Table of Remembrance

Table of Remembrance

The Healing of a Boy with a Spirit
When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak, and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid, and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, help us! Have compassion on us!” Jesus said to him, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand.

Mark 9:14-27 (NRSVUE)

Friends, life is full of ups and downs, rises and falls, rain and shine, joy and sorrow, day and night. We celebrate the good times and struggle through the bad. As human beings, and especially as people of faith, we can always find joy if we look hard enough. But often when we face difficult situations, joy is the last thing that we expect to find. We lose our jobs or our health, money becomes tight, and we face judgment from others or injustice in the world. We find ourselves in broken relationships or broken marriages, or worse yet, a friend or a loved one dies. Emotions run high because we are human beings and we have feelings.

Today in honor of All Saints Day, we gather at the Table of Remembrance, and we remember the names and the faces of those who have died: friends, grandparents, spouses, siblings, children, and even pets. We remember not only their names and their faces, but more importantly, their stories, how they touched our lives and what they meant to us.

Folks, the grief and the sadness we often feel are the price we pay for love. If we hadn’t cherished time together when we laughed and cried and went on adventures, then we wouldn’t feel the emptiness of grief.

There is a poem that I have read at just about every funeral service that I have officiated over the last few years. I think it speaks volumes to us today, as we remember those who have gone before.

They Are Gone (original title “He is Gone”)
We can shed tears that they are gone
   Or we can smile because they lived.
We can close our eyes and pray that they’ll come back
   Or we can open our eyes and see all they have left.
Our hearts can be empty because we can’t see them
   Or we can be full of the love they shared.
We can turn our backs on tomorrow and live yesterday
   Or we can be happy for tomorrow, because of yesterday.
We can remember them and only that they are gone
   Or we can cherish their memories and let them live on.
We can cry, close our minds, be empty and turn our backs
   Or we can do what they would want:
   Smile, open our eyes, love, and go on.

Friends, we cherish all those who have died, but here in Oldtown, as is an All-Saints Day tradition, we pay special tribute to our members who have passed away in the last year. I must say I think this is the first year in my twelve years serving as your pastor that we have only lost one member in an entire calendar year. But he was one amazing and unforgettable man.

Steve Whitney joined our church (with his wife Sue) on November 16, 2014. Steve was the epitome of kindness. He was constantly encouraging others, and he greeted everyone with his big smile. He was humble and curious, and he taught me far more than I ever could imagine! Every Sunday, Steve shared his gifts of honesty and unconditional love with us. I would always know that he would have a big hug for me, and he would tell me how much he loved this church and how nice the people are here. And every week, I reminded him of how much I loved the fact that he is a part of our church family and how nice he was too.

Steve had his struggles, but he was also filled to overflowing with joy. Because of Steve’s love of the band Journey, in 2017, on the Sunday after Easter, we celebrated worship with a “Journey Sunday.” We focused on the story of Doubting Thomas and the important message, “Don’t Stop Believin!” Now we had fun with the service, and we even enjoyed some Journey music. But my friends, the truth is, “Don’t Stop Believin'” isn’t just a passing phrase or a song sung by the band Journey. It’s the good news and the message of the gospel!

On Good Friday, when we sit at the foot of the cross, it’s important that we don’t stop believin’, because Easter Sunday is coming! When you are walking through the darkest valley, don’t stop believin’, because if you just keep going you’ll experience moments on the mountaintop too. And when you lose the people you love, don’t stop believin’, because not only are they still with you, just in a little different way. But there will be a day, when the time is right, that you will be together again.

In our scripture reading today, we heard a terrible story of struggle and pain, a story lacking answers, and a story where a family thought that no hope could be found, a story that may sound familiar to some of you. You know, when you don’t know which way to turn, when doctors have no answers, and healing seems so far away. I’m sure the family in the story was ready to throw in the towel and give up. But then Jesus arrived and said, “Don’t stop believing!” No matter how bad it looks, don’t stop believing! No matter how scared, afraid, and frustrated you might feel, don’t stop believing! No matter how much you have struggled or how dark the night might seem, don’t stop believing! Because “all things can be done for the one who believes.” 

Friends, sometimes we read stories in the Bible, and they inspire us. The problem is we tend to hold it at arm’s length. We understand them in our minds, but we keep them separate from our everyday lives. It’s almost as though scripture is too sacred and clean and holy, and it feels like it doesn’t mix with our unorganized, busy, sometimes messy lives. But today, Jesus teaches us that yes, it does belong in the messiness of our everyday lives in the midst of our emotions when we are sad, angry, or frustrated. Because our faith is not meant to be something far away. It’s not a fairytale or just a Sunday morning thing. And it’s not merely a historical report of something that happened more than two thousand years ago.

Our faith is found where the rubber hits the road, and we find Jesus not only in the quietness of a sanctuary or in holy, reverent places, but we find Jesus in our everyday messy lives, in our questioning, and our doubt, when we lose our jobs and when our health becomes a challenge, when money becomes tight and we can’t pay our bills, when we face judgment from others or injustice in the world, when we find ourselves in broken relationships or broken marriages, or worse yet, when a friend or a loved one dies. But even in–especially in–those situations, Jesus tells us. “Don’t stop believing. Don’t Stop Believing!” Because “all things can be done for the one who believes.” 

Folks, when we believe, we keep the door open for new possibilities. No, believing doesn’t change the past. It can’t bring our loved ones back to us, but it can help us to experience them in new and different ways. So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t give up, and don’t stop believing! Keep that door open and allow the presence of God to surround you as you experience the love and the light of those who have passed away. Remember their stories and cherish your memories. Let them live in you, and let them fill you with joy. Then go out into the world, sharing their love and light with others, as you not only honor them but as your heart overflows with gratitude.

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!

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