Our Thessalonians reading begins with Paul referencing the coming again of Jesus, “As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him we beg you... not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.” Paul is telling his readers not to focus so much on the timing and events related to the Lord's coming, but to call to mind the assurances that we have been given that everything is under the Lord's control. He wrote this assurance to Thessalonica because there was talk going around that Jesus had returned and they'd missed it! They didn't and we still wait, but are reminded not to get shaken or alarmed worrying about the details, God has the details well in hand.
But we do want to be well aware of what is essential in the promises of God's saving grace: first and foremost, we are chosen by God!
In our confirmation class this morning, we talked about covenants. God made covenants in the Old Testament; with Abraham to multiply his descendants, with Moses that God would bless the people as they obeyed the Law handed down to Moses, with Noah in the rainbow that another flood would never destroy the earth to name a few. God instigation each covenant and God always remained faithful even when the people often didn't. God's promise to redeem us was fulfilled as Jesus brought us the good news of a new covenant, where we were no longer called on to live in perfect obedience but one where Christ redeems our lives. Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law from the old covenant...Jesus opens the door for the eternal glory of which Paul wrote.
We are holding our annual service of Remembrance today. We see quite a list of people who we are remembering today. I want to concentrate on the three active members whose funerals I was privileged to conduct. There were covenant themes in the readings I shared at each of their services. In Emily's, I shared Paul's assurance that God remains faithful, that this covenant between us and God would never be broken, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I began Harlan's funeral with this promise,” For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8) In this new covenant, we are reminded it is not our perfection, our works that save us... it is the grace of God.
And from Lauretta's service, we are reminded that this new covenant makes us the very children of our heavenly Father, “you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
We are a covenant people, living in relationship with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. But we are covenant people with one another as well. We live in relationship in the body of Christ, the Church. We are bound to one another, now and for eternity. And this is why we hold a service of remembrance, we remember the bond we held in this life and we are reminded that we remain connected in covenant relationship forever. I'm reminded of that verse from Hebrews that tells us we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and I think of the witnesses from our congregation no longer with us in body. But they remain with us as we remember them. Some time before vacation, I went on my office phone's directory to make a call...and the first name and number on my list of contacts is still Arlene Johnson. Seeing her name there always reminds me that the impact of a life goes beyond their years of life on earth. She and Harlan were such wonderful supports for me when my ministry began and for Julie and I and our family...and part of that cloud of witnesses.
And as the airplane approached the airport in Arizona last week, I was reminded of Lauretta. She and Wally wintered in Mesa and Julie and I were able to visit Lauretta a couple of times there. I remembered her and thought of the example of faithfulness and love she and Wally were to our church family...and their family.
There are others I was reminded of on our trip...Emily as we drove by the golf courses... I was going to say the green courses but we saw one that looked to be entirely sand. We thought of Julie's Dad as we explored on Superstition Mountain, he had a great interest in the Lost Dutchman's Gold mine that has never been discovered. And I was reminded of my Mom as we witnessed Christa's graduation in her Wal-mart course...Mom was awfully worried about adopting those girls but grew to love them fully.
We look at the long list of friends who have passed away this year. We remember today because we connect with them through our memories. We can connect to them because they live on within our memories. Brian Doyle writes in the Daily Guideposts, “I believe that everything that ever happened to me is inside me somehow, and if I can only find the key, then I can unlock a moment, a remark, a joke, a sidelong scent, a certain angle of light—anything. You cannot seek it out but just be open to it when it arrives.
It all abides in you, brothers and sisters. There is no passage of time, only a wholly ineffective storage system. The dead are not dead when you see and hear and speak of them. We mourn lost time and love, but the only duty is to remember and sing the glory of what was, so as to save it from the thirsty void. What else can we do but sing? What else can we do?”
When we remember, when we speak of our lost loved ones, they are with us once again. And so we remember and we celebrate the fulfillment of the covenant in their lives...they have obtained the glory promised. Mr. Doyle asks “What else can we do but sing?” We remember, we sing, we claim the promises of Jesus. And I will ask that the choir gather for their anthem as I share some of the words they are going to sing in remembrance of the promises of Jesus: “I claim you as my choice...I am with you...I have called you by name...come and follow me and I will bring you home.” Alleluia and Amen.
Choir Anthem: You Are Mine