reunion

It has been a season of reunion gatherings at our church.

Through reunions called “funerals” lives are remembered, strands of relationship and being are celebrated, and gratitude and grief are named.

As pastor, I am able to feel the coming-home of children raised in the church. For perhaps the first time they sit in a pew without their father or their mother by their side. The jarring is so real. Powerfully, the sanctuary holds their beloved yet; it always will.

Picture boards showing big fish and wide grins bear witness to a singular life. The innocent hope shining through wedding photos and the rascally delights of play bear witness to the unfolding of story and heart.

Friends and co-workers, long-lost relatives and church companions share sugar and coffee and a need to bear witness.

The mystery that is life, death, and resurrection. Together we bow before the enormity of it all.

The church writ large flops about in a scramble for relevance. We sometimes chase after the latest gimmick that will settle our anxieties about decline.

Would that we would cease the scramble and remember that the center of our being is reunion: reunion with the beating heart of the Holy, reunion with the ongoing presence, power and guide that is Christ Jesus, reunion with the promise that in the midst of life God longs love for each and all.

The church exists in order to facilitate reunion.

Through baptisms and funerals, faith groups and worship, we exist to host reunion.

Holy work, that.

time and rivers

Of time and rivers flowing
The seasons make a song
And we who live beside her
Still try to sing along
Of rivers, fish, and men
And the season still a-coming
When she’ll run clear again.

So many homeless sailors,
So many winds that blow
I asked the half blind scholars
Which way the currents flow
So cast your nets below
And the gods of moving waters
Will tell us all they know.

The circles of the planets
The circles of the moon
The circles of the atoms
All play a marching tune
And we who would join in
Can stand aside no longer
Now let us all begin.
                Pete Seeger

How is it we are given this gift of life?

Having returned from vacation a scant 24 hours ago, I officiated this morning at the funeral of a woman who blessed.  She blessed through laughter and quick humor.  She blessed through a willingness to “join in” as Seeger sings in the lyrics above.

She lived a singular life; unrepeatable and precious.

And so it is for each who join in.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds.  My prayers for my loves and the real clamor of my longings sound relentlessly in my soul.

Sometimes the “I want” is a gong noisy and clanging and that gong has the power to create such cacophony within that the still small assurances of the Holy are near overwhelmed.

And then I remember.

Mine is to cast my nets below; deep into the moving waters of grace that will tell me all I need to know.

Still.  Small.  Powerful.  Deep.

Let us all begin.

 

 

steadfast

Today we celebrated the life of a woman who lived 101 years.

Gathered for worship were her children and grandchildren and friends and folk who knew themselves to have spent time and life with a graceful powerhouse.

We do that at church.  We hold the space for celebrations and life markings.  We welcome  people we may never see again and for a time we share voices in song and stories through hearts.

There are times when the beleaguer of “doing church” can make the heart heavy.  The tending of relationships and buildings and protocols and brusings can near obscure the reason for our being.

And then there are services that remind us that community in Christ matters.  It matters deeply.

For 101 years the woman we celebrated today held space in her being for the power of God in her life.  The fruit of her faith was palpable in her people and in the air and prayer we shared.

I’m grateful.  I’m grateful for the steadfast devotion that has prompted people to support a church that has held funerals for nearly 160 years.  I’m grateful for the privilege of weaving worship that names resurrection and wonder.  I’m grateful for the hands that bake bars and pour coffee.

I’m grateful for the reminder that “doing church” matters.  It matters a lot.

look who’s bothered!

Today I officiated at the funeral of a long-past member whom I have never met.

He grew up in the church and had moved from Mpls years ago.  It was important to his family to have the celebration of his life in his home territory, so they called to see if Richfield would host.

Of course.  That’s what we do.

It’s always a bit of a sniffing-out session when folks who are not members come into the church with a sense of what they want.  As the planning session went on, I was thinking of preacher and theologian Thomas Long’s discussion of funerals and how they have changed in the minds of many.

Often, Long observed (and I agree), funerals have become pep rallies for the deceased with precious little nod to the mystery and vulnerability that is life and death and resurrection and grief.

I liked this man’s family.  I liked what I heard about this man.

And, I was jangled a bit even before the service.  We had agreed that maybe “Me and Bobby McGee” would best be shared in the fellowship hall following the worship service.  That was good.

We had agreed that three eulogists would speak and they would be aware of the great good of being concise in their comments.

And, as in so much that is life, I had to let go during the service and trust that many unknowns would conspire to honor a life and give thanks to God for it.

But I had to wrestle with white-hot anger during the course of one of the eulogies. The man speaking used language that hurt in that sacred space.  He told a joke that jarred in the air that has held so many prayers.  I was torn between wanting to be gracious and wanting to welcome lighting bolts from the sky.

Here’s the thing.  I like to have fun as much as the next person.  I don’t believe that God despises laughter and I do believe that being able to celebrate the life of a beloved through anecdotes that provoke laughter is soul gift.

And, we gather in sanctuaries for services of life, death, and resurrection for a purpose.

We gather to bring our bruised and confused hearts before God and to offer them up for holding.  Eulogies are a chance to express our wonder about the gift of the deceased.  Stand-up comedy has its place.  So too does humility.

Trembling before God is a spiritual practice that requires reverence.

Reverence matters,  especially when the mystery that is life and death and resurrection is before us.

There is a powerful healing that happens when we step off the stage and acknowledge that all that we are and all that we live is directed by grace.

Reverence and wonder were missing today and life goes on and the family was pleased by oh, I missed the chance to worship.

Me.

I’m bothered.

I think that’s a good thing.

team

I was held by two churches in one day:  both I have given my heart to.

I spent the afternoon in Duluth at the funeral of a beloved spiritual guru.  Armas was 95 when he died.  The place was packed with huge hearted people who came to give thanks for the ways he breathed questions and spark in the world he so loved.

In the front row was his Men’s Bible Study group.  In the congregation were people who had shared the work loves of his life: justice making, question asking, meaning making and savoring.  His heart team was there to name his glory and give God thanks for the privilege of sharing life with him.

I motored back to Minneapolis for two church meetings.  Around each meeting table were members of teams (in church speak, we call them committees) who give their time and their hearts in order that ministry can happen.  We are varied in opinion and sensibilities, but we are woven together in order to set the stage for transformation.

It is no small thing, this being a part of a team.

Tonight I am full of wonder and gratitude.  Paying tribute to a man who knew the need for community, followed by encounters with circles of folk who live that need in order to share it.

It was good.  It is good.

full

My head and heart are full.

My head is full of fluids intent on silencing my world.  I’m on the second go-round of antibiotics for ear infections.  So it goes.  It’s brought to my heart a whole new compassion for those with hearing loss.  Restaurants are brutal, as is any place where ambient noise reigns supreme.  Reality feels swaddled.  I’m learning new things.

And my heart?  My heart is full of wonder.  Love is an amazing force for healing.  At my uncle’s funeral, the pain and joy that comes with family and loving was named, the holding of story was shared, and the power of healing and gratitude was passed from heart to heart.  I share family with an amazing crew of varied explorers.  From grandparents Keith and Helen came four children full of soul and zest and they made families and together we each hold a piece of our shared story.  It’s a wonder.

Church too is a coming together of each of our stories.  When we gather to name our dependence upon and grounding in the Holy, we swirl our beings into a weave of remarkable strength.  Each of our bumps is held, each of our triumphs is present, and our questions and wisdom conspire to lead us into the story larger than our own in order that we might know it to be our own.

How wonder-full is that?

 

now

Tomorrow will be the tenth funeral held at RUMC this month.

I find myself amazed at the power and grace of our church.

Each funeral requires a team of ministers.  Our organist provides powerful music to hold families and friends.  Vocalists and instrumentalists share their gifts.  Our communications person produces bulletins to aid worship.  The women and men of the church bake bars and cakes.  Those bars and cakes are offered, along with coffee and beverages and other foods by the people of the church who know how important it is to feed the hungry and offer drinks of compassion to the thirsty.  They welcome all through the doors: community members, families, estranged and beloveds alike.

People come to mark the lives of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  They sing and pray and give thanks for the time spent making life together.  And, they name before God their gratitude for life and life eternal in the company of the Christ and the flotsam and jetsam that is family and friends.

We have shared powerful worship over this past month.

Today, four different people stopped me and told me this:  they are praying for me.  Knowing that hearts get linked and it is hard to say goodbye to so many in such a short time, they offered me the powerful gift of their prayers.

To serve in the midst of such ministry underscores the teaching of Jesus.  He taught that living discipleship is about building the kindom of God on earth.  The time for compassion and grace and blessing is now.

I’m seeing it at church.  And for sure, I am feeling it in this now.