One of the upsides (or downsides, depending on perspective) of being a movie lover is that many occasions in life are paired with an accompanying sound track—either live or in my head. I have my favorites playlist for Christmas. I have a playlist for when I’m heading out on vacation (our whole family has a playlist for when we’re heading to Disney). I even have a soundtrack that goes through my head for All Saint’s Day. For All the Saints comes to mind, as does Blest Are They—especially the refrain. But the one that comes back to me frequently is Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Miserables. Its after the crescendo of activity at the barricade. Here’s the hero, in the same room where they felt like nothing could stop them, but instead of a room full celebrating victory, the room is empty and he is missing his friends. This year, this song is poignant to me.
While we haven’t had any deaths of parishioners to remember to each other and remember to God, many of us have lost loved one. Family members have passed. Friends have died. And we remain, still running our course, still full of hope. I know this morning I’m feeling the absence of my friend, The Reverend Chris Carlton, who died this past January. There’s not a clergy meeting that I have been to this year where I did not feel his absence. On more than one occasion, I’ve wanted to seek his council. And I can’t. This is no a singular experience. Many who have lost a loved one, either this year or in prior years, know well the empty chairs in their life and can name a loved one whose seat does not get filled—either today, sitting in a pew in this or another place or the empty chairs that will be around the table at Thanksgiving or Christmas this year.
There’s not a Monday that goes by when I do not miss Gene Gibson coming in to my office to give me grief about how I made the coffee too strong.
As we look around this big, sprawling sanctuary we know well the names associated with empty pews. I know the pew cushions on the first couple of rows were placed in memory of Kathleen Neal’s mother. Joyce Catrett told me about the row of ladies who for years sat beside each in the row in front of her, she recounted not only the story of their lives but the great attention to detail hose ladies placed upon their hairstyles.
I’m sure we could pause right here and spend the rest of the service telling stories and we would lose track of the time as we recount stories of devotion, of faithful ministries, & even of hilarious levity.
One of the other songs thats on my soundtrack for All Saints day is the song whose lyrics include “Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful”. Yes, the were penned by Steve Green, but I think there’s something here to pay attention to. We have a faith—many times deep and abiding, sometimes thin & wavering—but faith nonetheless because of those who shared the faith with us. Family members, Sunday School teachers, pastors, the usher who would always slip a peppermint to the kid as he was walking back up the aisle after the offering. The scout troop leader who devoted their time to the kid who direly needed positive role models.
Each can recount those who have shaped their faith today.
But I want us to imaginatively cast our vision to the future. Here, today, in 2015, each of us find ourselves in between times. And we wait—some actively, and some passively—until a new thing comes into being. We can affirm this on a grand scale in that we find ourselves waiting in the “in between” times of Jesus’ ascension and return. We know Jesus’ promises are true and there will a completion of things where all manner of things will be well. But until then—there’s still cancer; there’s still suicide; there’s still dementia; there’s birth defects. I was just telling someone Wednesday afternoon that at some point when I see St. Peter, I’m going to be asking why when it comes to things like cancer, depression, and dementia. Beyond these epic illnesses, there’s the simple reality that getting old is not for wimps—either for those who are maturing into the latter stages of life or for the friends and family members who accompany them. How we accompany one another, how we live, and how we find some way to lean into the mystery of God’s promise for life matters. These actions in these in between times speak t our faith and trust in God beyond our capacities
We can also talk about being in an in between time in a much more finite fashion. We, as a congregation, are in another, parallel, in between time. We know that the old ways of being is passing away. We also know that at some point in the future, a new life will emerge. And we profess this as a hopeful, ready to embrace statement of faith—not resignation. Daniel and Katie shared with me that one of the reasons we baptized Wyatt in this space, in this congregation is not so much the aesthetics, size, or anything else that has to do with this place but because they know the people who made their promise to guide Wyatt, to lead Wyatt and shape Wyatt’s faith are going to keep that promise in the next phase of life of this community of faith, regardless of street address, regardless of the name on the door. It makes me think of Jeremiah and his acre of land he bought–not as a foolish act but as a sign of hope.
We today, have this kind of hope to envision a bold, loving, progressive Christian faith lived out in love and service to our community only because this is how we have been brought up. We do this because countless sermons, Sunday School teachers, Vacation Bible Schools, pot luck suppers, mission trips, and Bible Studies have formed this community of Jesus followers.
My hope and my prayer is that in 50 years, those who will be gathering in the name of Jesus—our Spiritual grandchildren—will say about us, “can you believe it?” “Do you realize the bold step of faith—this crazy thing that they did way back 2015?” And in my best of dreams—the respondent says, “yes. Yes I can. You know why? Because wait until you hear this bold, faithful, creative way we’re about to be in ministry. You’re going to think I’m crazy because I know this will fail unless God somehow intervenes alongside us. Are you ready? Here’s what it is…..”