This sermon was delivered for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B, on March 11, 2018 at First Congregational Church of Rockport, UCC. The Gospel reading for the day: John 3. 14-21.
Are you living from fear or from faith? This is the question posed by today’s gospel.
When I was in my late 20’s I had this dawning realization that I was living from fear,
the fear of Huntington’s Disease.
I told part of this story back in January. Today I am going to share another chapter of it in hopes that it might help you explore the question, are you living from fear or from faith?
When I was 13 years old, I learned that both my brother and I had a 50/50 chance of inheriting an illness we watched rob us of our mother when she was only in her mid-30’s. We watched as she went
from forgetting what she ate for breakfast
to forgetting how to talk
to forgetting how to walk
to forgetting us.
It was excruciating and terrifying.
Knowing that I had a 50/50 chance of getting Huntington’s,
I presumed I had it and that like her, by my mid-30’s
I would no longer be able to take care of myself or anyone else.
I was so afraid.
And that fear had consequences.
Because I imagined that her path would be my path,
I made some very bad decisions.
I believed I should never marry or have children.
And so consciously or otherwise,
I had a series of relationships with men who were not fully available
in one way or another.
My fear of Huntington’s had become a dis-ease of it’s own
as I acted in often short-sighted, even sinful ways.
When we live from fear instead of faith, we are far more apt to sin.
After my mother died, I finally realized what I was doing and came to the conclusion
that the only way I could break these fear-based patterns and move forward in my life
was to find out whether or not I had Huntington’s,
through pre-symptomatic genetic testing.
During that time, I had two men in my life, both named Tom.
One wanted to work out a relationship with me, but I kept turning away from him.
The other had absolutely no desire to marry me or anyone else,
but I kept turning toward him.
It was a tug of war within me.
And, consciously on not, I, again, made a terrible choice.
One week before my first appointment at Mass General with my genetic counselor,
Dr. Ric Myers, I was pregnant with the person who wanted nothing to do with marriage or fatherhood.
My fear based choices were now not only impacting me, but others.
I could not believe I put another life at risk for Huntington’s. My life was a mess.
With the support of two dear friends, Mary Claire and Kevin, I began the four month long genetic testing process. This included cognitive, neurological, and psychological tests
that I needed to pass before I was allowed to take the determinative blood test.
In order to receive the results of the blood test,
there was one more thing Dr. Myers asked me to do.
“I want you to get to the point where you are prepared for me
to tell you that you have Huntington’s.
I will not give you the results until you face the reality that you have the disease.”
This was my most difficult assignment yet.
With the help of the required psychotherapist and my spiritual director,
I began imagining what it would be like to receive that news.
One night, while prayerfully journaling in my room,
I remembered the worst of my mother’s journey as if it were mine
and then imagined what it would be like to sit in Dr. Myer’s office
and hear that I have Huntington’s.
It was as if a dark enveloping cloud came over me
and every fiber of my being was on fire.
I wept from the depths of my heart.
It was harrowing, overwhelming, and intense. It felt real.
Somehow after I finished crying I felt surprisingly strong and at peace.
I knew that whatever the results, I would be O.K.
God would be with me.
I was ready to receive the results of the test.
On March 20, 1992 with Kevin and Mary Claire by my side,
held in prayer by my beloved community,
I learned from Dr. Myers that I did not have Huntington’s.
I have celebrated that date, the First Day of Spring, every year since.
Looking back, I see how the fear of Huntington’s impacted much of my young adult life, shutting God out of important choices. I don’t think I realized that I was giving more power to that fear than I was to God.
I’d like to say that since I woke up
and realized that God would be with me whether or not I had Huntington’s,
I have lived from that truth ever since.
But, I know there are certain things that still push my buttons,
like economic insecurity, global warming, and Donald Trump
and I can forget that God is waiting for me to pause, breathe, and remember that She is present in every challenge.
Are there areas in your life that you don’t believe God is actually present?
Places that feel hopeless to you? That are so painful that you turn away?
That you feel there is nothing you can do to make a difference?
Or from another vantage point, are there areas in your life where you think
that you are on your own and have to do everything?
That what YOU see IS the WHOLE picture and
so you are the only one who really knows what to do?
Or , perhaps, that it has to be done YOUR way, because that is THE way?
When the Gospel says “those who do not believe are condemned already”
this is another way of saying that many of our greatest struggles within
naturally arise when we choose to live from fear,
when we fail to recognize and partner with God in those places that scare us.
God’s message through Moses is that it is by looking directly at what we fear, we are healed.
In the cross of Christ, God’s message is that things aren’t always what they seem;
that even in the midst of the worst that can possibly happen,
dying as Jesus did in excruciating pain like a criminal and slave,
the resurrecting power of God is at work.
And what looks like the worst possible story ever told
is actually the place of the most surprising Epiphany -
the One who died becomes the gateway for all of us to surrender our fears
and live from the conviction that God’s love IS the truth of our lives.
For me, the worst moment of my life-
At risk for Huntington’s, single, and pregnant-
Became the most extraordinary epiphany,
My 25 year old beloved son, Pete.
Each Lent you and I are invited into the wilderness of our lives -
but with Jesus.
And with Jesus there is nothing that any of us fear
that can not become the place
through the grace of God
from which our greatest growth,
our most authentic life,
our deepest faith,
Rev. Sue Koehler-Arsenault, M.Div.
5 High Street, Rockport, MA 01966
ph. 978-325-2573 firstname.lastname@example.org
Serving Boston and the North Shore of Massachusetts:
Rockport, Gloucester, Ipswich, Danvers, Salem, Beverly, and Topsfield