Sunday, April 26, 2009

April 26, 2009 - Libation

Responding to my April 20th entry, a reader named Christine writes:

“My cancer has progressed to the point where I am on my last leg of this journey. I was wondering if you could direct me to what the Bible says about facing death. In essence, what are your thoughts on dealing with grief and sorrow? My journey has been four years and as I approach the end, surprisingly I find that my emotional and spiritual struggle have not diminished but intensified.”

Wow. I had to think about that one for several days, before attempting an answer. It’s not that I’ve never had to supply this sort of counsel before; it’s just that Christine poses her question so bluntly. Most people whom I visit in their final days raise the question obliquely, if at all. Whether they ask the question directly or not, I typically respond by sharing some of the great scripture passages that witness to God’s reliable presence.

For example, there’s Psalm 139, in which the psalmist imagines himself journeying to the very edges of the known world, only to find God still there beside him:

“If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
(Psalm 139:9-10)

For those who struggle with fatigue, cancer-related or otherwise, there’s always Isaiah 40:28-31, that promises:

“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Those of a philosophical bent may find some comfort in the timeless contemplations of “the Teacher” who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. In these verses – immortalized for my generation by Pete Seeger’s folk anthem, “Turn, Turn, Turn” – he recalls how, in life, there is a time for everything, even a time to die:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance...”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-4)

Certain psalms, like Psalm 69, pull no punches when it comes to voicing the honest cry of human anguish. Perhaps, Christine, you’ve felt like this in recent days:

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”
(Psalm 69:1-3)

So, what does it mean to speak of God saving us, in a time of serious illness – perhaps even illness unto death? Some may be tempted to blithely drop a pollyanna catch-phrase, like “Expect a miracle!” Yet, this is unrealistic, maybe even deceptive. We all know miraculous reversals like this – the sort that cause doctors to scratch their heads and say, “I don’t know what happened, there’s no medical explanation for the way that tumor just disappeared” – are rare indeed. Besides, even in those fortunate cases where a terminal illness reverses itself, the patient is still going to die of something, eventually. No, that sort of miracle merely buys a little time, that’s all.

No, the only ultimate consolation comes from promises such as Jesus’ words in John 11:25-26:
“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.”

Seeking to describe the life to come, Paul resorts to a variety of metaphors. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1, he likens this present life of ours to a tent – a temporary dwelling, slated to be replaced by something more permanent:

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses a different, organic metaphor, that of a seed planted in the ground – one I’ve cited just upstream, in my April 14th entry.

At the end of the day, though, all these are just metaphors. Such poetry, lofty as it may be, captures the emotion, but inevitably falls short on details – for, who can chart with certainty lands no human has visited, save on a one-way journey? (Jesus, of course, being the notable exception, and he wasn’t talking – not on that subject, anyway.)

In the course of my pastoral ministry, I’ve spoken with more than a few people who’ve had near-death experiences. There are more of these people around than you may think. Most are pretty quiet about it. They’re hesitant to speak of such experiences, for fear of being misunderstood – but, if you give them a chance, they’ll speak in hushed tones, eyes brimming with tears, of bright visions no words can capture. I feel incredibly privileged to have heard a few of these firsthand testimonies.

We can’t make too much of these subjective experiences, though. They’re elusive, dreamlike – merely the shadow of a suggestion of what the next life may be like. Still, I take some comfort, personally, in observing that, whatever these soul-travelers experienced, there was no terror in it: only a sense of comfort and welcome and peace.

Reflecting on his own impending death, the pseudonymous author of 2 Timothy speaks of his hopes and fears using the common coin of his own culture. He portrays his life as a “libation” – a sacred offering of wine, to be poured out onto the ground, as the Greeks and Roman were wont to do:

“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Back in my chemo days – when I was feeling sick as a dog and far from certain Dr. Lerner’s promises of a likely remission would ever come to pass – I wondered if my own life was turning out to be just such a libation.

It’s a powerful image, even though we have to work a bit to translate it into 21st Century terms. Then, as now, it defies reason to upend a perfectly good cup of wine and pour its contents out upon the ground: but sometimes that primitive calculus is the only response that makes sense in face of the absurdity we call “death.”

Surely, we protest, there’s got to be a better way. Surely, God – if the Bible’s descriptions of divine power are true – has the ability to arrange things in some other way for us.

The hard fact is, God chooses not to exercise that ability. Sooner or later, our life-force is bound to run out in rivulets, like that libation-offering, poured upon some unimaginably ancient block of stone.

A libation. That’s what we’ll be, one day.

Poured out. An offering to a God who (we can only hope) is, as the scriptures teach, “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145:8).

If that is so, we will one day be able to affirm, with Paul, that:

“ all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

That’s the sort of thing I’d be inclined to say to you, Christine, by way of summarizing the Christian witness about life and death.

On a more personal note, I’d also like to encourage you to try to step back and get some perspective on the faith-struggles you’re going through right now. A certain amount of angst is to be expected. Strong emotion is understandably part of the experience. Cancer stinks. So does an early death. There’s no way to sugar-coat such hard realities.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you’re feeling angry, as well. Just read through some of those biblical psalms of lament, and you’ll quickly realize you’re not alone in this.

Doubt can be part of the psychic landscape, as well. (Remember, even Jesus went through his own crisis of faith in the Garden of Gethsemane.) You may worry, at times, that you’re losing touch with all the beliefs you once held dear, but that’s simply what dying is like. It’s profoundly disturbing and disorienting (Hollywood cliches about falling gently back on the pillow notwithstanding).

There’s nothing more disturbing nor disorienting in all of life. If - as the Christian faith teaches - death is actually rebirth into a new way of living, then wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a bit of birth trauma? Just try to keep your eyes upon Jesus, the one whom the letter to the Hebrews calls “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

May God be with you.

April 25, 2009 - Take a Little Wine

“No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” So says 1 Timothy 5:23 – a little practical advice, in the midst of some miscellaneous exhortations at the end of this New Testament letter.

Who woulda thunk it? Who could imagine this homey, first-century medical advice would surface at a 21st Century cancer research conference?

It has, though – at least, according to a recently-released research study. From a news article describing it:

“Pre-diagnostic wine consumption may reduce the risk of death and relapse among non-Hodgkin's lymphoma patients, according to an epidemiology study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting 2009.... [The researchers] analyzed data about 546 women with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. They found that those who drank wine had a 76 percent five-year survival compared with 68 percent for non-wine drinkers. Further research found five-year, disease-free survival was 70 percent among those who drank wine compared with 65 percent among non-wine drinkers.” (“Drinking Wine May Increase Survival Among Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Patients,” ScienceDaily, April 24, 2009.)

Admittedly, those numbers aren’t all that startling. The wine-bibbers get a mild statistical bump, that’s all. Draining Bacchus’ cup is clearly no panacea, but it does seem that “a little wine,” as the author of 1 Timothy advises, can be good for what ails ya.

Not every tippler will be happy with the study’s results, though: “Beer and/or liquor consumption did not show a benefit,” the report soberly concludes.

It’s just the vino, folks.

According to the article, wine has certain anti-oxidants that tend to retard tumor growth. This is consistent with some earlier studies that show wine (especially red wine) has a mild positive effect on heart health. An occasional glass of Chianti or Lambrusco is part of the highly-touted “Mediterranean diet.” Now, it appears the fruit of the vine does a little something for lymphoma prevention as well.

The oncologists aren’t exactly advocating pub crawls. Far from it: “This conclusion is controversial, because excessive drinking has a negative social and health impact, and it is difficult to define what is moderate and what is excessive,” says one of the lead researchers, by way of a disclaimer.

(Nota bene: 1 Timothy does specify “a little wine.” All things in moderation.)

I’ve always thought an occasional glass of red wine to be one of life’s little pleasures. It’s nice when something that tastes so good turns out to be good for you, as well.

Wine has even found its way into religious poetry on occasion. I close with these lines from the medieval Persian poet, Rumi:

“The grapes of my body can only become wine
After the winemaker tramples me.
I surrender my spirit like grapes to his trampling
So my inmost heart can blaze and dance with joy.
Although the grapes go on weeping blood and sobbing
‘I cannot bear any more anguish, any more cruelty’
The trampler stuffs cotton in his ears: ‘I am not working in ignorance
You can deny me if you want, you have every excuse,
But it is I who am the Master of this Work.
And when through my Passion you reach Perfection,
You will never be done praising my name.’”

– Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi (1207 - 1273)


Monday, April 20, 2009

April 20, 2009 - Known By Our Wounds

Sunday’s sermon afforded me an opportunity to mention cancer survivors’ issues. I was preaching on the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus in which his disciple, Thomas, needs to see and touch Jesus’ wounds in order to be convinced of the truth of the resurrection.

As I pondered anew the meaning of this familiar scripture text, it struck me how noteworthy it is that the disciples know Jesus by his wounds. It’s very true-to-life, psychologically speaking. Often, we do know one another by our wounds, by the adversaries we’ve bested (or are still struggling against).

From the sermon:

“Sometimes the scars are visible, peeking out from the surface of our skin. More commonly, our wounds are hidden: either beneath our clothing or concealed deep in the recesses of our soul - rarely talked about, seldom acknowledged. Those friends and family who know us well, know of their existence. They, too, know us by our wounds.

When neighbors of ours go through some grueling medical ordeal and survive it, we come to know them, too, by their wounds. See the neighbor across the street climbing into his car? You can't help but recall the triple coronary bypass he had a couple years ago. Greet your co-worker in the office one morning, the one whose speech is just a little fuzzy - the last reminder of the stroke that first took all her speech away, then slowly gave it back, word by word, through hard work with the therapists. Every time she opens her mouth, you marvel at how far she's come.

I suspect that, as many of you look at me, you can't help but recall the word, "lymphoma." Once you become a survivor of something like that, it becomes a part of who you are, for better or for worse. Our wounds, in life, have a way of molding and shaping us.”

As part of the sermon, I shared with the congregation a quote from surgeon and author Richard Selzer. I’ve long been an admirer of his writing. This is from an essay called, simply, “Skin.” It’s a doctor’s appreciation of this largest organ in our bodies, that covers and protects us, even as it serves as our interface with the outside world:

"I sing of skin, layered fine as baklava, whose colors shame the dawn, at once the scabbard upon which is writ our only signature, and the instrument by which we are thrilled, protected and kept constant in our natural place.... Gaze upon the skin as I have, through a microscope brightly, and tremble at the wisdom of God, for here is a magic tissue to suit all seasons. Two layers compose the skin - the superficial epidermis and, deeper, the dermis. Between is a plane of pure energy where the life-force is in full gallop. Identical cells spring full-grown here.... No sooner are these cells formed than they move toward the surface, whether drawn to the open air by some protoplasmic hunger or pushed outward by the birth of newer cells behind.... Here they lie, having lost all semblance of a living cellularity, until they are shed from the body in a continual dismal rain. Thus into the valley of death this number marches in well-stepped soldiery, gallant, summoned to a sacrifice beyond its ken. But let the skin be cut or burned, and the brigade breaks into a charge, fanning out laterally across the wound, racing to seal off the defect. The margins are shored up; healing earthworks are raised, and guerrilla squads of invading bacteria are isolated and mopped up." [Richard Selzer, Mortal Lessons (Simon & Schuster, 1976 ), pp. 105-106.]

We can look at scars, it seems to me, in two ways: as a reminder of something bad that’s happened to us, or as a reminder of a powerful process of healing that continues to be active in our bodies.

The nature of my cancer treatment has been such that I’ve never needed surgery. Consequently, the only cancer-related scar I carry on my body is the small one, near my collarbone, that marks the place where my chemo port was implanted (and where it remains to this day, in case it’s ever needed).

The scars, the wounds, I bear as a result of my treatment are of a less-visible nature. I’m more vulnerable now, and also more aware of my mortality. I operate less out of a sense of spiritual entitlement: no longer assuming the unconscious, childlike belief that if I just do the right thing, God will reward me. The universe doesn’t seem to be as safe a place as I once assumed it was: I’m all too aware that God has inserted a frightening degree of randomness into the creation.

Still and all, it’s not a bad place to be. Cancer may have beaten me up a little, but it hasn’t kept me down. I’m learning to move on from here, scars and all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

April 14, 2008 - Encounter with the Gardener

It was a glorious Easter this year. From the spectacular sunrise over the Atlantic at the 6 a.m. Community Sunrise Service, to the festive atmosphere at two well-attended services in our Sanctuary, it was a day to remember.

I decided to preach on a line from John’s Easter story to which I’ve never paid much attention before: “Supposing him to be the gardener, [Mary] said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away’” (John 20:15b).

It’s always struck me as odd that Mary Magdalene, who knew Jesus well, would mistake him for a gardener. Some commentators have speculated that maybe it was still dark enough to make it hard to pick out the details of another’s face. Others have wondered whether Jesus’ resurrection body was sufficiently different from the body he’d walked around in previously that maybe it was hard to make the connection.

And why a gardener, anyway? Sure, it was a garden tomb in which his body had been laid, but that doesn’t explain why John includes this otherwise insignificant detail.

In the sermon, I present the idea that maybe John is subtly trying to make a theological connection between Jesus the gardener and the story of another gardener: God, who set Adam and Eve up in the Garden of Eden, then later barred them from it on account of their disobedience.

From the sermon:

“We’ll never know what was in John’s mind, of course, but it’s certainly worth pondering. Maybe the man Mary looks up and sees, through tear-filled eyes, is the gardener, after all. As our Christian faith teaches, Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity, being – as the Nicene Creed puts it – ‘of one substance with the Father.’ That means it would not be inaccurate to say that the man who calls Mary by name, and whom she embraces, is the very same one who – most reluctantly – expelled Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. He is also the very same one who, by his death on the cross, has opened the way back to paradise, one day, for those who believe in him, through the forgiveness of sins.

The image of Jesus Christ as the gardener is one that occurs elsewhere in the scriptures. In a famous passage from 1 Corinthians we often read at funerals, the Apostle Paul poses the question, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”

The answer he gives comes right out of the garden. It’s like a seed planted in the ground, he explains. The seed must crack open and die to its seed-nature, before it takes on the form the gardener truly intends for it:

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.” [1 Corinthians 15:42-44]

Paul even goes on, in that passage, to speak of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden:

“The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” [15:47-50]

The ‘man of heaven’ – the counterpart to our ‘man of dust’ – is, of course, the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. When she first glimpsed him, Mary supposed him to be the gardener. She couldn’t have known, in that moment of confusion, how right she was.

If this is true – that Jesus Christ has taken over where God, the planter of the Garden of Eden, left off – then it has something to say to you and me about the sort of impatience we often fall into, as we look around at the mess and incompleteness of the world in which we live. There are weeds among us. There is blight. There are infestations of wriggling insects. From time to time there arises, on the horizon, a dark and seething plague of locusts, that threatens to devour the seedbeds we’ve so carefully tended.

Have faith, says the gardener. Have patience. The seeds are planted. The sun will shine. The soft, spring rains will fall. The growth will come, in the fullness of time.

It’s a sure thing. As sure as the stone rolled away from the doorway of the tomb.”

The Lord is risen. Alleluia!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

April 8, 2009 - Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox was the guest on Monday’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I watched it a day later on our DVR.

Fox, of course, is a Parkinson’s Disease survivor. I found him inspiring. Take a look and see for yourself:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Michael J. Fox
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

I was struck by the fact that Michael kept his 1991 diagnosis secret for seven years. Undoubtedly, that was a tough time for him. He was one of the hottest talents in Hollywood, but he was leading a secret life as a chronic-disease patient. The knowledge of his slowly-worsening situation was hanging over his head.

Fox tells how he went a little crazy during those years – drinking too much, that sort of thing. But then, he came to a point where he grew comfortable with his diagnosis. He stopped fighting it. He learned to go with the flow. I wonder if that coincided with his going public with his medical situation?

It’s always tough to live a lie. Little by little, it tears you up inside. I’ve never regretted going public with my cancer diagnosis, as soon as I was sure that’s what it was.

I could relate to these words of his: “Once you accept it and fix it in space and say, ‘This is this and it’s not anything else and it’s not going to go away any time soon, and you're going to have to deal with it’ then you open up to all the stuff that’s around it and say, ‘Wow, this gives me an opportunity to help people out, this gives me an opportunity to look at things in a way that I might not have looked at them before...’”

Fox even gave voice to the cancer survivor’s mantra, at one point: “It is what it is.” How many times have I heard people with cancer say that?

Note it, and move on.

There’s a kind of strength that comes from facing our life-situation honestly, and trying to live as resolutely as we can in the present. It does little good to pine for our pre-diagnosis days, nor does it help us to obsess about the future. The art of living with a chronic disease lies in living in the now.

Accept it. Fix it in space, as Fox says. Admit, “This is this and it’s not anything else and it’s not going to go away.” Then, go searching for the blessings that are still around: and there are many.

Thanks, Michael. You’re a great example for all of us.

Monday, April 06, 2009

April 6, 2009 - Looking for Life in All the Wrong Places

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is what I preached on yesterday. No surprise there – it was Palm Sunday.

Actually, it’s not a foregone conclusion that a sermon on the Sunday before Easter will be one of the Palm Sunday passages from the Gospels. This past Sunday is also called “Passion Sunday,” so lectionary-minded preachers have the option of expanding their field of vision to include any incident from Jesus’ last week before the crucifixion.

This week I took the traditional approach, looking at John’s version of the triumphal entry (John 12:12-19). Generally, I resist the easy path of harmonizing the various Gospel accounts (by “harmonizing” I mean combining all the details of these different witnesses’ testimony into a single version). Whenever I focus on just one story, treating it as though it were the only account we have, I find it so much richer in meaning.

Examining John’s account, I found myself fixating on verse 17: “So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify.” Unlike the other Gospel-writers, John sees Jesus’ triumphal entry as the direct outgrowth of Jesus’ greatest miracle, the raising of his friend Lazarus from death. The people waving palms by the roadside were ecstatic because of what Jesus had done for Lazarus. Since waving palms was like waving a national flag, that also says the crowds understood this unprecedented miracle as a sign that Jesus is the hoped-for Messiah.

From the sermon:

“Having heard the good news of the Lazarus miracle, these people are looking for life – but, they’re looking in all the wrong places. The life they’re looking for is very much like the new life of Lazarus: a mere extension of human life. Jesus may have raised Lazarus from the tomb, but he didn’t resurrect him – not in the sense that Jesus himself would soon be resurrected. When Jesus is raised on Easter, he’s raised to life eternal. Lazarus is merely resuscitated: he’s given maybe a decade or two of extended life, after which, he too will die – this time, for good.

By the same token, you know, there are lots of people today putting enormous energy into discovering ways to extend human life. Whether it’s preventing cancer, developing a new open-heart surgery technique or finding a cure for HIV/AIDS, these are all commendable efforts – but, even these pale before the good news of Easter. Easter’s not about resuscitation, such as Lazarus experienced. Easter’s about resurrection: resurrection to a life that’s not merely extended, but eternal!”

As I continue to trek to Dr. Lerner’s office for my monthly port flushes, and less frequently to hospitals for CT or PET scans, I’m very interested in extending my own life. All this, of course, is played out against the backdrop of the Christian promise of eternal life, which is something altogether different.

And that’s what Easter is all about.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

April 2, 2009 - Healthcare Reform Petition

Remember this guy?

The “Dean Scream,” marking the meltdown of Howard Dean’s insurgent presidential candidacy, was one of the more memorable moments in modern presidential politics. Dean has been hard at work ever since, as national leader of the Democratic Party. Now, he’s turning his efforts to work with President Obama on addressing health-care reform.

He’s looking for signatures on a petition he plans to bring to Congress, asking for a public health-insurance option. While it may not turn out to be universal health care (which I, personally, am convinced is the only way for our nation to go), the Obama plan would at least require everyone to have insurance.

A publicly-provided insurance option will likely be a cornerstone of that plan. The insurance industry is marshaling their substantial political and financial clout to try to block any such option that could compete with the products they offer.

Since private insurance has failed so abysmally, for so long, to provide affordable medical insurance options for Americans, I think we, the voters need to stand up to them and say, “Enough!”

Won’t you sign the petition?

We won’t see Howard Dean screaming about this. He’s been speaking more softly in recent years. Sign the petition, and you’ll give him (along with President Obama) Teddy Roosevelt's proverbial big stick as well.

I’m Carl Wilton, and I approved this message.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April 1, 2009 - A 150th Birthday Party

On Sunday afternoon, I had a small role in the worship service commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Presbytery of Monmouth – the regional governing body of our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Monmouth Presbytery has administrative responsibility for 47 churches in this part of central New Jersey.

All I did was read a brief scripture lesson, but the Asbury Park Press photographer chose that moment to snap the color photo that graced the front page of our local-news section on Monday. There I was, right in the middle of it.

For those of you blog readers who’ve been wondering what I look like as I’m doing my preacherly thing, here it is:

The church is the Presbyterian Church of Toms River, the largest in the Presbytery. It also happens to be the church in which I grew up, and where I served for a few years in the 1980s as Assistant Pastor.

150 years is a long time. Far longer than any human lifetime. Some of the congregations of the Presbytery are even older. Shrewsbury was founded in 1672. Old Tennent dates back to 1685. The church I serve, Point Pleasant, is a youngster compared to these. It was founded in 1882.

It’s often pointed out that corporations, which the law treats as though they were persons, are immortal. The same can be said, I suppose, of churches.

The preacher for the occasion was Rick Ufford-Chase (a former Moderator of the General Assembly, the highest office in the denomination). He made a lighthearted remark about maybe coming back 50 years from now for the Presbytery’s 200th anniversary. Rick is only 6 or 7 years younger than me, which would put him in his mid-90s on that occasion. I’d be 102.

Chances are, I won’t be around for the bicentennial. I’m not even figuring in the lymphoma as I say that, just the ordinary wear and tear of life (not to mention the actuarial tables for males in our culture). Yet, like a business corporation, the church of Jesus Christ lives on, notwithstanding.

Or, maybe not like a corporation. More like another sort of corpus, or body. The Body of Christ.

Now, that’s immortality.

"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."

- 1 Corinthians 12.27