Celebrating a wonderful life: God’s grace in everyday life

This morning we gathered to celebrate the life of a wonderful lady, taken from us far too soon. The many gifts and gracious moments of her life serve as a reminder to us that the many miracle of God’s grace are found in the everyday miracles of our common life together. The sermon delivered at her service of Christian Burial is below:

This morning we come together to pray and celebrate the life of our sister in Christ, Helen. As I have prayed and remembered Helen these past few days, the picture on the front of your service bulletin is the image that comes to mind for me…a person of gentle spirit with a loving smile and joyful eyes. I have been very privileged these past few days to hear her husband, Al, her sons Todd and Tim, and others share their stories of Helen; stories that have revealed how she touched so many people’s hearts and spread so much joy into the lives of others. These stories were all powerfully filled with God’s grace because they captured moments of everyday life filled with thoughtful purpose and love. As many of you know, Helen worked in a doctor’s office throughout her career and she had an amazing memory for people. Al shared with me that a day wouldn’t go by where Al and Helen would encounter someone Helen knew…and she remembered their names, their children, and important dates and events in their lives. These connections might seem like brief encounters that are easily forgotten, but not so because each memory connects us in relationship, these small stories have great importance to our lives. I believe we can easily forget this important lesson in the hectic world we live in today. Jeremy Taylor, a 17th century Anglican priest and author, wrote about society’s preoccupation with the big events and large achievements in life (I guess these concerns consumed their days, even in the 1600’s…): “some lose the day by longing for the night, and some waste the night in waiting for the day. Filled with expectations of fantastic accomplishments is how many spend their lives; and while with passion we search for our personal desires, we throw away a precious year, and use it but as the burden of our time, fit to be carved off and thrown away, and those pleasures which at first steal our hearts, finally steal our life.” Taylor is urging us to live life as Helen lived her life, with thoughtful attention to the many little miracles given to us each and every day…miracles that fill our hearts and minds with hope and joy.

Hope and joy are exactly the transforming gifts of grace that are in Christ’s reconciling work of the Resurrection. This transformation is beautifully captured in Paul’s second letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth, which he hear today in our second lesson. “We do not lose heart,” Paul wrote; “for even though our outer nature, [our mortal bodies] are enduring challenges each and every day, our inner nature is being renewed [being transformed] day by day. [And this transformation] is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” Paul’s words present us with a challenge, for there often is a comfort in what can be seen, can be easily understood, can be grasped with our outstretched hand…and those things that are beyond our reach can be difficult, for we must approach and understand them in a different way. And at the center of this “different way” stands the Risen Christ, waiting to bring us into the presence of the almighty and living God. Paul’s message to us this morning is confidently filled with hope that death will not have the last word, that Christ’s resurrection will bring us to eternal glory with God, even though that moment may be difficult for us to see today. Paul proclaims that God has given us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of God’s love and care for us; “so we are always confident…for we walk by faith, not by sight.” And as we continue to walk our earthly journey, I believe we can only dimly imagine God’s great promise to us, perhaps catch glimpses of God’s grace in our lives. This was Helen’s great gift, her ability to see God’s loving grace in the everyday moments of our common lives together.

In her wedding memories book, Helen wrote down the many details of her wedding and her life with Al. One of the many details that caught my eye was listed on the Reception page, noting the band…two musicians that were named, “Hum & Drum;” and she thoughtfully noted “which I might add were excellent.” On this morning, as we both mourn and celebrate our beloved friend, Helen, we are blessed to know that God’s love and grace has been given to us by her witness: her devotion to her family and friends, her care of others, and her thoughtful attention to the everyday miracles of life, even the miracles that may seem so “hum drum” to us. Teresa of Avila once wrote, “Remember: if you want to make progress on the path that brings you close to God, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.” Helen’s example to us, Helen’s memory in our hearts and minds awakens us to the love God intends for us. Filled with hope and confidence through the power of Christ’s resurrection, and filled with God’s grace, we pray this day for Helen and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, may they rest in eternal peace. AMEN.


Book Study: Road to Character Part II

Our book study of Road to Character by David Brooks continues…today we briefly cover chapters 3, 4, and 5. The main subjects of these chapters Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, and George Marshall – two Army Generals and human rights activist. The character content deals with “self-conquest”, “struggle”, and “self-mastery.” Again, as I mentioned in my previous overview, Brooks makes many insightful comments and brings in many thoughtful comparisons throughout these chapters. I can only hope to hit the highlights; and I am enjoying the book very much…maybe too much, which is why I am hopelessly slipping behind schedule. But, technically, it’s still July! Continue reading

Book Study: Road to Character Part I

Road to Character by David Brooks is the new book study for July…and I guess I’m already a bit behind schedule! But, hey, it’s summer, right? I’m glad to say that of what I’ve already read (through ch. 2 of 10) I am really enjoying the writing style, the stories, and insights presented by Brooks…maybe that’s why I’m reading it so slowly?

The introduction sets up Brooks idea of “character” by presenting the reader with an Adam I and an Adam II (very biblical), and what these two personas mean. One character is “of this world” and the other is “of a humble and self-sacrificing” centered type of character. The book, as broken into chapters, presents major themes or morality and virtue, as made real through the lives of different people. Chapter 1 (The Shift) continues this theme, generally, as Brooks comparatively presents the culture of the 1940’s vs. today. He examines the cultural differences through the lens of “Little Me” vs. “Big Me.” Little Me was a time “of more understated presence, self-effacing style.” The Big Me of today’s generation is rooted in “self-importance and a tendency to proclaim accomplishments.” Brooks’ point is that we’ve lost our way to follow the humble path in life, and that humble path is that idea, “humility is the freedom from the need to prove you are superior all the time.” I agree with Brooks that in our fast-paced, notice me society, we can often feel the need to highlight our accomplishments…I suppose there is a fine line is joyously proclaiming your delights and becoming a bit full of yourself. Here, Brooks quotes a good Anglican, the late Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, regarding how thankfulness and graciousness helps us prevent us from becoming too boastful: “Thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.” Brooks’ point is that self-reflection and honesty about one’s strengths and weaknesses leads to a willingness to improve. Again, I wonder if our culture has lost the ability to take moments of silence for genuine self-reflection. A final thought of chapter 1: Brooks offers that many people who follow the path of humility were brought there through some difficult circumstances. “They had to descend into the valley of humility to climb the height of character,” says Brooks. He continues, “In the valley of humility they learned to quiet the self. Only by quieting the self could they see the world clearly. Only by quieting the self could they understand other people and accept what they are offering.” Continue reading

Book Study: Part III – Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Our book study of Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth” concludes with Part III of III. First, I want to say that I REALLY wanted to like this book…I really did! Unlike many other books that I am requested to read as I join others’ book studies, I had the freedom to pick any book I wanted; I selected this book because I had heard some interesting and provocative ideas were contained therein. And there are certainly provocative ideas, just none that I can take too seriously or somehow internalize and thoughtfully create an inflection point on my journey of faith and spirituality. I will be the first one to say I enjoyed many aspects of Dan Brown’s books, but he never seemed to present his narrative as anything other than historical fiction. If Aslan is going for historical fiction…I take everything back; if he believes he is a serious, scholarly writer, well, that’s a different matter altogether. Continue reading

Book Study: Part II – Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Our book study of Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth” continues with Part II of III. In this middle section of Aslan’s book, we hear the details of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and learn Aslan’s insights to the ministry of Jesus and the reasons for his ministry, both as Aslan proposes Jesus understood his ministry and how his followers understood the meaning of Jesus’ ministry and later massaged this meaning to fit their evangelical purposes. Aslan’s claims are always provocative, sometimes compelling, and often based on personal opinion, without the necessity of scholarly research. Continue reading

Book Study: Part I – Zealot: Life & Times of Jesus of Nazareth

In this book study, I will be presenting a few thoughts on Reza Aslan’s “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.” And I will follow the author’s guideline of three parts; and for this installment, Part I, which covers an opening section Prologue and the first six chapters of the book. Part I is the historical groundwork of the life and times of the people of Palestine, both Jews and Romans. Aslan sets the stage for an appreciation of later discussion in the book (I assume, I have not read beyond Chapter 6 so I can present my thoughts as any reader…without knowledge of what lies ahead). Continue reading

The Irrational Christian

Second Sunday in Lent (Mark 8:31-38)  03/01/2015

Earlier this week I was attending a gathering with my clergy colleagues. We met at a church located close to a college campus and the topic of young adults and faith came up in our conversation. Someone shared the observation that a number of college students who regularly attend worship services and claim that the practice of their Christian faith is important in their lives had been questioned by their peers for their faith in God; often challenged for their faith and devotion…behavior deemed to be irrational. Irrational…meaning one exhibiting behavior that lacks normal mental clarity, reason or understanding. As I listened to my clergy colleague tell this story that placed such a great value on reason and understanding, I was reminded of a recent interview on an Irish TV show called, “The Meaning of Life,” hosted by Gay Byrne. The guest of the show was Stephen Fry, (well-known actor, author, and atheist), and Byrne asked him, “[I know that you do not believe in God, but] suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and are confronted by God. What will you say?” Fry responded, “I would say this: How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.” Fry’s words are quite strong and perhaps a bit unedited toward the One we believe is holy and almighty, and perhaps like the host of the show your jaw has dropped a bit from its normal resting place. Continue reading