October 25, 2020 Service of Remembrance
Last week I shared Benjamin Franklin's quote, “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” We talked about taxes last week, today's Service of Remembrance brings us to the subject of death. Here's another Franklin quote about death, “I wake up every morning at nine and grab for the morning paper. Then I look at the obituary page. If my name is not on it, I get up.”
Death is in the news daily. We have become somewhat accustomed to hearing death rates from COVID-19 and we know that that rate is rising quickly again. But we also know that not all deaths are COVID related. In fact, a headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion put the probability of death in this headline, “World Death Rate Holding Steady At 100 Percent.” No one gets out of this life alive.
If your bible has sub-titles for the Psalms, you would see this under Psalm 90, “A Psalm of Moses, the man of God.” Moses was the great law giver for the people of Israel; and their savior who led them out of the slavery in Egypt. While there isn't universal agreement that Moses wrote this, it indicates that it is at least a very early Psalm. The author metaphorically claimed God as a dwelling place. Is God a place? Not really and Jesus uses a similar metaphor in his teachings. In John 15 he says, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. And In John 17 he prays forward, for us, “'My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.'” God as dwelling place is not about location, but about our hearts, our souls and the relationship with God in Christ. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus means that we dwell with God not just in spirit here and now, but for eternity as redeemed and resurrected.
But we are not called to live only in this promise of the sweet by and by. We are called to touch this world with our lives. In verse 12 of the psalm, the psalmist prays, “teach us to number our days that we may present a spirit of wisdom.” The Message translation puts it this way, “Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well!” We aren't dead yet. And Scottish minister Alexander MacLaren spoke to the transitory nature of this life and the fact that we are called to do God's work while we are here. “Fleeting though our days are, they are ennobled by our being permitted to be God's "tools;" and although we the workers have to pass, our work may be established. That life will not die which has done the will of God. But we must walk in the favor of God, so that there can flow down from us deeds which breed not shame but shall outlast the perishable earth and follow their doers into the dwelling places of those eternal habitations.” It's never too late to make your mark in this world. It doesn't have to be monumental, the work we do in God's name, but it should be works of love and grace. Our gospel reminded us of the new law written in our hearts, Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. Live life today in that love and with an eye for eternity.
Our service of Remembrance is about remembering the people in our lives who have left a mark on our souls. We lost two church members this year. Orville Reinke died shortly after our service of Remembrance last year. His mark here is the picture of redemption. Most of you remember that he wanted nothing to do with the church, but he was faithful in getting Evelyn here. When Evelyn died, he fulfilled his vow to her to attend and fell in love with this place. Our fellowship filled a great need in his life and his love for this place nourished all of us. Doug Johnson died way too young. His mark was not in attendance but in staying close enough to feel our care and caring enough to support us with his gifts.
I conclude with another Ben Franklin quote. In 1728, aged 22, Franklin wrote what he hoped might be his own epitaph: “The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author.” Isn't that true? As we remember all the people on the list Julie will read, their earthly bodies are no more. But their works, their love shall not be wholly lost. We remember and we reconnect for a few moments with the love they showed.
But we also trust that some glad morning, we too shall fly away to that place that knows no sorrow nor tears; we ourselves edited, corrected and amended. And that's not our own doing. It is the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that corrects and amends all our flaws and shortcomings; he takes our hand and leads us home. We share now a special music video that is a reminder that this earth is not the end of the story. Vince Gill sings that when our work on earth is done, we “go to heaven a-shoutin' love for the Father and the Son.” That love is our only source of hope for our eternity. That love is the reason we can remember with a spirit of joy rather than despair. That love informs us that this world is not our home, we're just passing through. And yet the Psalm calls us to make everything we can of our days here on earth. Live knowing that your days are numbered. Live in the sure and certain hope that we will be united with our loved ones again. Live to leave your mark on this world; a mark of love and grace. Amen.
Special music or video: Go Rest High on that Mountain
Reading of Names: Julie
Dear Father in heaven, we trust that beyond absence, there is presence. That beyond pain there is healing. That you have every one of us and everyone who we are remembering in the palm of your hand. Have mercy on us, Lord, and walk with us as we go through the hurts of this life. Be with each person here this morning who is remembering a loved one. May the peace that passes understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May your love fill our beings and may we find comfort for our grief. Grant that through the mystery of the resurrection, we may be filled with hope for today and through eternity. Amen.
Hymn: I'll Fly Away