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What We Know

Reverend Philip Stringer

Luke 24:36b-48

Acts 3:12-19

1 John 3:1-7

LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Feed us with your Word, and speak to our hearts, that we may be filled with your endless life, now and forever. AMEN

In the days following the resurrection, the followers of Jesus didn’t know what to think. If we try to imagine ourselves there with them, one can easily; So often, our actions and thoughts and fears and emotions are shaped by what we DON’T know.

In fact, what we DON’T know can shape a lot of who we are or what we do in every part of life.

The Easter story shows us that it is better for us to live our lives based upon what we DO know, rather than what we don’t. And this is what we know: That God is love, and the power of God’s love for us is so great that nothing can stop it; not even death!

In the days following the resurrection, the followers of Jesus didn’t know what to think. They were filled with confusion.

There was the account of those who had been at the tomb who said that he was raised.

There was the testimony of the two followers who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

And now, as they gathered in a room locked away, Jesus himself appeared to them -- and they didn’t know what to think.

Luke tells us that they thought it must be a ghost -- and even after Jesus assured them that it really was him -- flesh and bones and an appetite for fish -- they still didn’t know what to think. “While in their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering,” writes Luke.

There was no way for them to understand or explain his presence, of course -- but there was no denying it was true.

I wonder how often it is that our lives are shaped more by what we don’t know than by what we do. The clutter of things we hold on to. Or a fear of change because we don’t know what things will be like if they are different. The same fear of the unknown drives us to separate ourselves from people who are different from us, or to hoard our wealth for some unseen “rainy day.” Our unwillingness to speak to a stranger because we don’t know how they will respond.

Patty and I had decided even before we were married that we would plan to have one child by birth, but any additional children would be ours through adoption.

A child without parents is vulnerable and will face challenges anywhere on earth. But we knew that the threat to many foreign babies was death, itself. And so, we decided to adopt internationally.

In the 1990’s there were some well-known risks to international adoptions. Some countries were notorious for extorting more and more money from families ensnared in the process. Children for certain regions were overwhelmingly suffering from the effects of fetal drug or alcohol poisoning, and still other regions had fallen prey to child trafficking, and one had no way of knowing if the child they received was a true orphan, or if it had been stolen and sold.

So, for us, the best choice for us was China. In short, children adopted from China were the healthiest adoptees in the world.

But after waiting 19 months, we received troubling news from the adoption agency. In order to “save face,” Chinese babies were typically labeled with an obscure health issue — universally, a “heart murmur.” It was the government’s way of providing an explanation for why the baby was placed for foreign adoption — wink-wink. But in our baby’s case, there was something more. Not only did her documents state that she had a “heart murmur;” it also indicated that she was completely deaf.

There was no reason to put that on paper if it weren’t true. And furthermore, with that explanation given, there was no reason to indicate a heart murmur, too. That suggested that both were true.

The adoption agency had never seen anything like it. They were seeking more information. “We’re very sorry,” they said.

I was serving a congregation in Chicago at the time, and a world-renowned geneticist happened to be a member. We met with him and received worse news. He had checked his databases for genetic conditions that manifested in heart defects and deafness, hoping that we could easily identify what was going on. “Unfortunately,” he told us, “There are a great many conditions that manifest this way, and many of them have additional — severe — complications that are not initially evident. I’m sorry,” he said.

We thought about the impact this child’s needs would have on our family. We considered — is it fair to our existing daughter for us to KNOWINGLY and DELIBERATELY consign our family to a future defined by hardship and suffering brought on by this child’s special needs?

The next day the adoption agency called and said they had more information. As we drove to the office, I told Patty, “We must give ourselves permission to say, ‘no,’ to this child. We have to remember that we do not have to do this. We can walk away if we want.”

In the meeting we were told that they thought the deafness label was the result of a translation error somewhere along the bureaucratic pipeline — but they couldn’t be sure.

We decided — we chose — to take the risk. What we didn’t know was whether or not the child was healthy. But what we did know is that we wanted to live hopefully, with the belief that love would sustain us — come what may.

We didn’t want our future defined by disability — nobody would — but we also did not want our future defined by fear of the unknown.

The disciples were hiding because of the things they feared. They didn’t know what to do. So, they didn’t do anything -- they just locked themselves away.

One thing we can take away from our readings today is the message that it is better to base our actions on what we know, rather than on what we don’t know. It is better to build our lives around what we know rather than what we don’t know.

And this is what we know: That God is love, and the power of God’s love for us is so great that not even death can stop it! “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are . . . Beloved, we are God’s children now.” It’s hard even to begin to comprehend all that that means -- but it’s true.

It is better to live our lives based upon what we DO know, rather than on what we don’t know. And when we build our lives on the love of God for us, we will not only discover happiness and peace in our own lives -- our lives also become a witness to others of the power of God’s love at work for the good of the world.

It was early August 1997, when we made the decision to move forward with the adoption. We were scheduled to travel at the end of September.

In August, an ELCA Global Mission Event was being hosted 5 minutes away from our home. This is an event held once every three years, hosted by the Lutheran church. ELCA missionaries were there to tell stories about their work around the globe.

A missionary from Hong Kong was there, along with several Chinese members of the Hong Kong Lutheran church, and they were writing people’s names in Chinese.

We asked them to translate our soon-to-be daughter’s name, which we had decided would be, “Rachel.”

In Hebrew, “Rachel” means “a female sheep.”

“Eww,” a Chinese woman exclaimed. “This is not a pretty name in Chinese.” They thought for a moment, and then one of them exclaimed, “Oh— ‘Ray-CHO!” They all agreed it was a good alternative and wrote out the name. “It means, “beautiful autumn.” For us, we took that as an indication — a promise from God — that, whatever the coming weeks would reveal, everything would be ok. The addition to our family that fall would be beautiful.

Jesus came to set us free from what we don’t know -- to set the record straight once and for all.

The resurrection of Jesus means that the division between us and God caused by our sin is healed. And through the waters of your baptism and the gift of this meal, Jesus comes to proclaim to you that this healing is given for you. That YOU are the one God loves and YOU are the one God blesses.

We have been given a new life -- a full and abundant life. And we have this life so that we may leap for joy and glorify God by proclaiming the love of God to the world.

God’s love for you is being poured out in every moment of your life. There is much suffering in every life. Some of it is brought on by ourselves — but some of it isn’t. It is simply a fact that — as the Buddhists have observed, “suffering is the only promise that life keeps.” We grieve the death of loved ones; we grieve the loss of youth and health. We suffer in body, mind and spirit. And much of our lives and actions are based upon it. We don’t know why bad things happen. We don’t know.

But what we do know is that the one who loves us enters into our suffering with us. What we know is that the love of God for us is unstoppable. And the God who loves you goes into every moment of every day with you, so that what you do and say and feel and believe may be shaped by love and not by fear.

The love of God is beckoning to you to step outside of the “doors” you hide behind in fear — to step out of them into the light of day. You will be met by good and bad out there — and none of us knows what will happen to you out there. But “out there” does not define who you are. You are defined by what you have received in here (font and altar).

We don’t have all the answers to life’s questions let alone the mysteries of God. We don’t know what joys or what troubles or suffering this world may hold for us tomorrow. But we do know that we are children of God; that God is with us.

It is better to build our lives on what we know.

What we know is that the One who loves you goes with you. And come-what-may, with faith in God’s love, it will be a beautiful day.



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