May 26, 2013  — TRINITY SUNDAY

Robin Murray


Text: Romans 5:1-5

I'm not usually a big fan of Paul's writing. It seems to me that his letters are the ones often taken out of context and used to oppress and condemn others. "women should keep silent in church," for example. (Good luck with that one around here.) But a couple of months ago, when I was first asked to preside for today, I had a quick look at the lectionary readings and the passage from Romans just leapt off the page at me. It's a lovely bit of prose, taking us from hope to suffering, suffering to endurance, endurance to character, and character back to hope again. He goes on to assure that hope does not disappoint because of God's love poured into us by the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the passage spoke to me at the time because so strongly because of the suffering I was going through over what looked like the closing of Camp Koolaree. I sit on the Board of the camp and we unexpectedly found that the camp was $30,000 in debt. Presbytery told us we could not run camps this year unless that debt was paid. We needed a miracle to find those kinds of financial resources. I felt the weight of more than 80 years of tradition and the weight of all the future campers hopes and dreams on my shoulders. The effort to carry that hope of a miracle forward began to take over my life and I grew weary and frustrated.

Wouldn't it be easier just to let the camp go? Couldn't we just say "well, we tried" and leave it at that? Wouldn't it be easier not care? If I didn't care so much, I wouldn't be suffering such grief at the prospect of losing the Camp. If I didn't care, maybe I wouldn't have to listen to the Holy Spirit telling me to that I had not yet tried my best and to put my all into helping make the miracle we needed.

Throughout this time, a song by singer-songwriter and Unitarian minister, Fred Small, kept running through my head. In this song, called "Leslie is Different", Fred tells the true story of Leslie Lemke, who was born in Wisconsin in the early 1950's. He was born blind, with Cerebral Palsy and autism, left at the hospital and at six months old was adopted by May Lemke and her husband. It took seven years of constant care before Leslie made any sounds or movements or showed any sign of emotion. He was 12 before he first learned to stand, and 15 before he learned to walk.

The Lemkes had 5 grown children when they adopted Leslie. In Fred Small's song those children said, "Mama, that boy will break your heart" And, I don't know if these next words are May Lemke's or Fred Small's, but, "She said, 'Love never comes easy, and miracles mostly come hard.'"

"Love never comes easy, and miracles mostly come hard."

That's true, isn't it? And without suffering, we would have no need for miracles. Without the darkness of night, we would never fully appreciate the miracle of the dawn.

The Lemkes got their miracle one night when Leslie was 16 years old. They woke at about 3 a.m. to an unexpected sound. This child who had never spoken and only just learned to walk was sitting at the piano playing a Tchaikovsky piano concerto. Fred Small described it in his song as "water breaking over a dam, A river of ecstasy flowed through his hands, And each note cried out, 'I am!'"

Having that kind of hope in the face of adversity is definitely not an easy thing. How many here have either been through or watched a loved one go through chemotherapy? Not easy. And even then, you don't always get the miracle you hoped for. The chemotherapy got my Mom to my wedding, but not to the birth of my children. We remember Bridget Corkery who lost her battle with cancer this past Wednesday. Then sometimes, you do get the miracle you thought you wanted, but it isn't quite what you envisioned. Sometimes it means living with disability or depression. Having hope does not mean you will never feel disappointment.

Why, then, does Paul say "hope does not disappoint"? The kind of hope Paul is talking about transcends pain and loss. You have to reach beyond your own selfish desires . You have to live with the certain knowledge that goodness and light will prevail. That life will go on. That the love of God will always be a part of your life no matter what happens, in this life or the next. You have to carry yourself forward in that love, greeting whatever the future brings with a sense of deep gratitude.

So, back in March, when things were at their worst with Camp Koolaree and Presbytery had told us we would not be permitted to run unless we paid off our debts, the Camp Board got together and instead of throwing up our hands and saying, "That's it!", we set ourselves a deadline. We figured we needed to raise the money by mid-April, or it would be too late to promote the camps and recruit the volunteers we needed.

When I told David this he said somewhat incredlously, "Is that realistic?" and I said "No, but we have got to try." We had to have hope. And we had to have faith that hope would not disappoint. We had to have faith that God's love would be poured by the Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who valued the Camp and create the miracle we needed.

And it was.

I know a number of you were touched by the Holy Spirit regarding Camp Koolaree. Donations flooded in. Some big, some small. Volunteers suddenly appeared willing to help. Some in big ways, some in small. The Board got three new members. Two accountants volunteered to help put our books in order. Children in Castlegar held a bake sale. People outside the United Church, like the Rod and Gun Club and the Dancers of Universal Peace recognized that we share common values of the need for nature in our lives and they helped out, too. God sent a clear message that "We are not alone". Presbytery saw all these things and gave us permission to hold camps once again.

If I had to go back and do it all again, would I do it the same way? Heck no! If I had a magic wand, I would definitely change the way things went . I would have heeded Wisdom's call three years ago, when my gut told me there was a problem with the camp's finances in spite of financial reports that said otherwise. I would have reached out to those volunteers and donors long before we were in such a crisis and saved myself a lot of hard work and heartache. But I am still thankful for the way things happened. I am thankful for the suffering we felt when we thought we would lose Camp Koolaree. I rejoice in the endurance and character which that suffering helped to build and really thankful for the miracle of Camp Koolaree, the miracle made possible by hope.

And hope does not disappoint.