve Heronemus and it is a joy to be with you today.
Let’s see what we picked up from the reeding from Psalms. What day is it today? 
Anyone else? 
Today is the day the Lord has made.
So what are we going to do today? 
We will rejoice and celebrate, we will live and declare what the Lord has done.
Wait. Rejoice and celebrate? How is that possible? I am before you in a body that is broken. A.L.S. is a cruel disease. 13 years ago I was a healthy man who played with his children, a man who hugged and kissed his wife Suzanne. 13 years ago I liked to cook, I could do chores, I loved to sing in choir, and I especially loved playing my many instruments.
Now my arms, hands, tongue and vocal cords are almost completely paralyzed, my legs are weak, and I am dependent on a machine to breathe while I sleep. I must take all my food and water through a tube in my stomach. Worst of all, I have had to relinquish the TV remote control.
I have lost track of how many times I have watched “27 Dresses”.
Thank you, Claire.
I know, 1st world problems.

Anyway, while I may be physically and visibly broken, we all experience brokenness. Where do you see brokenness? 
We have lost loved ones, we have illnesses. We are stressed, overcommitted, and unfocused. We suffer with depression, with financial trouble, job loss, and academic trouble. We succumb to addiction, fear and hate. We have broken relationships, broken promises, and broken pride.

Rejoice and celebrate? We come here a broken people, hoping and maybe even praying, that we will be fixed, that our problems will be taken away. We want to be cured. For myself, I long for a cure, or even a possibility that I won’t get worse.

Yet God called us to join with Jesus in His crucifixion. This is such a hard teaching. With everything else we have to deal with, how can we add the horror of the cross to our life? After all, we know what the cross means, suffering and humiliation beyond imagination. In the words written for us in Psalm 22: 

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
Now in Easter we are called to join with Christ in the Resurrection. This is perhaps an even harder teaching. We are so broken that we are used to it. We know how to do broken. How do we get beyond all of our brokenness and enter into a life where all is healed, even death? We can’t just leave those broken things in our lyves behind and ignore them. How do we rejoice and celebrate a life that seems so unreal, so out of reach? 
How do you think we can rejoice and celebrate in the middle of all this brokenness?  
What I too often forget, what we, too often forget, is that there is a difference between being cured and being healed. If I am cured, my physical brokenness goes away and I go back to my prior life. I would be changed and I would be incredibly thankful for restoration of all I have lost. At least for whatever time I have until human mortality catches up to me in some other way.
I believe that God smiles whenever one of God’s children is cured, rejoicing with us as one is fixed from the brokenness of the day. A cure brings us back into a normal life as defined by us humans. But the world is a broken place, and we will undoubtedly become broken again. Until death, a cure is temporary, a thing of this world.
Healing, on the other hand, is a gift freely given by God and available at any time we need it. Being healed means that Christ has put to death the things that keep us from God. Healed is being liberated from fear, from pride, expectations, and unhealthy wants and desires. Healed is living with a spirit that is in peace. When we are healed by Christ, we have God’s strength to rise above our brokenness, to overcome every barrier in life that keeps us away from being the person God wants us to be.
When we unite with Christ on the cross we feel the depth of suffering Jesus accepted on our behalf. Jesus gathers us in, holds us, and comforts us. He takes us through every brokenness, sheltering us by sacrificing His own body. If we dare to cling to Christ in his suffering, He renews us in His resurrection and takes us beyond our broken life to a life of eternal promise.
So often we think of God’s promises only in terms of eternal life, but living with Christ Resurrected means healing in this life too. I am before you in a broken body, but a healed heart. I ask you not to pity my condition because I am here to tell you that my life is better now than before this disease. I am home with my family instead of constantly travelling for work. I don’t know anyone who has died wishing they had spent more time at the office. God has led me to a more purposeful, meaningful, life. I and Suzanne work with our city officials to highlight and find solutions for barriers to accessibility and inclusion. I am very public about the faith God has given me and how God comforts and strengthens me, in my first book and in my daily support of others with this disease. 
I am busier than I have ever been, starting 2 companies to help ease the lyves of people with mobility disabilities, writing a second book , building a sailing program for the disabled in Sheboygan, and providing advice to the city. I am also working with a team at the national Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to proactively find and welcome those with mobility, sensory, cognitive, and behavioral disabilities. We are working to include everyone, in all our congregations, into full, just, and equitable participation in the life and ministries of our congregations and in society. This Disability Ministry team is building a network of people and of resources to share experiences and knowledge. We are developing and holding workshops at our seminaries about ministry to and with those with disabilities. We are raising up people with disabilities, adult and youth, for leadership development and participation in the wider church. We are building a fund, targeted at $4 million, to provide scholarships to individuals and grants to congregations for program development or accessibility improvements.
Rejoice and Celebrate? My broken life isn’t easy, for I am dependent on others for most of my needs. Just getting out of bed and getting dressed is difficult and carries a risk of injury for me and for whomever is helping me. I grieve for the life this disease has given to Suzanne and my children. Yet through God’s grace and healing I live most days with a sense of peace, wonder, thanks and joy at all God’s riches in my life. I have found this broken body, this broken life, has created cracks through which the light of Christ can shine. Yes, I pray that I will be cured, but not before giving thanks for the healing God has brought to my heart. 
Rejoice and celebrate? Absolutely, for today and every day is the day the Lord has made. With all the difficulties, all the emotional and physical pain of this disease, I testify to you that my life is better, and happier, since being healed by Jesus the Crucified, Jesus the Resurrected, living, Christ. And like the writer of the Psalm, I will live and declare what the Lord has done.
To God be all glory, honor, and praise. Amen.