Monday, June 12, 2017

A wind from God

Scripture Lessons: Genesis 1: 1-4 and 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13 Sermon Title: A wind from God Preached on 6/11/17 I sat down to talk with Mr. Rufus Ross this week. It was last Monday, and he, along with several our church members, lives at the Bridge on James Campbell Boulevard. He told me that he’s said many goodbyes, that he’s been saying goodbye to people he loved for a long time. He grew up in Mt. Pleasant, but was sent to school at Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, and while Columbia students can go to school up in Franklin today, coming home to sleep in their own bed every night, back when Rufus was in school it was a long way from Mt. Pleasant to the Battle Ground Academy. And more than that, then, students were only allowed to go home the two weekends before Christmas and the two weekends after Christmas. So, by the time he was 16, Rufus knew that as he said his goodbyes at the beginning of the school year, he was probably saying goodbye to someone, though he knew not whom, who he would not see again. You think about how many times that was true for Rufus. It was true during his time at Battle Ground Academy. Last Thursday was the anniversary of the 58th flight he was on in World War II. 58 times he boarded a plane not knowing which of his friends he’d see again, not knowing if he’d even be landing the plane he boarded. He was a bombardier for a medium sized bomber, a three-man plane, but he trained with a different group of men. For some logistical reason, he was reassigned after training with this group, all of whom died before the war was over, and had he not been reassigned he would have died along with them. You might know already, that in the course of his life he had to say goodbye to two wives and a son, and last Monday, knowing that we’d talk again, knowing that we’d write, knowing that this was not the most final goodbye he’d ever said, still Rufus told me goodbye, and as he did he told me that he knew that God would go with me and that God would not be far from him. Paul was saying the same here in 2nd Corinthians. He was telling this group of Christians, “farewell” and “God will be with you just as God will be with me.” This was a church that Paul loved and that he worried over. This was a church that he had to write to, some scholars say more than any of the others because of their various crises of faith and issues of division, and as he said goodbye here in the final chapter of 2nd Corinthians he gave them this great Trinitarian blessing so fitting for Trinity Sunday today: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” We say “farewell” again and again – but let us always do so as Christians, boldly standing on the promises that we always stand on: -the promise that the Holy Spirit who swept over the face of the water of Creation has been with us since the beginning and will be with us to the end. -the promise of God the Father who breathed life into every one of us, and who watches over us like the lambs of His flock. -and the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose words we remember at every baptism that our church has ever been blessed to witness – “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It’s easy for me to believe that today. Or it’s easier for me to believe that than it was a couple days ago. For one thing, Rufus reminded me of it, but for another thing – I picked this 2nd Scripture Lesson where Paul says “farewell” more than two months ago when I had no idea that we were going anywhere. Now, I am beginning to see what God could see all along, and it’s true what Blair Hickman says, you can all vote for me to stay here forever if you want, but if you let me go you will see what you and I have always known: that this church is faithful, powerful, and filled up with the Holy Spirit because God is here – not because Joe is here – and God is faithful still. Of course, saying goodbye is hard, but Paul didn’t spend any ink on celebrating himself – he used this “farewell” for some final, crucial advice. As he said “farewell” to his brothers and sisters in Corinth he told them again what he’d been telling them for years: “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace. Greet one another with a holy kiss [and know that] all the saints greet you.” “Put things in order,” he told them. It is amazing how knowing that your time together is limited helps to put things in order. When you must say “farewell” you only do and say what counts. No more talk about the weather, no more hurtful words. You say what matters and you remember what is beautiful and true. “Put things in order” Paul wrote, because even when we aren’t saying goodbye some things still matter more than others and it’s the perspective of limited time that makes priorities clear. Paul charged the church to put what matters most at the top – and I charge you to do the same – to put your faith at the top, -because God isn’t who you pay attention to after you’ve satisfied all your other social obligations. -church isn’t the place you go when there’s nothing else to do. -it’s not right to pray once you’re done with your to-do list – you pray first, you give yourself to God the first fruits of your labor, not whatever’s left over, for God doesn’t finally get around to you once he’s free, God laid down his life for you and for me. But for us, there’s soccer. Then there’s dance. Then there’s a weekend at the river, so it’s difficult to put things in order, but if your time at this church were limited, if you were the one about to say “farewell” to this place, then you would see that gifts like this place are precious. Too precious to get lost in the shuffle of a busy life. Do you remember the Sunday when Parkes Hickman ran down the aisle with a bowl full of change? At the risk of being superfluous by mentioning the Hickman family a second time, I’ll remind you of that 5th Sunday when little Parkes Hickman, only 2 or 3 at the time, ran proudly with her bowl of change down the aisle a little too quickly. She tripped and fell and the change rolled all over the sanctuary floor. I’m sure she had some hard words for such a crisis as this: “Ham sandwiches” she might have said, but had you been watching from up here you would have seen this whole side of the church stand to help her find each coin, because picking up the pieces is just what this church does. “Put things in order.” God (first), family (second), then everything else. Because when life falls apart, that boss you’ve been trying to impress won’t be there to help you put life back together. “Put things in order.” Because death, divorce, cancer, war, college, something is on the way reminding us again that change is here and it’s times when we must say “farewell” that we finally see our gifts for what they are. Put things in order. For we all talk too much about getting something out of a worship service, and to quote Erin Hedrick, when we talk that way we have things out of order, we have things backward in fact, for its Christ like to ask what we might put into worship rather than what we might get out of it for the Lord didn’t come to earth thinking he might get something out of his human existence – no – we look to the communion table and are reminded that he came to this earth so that he might pour himself out for us and for our salvation. When we have all the time in the world we can squabble about what time we gather to worship and what hymns we should sing, but when our days are numbered we see worshiping together for the precious gift that it is. And when we live, offering our very lives to the Lord, we learn what it means to truly live. “Live in peace,” Paul said. And “greet one another with a holy kiss,” because as the old hymn goes: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” but what witness is a handshake and a nod, so Paul called for a holy kiss. You have to think of David Locke when you think of getting a kiss in church. Not long-ago Mr. David Locke, another of our World War II veterans, another member of a bomber crew, I overheard him telling a friend, “I can’t hear what Joe says anymore. I come to church for the hugs.” In a culture of isolation, where people are lonely, hurting, and don’t know where to go for community – be a bright light of hospitality and love. Be the bright light of hospitality and love that you have been to me and my family to everyone who walks through your doors. Saying “farewell” to you is saying “farewell” to people who adopted our girls as their grandchildren. Saying “farewell” to you is saying “farewell” to a community we have been knit right into. Saying “farewell” to you is saying “farewell” to a piece of our heart and soul, so do not stray from who you are and what you can do for each other and for the world. Amen.

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