Sunday, May 25, 2008

Love on God's Arms

Isaiah 49:8-16a; Matthew 6:24-34 - University Lutheran Chapel

So, I have the word “Love” written on my arm this morning, as some of you may have noticed. As far as I know, there are over 250,000, if not more, people running around Canada and the U.S. this week who will have “Love” written on their arms. The people have passed the word around amongst themselves, through online social-networking, and by word-of-mouth, and they’re all taking a big fat pen and writing this tiny little four-letter word on their arms.

The reason is to draw attention to the problem of teen suicide. And so that’s what I’m going to do very briefly this morning. Now, I need to begin by being very clear that I am not a professional when it comes to this issue. I have no professional training, I am only someone who cares deeply for teenagers and what they go through. I house-sat for a woman whose teenage daughter was on anti-depressants and tried to kill herself. I had a co-worker whose step-son killed himself at the age of twenty, and I remember as a young teenager one particular time when I wanted to die (although, you can’t go to heaven if you kill yourself, or so I believed, and so I never did anything), but - again - I have no professional experience with this. I hesitate to even talk about it this morning, because it is probably something that has deeply touched various individuals in this congregation, and I feel a bit as if I’m bumbling around, but I think it’s better to risk saying something than to risk saying nothing at all.

Because the risks of teen suicide are too great. Just to give you some brief fact: It is the third-highest cause of death among young people. Suicides are higher among teenage boys than girls, although girls attempt it three times as often. Native American teenagers have a depressingly high rate of suicide, as do African-Americans and Hispanic teenagers. I’m sure most of you are aware that teens who identify as bi- or homosexual are at a higher risk for suicide than those who identify as hetero. Teens who talk about killing themselves are, contrary to popular understanding, very likely to attempt it, and a significant number of them are the victims of some kind of abuse. They may be popular, smart, athletic, and seem happy-go-lucky, but they may also be the complete opposite.. In 2004, the latest year I could find numbers for, 1,700 American teenagers killed themselves. Factor in to that the fact that one out of five teenagers actually thinks about killing themselves, and we are faced with a heart-wrenching picture of this country’s youth, youth who carry so much despair in their hearts that the only thing they can think about is ending it by ending their life.

So why do I bring up such a depressing topic this morning? I could have chosen to talk about not serving two masters at once, or what happens when you love wealth, or how we shouldn’t worry because God takes cares of birds and flower. But the thing is that, as Christians, we are called to enter into the pain and suffering of those around us. We are called to stand with those who are marginalized in our society, and - don’t let popular culture fool you - teenagers are marginalized today. Teen pregnancies, teen drug use, teen sex parties, teen vandalism and theft - teenagers get blamed for all of society’s moral failings and never receive any praise. They stand to inherit a seriously messed-up world and don’t get any credit for being able to handle that responsibility. They are discriminated against en masse - have you ever noticed those “No more than three students at a time” signs in stores? They are marginalized and powerless and so, as Christians, we are called to side with them. We are called to enter into real conversation with the teenagers we meet, to listen uncritically to their complaints, to listen without judgement (that’s Paul from this morning), without judgement to their stories, and to listen without flinching to their pain. It isn’t always easy, I’ll grant you, because sometimes their complaints are about us, and their stories paint us in a bad light, and their pain, we come to realize, is caused by us, but nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is calling us to be there for this country’s teenagers, and to lighten their loads in whatever way we can, even if it means more pain for us.

We can do it because Christ has done it for us. Christ, in becoming human, came to understand what it means to suffer, doing so voluntarily in order to ease our pain. He entered into this world, and through that move, has entered into our lives, into your lives, taking into himself the pain and suffering that you have experienced throughout your life time. Christ didn’t flinch from doing it, or hold back because things were too intense. He walked alongside of those who were in pain, those who were dying, those who were marginalized. He has walked alongside of you in those moments when you have wondered what there is worth living for. He walked until he reached the cross, and Christ walked all the way to the place of the dead, not so that we would follow him to that ultimate point, but so that we wouldn’t have to.

And he did it, not because he had to, not because it was the “right” thing to do, although it was, but because of this word on my arm - because of love. Christ loves those teenagers. Christ loves you. No matter how unloved you feel, no matter how unloveable, no matter what you have done in life, or what has been done to you, Christ loves you. Even at the very bottom of the bottom, when we think about ending life, Christ’s love is there, too. Your pain doesn’t stop Christ from loving you, your suffering doesn’t stop his love, nothing can.

Even before Jesus, God has loved you. We hear it this morning, in the reading from Isaiah, when God says, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” Now the writing on my arm will fade, but inscribing in Isaiah’s time was something far more permanent. Inscribing was how you got words into stone, not just writing with ink, but hacking and chiseling away at it. Ink rubs off very quickly from the palms of the hands. Tattoos, even, don’t last very long there at all - usually only a couple of days. But inscribing, that will last a good long time. And so God has marked you permanently on the palms of God’s hands, as a sign of love, to be constantly with God, involved in all the works of God’s hand. So you do not fade from God’s hands. And teenagers, with all of their imperfections and annoyances - yes, teenagers can be annoying, just like two-year-old toddlers and eighty-year-old seniors can all be annoying in their own way - but with all of that, teenagers, especially are written, inscribed, carved into the palms of God’s hands.

Love is written on God’s palms. Love is written on Christ’s arms, those arms stretched out on the cross at Calvary. To tell you that you matter to God, to reassure you that you are loved by God. And maybe, if you should happen to cross paths with some young soul who is immersed in pain and despair, you might pass that message of love on. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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