Monthly Archives: November 2016


A Hanging of the Greens Homily for 27 November 2016 – 1st Sunday of Advent

It’s hard to believe it’s that time again! Wasn’t it just yesterday Advent 2015 began? . . . Some of us might be ready to put this year behind us, what with health challenges and loss and not always the best news coming to us this year about happenings around our nation and world. Some of us want to linger awhile in the past – sad to be entering this season again with the beginning of a new church year and soon the start of a new calendar year too. If you’ve had the kind of year that can take a toll on you physically, emotionally, and maybe even spiritually with whatever you’ve had to face; then maybe it’s a little be harder to be merry this season. Perhaps you dread what too often becomes over-loaded weeks in a sprint to absolutely perfect Christmases. Or maybe you’re one of those who are 100% excited, giddy with anticipation each morning – ready to jump out of bed to tackle whatever comes this Advent! Either way, here we go again. Time flying by whether or not we’ve stopped enough to enjoy our lives! Whether or not we’ve accomplished the goals we’ve had for ourselves as a community of faith and as individuals. Whether or not we’ve learned what we’ve wanted to, experienced all we’d hoped, or noticed anything much different with each passing day. It’s Advent again with Christmas creeping right around the corner.

Again. . . . Sooner or later we learn in life that this journey is a spiral, not a straight line. We don’t move through time – at least not as liturgical Christians – from point A to point B to point C all the way at last to Z. Instead we move from point A to B to C to point A to B to C and again to point A to B to C over and over again. Some might think the approach rather boring. But with every turn around the circle, we get a chance to go a little deeper. Get a chance to notice what we missed last time. We get to experience the anticipation, longing, hope of this season again and again and again. . . . Have you ever stopped to wonder why so many of us do the same things each Advent season? Why we get the tree from the same place – or at least put it in the same spot. Why we host the same parties and give gifts to the same people and gather for the same traditions this time of year? I think we do it all again and again and again because no matter what’s happening in our lives, such traditions become our anchors. The reminders that this season of our lives won’t last – literally: this season after this year’s loss, or this season after this year’s high will NOT last forever. . . . Like the seasons of nature: winter doesn’t last forever. Neither does spring – or even summer in Tennessee. Life is the endless spiral of life, death, new life. Life, death, new life. . . . No matter in which place we find ourselves standing today, again a new season will come.

Remember that as we adorn this sanctuary today. As we sing the songs of Advent and hear the ancient prophecies. As we take in the sights and ponder the meaning of the same things we use each year: candles expanding in the dark of winter. Wreaths that never end. Red, red leaves that signify so much. Even trees that sparkle and glisten to remind us we’re here in this world but a few decades to do so as well! . . . Again we come to this season and my prayer is that the traditions we love during Advent will wake up any spirits that are slumbering. AND will allow those already ablaze to burn more fervently with the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . Again Advent begins. Let these moments fill you with all you need!

Turning to God, let us pray. (Hanging of the Greens liturgy followed.)


And so Advent begins again! Beauty abounds as these symbols of this sanctuary ring out with good tidings of great joy: a Savior born for us. This Advent, let the truth sink into you again. Let the traditions hold you again. Let everything of this season teach you again. . . . Keep the sights and sounds of the season before you that you might receive all you need once again. . . .

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016 (All rights reserved.)

Christ, the King

A Sermon for 20 November 2016 – Christ the King Sunday

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 23:1-6. Listen for God’s word to us.

“’Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: ‘It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings,’ says the Lord. 3’Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing,’ says the Lord. 5’The days are surely coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


The next reading is the classic text for this Sunday. A soaring statement about Christ, the King, who reigns. Listen for God’s word to us in a reading from Colossians 1:11-20.

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

While most Americas this week are starting to think about turkey, our first reading for today takes us instead to sheep. Scattered flocks. Bumped and bruised and neglected sheep. Lost sheep that have been abandoned by the shepherds who were supposed to lovingly tend them. It never has sat well with God for the sheep of God’s pasture to be mistreated – to be left to wander aimlessly because, for whatever reason, good shepherds stop leading well the sheep. “The days are surely coming,” says the LORD through the prophet Jeremiah, “When it will no longer be so!” (Jer. 23:5 paraphrase). God’s sheep need a loving shepherd. Leaders who will stick with them to take them where God needs for them to go.

At long last, we have the brilliant message of Colossians. After it all took place, those words were written. A hymn to the most amazing one: the one who has rescued and transferred the sheep to a most blessed place. The one who rules over all things – not just the sheep. The one in whom everything that is God fully dwells so that all the sheep can live secure. Tended. Safely in everlasting peace! . . . Today is Christ the King Sunday and it is a beautiful day to hail Christ the sovereign of all! The one who reigns forever and ever and ever as Lord – first in everything; for through him, heaven and earth come together for peace to remain in all forever. It’s the end of the liturgical year today. We celebrate the cycle all the way through his birth, baptism, ministry, sacrifice, triumphant resurrection, and abiding Spirit at work forevermore. Today we pledge our allegiance to the one at the center of our faith: Christ, crucified, risen, ascended, and alive through all eternity! Today he deserves all the pomp and circumstance – the rousing coronation chords of a hymn like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!” and the fervent call for all to gather to praise as in “Come, Christians, join to Sing.” Before this service is over, we’ll sing in “Crown Him with Many Crowns” and recite words of faith that keep our eyes on the kingdom that is God’s. . . . But first, another reading for this day. A gospel text assigned for the day when we gather to give a cheer to Christ our King! Listen.

“When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, the chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.””  (Luke 23:33-43, NRSV)

It’s a truly odd way to end a year – what with a day called Christ, the King and a reading that leaves him literally, and us figuratively, hanging on a cross. Behold our King: bloodied and dying before our eyes. . . . We Christians are a paradoxical lot – gazing upon a man gasping for his final breath – spitting out words like “forgive” while everyone around scoffs to say: “He saved so many others. If he’s the mighty chosen one, let him save himself!” . . . The King of the Jews – and all Creation. The King we claim even over us? . . . What does it mean for us to celebrate a day when we keep before us a king who is dying on a cross?

Kings aren’t supposed to die. Not like this. They are to be strong. Brave. Protective of all their subjects. How many kings had his people known? The Pharaohs of Egypt – they certainly were impressive kings. Their own King David, after the fiasco of King Saul. While David is remembered as an amazing King for Israel, uniting the lands and ruling from Jerusalem; he made some significant mishaps too. He had another man killed so that he could take his wife as his own without a guilty conscience – a violation of commandment #10 and 6 and 7 and depending on how you look at it number 5 and 8 too. His own family would be a mess from there on and while he one day would come to see the horror of his ways to beg for mercy before God, King David’s actions set in motion the demise of his heirs. O, God’s people knew of kings. The king of Assyria who would take over Israel to the north leaving Judah surrounded on all sides until at last arose the king of Babylon. Then of Persia. Then Alexander of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. Then the Caesars of the Great Roman Empire. God’s people had had their fill of kings. One after another invading their land, taking them over, plundering their homes and business and highest holy place, the Temple. Those are the kinds of kings left famous in history. Mighty military men who commanded others to do as they said, or else. Who took what they wanted, or else. Who impressed with excess, or else.

One commentator writes of the gospel text assigned for this day when we hail another King: “These last moments of Jesus’ life seem to be in contrast to what is valued as great in our world. The world presented to us in newspapers or on television is not poor, but is a world of glamour. In this world, the ideal is to be rich and beautiful and influential. . . . This passage of the Bible takes us by the hand and gives us the surprising news: Christ is highest, and. . . (he) does not help himself, but he helps others who need his help. Still more: he does not meet evil with evil, but repays evil with good” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4, Eberhard Busch, pp. 332, 334). Yes. Here is Christ, our King. Humbly dying before our eyes.

What does it mean for our lives to claim this one King? This one who spent his days doing the very same things it’s recorded that he did on the cross. He went about his land bumping into people who needed help. Be it food or physical healing or the healing of full inclusion in his circle. Whoever he met, he invited into his way. He showed abundance and mercy and peace. He didn’t mysteriously fix every problem of their lives – Rome still ruled. Instead, he transformed their lives by showing them the more excellent way to be. He spoke the truth of God that was in him. He challenged those who cared more about their rules than their people. He welcomed the least and the lost and said God welcomed them too. Christ, the King. Our King – poured out his life that others truly might live too. He showed us how to dwell now in the kingdom belonging to him: God’s kingdom where love is the rule of the day. Compassion and kindness and hope: the most powerful weapons ready for his use. . . . What does it mean for our lives to claim this one King? We know. It means we live likewise. Feeding and healing and welcoming strangers in. We exercise mercy and pursue peace and let ourselves be changed from the inside out by compassion and kindness and hope. We keep as the golden rule the charge to love – even when others scoff and mock and deride. We forgive, as we are forgiven by our mightily merciful King. What does it mean for our lives to claim this one King? It means everything – each day, to live the way of his rule. . . . All hail, our King! Crown him with glorious crowns! Christ, the dying and rising King!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)



A Sermon for 13 November 2016 – Commitment Sunday

            A reading from the prophet Haggai 1:15b-2:9. If you were here last week, then these words likely will sound familiar to you. It was one of the assigned lectionary texts for last week that just had to make a re-appearance this week. Listen for God’s word to us and to see why we’re hearing it again today.

“In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying:  Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


Now you see why this text had to come back today, on Commitment Sunday? When else do we hear so clearly from God, through the words of the prophet Haggai: “Thus says the LORD our God: the silver is mine and the gold is mine. Mine. Mine. Mine!” (Haggai 2:8) . . . I realize most of us already arrived today with our 2017 pledge amounts in mind. And then like a sticky-handed toddler, a heavenly fist pounds. All of it: “Mine. Mine. Mine!” . . . Though I really believe this text is meant to be one of hope, it sounds as if God is throwing a little bit of a two-year old tantrum. “Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine!” The land from which it comes is mine. The birds of the air and the fish of the sea are mine. Mine. Mine. Mine! Yes, even you, o fledgling little re-turnees from nearly 70 years in exile. You all are mine! . . . At this point in their history, a remnant of the people have returned from Babylon back home to Judah. And while they have been busy rebuilding their own homes – trying to replant in a land left wild for all that time; they got an early start on laying the foundations of a new Temple, then promptly gave up. According to the history recorded in the book of Ezra, the newly returned exiles under Judah’s first governor, didn’t do much those first 18 years, other than lay the Temple foundation. God’s about had it with the delay and after the work of the prophet Haggai, it takes less than five years to complete the rest (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4, Jack R. Lundbom, p 269). While the Pharaoh finally sent the ancient Hebrews out of Egypt with heaps of gold after all the signs done for God by Moses; when some finally were allowed to return from Babylon, none of the treasures plundered from the Temple were released with the exiles. Maybe it all gives us a better insight into God’s insistent words: “mine. Mine. Mine!”

Likely it’s the first word most all of us speak – at least if we’re born into the United States. “Mine. Mine. Mine!” It’s a natural part of human development. In fact, a youngster who does not learn to distinguish where she begins and ends is bound for trouble. A boy who never knows the difference between himself and another can reap all kinds of havoc on the rest of the world. This is me. That is you. And that is another still. There’s a boundary between who I am and who momma is. We must learn this in order to grow to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. And then we ALSO must learn that me and mine really do not exist. At least not from the perspective of the Divine Creator. This is God’s. You are God’s. The other is God’s too. All we see belongs to God, according to the ancient faith passed on to us from our Hebrew brothers and sisters, through Jesus the Christ, and all the generations of the Church. It all is God’s. “Mine. Mine. Mine!” We need a little toddler tantrum now and again to wake us up to remember! All that we are and all that we think we have – it’s really just a gift. A body, and mind, and heart, and home, and bank account entrusted to us by a Grandiose Creator. Do you ever wonder if God’s just watching to see what we’ll do with it? We know the Spirit is within nudging us in the right direction. And certainly the life, death, and resurrection of Christ inspires us too all along the way. So that the lives we lead profess in every way: “Yours. Yours. Yours, O God! We belong to you, Holy One, and all of your ways!”

On a day like today, in a week like this week; it’s good to remember that 100% really does belong to the LORD our God – to be used for God’s purposes. It’s just that not all of God’s purposes happen through the budget of this church. 100% of all we have is to be used for God’s purposes and that includes things like the care of our bodies, which belong to God. Providing for our families, who are God’s gift to us. Enjoyment of God’s amazing world – a pleasure we only get to embrace as long as we’re standing here on this earth – perhaps just 80 or 90-some times we’ll have the joy of moving through the cycle of the seasons in our lives. That’s not that many times for us to wake up to autumn-days like today saying, “Wow, Holy God! Your handiwork is absolutely amazing!” . . . 100% of our time, talents, and treasures belong to God. And, the biblical tradition points out that it would be great if at least 10% of our time, talents, and treasures were dedicated to God’s collective purpose for use in the ministry of this church.

I ran the numbers. 10% of our time is the equivalent of 16.8 hours a week. Because 10% of 24 hours times 7 days is 10% of 168 hours in every week. . . . So if before, during, and after takes about 2 hours a week for the worship of our God, that leaves each of us about two and a half hours a day for the rest of the ministries of the church. I realize that sounds like a lot. But if we each spend 30 minutes a day for personal prayer, study, or devotions – at least 15 minutes when we wake and 15 minutes before we sleep or another configuration that works for us. If we each do that, then we’re down to just 2 hours a day – less time than it takes to watch a sporting event or a movie or countless number of other ways so many of us flitter away our time each day. . . . Careful thought about the use of our time for the collective ministry of God through the church might help us re-align how we spend our days, our years, our lives. If we all cannot give two hours each day to this church’s work of supporting each other and those of the surrounding community through life’s challenges; can we give just two hours more each week than we’ve given in the past? That’s just like 20 minutes or so a day – about the time it takes to make a phone call to check in on the person who sits down the pew from you each week. . . . The root of the question for us seriously to ponder is: how much time every day will we invest in being the church that fulfills God’s work?

We each can figure how 10% of our treasures equate. Whether it’s before or after taxes, it really doesn’t matter. If we’re nowhere near yet, due to whatever the circumstances of our lives, can we make just a 10% increase this year? So if we’re at $100 a year, we increase to $110. $1,000 a year to $1,100. $5,000 a year to $5,500. For some, that’s the only way we ever may get to the commitment of 10% of our treasures given to God through God’s church. Baby steps, year after year, until 10 or 20 years from now we’ve finally reached the goal. I’m sure all the Stewardship gurus would tell me not to tell you this and to just tell you God expects us to tithe 10%. But in my experience, we’ve got to start somewhere. No matter our age or our over-stretched budgets, we’ve got to figure out our realistic starting point, commit to it as a first priority, and grow from there each year. If it’s been a bad year in which your financial circumstances have dwindled; rest for a bit, but don’t quit. Remember that Jesus once told a story about a widow who put in her last little bit? Giving something even when we feel like we have nothing is about our trust of God – our Loving Creator who promises never to let us go even when it feels we’ve just lost it all. It’s the spirit of how we give that God enjoys, not the sum total of the check. . . . If you’re a parent or grandparent with the opportunity, teach your children now how to do this. Setting aside $1 of every $10 they get for whatever, will help them learn to tithe before they even have an income, so that when they do, they just might be ready to approach it this way from the start.

And what about 10% of our talents? It’s an odd way to figure that up. Maybe it’s best to take stock of the abilities we really have. Do you love to encourage, or organize, or create music, or communicate? What is it you truly love to do? Back in my days of being a specialized pastor with children and their families, I would ask children this question. I heard a lot about basketball and dance. And while it might take a little bit more thought out-of-the-box to figure out how to use for God’s work talents such as basketball or dance; it is possible to use even those abilities in the mission of God. Just ask the youth who come here for Wednesday nights – they LOVE to play basketball in the parking lot and would thoroughly enjoy taking you on! Maybe they’d even be interested in dancing for Jesus some Sunday during worship! . . . The key to God’s work is figuring out the talent God already has given you, then find a way to put that talent to work in the bigger picture of God’s mission in this world.

After all, none of it is ours in the first place. It’s God’s! Remember: “Mine. Mine. Mine!” Says the LORD God of hosts! . . . And it generously has been given to us for the purpose of being used in God’s work. . . . With glad and thankful hearts, may it ever be so.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.


© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

God of the Living

A Sermon for 6 November 2016 – All Saints’ Sunday 

A reading from the gospel of Luke 20:27-38. We’re in a portion of the gospel where Jesus has been busy teaching in the Temple. According to the text, he’s actually been challenged by one group after another. Likely confronted by those threatened by the authority with which Jesus speaks and to which the crowds seem drawn. . . . In what happens next, listen for God’s word to us.

“Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to (Jesus) and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.””

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


Early in the Seventh Century on the 13th of May, Pope Boniface IV “consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs” ( Thus, a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation was born. Meaning that all Catholics must attend Mass on that very day. As a way to honor those who had persevered in the faith, every Christian was under obligation to be present and reminded of the sacrifices made by ones such as the Mother Mary, the rock of the church Peter, the zealous apostle Paul, and all the others who risked their lives in the pursuit of following the Way of Christ. Boniface was tricky in his placement of the day – he made it coincide with an ancient Roman festival aimed at placating the restless spirits of the dead. The Pope usurped the pagan day with a focus not on the restlessness of the spirits who already had passed, but on a celebration of the saints who now enjoyed the fruits of heavenly life. All Souls’ Day, the day after, would remain a day to focus on any who may have died but not yet found eternal rest. But the Holy Day of All the Saints would be a way to honor the kind of faith the church wanted everyone to emulate. Later in the Eighth Century, Pope Gregory III would move the high Holy Day from May to November. Thus, the current practice of All Saints’ Day found its way to the first day of November (Ibid.).

Most of us likely spent more time and energy this week on the night before: All Hallows’ Eve – also known as Halloween, the secular holiday that seems to be taking second place right behind Christmas in the United States. If you participated Monday night, I’m betting you opened your door more to Super Man or a Princess or maybe even a tortured-looking goon than to the Blessed Mother Mary, Stephen who’s first Christian martyrdom is recorded in Acts, or our brand of Christianity’s hero Martin Luther who wisely posted his protests on the sanctuary door the night before All Saints’ so that everyone in Wittenberg would know the ways he believed the church needed to change. Unless you grew up Roman Catholic, you may be boggled about this talk of All the Saints. And by the way, we Presbyterian’s don’t do All Souls’ Day on November 2. We don’t buy that theology of the restless dead needing release. . . . Nevertheless, in the mid-Twentieth Century, when mainline Protestant denominations began to see the value of the cyclical seasons of the liturgical year; Presbyterians began to sing songs like For All the Saints who from their Labors Rest. The Book of Common Worship pointed us on November 1, or the first Sunday after it, to scriptures like Hebrews 12 that remind us that “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also . . . run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Prayers for this Day assure us: “neither death nor life can separate us from your love,” Eternal God. So “grant that we may serve you faithfully here on earth, and in heaven rejoice with all your saints who ceaselessly proclaim your glory” (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, 1993, p. 385). Many faith communities now look forward to this day when the names of those from the congregation who have died since last year’s All Saints’ Day reverently are spoken aloud when we come to gather around the table. Incidentally, our prayers around the table remind us every month that the veil between the living and the dead is not as solid as many often think. Every time we gather around the table of our Lord, we welcome the presence of all those of the Church and of our lives with whom we remain connected. Our minds may tell us death brings physical distance, which of course it does. Yet our spirits know we all always are and ever will be held together mysteriously in the binding love of God.

It’s the good news according to the gospel of Luke that Jesus proclaims to the Sadducees and any others who will listen. Here come these men who do not believe anything much takes place after one physically dies. Jesus is so incredibly patient as they concoct this crazy story about a family following the laws from Moses when one after another brother marries the sister-in-law who is left childless by each one. Seven times a wedding takes place; but still no heir is born. Perhaps because she’s heartbroken from burying seven husbands childless, the woman finally dies too. And all the Sadducees want to know is will she be Mrs. Jacob in the resurrection, or perhaps Mrs. Isaac. Will she spend eternity with brother number one, or maybe brother number five who she seemed to like a little bit more? . . . So much is so far beyond our grasp, isn’t it? I mean can we imagine an existence that’s not quite like anything we’ve experienced in our earthly bodies? Can we make sense of being eternally in God’s Presence instead of feeling so separate as we tend to most of the moments of our lives? Though our minds cannot figure it out – if others will know us as Mr. so-in-so who did such-and-such all our days here on earth; or if we’ll hang out forever at God’s eternal feast with our parents or children or favorite friends. We like such re-assurances that what lies ahead will be much like what we’ve known already. And then the words of Jesus strip away every social construct that’s defined who we have been and how we have lived our lives. Children of the resurrection are beyond such human boundaries, Jesus explains. And just in case you doubt such a thing as resurrected life, Jesus throws Moses back at the dis-believing Sadducees. He quotes the very name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. This is YHWH – the Holy One of Israel who IS God of all the ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God of the living; for in God, those who have gone before are not dead. They still are alive to God.

That is the great Mystery we may never fully understand. How it is that those whose hands we held at what we believed to be their end, still are alive to God. It is as if death does not exist to God. Or at least does not hinder the connection God has and always will with each one of us. It’s like God doesn’t see the casket. Doesn’t let the last breath mean one thing. Though our own eyes cannot see what lies beyond a physical death; at least according to the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospel of Luke’s 20th chapter, God sees us only alive. Alive. Alive “for to God, all of us are alive” forevermore (Luke 20:38).

A few years ago I learned a song I may have told some of you about. It’s from a rendition of Singing the Hours and is based on words from the Song of Solomon. It goes like this: “Arise, my darling, beautiful one; my beautiful one, come with me. Arise. See the rains are over and done, my beautiful one, winter is passed; come with me. Beautiful you, my darling, O how beautiful. Beautiful you, my darling, O how beautiful. Arise, my darling, beautiful one; my beautiful one, come with me. Arise. See the rains are over and done, my beautiful one, winter is passed; come with me. Beautiful you, my darling, O how beautiful. Beautiful you, my darling, O how beautiful. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one; come with me. Arise, come my darling, my beautiful one; come with me. My beautiful one, come with me” (“Arise, My Darling – Lauds [Morning Prayer],” Joy Yee, Singing the Hours, 2011). It’s a song for Lauds, the earliest of morning prayer. And something about the tune is this elixir of fresh morning dew when first the birds begin to sing. It’s easy to imagine these words to and from Solomon and his lover in the backdrop of an abundant garden. But often when I hear it, I imagine what I suspect the composer had in mind: The Great Lover singing to us all. When each one of us exhales our last, there at our side is the Holy One. God waiting to whisper into our ear: “Arise, my darling, beautiful one. My beautiful one, come with me. See, the rains of this life are over and done; my beautiful one, winter is passed – the strife of your life is behind. Come with me.” Those seem to me the words of the One in whose eyes we never die. The Voice of our God calling us out of the slumber of our death to awaken to a whole new life. “Beautiful ones, darlings: arise and come with Me.” It’s the next great adventure – one we cannot fully anticipate, that moment when we pass from life as we’ve known it into God’s everlasting embrace. And for each one we will name here today – though sadness may remain in our hearts at what of them we have lost – ahh! What a gift. What a miracle. What an incredible adventure of an eternity in which they remain forever alive to God! . . . In this is our hope. Our comfort. Our peace.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

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