I’m not likely ever to be a congressman, or a senator, or sit on the Supreme Court…
And I don’t think I’ll be playing rhythm guitar for Emmy Lou Harris, Nancy Griffiths or Shawn Colvin…
Lots of hopes and dreams and all the actuarial tables indicate that I’m well past the halfway point of my life… 60 might be the new 40, but I can call myself middle-aged only if I plan to live to 126!
And I wonder, “What happened? I was going to do so much? Is this it?”
And in a conversation with dear Pastor Quanbeck- our former Visitation Pastor, and Teacher Extraordinaire, about this very issue some time ago, he made it worse, by sharing some thoughts he’d had as he was teaching years ago at Augsburg College:
“If I died today, in the middle of the semester, someone would be teaching my classes next week. All my students would get their grades, and in two years (because he was teaching only juniors and seniors), there would not be a student on campus who had ever studied with me- or even know who I was…”
I remember thinking, “Oh great- not only do I have unlived dreams, now I’ve been reminded that I’m utterly dispensable at what I do now…”
And of course, this is true for every one of us!
This is the sort of thing of which midlife crises are made! These are the sorts of thoughts that result in pitching everything and everyone and heading to a beach in the South Pacific- Bora Bora, maybe- or a farmhouse in Vermont with my guitar- another dream before it’s too late for that one, too.
And sadly, we hear about, or know people who make decisions like that all the time, leaving spouses and children, running around with much younger people, in a desperate attempt to try their lives again, trying to relive, or recapture, their youth- and their dreams.
That behavior- or thinking about that behavior- is rooted in the questions we all ask (or will ask), at every age, as soon as we can think, hope or dream about the future- questions at the heart of the issues I am raising:
Does my life matter? What difference does my life make? (Or has my life made? Or will my life make?) Who will care that I lived or not? Who, ultimately, will remember me???
Some possible answers:
My family? Sure, for a couple of generations, but then?
My friends? Sure, as long as they live…
And if you’re famous, or have done something “important,” and someone writes it down, well, then, perhaps maybe longer. But this happens only to a very few, and even then, how you’re remembered depends on the perspective of the historian, and on whether anyone else cares.
But the best answer, the answer that helps me make sense of my life in the vast context of history- the answer that helps me live every day with a sense of purpose, and reason- the answer that keeps me here, and not headed to beach, or the White Mountains-
Is that God remembers me. God knows and will remember every one of you- by your very name, and not just now, today, but always- forever!
I read my Bible, and I read the story of God’s remembrance- of God’s love.
God didn’t just create the world and then cut us loose. God makes promises; God keeps promises!
In Genesis, to Abraham and Sarah: “I will create from you a mighty nation, and bless all the nations of the world through you!”
In Exodus, God remembered his people Israel and used Moses to lead them from slavery to the Promised Land…
And in Jesus, the enormity of God’s love for each of us is shown- the incredible lengths that God will reach to bring us into his presence.
One of my favorite stories of this truth is the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 1, our Gospel lesson. This story is one that shows just how much Jesus hates death: he weeps in his grief; he is “greatly disturbed” looking at Lazarus’ tomb.
“Take the stone away,” he cries! Lazarus’ sister Martha says, “It’s been four days! There is a stench!” (It is interesting to note that there is an old Jewish tradition that the soul lingers for three days and then departs- so Lazarus is DEAD…
Jesus says to her, “Believe and see the glory of God!” Jesus prays and then calls: “Lazarus, come out!” and he does- he was dead, but now he is alive again! Here, shows Jesus, is God’s overwhelming love; God’s power over death; Lazarus is restored to his family!
But there is so much more than that! Lazarus is an illustration- Jesus is making a point- a wonderful point to be sure, but Lazarus is brought back to this life! He gets to die twice! (I wonder if he ever talked to Jesus about that!
Jesus himself shows the extent of God’s love- of God’s power- of God’s ultimate hope for you and for me in his own willingness to die:
Jesus, God become a human being- shares in our own death! From the cross, Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit, entrusting his future to God, when for all the world, it looks like he has no future!
And God raises Jesus from the dead- not merely to this life, but for all eternity- changed- made new- RESURRECTION! Paul says it this way to the Ephesians: … you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places…not only in this age but also in the age to come!
That’s the promise made to you and to me: because Jesus lives, you and I shall live also. Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord forever! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is offered to you and to me in our lives, through our deaths and for all eternity!
You and I get a more concrete vision of this in our reading from Revelation 21: God living with us- God wiping the tears from our eyes (I LOVE THAT- the creator of the universe close enough- intimate enough to touch our faces and wipe away our tears…) No more death, mourning, crying or pain: the promise of being made new- well, complete, whole- life eternal in the fullness of the presence of God, reunited with those who have gone before!
That’s why Christians sing at funerals- we raise the roof! We may cry our eyes out in our grief, but we know our loved ones are with Jesus- they are at peace, and we shall see them again!
What all this promises is God’s remembrance- my future- your future is ultimately secure in the hands of our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus the Christ.
But there’s more to the promise: my future is built not only on what will happen later- this same Jesus helps me live today!
Jesus promised not to leave us on our own- in the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the assurance of Jesus’ presence in our lives every day! His presence in my life- in your life- offers us perspective: we can live in the light of eternity and see God’s abundant love right now.
You and I can live the life we are promised in Christ each and every day. And don’t be confused- this abundance offered is not the temporary, not the transitional stuff that we often fill our lives pursuing.
There is meaning- significance and blessing in the love you share- the generosity you express, the service you perform in Jesus’ Name, and this is true whether you’re a banker, a server, retired, or a carpenter, or teacher or student- whatever you are doing!
And God’s Spirit- the Spirit of the Living Jesus brings us to each other- as brothers and sisters. We support each other, help each other, learn from each other, and we remember each other…
Today I remember Manju… I met Manju some years ago in Bangalore at the Gershom Lutheran Church. Gershom Lutheran is a slum church- in a tenement in one of the poorest and roughest neighborhoods on Bangalore.
Pastor Devamaher founded the congregation- he rented two rooms in the back of one of these tenements, each about 10 by 12, and built an (illegal) awning on the back of the building, and that was and is the church.
Manju was fourteen years old- born into a very poor family and he was born deaf. His family didn’t have the money to have him examined by a doctor- his condition was simply a fact of life- of a very hard life.
He started coming to the church- it was a place- it was the only place where he was accepted for who he was, as he was, and he made himself the pastor’s assistant- gofer and helper… And Gershom Lutheran, as poor as that church was, collected enough money to get him to a doctor, and after his diagnosis, to pay for a hearing aid.
For the first time in his life, Manju could hear- and he quickly began learning to speak. But do you know what he did with his hearing aid? He shared it with his deaf friends- the small circle of three other boys who shared his disability. It wasn’t HIS hearing aid, it was theirs- and there was hearing a plenty for everybody!
Can you imagine? I left the place in tears- and a sense that young Manju got what it was to follow Jesus in ways that I can’t even imagine.
I’m a better pastor- no, I am a better person because of my half hour with Manju at the Gershom Lutheran Church in Bangalore. I learned more about sharing- and generosity- and about abundance in that short time than I had in all my life- it’s one of the reasons I continue to return to that country.
I don’t know that I will ever see him again, but I will always remember him. And if I don’t see him again in this life, I look forward to seeing him in God’s Kingdom, because I know God remembers him- knows him now and always will!
In your worship folder is a list of all the people connected to this congregation who have died since last All Saints Sunday- people whose names we shall hear shortly.
There are people on this list who were well loved. I’m afraid I didn’t know any of them very well, but as we continue to get to know each other, that will change. But whether you or I knew them well, or not, doesn’t matter!
We remember them all because God remembers them! Because at this moment, they are in the fullness of God’s presence- in the presence of the Jesus who has loved them- and you- from the beginning of time- and for all eternity!
Because God remembers, because God knows you, your life matters. Your life makes a difference in those whom God brings to you.
And God would say to me- and to you, that you don’t have to be forever young- or have a high profile- or run away to a beach in Bora Bora to be important because, in my eyes, you already are. That’s why I gave you Jesus!
Come now to Jesus’ table- for a meal of remembrance- for the Feast of Victory for our God. Remember all the saints- but especially those who celebrate this feast in the Heavenly Kingdom- the saints who from their labors’ rest. In Jesus’ Wonderful Name, Alleluia! Amen!