Prepare the Way

Google maps has this great feature that tells you how to get from one place to another via all sorts of transportation options. Just click on the icon that represents that mode of travel and the screen updates with trip distance, directions and time it’ll take update automatically.

Take, for example, getting from here, in Ames Iowa, to one of my favorite spots on earth, San Francisco California.

According to Google here are times and distances it’ll take you to arrive:

Travel by plane is the fastest, of course, both in time and distance. A flight from Des Moines to San Fran is about 1,550 miles as the crow flies. It can be done in as little as five hours and fifteen minutes with a one-stop flight. If a non-stop flight were available it’d cut that by at least 90 minutes. And the flight isn’t even that spendy – shop around some and a round trip can be yours for under $300.

Or you could simply drive. From here to San Fran by car is a smidge over 1,800 miles, and would take you about 27 hours of drivetime.

Or perhaps you’re more of a train person. I find that mode of transport rather relaxing. The Amtrak California Zephyr line goes from Chicago to San Fran. Hop on the train in Des Moines and you can take a relaxing 2,080 mile trip by rail. That’ll take you a little over 2 days; 49 hours and 51 minutes to be more precise.

Up for a long bike ride? Those same 1,800 road miles can be done in a little over six and a half days. But only if you don’t sleep.

Or perhaps you’re up for a really, really long walk? Those miles, walking, would take about 25 days with no breaks or sleep. Good luck with that 😊

Wilderness
The first six verses of Luke 3 is also about getting from one place to another. It’s a long distance our text refers to, a wide chasm to cross. And the time it takes can be measured not in days or even weeks or years, but in millennia.

The distance we’re talking about is what stood between God and God’s people in biblical times. Up until this point the relationship between Creator and us, the designated caretakers of Creation, had been rocky at best.

Original sin cast Adam and Eve from that first utopian garden, into the wilderness of the world.

The Israelites, after fleeing Egypt, found themselves wandering in the wilderness, for 40 years, before reaching the Promised Land.

And in Jesus’ time the Jewish people, a minority in both ethnicity and religion, found themselves surrounded by the wilderness of a sprawling Roman Empire.

It was time, God said, for God’s people to be saved from their wilderness.

And to help prepare for that takes a special kind of person. Enter John the Baptist.

John, scripture says, was a bit of a wild child. Matthew 3:4 tells us he wore clothing made of camel hair and ate locusts and wild honey. Clothing for Jesus and the disciples was never mentioned specifically in scripture, making this outfit stand out. A diet of locusts and wild honey suggests that John wasn’t overly concerned with societal norms of the time either. God provided him food and clothing, plucked straight from the land.

John, the wild one in the wilderness, prepared the way for the Christ-child to join us here on earth. He did this in a very specific way, by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins for those who repent.

To explain what that looks like Luke 3:4-6 quotes a passage from Isaiah. This gave John a job description of sorts:

Prepare the way of the Lord,
Make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Looking at this passage with modern eyes much of this seems like perhaps not that big of a deal. We make straight paths, fill valleys, flatten mountains and make rough ways smooth all the time.

Highways
The US Interstate System, begun in 1956, and championed by President Eisenhower, was created with this very goal in mind.  The system has been called the greatest public works project in history; many of us use the roads this project completed daily.  My father-in-law, born in 1940, likes to tell of the car trips he’d take as a kid with his parents in the late 1940s and early 50s. Each year his family would drive from Chicago to the Florida Keys after closing up the family garden center for the year. Back then, before the interstate highway system, the trip would take a week. The route they travailed often required you to drive through one small downtown to the next, hitting countless streetlights and stop signs on the way.

These days, that 1,400 mile trip from Chicago to Key Largo Florida takes about 20 hours.

That’s just two days of driving 10 hours a day, plenty of time for rest stops, meals, refueling, and an overnight hotel stay complete with 8 hours of sleep.

All this, because, as a people, we decided to make straight paths, fill valleys, flatten mountains and make rough ways smooth. As a first world people we have become experts in our path-making and path-perfecting ways, and our commerce and economy and way of life are arguably better for it. We can move from point A to point B faster and cheaper than ever before. We have, at least as much as we desire, made our way out of the physical wilderness of our lands.

But what if the wilderness we find ourselves in is a matter of the heart? What if no plane, train or automobile is available to deliver to us what we so desperately need? What if all our technological advances leave us in the same place we started? Places longing for community, searching for meaning, desiring healing for our brokenness?

In those moments making straight the path begins not with a shovel or dynamite or the laying of asphalt. Instead salvation from the wilderness of the heart begins within. And, similar to the planning it took to achieve the Interstate highway system, wrestling with the wilderness of our heart requires that we set some goals.

Prepare
This Advent, as we prepare for the coming of the Christ child in two short weeks –

Fill the valleys of the wilderness of seasonal stress by carving out time with your maker. Do this with reflection, meditation, and prayer.

Flatten the mountains that separate you from divine wisdom. Do this by reading ancient scripture. Even better than Google, the Bible has this great feature that tells you how to get from one place to another, and through all sorts of wildernesses. Just open to a different book, chapter and verse and you’ll receive useful, constant updates, automatically, guaranteed.

And then make rough ways smooth by reaching out to others, seeking to mend broken relationships among all you know. Don’t settle for a wilderness of individual, family and communal lethargy, as easy as that may be. Instead strive for peace with each of God’s beloved.

Because ultimately it’s not about paving roads through the wilderness, as important as that work can be. It’s about preparing the way, within us, and within others. It’s about preparing for the salvation of God, though a child in a manger, making smooth *that* path, for all.  Amen.

Wisdom’s Feast

In 1987 the Danish movie Babette’s Feast was released in Europe. Stateside it won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film that year, and has a 96% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

That equates to a really big two thumbs up.

These days you can rent it online for a few dollars, complete with English subtitles.

I first saw Babette’s Feast during seminary, watched it again last night, and highly recommend it.

The film, a 19th-century fable, is set in a small, remote Danish town in Jutland, and is about a small Lutheran congregation.

The homes and shops and walls in town are all fairly drab, there’s lots of grays and browns in each scene.

The food the congregation eats is bland; there isn’t enough money to buy salt.

But this is how the town and people are, it’s their norm.

The long-time town pastor is well liked, and leads this pious sect in the study of scripture, in song, and in preaching. The congregation and town seem unified, and at peace in this modest, rural setting.

Decline
When the pastor dies, the leadership of the church falls to his two unmarried adult daughters. And over time the peace, tranquility, and the modest joy of the people begins to decline.

They still sing the same songs.
They still say the same prayers.
They still eat the same bland food.

But their relationships are in decline.

Two women argue about something that’d happened decades ago, each determined to ruin the other.

Two graying brothers quarrel about a deal done in their youth. One felt swindled, the other was in denial.

A man and a woman, part of an affair long ago, worry about the consequences. Was their punishment rendered here on earth? Or was it eternal?

In the middle of all this decline, all these arguments, quarrels and worries, a refugee from France, named Babette, comes to town. Babette, penniless and with no family, offers to cook for the sisters. She asks only for a room to stay. The sisters agree.

Feast
The climax of the film happens when Babette wins the lottery. She offers to pay for and prepare an exquisite five-course French cuisine for the congregation, who now only number 12.

Babette, who we later learn was the best chef in all of France, imports a live turtle, huge blocks of ice, game birds like quail, amazing fruit and vegetables, cheeses, and wines. She spares no expense for the meal.

The sisters secretly worry that Babette’s fine French cooking could be too decadent, perhaps even scandalous, perhaps even sinfully so. To mitigate this they encourage the congregation to eat the meal quietly, to say nothing at the table, to show no joy.

It’s a showdown of sorts, between the extravagant and the drab.

As the meal begins you hear only the quiet clinks and clanks of silverware on fine china.

There is no talk. There are no smiles.

But as each new course is consumed, as each glass of wine is refilled, the quiet, unhappy, frozen people begin to thaw.

Compliments are given, compliments are received.
Rifts between women, brothers, and lovers are healed.
And the smiles. Oh to see the people smile.

As the party disbands we watch as the entire congregation joins hands, together, around the town well, singing joyfully in ways they never had before.

One man even shouts Halleluiah!

It’s a scene reminiscent of the classic 1960s Grinch movie. You know, the part where the Whos in Whoville gather around the town Christmas tree, singing joyfully despite having not much of anything except each other.

Wisdom
Proverbs 9:1-6 portrays a similar feast.

And this feast is prepared by no one less than Wisdom, personified.

Wisdom has built her house,
Slaughtered her animals,
Mixed her wine,
And set her table.

Lady wisdom calls to the town
“You who are simple,
You, the downtrodden,
You, who argue,
Turn in here!”

“Come, eat of my bread,
Drink of my wine.”

“Lay aside immaturity,
Put down your quarrels,
And *live*”

Walk with me, she says, in the ways of Wisdom.

Wisdom’s Brother
Too often so it is with us.

We hold on to the past, while letting go of the present.
We embrace conflict, at the expense of peace.
We settle for the drab, when we’re offered the extravagant.

And in all these choices we lose.

But then Wisdom steps in, and offers us so much more.

Meet brother Christ, she says, for you have much to learn.

Eat of His bread, she implores. It is His body, given for you. Drink of His cup, she urges. This is His blood, shed for you. But most importantly, open your heart, she extols.

Don’t merely walk through tradition.

Instead allow yourself to be transformed by it.

For it is in the embrace of Wisdom’s feast where we find joy. It is in Wisdom’s banquet where broken relationships mend. It is Wisdom’s bounty where our ultimate healing can be found.

And it is in the walking, and the feasting, with Wisdom, where we truly live. Amen.

God’s Dream

On August 28, 1963 a speech was delivered that would forever change the course of America. The speech was given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington DC, and heard live by more than 250,000 people. It was then broadcast, heard and read by millions more.

The language this address conveyed proved to be pivotal, coming in the middle of the civil rights movement, and played an important role in our national dialogue. The speech later led to a slew of new legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

The 1,667 words this speech contains was later rated the top American speech of the 20th century. That’s according to a 1999 poll of scholars fluent in public addresses.

The results, societal change and accolades this speech garnered have elevated its author into the stratosphere of beloved American orators, right alongside Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Most importantly, these words continue to influence millions in the here and now. These days you can easily watch it online via Youtube. Personally I try and fire it up every January to get re-inspired all over again.

From school-aged children to adults well into their twilight years, it’s almost impossible to not know the author and title of this famous speech by name.

We’re talking, of course, about the I Have a Dream speech, delivered by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The speech is a look back, at ideals we know and love, that all people are created equal.

The speech is a look at the present, a realization that these ideals have not yet been entirely realized.

And the speech, above all else, is a look forward. It’s a look forward to a time when King’s high ideals shift from far-off dream to present day reality.

These ideals are conveyed brilliantly in that simple, yet elegant turn of a phrase:

I have a dream.

King’s is a message of hope, and of joy. It is a glimpse beyond our current challenges, into a peaceful utopian future when, according to the dream, all will be as it should.

What a big, big dream.

Isaiah
Isaiah 65:17-25 is a shining example of a grand scriptural dream.

Like Martin Luther King’s famous speech this text too is distinguished. One theologian concludes there is nothing like it to be found anywhere else in the Old Testament. Another describes it as one of the most remarkable passages in all of Scripture. I tend to agree; the language this passage contains simply soars.

Like the famous 1963 Dream speech, the prophet Isaiah takes a look back. Things were good back at the time of creation, we’re reminded. All was well.

Like King’s Dream speech, the prophet speaks to current reality. God’s people find themselves in exile, needing to rebuild a broken culture, a broken land. All is no longer well.

And, like King’s Dream speech, most importantly, the prophet speaks to the future. The Oracle of the Lord conveys a divine revelation about this new, bright destination that is to come. All will be well again.

And that’s something we can get seriously excited about.

What I’d like to do next is to retell this text using the language of dreams. Martin Luther King’s dream, as relevant as it continues to be, is but a part of God’s vast, vast dream for all of creation. Here we go.

God’s Dream
Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties, of today and tomorrow, God *still* has a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the dream our Abba Father has had, for humanity, from the very beginning.

God has a dream, of creating new heavens and a new earth, one that will hardly resemble the one we presently inhabit.

God has a dream, so strong, that when finally realized, the former world we see today won’t even be remembered. Instead, these new heavens and new earth will seem they’ve been as they should be, and have been, the entire time. God has a dream.

So vivid, that when we reach for it God’s people can’t help but be glad. God’s people will rejoice forever in this new creation, filled with unending delight, everlasting joy. God has a dream.

That no more shall the earth be filled with weeping, no more will cries of distress be heard. God has a dream today.

God has a dream, that no more shall infants live but a few days, but instead, they will prosper for all their days. No more, in God’s dream, will there be any person who does not live a full and complete life. In God’s dream, one who dies at a hundred years will be considered quite young. God has a dream today.

God has a dream, that those who build houses shall make enough to inhabit those same houses. And those that plant vineyards will no longer struggle to provide for their families. Instead, those workers will fill the stomachs of all in their care with the fruits of their labors.

God has a dream, that not one soul shall labor in vain. In God’s dream all are compensated fairly, enough that all their earthly needs are met.

God has a dream, that no longer will parents birth children born into calamity, fearing a future unknown. Instead, in God’s dream, each inhabitant of our lands are abundantly blessed by the Lord, along with their descendants, their descendants descendants, and for all generations to come.

God has a dream, so complete, that our needs will be met, even before they are given voice! Before we call to the heavens, the answer will already be in hand.

God has a dream, so incredible, that the wolf and the lamb shall feed together. The lion and the ox shall both eat straw. In God’s dream there is no kill or be killed. There is no domination of one part of creation over another. God’s dream points us to pursue peace, among people, and nations. In God’s dream there is no room for warfare in our lands. God has a dream.

And God has a dream powerful enough that the serpent, the symbol of original sin in the garden of Eden, is relegated to dust. Left to a state of nothingness. The separation from God and each other this serpent wrought on our world is now no more. God has a dream.

Back to Now
These are the dreams of God, ripped from ancient scripture written over 2,500 years ago.
Reflecting on the words of Isaiah I can’t help but feel inspired, energized by this glorious future reality. Hopefully those words inspire you too.

But at some point, we have to step back from this future, look around and see how far we still have to go.

I find myself really excited that God has a dream so grand. But it makes me wonder, God has a dream, yes, but does God have a partner? Does God have a trusted ally to help turn this dream into reality?

God’s Partners
Because being a partner with God, in fulfilling God’s dream, requires something.

To be a partner in God’s dream asks us to consider what it would take, for infant mortality, to be a thing of the past. From this vantage providing adequate healthcare and prenatal care to all is part of God’s dream.

To participate in God’s dream suggests that meeting the health needs of our most senior of citizens is a priority. Remember, in God’s dream, getting to 100 years of age is still quite young.

To partake in God’s dream encourages us to ensure all of humanity has enough to eat, and that a day’s wage is enough to provide for a family. Anything less and God’s dream remains unrealized.

Earlier this week I had the honor of attending the 2018 Story County Philanthropy Awards luncheon along with a group from our congregation. This event highlights individuals, couples, families and organizations that give back to their local community in some significant ways. We went to celebrate two of our own, Pat and Louie Banitt, who won the award as this year’s Outstanding Philanthropists. Louie, a retired doctor spent his entire career healing others, helping thousands. I listened as the presenter shared all this couple does in supporting healthcare, education, innovation and the arts, giving generously of their time and financial resources, in ways that impact thousands more.

That is to say nothing of all that Pat and Louie do here at Bethesda. Hearing of this award was a great reminder to me that God has some amazing partners that help realize God’s dream.

Christian disciples take their faith public. Both Martin Luther King Jr and Isaiah did, sharing their dreams with a people desiring so much more. They both spoke to the dream. They both participated in the dream.  And they both encouraged the dream among others.

God has a dream. And egad is it an idyllic one. But does God have a partner?

May it be *you*  Amen.

 

Great Escapes

Have you seen the Ten Commandments movie from 1956? That’s the one where Charlton Heston plays Moses. The film contains the epic scene of the Red Sea crossing where Heston has his arms outstretched, staff in one hand, in the middle of the sea as God parts the waters.

The Israelites, escaping the Egyptian army, walk through the sea, safely to the other side. The Egyptians then pursue with their horses and chariots and drivers, as God put the waters back, surrounding Israel’s captors. This left God’s people safe and now free from the slavery that had shackled them.

Exodus 14 is an Old Testament reminder that God is for God’s people, desiring to free us from that which holds us down.

The story is so well known I hesitate to retell it, as you might just nod off.

Instead I’d like to tell you a more recent, perhaps a similar story about the country of Haiti.

Haiti
Haiti is a common destination for all sorts of non-profit and faith-based efforts, while living in South Florida I went there four times on various mission trips. A direct flight from Miami to Port au Prince Haiti is only about two hours. That’s less time than it takes to fly direct from Des Moines to Las Vegas. Yet in those two hours it feels like you’re stepping out of one world into another.

To understand how our countries came to be so different requires a bit of history. Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. That island was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

At the time there were an estimated 300,000 indigenous people in Hispaniola, known as the Taino. But by 1555, sixty-three years later, the entire population had been wiped out due to war and disease brought by settlers from Spain. It’s an early, and sad story of how European colonies impacted native peoples.

And that’s probably an understatement.

With this loss of life there was a need for cheap labor to develop the land. To meet this demand Europeans from Spain and later France brought slaves captured in Africa to farm the land. Slavery was so prevalent that by the end of the 18th century over 90% of the population of Haiti traced their roots to Africa. This led to an uprising against France in 1791 that culminated in a successful slave revolt in 1804. That isn’t too much after the US signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Since then the histories of these two countries have diverged a good bit as you might imagine. The US rose to become the wealthiest country in the world. Haiti instead is the poorest in the western hemisphere; 59% live on less than $2 a day. The reasons for this are complex, stories for another time.

Signs
These days almost 90% of Haitians identify as Christians – that’s more than the US at 74% – physical signs of Christianity in Haiti can be found all over the place. Scripture verses are often painted in big, bright letters and numbers in all sorts of spots. They show up on local taxicabs, and on street signs, they’re often part of store logos. Book, chapter and verse scripture reference sightings are so common there that on one trip I found myself counting them as we drove down the street. I noted a slew of passages from Genesis, Psalms and Proverbs, the gospels made a lot of appearances, Romans did too.

But it was part of our reading tonite, Exodus 14:14 that showed up more than any other. In that one weeklong trip I spotted the verse on six different taxis, three commercial vehicles, two restaurants and two grocery stores. The reference to Exodus 14:14 was seemingly everywhere.

“The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Haiti remains the only country to be founded by a successful slave revolt in the modern world. In this way it is unique.

Life in Haiti, a country with picturesque mountain landscapes is far from perfect. Centuries of interventions from foreign governments have drained financial and physical resources from the land, leaving a people deeply in need of basics many of us take for granted. Necessities like education, housing, and an economy that can support its people.

While the details of the Red Sea crossing and Haiti’s path to freedom from slavery are different – it took an armed revolt for Haiti – both look to God for their salvation from oppression.

Close
So let us celebrate God’s deliverance of Israel in ancient times. God always stands firmly on the side of the oppressed.

Let us also realize it took a lot longer than this one moment for God’s people to reach the promised land.

And let us celebrate God’s deliverance of Haitians from the captors that enslaved them not too long ago.

Then let us realize that God’s work, among a people shackled with poverty, hunger and unsafe living conditions remains incomplete.

The LORD *will* fight for you, and you have only to keep still.

If those signs, with this scripture passage in Haiti are any indication, many still believe that.

Good.

In those times when the oppressed keep still, look to the heavens, and pray, in those times let it be us that fight on their behalf.

Let it be us that fight the humanitarian crises that pop up across the globe.
Let it be us that fight to ensure God’s children never go hungry.
Let it be us that fight until clean drinking water is available for all.

And let it be us that fight, freeing each of God’s children from oppression, in its varied forms, just as our divine Father did in the Red Sea.  And just as our Creator intends. Amen.

Saints

This past year has been tough, in one particular way, for our congregation. In the past year we have buried twenty-eight members and friends connected to Bethesda. That’s a higher number of deaths than we’ve had here in a while. We will recognize those twenty-eight, by name, and bell, and candle, later in the service.

With each name, and bell, and candle comes a certain sadness. These 28 will never be with us, physically, here on earth, again. There will be no more new memories made. If this life were all there was then there’s a finality to death.

And that would be it.

Fortunately, we Christians, we believers, we disciples of Christ don’t see death as the end.

And thank God for that.

Today’s text, from Ephesians 1, speaks to our hope in rhe resurrection. The author wrote Ephesians from prison, a place where, for many, hope goes to die. But not for them.

In Christ we have obtained an inheritance, the passage begins. As we set our hope on Christ we are promised an inheritance among the saints, not just in this age, but in the age to come.

So what does this inheritance we’re promised look like?

To help answer this question I’d like to tell a few stories, *your* stories, stories from a few of us that have left this plane of existence in the last year. While I’d love to tell all 28 of those stories, for time’s sake we’ll focus on three of our saints. And yes, just three; apologies, otherwise this service would go considerably longer 😊

Helen
Helen Ingvoldstad passed away February 24 at Northcrest. She was 95. Helen is described by church members as a woman who dove into life, was an active volunteer, donated to causes she cared about. And she was part of a monthly mother-daughter lunch group that lasted for decades. You likely know some of the daughters in this group; Mary Nelson, Kathy Slocum, Vickie Sivesind and Willa Holger are four of them.

Helen was a matchmaker too, just ask Bethesda members Jeff and Keri Carstens. Helen, Jeff and Keri all lived in the same neighborhood, and Helen thought the two of them should meet. You might like her, she suggested. You might like him, she hinted. Helen was matchmaking, well into her 80s, and apparently is pretty good at it. The couple married earlier this decade and now have three children.

I visited Helen a day before she died to share communion. Helen was sleepy, but intent on telling me this story:

“When I was younger I had a church mentor, and told him I was struggling with who Jesus was. He suggested I read the bible, from cover to cover, to find the answer. So I did. And then I went back to this mentor and told him, feeling kind of cocky, that I’d figured it out! ‘Jesus is wisdom’ I replied. And he came from heaven to teach us this wisdom.” The mentor smiled, and replied, “that’s a great place to start.”

Helen’s hope was to connect women across the generations.

Her hope was to help pair two people in holy matrimony.

Her hope was to learn the wisdom of Christ her whole life long.

And her inheritance is the fulfillment of all that, and the chance to learn the wisdom of Christ, in person, and to do so for eternity.

Bob
Bob Hein, loved by so many, passed away June 2nd at Green Hills. He was 78. I’d learned to appreciate Bob in the short time I’ve served this congregation, egad he was a conversationalist. Though it was something wife Anne mentioned two weeks ago that really got my attention. After giving a sermon about wrestling with God, Anne reminded me that Bob was a high school wrestling coach for several decades. “Bob would have loved that message,” Ann said, about as nice a compliment as any preacher could get.

But these kind words hold more than a compliment for one; they point to the legacy Bob left for many. The high school Bob coached at in Illinois had some rough students, and many of them wrestled. A lot of those wrestlers would later tell Bob that if it weren’t for him they likely would have dropped out of school. And in the final year of Bob’s life an awful lot of wrestlers he coached came to Ames to visit, to catch up. They came to share where their lives, with his help, had led.

Bob coached hundreds of high schoolers in his career, not just in wrestling, but as a teacher of health, physical education and as a guidance counselor. The sense of work ethic, purpose and wisdom he imparted on so many would be difficult to overestimate.
Bob’s hope was to coach up the next generation of young men.

His hope was to guide young men and women, as teacher and counselor, into adulthood.
And his inheritance is the chance to wrestle with God, whenever he’d like, one-on-one, for eternity.

Marvin
Marvin Anderson passed away earlier this Fall, on October 9th, at Northridge Village. He was 79. I didn’t get to know Marvin as well as I would have liked, but boy did he lead a fascinating life. Marvin was a scientist here at Ames Laboratory. Before that Marvin was enlisted in the Air Force, and there during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Oh the stories he could tell.

As a distraction from the rather serious nature of his work Marvin enjoyed painting as a hobby. When son Derek showed promise as an artist Marvin encouraged him. Derek ended up becoming an author and illustrator of children’s books that have sold millions worldwide; there’s a good chance you’ve read one of them to your child or grandchild. But even if you haven’t I bet you’ve seen his work: Derek drew the artwork that lines the Ames Public Library bookmobile that travels all over town, you really can’t miss it.

Two days before Marvin died I was asked to come by and provide communion to Marvin and a few family members. To my surprise, and delight, when I arrived a dozen family members were in the small room, surrounding Marvin, who was alert, and laying quietly in bed. Carole Anderson was there, along with Marvin’s brothers, children, grandchildren, and extended family. People came from across the country to be with him in his final days.

As we gathered Marvin’s brother read Psalm 23, communion was given and received, and we closed our time together in prayer. To be honest the emotion I sensed most in the room wasn’t sadness, it was peace. His family tells me that last communion was the event that allowed Marvin to start letting go. There is a certain beauty in that. To believe that, through Christ, that death isn’t the end, but instead a beginning, is a powerful, powerful notion. And to arrive at that requires a hope, of what is to come, in our resurrection to the hereafter.

Marvin’s hope was to keep the world safe in a time of crisis.

His hope was to leave a legacy, through family, that would impact millions.

His hope was there in the room that day, surrounded by family, and at peace, as he received the bread, and drank from the cup, joining in holy communion one last time.

And his inheritance is the fulfillment of all of the above, and the journey to meet his creator in person.

Star Wars
Finally, for something a bit lighter, let’s move from real people to Hollywood. Consider a fictional character from the very first Star Wars movie, Episode IV, the famed Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Obi-Wan begins the 1977 film in human form, helping Luke and Leia through countless escapes. But it is after his death, at the hands of Darth Vader, where this character really shines. In spirit form it is Obi-Wan who speaks to Luke, helping him destroy the imperial station. As a spirit he advises Yoda to continue to train Luke in the ways of the Jedi. As a spirit it is Obi-Wan who reveals that Darth Vader is indeed Luke’s father, something Luke must grapple with.

It could be argued that Obi-Wan plays a larger role in the Star Wars franchise, in spirit form, than when he was alive. Perhaps the same could be said for us, and the legacy of what we leave behind. The spirits of Helen, Bob and Marvin, indeed all those we’ve lost live on in the influence they continue to have, in very big ways, on all they have touched here on earth.

Close
As we commemorate those who are no longer with us this All Saints Day let us mourn.

We miss the dearly departed.

Our lives will not be the same without them.

But let us also hold fast to the words of Ephesians. Let us place our hope in Christ, and promise of an inheritance among the saints, not just in this age, but in the age to come.

And then let us also celebrate.

Let us celebrate, that the saints of old, for all ages are still with us here, in spirit, and can be seen in, and through each one of us. Let us celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit, always nudging, always encouraging, always leading us, until that day, when we too, are reunited with the saints of all time, in our eternal heavenly home. Amen.