But Not a Hair of Your Head will Perish

During my time as a student at Southern Seminary, in Columbia, SC,
I had the opportunity to do field work
at a small country parish called Pomaria Lutheran Church
not too far up the road from the seminary.

For two years I had a chance to learn from this congregation
and from one of my professors, Dr. Mary Havens,
who was also the interim pastor at the church.

The forty or fifty members of the congregation were truly wonderful people.
They were mostly older and from a rural background.
And they taught me so much about faith,
the importance of relationship,
and what it looks like for the church to be involved in the loNOtcal community.

One night during my time there,
the congregation had a healing service
and as part of our worship, we invited people to come up to the altar rail
where Dr. Havens and I planned to lay hands on their heads and offer a prayer.

As we began, I looked out at the people in the pews,
and I noticed something I hadn’t before:
that the women literally all had the same hairstyle.

It was a very beautiful hairstyle,
but one you don’t see too much any longer.
It looked like a style from the 1960s.
I think you might call it a beehive.
It was a big, sweeping, stacked type of hairstyle
which seemed to need a great deal of hairspray to execute.

The first woman came forward
and I was supposed to lay my hands on her head,
but with her hair stacked out so far I sort of stopped with her hair,
afraid to go further.

Dr Havens was standing right beside me
holding the book with my prayer,
and as I prayed over this woman
Mary kept pushing my elbow in to make my hands go deeper into her hair.

I fought against her nudge, but Dr. Havens persisted.

She whispered, “you can’t just stop with her hair – keep going!”

And ultimately, because I was supposed to be learning from my professor,
I consented to allow her to guide my hands all the way to the woman’s head,
effectively crushing her beautiful beehive.

After everyone had come forward to receive prayers for healing
and returned to their seats
I looked out at the congregation and the women sitting in the pews
I saw a great number of beautiful beehives,
crushed,
all in the same way,
with two big dents on both sides.

Jesus reassures us
That even though we know challenges and suffering intimately,
Even though all this world is passing away,
And although we may experience betrayal, disaster, and even persecution,
God’s blessing for us is a sure thing,
and not a hair of our heads will perish.

God will protect the hairs of our head, Jesus promises,
But, of course, what he means is that God doesn’t just stop with our hair
or give a superficial blessing,
But God reaches deep into our whole life
And blesses our whole body and soul.
God blesses and promises to protect our community and, indeed, all of creation.

And because God blesses and protects us,
we are able to reach deeply in love toward one another
and to reach out far and wide to the world around us in need;
the world which God has so graciously and lovingly given us to care for.

I don’t know about you, but for me,
Jesus’ promise of God’s protection
right down to the very hairs on our heads
is so powerful because of all the ways in which
our experience of life often seems to signal the opposite.

That is, we can feel as though we live unprotected, in a dangerous world.

For those who don’t know the good news
of God’s love for humankind in Jesus Christ
it can seem that we are on a lonely planet
devoid of significance and meaning
left to fend for ourselves and to suffer alone,
surrounded by catastrophes and cataclysms.

And of course, even as followers of Jesus,
We are also aware of the danger and the difficulties of the world.

We would find it very easy
to update his description of the turbulence in the world
based on our own experience:

It would be so easy to add to Jesus words:

As for these things that you see,
the days will come when not one stone will be left on another,
all will be thrown down

and beware that you are not led astray…

When unhinged terrorists crash planes into buildings out of hatred,

and when communist empires test nuclear bombs
in a blatant attempt to intimidate bastions of democracy ,

and when dictators invade neighboring countries
without regard for civilians, hospitals or schools,

and when climate change threatens an end to the sheets of polar ice,
causing more devastating storms to destroy people and property.

The truth is, Jesus himself acknowledged the dangers of this world.

As he stood with his disciples outside the temple in Jerusalem
he spoke of disasters we can expect to experience in this life
before the day when God comes to heal all that hurts
and to bring justice to the oppressed
and to overturn the tyranny of the wicked.

Jesus was clear-eyed about the dangers of the world
And as he continued on toward the cross
He would become even more well acquainted with them.

In his passion Jesus experienced first-hand and up-close
the human experience of struggling against sin and suffering and evil and death.

All the struggle and suffering and dread we experience – Jesus has known it too!

Jesus experienced everything it means to be human.

Jesus also had hairs on his own head, after all,
But his were soaked with blood from the bruises and abrasions
from a twisted crown of condescension.

He was crucified for us and suffers with us,
taking our shame on himself, taking our place.
His resurrection is God promise that truly and ultimately
not a hair of our head will perish.

The Living Jesus is God’s assurance of his eternal presence
and activity
and dependability
and protection for us.

And God has made us witnesses of this good news.

God has called us together by the Spirit,
to be baptized children of God.

Along with John Walker,
We are claimed forever for God’s own
and filled with hope in God’s promise,
no matter what we hear on the news
and no matter what challenges come to us,
no matter what disaster we must endure.

We know how this story ends.
We know God’s love prevails over all who oppose it.

And it is for this reason we don’t grow weary of working and witnessing.

Just because we know God ultimately wins that battle.
We don’t become bored or idle of telling the good news,
But instead continue to serve our neighbor.

Just because God’s victory is a sure thing,
We don’t stop growing and forging new pathways in discipleship.

We don’t ever give up.

Later this morning Sophie Wilson,
who I believe is the oldest member of Epiphany,
will be attending the 11am service.

Many of you know she had a fall late August
and broke her sternum and two ribs
which prevented her from walking or getting out of bed or going anywhere.

I visited with her when she confined to her room at the rehab facility
and she told me that she had three goals.

Her first goal was to walk again.

Her second goal was to come to church and worship God and receive Holy Communion.

And her third goal was to do it by her 100th birthday,
which will be this Tuesday, November the 15th.

So today, Sophie can be happy and grateful for these goals God has accomplished

And we can give thanks for her witness among us.

Our witness is that no matter what happens,
through all our days,
God protects and cares for us.

God has reached deep into our life
to make us a people with a tenacity of faith and deep hope,
even as we live in a time when we can’t see an end
to the sufferings and disasters of the world.

Ultimately, in the word of God we are given a vision to see as God sees —
Without fear or despondency over the brokenness we experience
But with a view into eternity,
And the promise that because Jesus lives
All will be made well, all will be healed, and all will be restored.

Until that day to come,
we give witness to hope.

And I see your witness to God’s protection
in the work of our Sunday Shepherds and greeters and ushers
who stand at the ready this morning.

We give witness to God’s shield of care
in the faith formation teams work of screening and running background checks
on any adult who works with youth in any capacity,
be it staff, Sunday school teachers,
Confirmation mentors or Timothy Ministers.

We give witness to God’s mercy in the community service team
who has gathered more supplies than ever before
for our Thanksgiving baskets ministry given to local communities
that will protect local families from hunger over out Thanksgiving holiday.

In these ways, and in many more,
We give witness and tell the story of what God has done for us.

Jesus may be right:

We may be persecuted or made fun of or excluded because we follow him,
We may be reviled because we have the audacity
To follow his way of combating the evil of the world,
Which is speaking truth to power,
and walking the way of peace,
and seeking forgiveness and reconciliation,
and suffering with the most vulnerable.

But may we also know that Jesus’ resurrection
Confirms God’s promise that not a hair of our heads will perish.

And may we trust in this promise
day by day together, so fully
that people would see our complete confidence in God,
and be wowed by the way we live without fear and in service to one another
Looking always to God’s mercy in our Lord Jesus Christ,
and anxiously awaiting his return,
when we will sing a new song to the Lord,
who does marvelous things
and whose right hand and holy arm have won the victory.

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