Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Reflection April 22, 2018

Further Easter Reflections by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     The wondrous Easter Season lasts for 50 days - until the Feast of Pentecost (May 20). In this week’s Advance, I wish to give some further Easter reflections.

     The very prominent Old Testament Bible scholar and clergyman Walter Brueggemann wrote a recent (2017) book, A Way Other Than Our Own - Devotions for Lent. I read through these devotions each day during the Lenten Season. Some of the daily devotions struck a chord within me, some didn’t. One of his devotions served as the core for my Easter sermon. I will note more of that devotion here than I could on Easter Sunday morning. It’s worth our reflecting!

     Brueggemann notes: “Being unafraid is an odd vocation; but it is the vocation of all who have been baptized. We are different when baptized. The Acts account of the early church says that the Spirit of God came upon the ones baptized, even as the Spirit came upon Jesus in baptism.

     “A lot of silliness is taught about the Spirit coming in baptism. But what the Spirit does is visit our lives - our persons, our bodies, our imagination, our money - with the freedom of God, so that we are unafraid in the world, able to live differently, not needing to control, not needing to dominate, not needing to accumulate, not driven by anxiety.

     “The Book of Acts is a study of the baptized, the ones the Spirit visits, the ones who are unafraid in the world. It says of that community of … unafraid people, ‘They turned the world upside down’ (Acts 17:6). Or better to say, they turned the world right side up.”

     At Easter, we’re called to be unafraid - even when the world is terrifying, even when chaos seems to rule our politics and our wounded world. There is much to fear. Yet what happened to Jesus Christ on that first Easter morning - awaits each of us as disciples of the Crucified, Risen Lord. This is what I preached about Easter morning.       

     Back to Brueggemann: “The truth is that frightened people will never turn the world (right side up), because they use too much energy on protection of self. It is the vocation of the baptized … the unafraid, to make the world whole:

The unafraid are open to the neighbor, while the frightened are defending themselves from the neighbor.

The unafraid are generous in the community, while the frightened, in their anxiety, must keep and store and accumulate, to make themselves safe.

The unafraid commit acts of compassion and mercy, while the frightened do not notice those in need.

The unafraid are committed to justice for the weak and the poor, while the frightened see them only as threats.

The unafraid pray in the morning, care through the day, and rejoice at night in thanks and praise, while the frightened are endlessly restless and unsatisfied.”  

     These challenging and compelling words from Brueggemann are worthy of daily reflection! Can we imagine what our city would look like - what our country would look like - if these words were taken deep into the heart and soul of every fellow citizen? Our political life is broken because we perpetuate fear. But fear cannot have the final word! This is what Easter means! This is what Easter joyfully proclaims!

     We all fear death. Because of this overwhelming fear, many of us also fear life. If we can overcome our fear of death, then we no longer will fear life. This is what Easter means! This is what Easter joyfully proclaims!

     Easter is the season to rejoice - but rejoicing is not always easy for us frail, fragile humans. Rejoicing is a two-edged sword. The more we are able to rejoice, the more we can (and will) suffer and grieve. This is a deep and abiding human truth that escapes many of us. Fear coats everything - and diminishes our joy.

     Rejoicing is not as easy as it sounds. I wish it were easier. I wish I could embrace more joy in my life. But - from birth - I’ve suffered my own “thorn in the flesh.” I - along with my twin brother - were born with what used to be termed a heart murmur. The technical term for what we both carry is “mitral valve prolapse.” This is a genetic condition affecting about 4% of the population. In most cases, this condition does not cause noticeable problems.

     Yet this heart condition can unleash a plethora of physical and psychological issues. There is a wide-ranging syndrome that flows in the wake of this heart “abnormality.” It’s not, normally, life-threatening but it could be if I were to foolishly undertake something demanding like running a marathon (at least if I were under-trained!).

     It was around the age of 50 that I began to experience significant arrhythmia. There were many nights when I laid down to sleep wondering if I’d awake in the morning. I consulted with a couple of doctors and had various tests. Medication was  suggested - but I found a healthier way (adding magnesium and CoQ10 supplements - under the watchful eye of a cardiologist!)

     Only occasionally would the arrhythmia return, sometimes after a strenuous workout. Beth would often take my pulse during the movies we attended after our Saturday workout. At one point, I needed to increase the magnesium (again with the advice of my cardiologist!).

     This heart condition is currently okay - even though I need to have an annual exam to check for “regurgitation” from the floppy valve. But, as I mentioned in church, during my last visit to my cardiologist, he said I was good and didn’t need to see him until next year! So, unlike most, I have a guarantee from my doctor that I have at least another year left! He laughed when I asked him if that was what he was saying!

     This mitral valve issue can also cause considerable anxiety along with sleep issues and fatigue problems. I’ve struggled with all of these. But I’m happy to still be here. I’m happy to still be able to pastor our beloved community! Easter is real!