All Saints Celebration and Remembrance

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Hebrews 9:11-14.

On Saturday Andrew will preside at the celebration of life for two saints of Azalea Park UMC – Beverly and Harvey House. They went onto glory within days of one another. They both lived into their mid-eighties. They both finished well their courses in faith. They both loved one another and their families beyond description.

They both will be missed.

The first time I really sat down to speak with Harvey was at a UMW Picnic of all places. The Sunshine Circle has an annual picnic lunch at a local park; they invited Andrew to come and welcomed me as an extra guest.

(I cannot resist United Methodists and deviled eggs in a park pavilion!)

Harvey sat towards the back of the pavilion while Beverly joyfully served as a hostess, ensuring everyone had every possible choice and need fulfilled. Harvey had a quiet smile on his face as he watched Beverly serve. I asked him why he was smiling. He pointed to Beverly – her joy, her friendliness, her compassion, and her servant’s heart – and simply responded, “How could I not?”

“How could I not?”

When I think of the saints we will celebrate a Tuskawilla UMC in both our worship services this week, I join Harvey in smiling. These women and men – their service on both sides of eternity – are witnesses to our faith.

We miss the loved ones that are no longer physically near us. Somedays their place in our hearts is so empty and hollow…it is like the wound of grief will not ever heal. It is in these moments especially that we call to mind God’s faithfulness and the truth of God’s word:

Therefore, my friendslet us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching...Recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet “in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.” But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved (Heb 10:19a, 22-25, 32-39). 

Do not abandon your confidence. Claim the Lord’s endurance – especially in the valley of the shadow of death. God will guide us through – God and the servant saints that smile on us as we continue our courses in faith.

We will honor the saints of the Tuskawilla UMC Family at both our worship services on Sunday. See you then.

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.

*”For All The Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal 711.

 

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All Saints Sunday: Seeing The Glory of God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 11:28-44

In third grade I received my first Bible – a red leather red letter NIV Bible. Shortly after receiving it I attended a Third Grade Bible Retreat to learn all about this library I had just been gifted by my home church. At that retreat I learned about the history, compiling, and composition of the Bible; biblical languages; how to look up Scripture addresses; and some very useful trivia. Did you know that King Solomon had a muster of peacocks delivered every three years!?

At the end of the retreat each student was given some additional sheets of Bible Trivia we could look up on our own. Well, little third grade Sarah, being the assignment completer she was (is) completed the packet in a week.

Not much has changed…except my hair is a little longer, my heels are definitely higher, and my mother does not have to beg me to wear a dress.

I remember that one of the trivia challenges was to identify the shortest verse in the Bible. I found it in John’s Gospel, “Jesus wept.” The knowledge that Jesus cried affected me deeply. I knew that Jesus was born of a woman like me. I knew that Jesus walked the earth like me. I knew that Jesus ate with his family and friends like me. But to know that Jesus cried…like me? Jesus became all the more real, all the more human in that moment.

Jesus wept because he missed his friend Lazarus who he loved dearly; he wept over the loss of his friend and disciple. Throughout my years in ministry I have joined Jesus in weeping at the bedside and graveside of ones that are nearing the end or have completed their journey in faith. I have held hands, received teachings, and made commitments to look after the family and friends left at this time.

Once I was even made to promise I would have my prostate examined yearly! I hope my congregant forgives me for not following through with that…

I have cried the precious tears that say, “I love you today; I love you always.” I have cried the precious tears that say, “I miss you today, I will miss you tomorrow, I will see you again.” And it is because of the precious tears that Jesus cried and his authority to call Lazarus forth from the grave that I am assured I will see – that we will see – our loved ones again. Jesus cried as a response to present pain and suffering, but in his completed Kingdom, every tear will be wiped away. There will be no mourning, no crying, no suffering, no pain. All will be whole. All will be well. And death will be no more.

There is definitely more time passing between my weeping and being reunited with loved ones than in Jesus’ weeping and calling Lazarus to life. But the power and gift of the resurrection is already at work. We will be reunited in the fulfillment of the resurrection, all that was loss will be gain, and the glory of God that we have seen just a glimpse of will be on full display.

Prayer: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. Grant us grace so to follow your holy saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys, which you have prepared for those who sincerely love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”*

*”All Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal 713.

Remember to Fall Back one hour this Saturday Night/Early Sunday Morning!! 

Upbuilding: We Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 2:9-13

This Sunday the Tuskawilla community celebrates All Saints Sunday.  In worship we will remember, we will name, we will celebrate the lives and new lives of church members and loved ones that have gone onto glory since All Saints Sunday 2013.  All Saints Sunday is an incredibly powerful and incredibly emotional time.  We honor while we continue to grieve.  We grieve and lean into our faith.  We rest in peace that passes all understanding and we claim the assurance that in Christ’s final victory we will worship with our loved ones again.

This All Saints Sunday is especially tender as I will remember Andrew’s brother, Josh, in worship.  Josh passed away from congestive heart failure at the age of 29 last December.  Josh was a decorated veteran, serving our country as a Marine and later in the Army as a sharpshooter.  Josh originally enlisted as a cook in the Marines…but that all changed on the day it was the cooks’ turn on the firing range.  Josh made an incredible shot without a scope…from cook to sharpshooter with one shot.  Josh served on numerous tours; as soon as he returned home he asked to be redeployed.  He was committed to the mission, committed to his fellow soldiers, committed to peace.

Josh received an honorable discharge in 2012.  The war, the tours, they changed him.  I believe he suffered from post traumatic stress, though I am not sure he was ever formally diagnosed.  He lived like a vagabond following his discharge – seeking what would be next for him.  He had his future at his fingertips.  Eventually he made his way home, after a year or more on the road, and that is where he died.  We celebrated his life at The National Cemetery in Bushnell in January.

A few weeks ago, knowing that All Saints Sunday was nearing, I asked Andrew if he would like to visit Josh.  He immediately said yes, sharing that Halloween was Josh’s favorite holiday.  Andrew and Josh and Halloween…that’s a serious combination for mischief…the stories Andrew’s mother could tell.  So on Monday we headed to Bushnell with a  pumpkin in tow for Josh.  We entered the cemetery – such hallowed ground – and made our way to Josh’s interment space.  We approached it together and then I wandered away to give Andrew space with his brother.  They shared a conversation – I’m not sure what about.  When I made my way back to them Andrew pointed out that Josh is the youngest person on that row of the columbarium; he is surrounded by World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans.  His life ended far too soon.  Andrew shook his head and the tears began to flow.

As Andrew paced away I took the opportunity to talk with Josh.  I leaned in and thanked him for loving Andrew.  I promised that we would always look after his beloved daughter.  I told him that we remember him often, that we laugh, that we cry.  I told him that we miss him.  I leaned in and kissed his columbarium marker and as I did a tear slid off my face and onto the marble.  It was present for only a moment and then dried…and I received that sign as God’s assurance that in his coming Kingdom there will be no more crying, no more tears.  We will be together before our God.  Together. United.  Whole.

We miss you Josh.  We love you.  You are not forgotten.  Your memory, your service, your sacrifice lives on in us.  We will tell your story.  And we will celebrate your life with our lives.

Thanks be to God for the saints.  Thanks be to God for the promise that we will be united again.

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.  Alleluia, Alleluia!  O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old, and win with them the victor’s crown of gold.  Alleluia, Alleluia!  And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.  Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen.

*”For All the Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 711.

All Saints Sunday – Worthy of God’s Call

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12

There is a banner frame in the Reeves’ front yard that we rotate banners through during the year. Some banners promote upcoming ministry offerings while others speak a word of truth that (we hope) resonates with certain persons in the neighborhood surrounding the church. 

For the past two months we have had a banner out front reading “Grieving? We can help.” And during the past two months I have shared incredibly powerful, incredibly painful, and incredibly passionate conversations with persons who have suffered immense loss. 

Loss of parent. Loss of spouse. Loss of child. Loss of job. Loss of health. Loss of identity. Loss of worth. 

In hearing their stories of loss I am reminded of my own losses as God’s spirit of empathy settles. I admit now as I do at the outset of each of these conversations: I have not always been through the same kind of loss you are experiencing. I won’t say that “I understand” but I will listen. I won’t always have an answer or a solution, but again, and most importantly, I will listen. 

By listening I believe we come alongside those who grieve and help them make meaning – a little or a lot – of their loss. By listening I know we dispel the shame that accompanies grief – that we shouldn’t talk about it, that we should be tough and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, that we should rent a uhaul and move on. No. It takes courage to say “I want to talk about this.” We affirm that courage by listening. Will it make us uncomfortable to listen? Probably – but not as much as we originally thought. 

It makes me uncomfortable to think of all the people that are discouraged in their grief sharing. If you have been discouraged, I ask you to extend forgiveness to those who shamed you to silence and I encourage you to continue seeking someone to listen. 

//

On All Saints Sunday the church collectively pauses to remember those saints – those brothers sisters fathers mothers friends – in the faith that have completed the journey of faith. At one and the same time we celebrate their new lives in Christ while also recognizing our human loss. 

In worship we will read the names of the saints that have passed this year. We will light a candle and ring a bell for each. We will sing, pray, and share in communion. And then the service will conclude. 

But that doesn’t mean our feelings of human loss will be resolved with the lighting of a candle, the ringing of a bell, song, prayer, and communion – although those in the midst of great loss and great grief would welcome the quick resolution. 

I use this time of remembering to draw near to my personal experience of loss. I also use this time of remembering to draw near to my personal experiences with the hope, growth, grace, and understanding that have come alongside and helped lessen the hurt of the loss. The hurt of the loss will never completely go away…but on some days the pain will hurt less. 

I experience the “hurting less” of the loss when I talk about it. Lord knows I talk to myself all the time; I will remember and then talk myself up one side and down the other about my loss. But the healing comes when I share with someone, when that spirit of empathy settles, when someone affirms “I might not have answers or solutions, but yes, I will listen.”

One of my favorite anecdotes about Mother Theresa is this – once she was asked, “Mother Theresa, when you pray what do you ask for?” “Nothing; I listen.” “Ok…if you listen, then what does God say?” “Nothing; God listens.”

I listen. God listens. Do you? Can you? Will you? And when will you begin?

Prayer: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.  Alleluia, Alleluia! 

O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia, Alleluia! 

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia, Alleluia!”* Amen. 

*”For All The Saints,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 711.