This past Sunday we celebrated the retirement of our long-time parish administrator and the Sunday liturgy was a celebration of her service to the church and the body of Christ. As I began to preach about Marty, a member nudged his spouse and said, "It sounds like a eulogy." In a way it was a sort of eulogy or rather tribute to all of Marty's contributions to the life of St. Thomas. It was a wonderful day celebrating a true servant of God.
The bigger question which has rattled around in my heart and mind, is this: Why do we wait to tell the world about someone, their gifts and attributes after they are dead? The beautiful thing about Sunday was Marty didn't have to wait until she was dead to celebrated. We chose to celebrate her right now while she was in midst of us. We told her how much she meant to us and even though she is leaving, she is not leaving our hearts and minds. I believe that is a good thing and not done enough over the course of someone's life. We sit at funerals and hear family members tell about the deceased and I know I often think, "Now that is someone I would have like to have known while he was alive." Instead I am hearing about him at a time when he can't realize what an impact he had on the world. I think it is a shame to share someone's story with the world after they have died and can't hear it.
Perhaps what we need is a conscious effort to tell someone when he is among us just how much we value his presence. How he makes a real difference in our lives and that the world is a better place because he is in it walking alongside us. I don't give advice but in this instance I will: Don't wait for a death to proclaim to all how someone has been a faithful presence in your life. Tell that person today and better yet tell others in his presence, with all the negativity swirling in our world today, it is time to add some positive energy to our existence, we never know the difference we may make.
“What are we going to do, now that he is gone? Who will keep us on task and who will be the one to lead us? Who will teach?” He shouted this at the top of his lungs as his fist banged down on the table. Who do you think said this? Peter, James or perhaps John lamenting the loss of Jesus? No, it was Harry Hopkins talking about the death of President Roosevelt. Roosevelt is seen as a savior figure for the free world and rightly so. He saved us from the Great Depression and from the tyranny of Fascism in Nazi Germany. Roosevelt did save the world but, he was a human leader filled with human frailties; Jesus of course is God.
Imagine if you will the disciples locked away fearing for their very lives feeling like Harry Hopkins. Just what are they going to do? We often deride them for their cowardice but their experiences and feelings are one we can all understand and maybe we have even seen a bit of in ourselves. When we have so trusted someone and invited him into our lives, confusion, sadness, bitterness and even anger have a way of overtaking us. The disciples have all those feelings after watching Jesus die on the cross. This would have been the perfect time for them to turn on one another and blame one another for what took place. But Jesus taught them well and they stayed together, ministering to each other through their collective grief.
I have thought not to look at Jesus only through the lens of the crucifixion is because that is only half of the story. The whole Jesus is the person who had friends; got into arguments and yes even sassed his mom. If I see Jesus as the ultimate victim of humankind’s need to kill someone who was innocent, I miss the whole story of the resurrection. Yes Jesus died on the cross but his death was only the beginning. The beginning for me of what is a life of freedom to be the person God wants me to be. Jesus’ death is for me the unending amount of love God has to give me and indeed all of the world. I do not minimize his death, but I don’t allow it to define my faith. I want more from Jesus and indeed more from myself.
What are we going to do? Those words of Hopkins ring in my ears each day and I will work tirelessly for Jesus’ vision of heaven on earth. I will not let the crucifixion be my sole focus, I will let Jesus’ life and example be my soul focus.
Please be kind
It is customary in the Episcopal Church to change the blessing to one of penitence each Sunday during Lent. But, I decided this year to keep to my usual blessing which is: "My friends, life is short and we have little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So make haste to love and be swift to be kind." It is the last words in this blessing which has always struck me as the most important-be kind. Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
I kept this blessing for the simple reason we need more kindness in our world. Without going all political we need to be more generous with one another. Generous in the sense that I may not agree with what someone has to say, but I have to try to understand why he feels as he does. It is when we are unable to show generosity in spirit and love we do not show to one another the love of Christ.
When I reflect on my own conduct, there have been times when I have been less than generous with my fellow travelers. I hope that age and my growing in faith keeps me from reacting to unkind comments and treatment of one another in our world. We often think the way we do because of past experiences, how we grew up or what we have read and heard; it may seem irrational to some but for others it is "their" truth. We do not have to understand it or agree with it; in fact there are times when we are compelled as Christians to speak out against hate and prejudice. What I do is I pray their fear and hate will evolve into love and compassion for all. Jesus tells us to pray for everyone, not just the people we like or agree with.
My mode of being is not to try to change someone's mind through words, but rather to model the love of Christ. This love is not a tepid or wishy washy way of thinking. After all Jesus was neither of these, reading the gospel accounts, he showed quiet strength, loved everyone especially when they were unlovable and gave his life for us. Yes, Jesus was angry at times speaking truth to power but he did it with dignity, integrity loving us all to the end. May we do so with our fellow travelers.