Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent people

For some reason, most likely the Holy Spirit had something to do with it, I decided to slow down the race to Christmas and take time to sit and be with Advent this year. After the events of the past week I am glad I did so.

Often times we 'churchy' people say we are people of the cross...we also say we are Easter people - or resurrection people and I have a friend who likes to say that we are blessed because every day is a new beginning - we are redemption people.

Never before have I wanted to claim being an Advent person - until this year. You know Advent, right? That awkward 4 weeks or so before Christmas. Advent starts off the Christian liturgical calendar with the First Sunday of Advent and then with a few fits and starts we build up to a full blown Christmas extravaganza!!

If one follows the revised common lectionary, Advent dwells more on the ministry and call of John the Baptist and the return of Christ the King than the stable in Bethlehem. Its kind of a downer for retailers, tho...and we all want to sing the beautiful music of Christmas, right?  So most often we skip the yearning lessons and hymns of the Advent season and dive into the celebration of baby Jesus' birth as we see him cooing - safe in his momma's arms.

Saturday night, December 15th, I received a phone call from my daughter-in-law telling me that my stepson, Alan, was killed in a car accident. This news has sent us all reeling. After stumbling through worship on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, we piled in two cars and drove 1100 miles to Columbia, South Carolina to grieve together and plan the funeral service for Steven Alan Wise, Jr. a 36 year old father of two little girls, husband of Lauren Rae and friend to all who ever knew him.  

It was in the midst of this that I was grateful for the tension that is ever present in Advent.  I was able to have hope in spite of the insanity that swirls around losing ones child.  I was also reminded of how very blessed I am to be part of a bigger church - a denomination founded on the principles of being in connection with one another.

The Columbia District Superintendent, Rev. Dr Tim McClendon, and I spoke several times and he then put me in contact with Rev. Tim Rogers, pastor of Mt Hebron United Methodist Church. Mt Hebron UMC graciously offered to not only provide worship space for Alan's memorial service, they also provided an organist, sound tech and Rev. Rogers assisted with the service. Folks from the church were on hand to serve as ushers and greeters and we were warmly welcomed and cared for. John Wesley would be proud, the Connexion is alive and well.

Family and friends here in Iowa and around the country have been so helpful and gracious.  Their generosity helped with our expenses, we are eternally grateful for the outpouring of love and care that we continue to receive.

To follow is my homily, I offer it as a simple way to make sense of it all. Before it was my turn to speak I sat with Alan's mom, and we held hands through the opening prayers. I thanked her for sharing Alan with me - his stepmom - his other mom.

Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5:13-16  (The Message)

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

I met Alan for the first time right around his 10th birthday. When I married his dad, 15 months later, I told him that I was too young to be his mom….we laughed about that a time or two. I share this because I feel inadequate to stand up here today and tell you about Alan – you all knew him as much if not better than I did… there are, after all, some things moms, even stepmoms, aren’t supposed to know.

Alan taught me how to be a parent –trust me on this - he broke me in real good. He came to live with his father and sister Lauren and me when he was 14. That first year of school we had a routine – I’d wake him up for school, fix him 2 eggs, scrambled and toast with homemade jam. Usually strawberry – that was his favorite, sometimes apple butter too.

This routine of ours was a great way to start our day – it helped us to get to know each other better – and I think it made the transition from Columbia to Lilburn/Stone Mountain a little smoother…

There were other transitions, and bumps in the road – y’all know all about bumps and detours and such, don’t you?

Some how through it all, I believe by the grace of God, Alan kept his sense of humor…and that smile… I believe its what kept me from throttling him more than once.

I know its what earned him a place of love and respect from his friends and loved ones many of whom are here today – and there are a whole lot more scattered all over the country.

In the Bible passage I read just a moment ago…Jesus was encouraging his followers to live lives that were full of hope, peace and even joy – even though they lived in the midst of some awful times. They were basically living in an occupied country, surrounded by Roman soldiers who were propping up a king who just wanted to take everyone’s land and money – and then there were the religious leaders – the Pharisees who were so concerned about preserving the status quo that they weren’t doing that good of a job caring for the people who were hurting and in need all around them.   

Alan and his daughter, Angie
The amazing thing is that these people – the ones who started following Jesus –knew that the world was topsy turvey – they knew that something had to change – and still they felt like they were absolutely powerless to do anything about it - they learned that Jesus was speaking truth into dark places – with words of encouragement – he said words that seemed out of place – but speak deep truths of hope, peace and yes – even joy…

3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.  (Matthew 5 - The Message)

Crazy, huh? Even today that sounds impossible – and yet – here is a way to live into God’s blessings – to be people who act as salt and light – full of hope, peace and joy.

And that’s what Jesus is teaching them – in this section of the gospel of Matthew in what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount -

13 “Let me tell you why you are here, Jesus said. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?

Salt – the most common of all ingredients – salt is what makes food taste better – did you also realize it is an essential building block in our very cell structures –

Salt – like love – like friendship makes life better, sweeter, more palatable – doesn’t it?

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand.

Salt – and light – light and salt…here in this season of darkness – as winter officially begins this week – we know the importance of light – the glow of the front porch light that welcomes us home, candles on the mantle, little twinkling lights on the Christmas tree… they all make all of the difference in what would be an otherwise gloomy time of the year.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Alan, well, Alan just knew how to light up a room. Come to think of it – he was kinda like a spot light - Alan’s life shined didn’t it – not some flimsy old dime store flashlight but a beacon – that burned bright.

It’s what drew us to him… his warmth, his laugh, his sparkly blue eyes, his mischievous nature even… honestly, its amazing some of the things he got away with!

Alan was also kind; he included everyone in his circle. And when he was present with you he was WITH you – 200%. This is what made Alan, Alan…It’s that special something that makes all the difference in the world!

I think it’s because Alan learned, at such a young age, how fragile life is – how precious every moment is –  I think it’s because Alan was a really good man, who loved his family and friends and who lived life to the fullest…that is why this passage from the Bible made me think of Alan – and made me think of the words to say to you, at a time when words can seem so hollow.

I am so sad that his time here on earth is done, because I think we all had a whole lot more to learn from Alan. I know that he wasn’t done yet… but here we are.  

What now? I don’t have the answers; in fact, this sort of thing is part of the great mystery of life. I don’t like thinking about how all of our lives are so different now with Alan’s death.

But I do know that what the world needs a whole lot more of is people who, like Alan, wrestle with the big questions about life – and make to peace with it all.

People, who like Alan, live like salt … who make life taste better…we need people who live their lives as if it truly counts – turning their life light on high beam – and turning their lives on for others – people who shine bright – like a spotlight – inviting others into the warm glow of living a life that is grounded in hope, peace and yes, even joy.

Jesus taught his followers – and all of us – how to do this – and its quite simple -

“Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

As hard as it may seem, life will be salty again, the light will shine again – even if for a little while it seems to have dimmed just a bit.

After I finished, we all sang together - This little light of mine.   

Yes, in this season of my life I am an advent person....I am yearning for the return of Christ, I am yearning for the day when no more tears will fall, when all will be healed and whole and we will be in the very presence of God Almighty.  But we don't know the time or place - so much for the Mayan calendar predictions!!  :)

Until that day, I will do my best to let my light shine.  Even though there will be days when I feel worn and sad and hopeless...I can always return to Advent - for the good news is that Advent is the season of light, of hope and of promise.  

in Advent hope,

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