Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Family Affair

Sermon preached November 2, 2014

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17

            Sly and the Family Stone, “A Family Affair”
            Today may be the kind of day where apologies should be given to you who are visiting.  It is a family day here today.  We are glad that you are here.  We welcome you today.  We are an open family here, and there’s always room for more.  We are glad you came, and it remains a family day for us – a day to remember with gratitude.
            The family of the church is an open family, always with room for more.  We are also a big family.  I was gone all this past week.  I was part of two meetings for The United Methodist Church – The Study of Ministry Commission in Nashville and The Committee on Faith and Order in Oklahoma City.  I really got to see and be with our extended church family – persons from Germany, the Congo, Cote ‘d Ivorie, Florida, Arkansas, North Carolina, Hawaii, Russia, the Philippines, Texas, Zimbabwe, and more.  You were remembered in those gatherings.  This service was prayed about and for in those gatherings.
            Today, though, we are remembering family members nearer to us.  In just a bit we will be lighting candles for and reading the names of family members who have died since last All Saints’ Day.  This morning I am remembering another person as well.  The stole I am wearing belonged to United Methodist Bishop Wayne Clymer, bishop in Minnesota 1972-1980.  Bishop Clymer retired as a bishop from the Iowa Conference in 1984, and that year, he preached the sermon at the worship service where I was ordained.  Bishop Clymer became our “Bishop in residence” here in Minnesota, and I had the privilege of sharing some meals with him, or of being with him in worship.  Bishop Clymer died late last November.  Bishop Clymer is part of my family of faith, as are those we will be lighting candles for in just a bit.  I’ve thought as much about each of them and their families.
            I would like to share a poem with you that speaks to me about this All Saints’ Day.  “The Death of a Parent” (Linda Pastan)
Move to the front
of the line
a voice says, and suddenly
there is nobody
left standing between you
and the world, to take
the first blows
on their shoulders.
This is the place in books
where part one ends, and
part two begins
and there is no part three.
The slate is wiped
not clean but like a canvas
painted over in white
so that a whole new landscape
must be started,
bits of the old
still showing underneath - -
those colors sadness lends
to a certain hour of evening.
Now the line of light
at the horizon
is the hinge between earth
and heaven, only visible
a few moments
as the sun drops
its rusted padlock
into place.

            With every loss to our family of faith, there is a tear in the fabric of our community.  This is the place in books/where part one ends,/and part two begins/and there is no part three./The slate is wiped/not clean but like a canvas/painted over in white.  With every loss each of us takes on a slightly different role in our community: a whole new landscape/must be started.  But we do that building on the gifts given by those who are gone - bits of the old/still showing underneath - -
            We celebrate gifts given today, even as we mark our loss.  Our prayer is for God’s Spirit to give us wisdom, courage, and love to continue to create a community of compassion, love and care.  We pray, and trust God will answer our prayer.
            We pray and trust that there is something more to this family of ours.  We are a family that affirms that we stay connected, even after death.  We affirm as a community that we are a family whose great reunion is up ahead.  After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.  Some of the imagery here may feel a little strange, but this is a reunion, a joyful family reunion.  The people for whom we will light candles in a bit live on in our hearts, in the marks they made in our lives, but they also have life in God and remain a part of this family of faith.
            We are also a family whose work is God’s work – God’s work of working toward a world without hunger or harm, a world where the waters of life flow freely, a world where tears are dried, a world of song and dance and joy.

            Those who have gone were an integral part of our family and that work.  Thanks be to God.  They remain part of the family even as the work is now ours to continue - a whole new landscape/must be started/bits of the old/still showing underneath- -.  The work is ours to continue inspired and enriched by those who have gone before.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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