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Rev. Julie Harley deals with her mortality

January 1st, 2013 12:00 AM

By Tom Holmes

Rev. Julie Harley was forced to retire as the lead pastor of First United Church in Oak Park yesterday, because she struggling with the devastating effects of ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. Diagnosed in November she already needs a power wheelchair to get around. The disease's progression has been that rapid.

I want to share with you how she has attempted to integrate her biblical faith with the cruel fate she is enduring. Following are excerpts from her Christmas Eve sermon. What follows are all her words.

God chooses to be born as an innocent, powerless, vulnerable child. be, and Herod led a plot to kill Jesus when he was only a toddler.

What are we to make of this God who comes to us, swaddled and helpless, lying in a manger? Isn't this the last place we would expect to find God?

I've thought about God in a new way during the last several weeks, since I learned I have ALS, Why does God choose vulnerability rather than strength? Why does God choose dependence rather than autonomy?

Why does God choose to come as a child who cannot walk or talk?

And I have come to the conclusion that the Word becomes flesh even in a body like mine, which is so weak it must be rolled to this church in a wheelchair. I thought I was glorifying God when I was at the height of my physical powers – competing in a triathlon or hiking up a mountain.

But perhaps the message of Christmas is that God is glorified just as fully when I allow others to take care of me. It is union with other people that brings us closest to God.

I am convinced that God is glorified when we surrender our selfish pride and our screaming egos and instead embrace our interdependence and naked neediness. It is our deepest desire to be surrounded by a community of people who will care for us, no matter what.

The Word becomes flesh, even in bodies like mine, with little physical strength or value in the eyes of the world. Our value is not self-generated. God bestows us with divine value, and Jesus is born in each of us on Christmas Eve. Believe the amazing good news of this holy night: God is with us.

Life is hard, but God is good, all the time.

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