May 28, 2017: May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard. Amen.
For many, Memorial Day weekend is all about BBQs, family gatherings, and days at the beach or camping. But that is not what this weekend is supposed to be about. Originally called Decoration Day, it was a day set aside to honor the fallen in the Civil War. Later, it was changed to honor all those lost to any war.
This weekend, we remember and give thanks for all those who have died while serving our country, and also those close to us – family, friends, and relatives. We take the time to bring these loved ones to mind and heart – why? Why do we visit gravesides of those lost to us, whether on Memorial Day or otherwise? Why do we gather together to lift up the names of those who have gone before us? Or, why do we have plaques, as we have here in this church, with the names of the deceased? Well, actually, we have the remains of the deceased here too – our columbarium – and by some accounts, a few ghosts as well.
I think we want what the disciples longed for – another moment with the one we loved. And yet, what the messenger are telling the disciples is something crucial to our faith, and to our lives. Jesus ascends into heaven, disappearing from their sight, and the disciples are still standing there gazing up trying to get a glimpse of him. [This reminds me of a cartoon that shows the disciples looking up at Jesus as he ascends into heaven, but one of them keeps saying “I can’t see him. I can’t see him.” The caption reads: Ascension Deficit Disorder] Two messengers of God appear and say “Hey, what’s up? What are you staring at? There’s nothing to see here – move along.”
Now, they would have understood that if they really had listened to what Jesus told them earlier. He said that he had to leave, but that another, the Spirit of Truth, would be sent to be with them – with us – forever. He made it clear that he had to go, that his work might be completed…but how? How would that be without him?
As you know, one of my favorite modern day prophets is the late Erma Bombeck. And she once wrote this bit entitled “Children Are Like Kites”:
“Children are like kites. You spend years trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you are both breathless. They crash … they hit the roof … you patch, comfort and assure them that someday they will fly.
Finally, they are airborne.
They need more string, and you keep letting it out. They tug, and with each twist of the twine, there is sadness that goes with joy. The kite becomes more distant, and you know it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and will soar as meant to soar … free and alone.
Only then do you know that you have done your job.”
While I know that parents generally love their children, those that do, would never want their kids to spend their lives living with them. It isn’t because they don’t enjoy being with them (or because they want to turn the kids room into a home office or gym). It is because they hoped for more for them – that they might live into who they were born to be – and they can’t do that living in the safety and comfort of their parents home. They have to live their own life.
And in that life, they will make mistakes, they will get hurt, they will fail…but, they will also thrive, pick themselves up, and have successes too. They will be their own unique selves, but they will always carry with them their parents love and the guidance they received. If they never left home, then they would never live as they were born to live.
That is what Jesus is hoping for his disciples too. As long as he was physically around for them to follow, they would never live fully into who he needed them to be in the world. When first sent out, they struggled to do the work he called for them to do. I think, because they kept thinking “I’m not my teacher – I am not Jesus.” They leaned on him, and he did the heavy lifting of ministry. But now, they needed to move on – move out of the house, as it were – to be all that he knew they could be.
And…they did. After they encountered the messengers, they went back to the city, gathered together – men and women disciples – and devoted themselves to prayer. But wait…aren’t they supposed to go out and do stuff like Jesus did? Aren’t they supposed to be Christ in the world now? Yes. But all of that begins with emptying.
There are those who see the glass half full, those who see it half empty, and those who say “what glass?” Right? But I think no matter how you see the glass when it is filled half way, you know you can’t add anymore to it when it is filled to the brim, right? To add more, you have to empty some of it out.
Jesus told them that the Spirit would guide them. But if that is to happen, they have to be willing to listen, they have to be open to what will be given them, they have to make room for it in their hearts, minds, and souls. That is the gift of prayer.
So many think of prayer as a one way conversation: “Hello God, it’s me. I need help with this…thank you for that…Amen.” But perhaps the most important prayer of all is silence. God is trying to speak to us – all the time – but most of the time we are too busy, too distracted, to even realize it. How many of us have tried to talk to a teenager who is texting with their thumbs while listening to music through their ear buds? How much of what we say do they actually hear? It’s like talking to cats or dogs.
Now, most of you know I just adopted two 6 month old kittens, and a one year old three-legged Labrador retriever. And the old comics about communication with cats and dogs are true. Speaking to a dog, we might be saying “Okay Sparky, that’s the last time you get into the garbage. Stay out of the garbage Sparky!’ but, all they hear is: “Blah, blah, Sparky, blah, blah, blah, Sparky.” Speaking to a cat we might say “Ginger, stay off the counter top. I mean it Ginger!” but all they hear is “________.” I mean, if you have dogs or cats…or teenagers – then you know exactly what I am talking about, right?
But Jesus hoped his disciples would turn to prayer – prayer in which listening was involved – that they might hear what the Spirit of Truth would tell them. And what did they hear? The same thing we believe today – that he really never left them…or us. We don’t need to look upward to find him – just all around us, and within us. That is why we say that Christ was, is, and is to come. Not just, Christ was, and is to come….Christ IS!
We pray two prayers at some funerals – I like to use these particularly for those who die far too young. I will use our Savior’s name rather than the deceased, and have combined them for brevity:
“We seem to give Jesus back to you, dear God, who gave him to us. Yet as you did not lose him in giving, so we have not lost him by his return. For what is yours is ours always. And life is eternal; and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight… We gratefully recall all that Jesus was to us; all that he stood for in the world. May we live even more constantly in the companionship of his spirit, and carry out, in the old spheres in which we together moved, so much of his purpose as we can. May we be kind to the friends he loved; devoted to the community in which he lived; loyal to the causes which he served. Thus in our life may he still live on, to our own comfort, and the welfare of your world.”
It is that last part that I think most clearly speaks to the lives we are called to live: “May we be kind to the friends he loved; devoted to the community in which he lived; loyal to the causes which he served. Thus in our life may he still live on, to our own comfort, and the welfare of your world.”
Who are the friends he loved, that we are now called to be kind to? – the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, the oppressed, the lonely, the forgotten, the least.
What is the community in which he lived, to which we are to be devoted? – here, our parish family, and the church around the world…and also to all people of the world, no matter their faith, their country, their language, how they love – why? Because Jesus called the world his own – all of it is God’s – all of it is Christ’s community – all of it we need to be devoted to – in service through our ministry – that is how we also serve the causes to which he was devoted – that all are made to know that they are loved deeply by God.
I often ask at funerals that we remember one aspect of our loved one that we most admire, and commit to living that each day – in that way, they live on – they live on in us.
But while we remember the Jesus that was, when we live out our lives as he did, we walk with the Jesus that IS! The disciples were never meant to stand there staring into the heavens. They were never meant to sit around grieving the loss of their Rabbi. They were meant to live – to be what he called them to be, because Jesus was with them, and us, to the end of the ages.
God came into the world to show us how to live, not to live that life for us – but to give us what we need to live it ourselves, with God’s help. Like the parent that hopes to give their child all that they can, they don’t intend to live their child’s life – indeed, if they try, they will damage the relationship. No, the best way to love for a parent is to let go and allow them to live, hoping that the guidance you have given as a parent, and will continue to give, will give them courage, strength, and love to be what they are called to be in the world.
God hopes the same for us.
Memorial Day is a time when we remember those who have gone before. We can no longer see them, but they are present nonetheless – in our hearts, in our minds, in our lives.
Our faith however is not only about remembering what once was, but celebrating what IS! The Eucharist is not a remembrance meal, but a celebratory feast of thanksgiving for the Christ that is present with us – the Christ that is alive! So, don’t look upwards toward heaven to find Christ – you’ll only get a crick in your neck. He is here – in you, in your sisters and brothers, and in the world. Pray and listen for the Spirit of Truth to guide you to be him in the world.
Thus, in our lives may Christ still live on, to our own comfort, and the welfare of God’s world.
For the audio from the 10:30am service, click here:
 Adapted from a cartoon by Gary Larson.
Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
May 28, 2017
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
1st Reading – Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
2nd Reading – 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Gospel – John 17:1-11