“Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those
who travel the way with us. So be swift to love… make haste to be kind.
And as we go, may the blessing, the peace, the love, and the glory of the
Holy One, who is in the midst of us, be in our hearts and minds, in all that
we do and all that we offer others, this day and always.” — Howard K. Smith
It feels like a heavy week.
We got word that Gerry Rensch, an old Firster from way back, was at the end of his life. Jackie, Nancy and I visited him in hospice in Wilmington (with his daughter Stephanie at his bedside) on Wednesday. He passed away Thursday morning.
Beth W’s sister Cheryl’s partner Bob, all of whom we have been praying for as Bob has been nearing the end of his life in his struggle with cancer, passed away on Tuesday morning.
Margaret E’s parent, Carla, was found dead on Wednesday at home, too. Margaret and her husband Michael are headed from Nashville to Milwaukee, as they wait to hear the cause of death and make arrangements. It’s hoped she had a heart attack and died in her sleep.
I got word on Wednesday of another loss. Jesse is a friend and former parishioner, part of the extended family from my first church that I got to visit two Sundays ago. The day after I saw Jesse, his two youngest sons were graduating from High School. One of those young men, Jalan, took his own life the following Tuesday. This is the family I said had already suffered more death than most, suicides included.
When I was a young pastor, the founding pastor of my first church warned me of the vocational liability, “You are going to see a lot of death.” That has turned out to be true. And it’s made me fairly comfortable with our mortality, even my own. We all live the lives we live — for better or worse — and then we die. It’s as simple as that. And there’s some equality in it — we all end up in the same place, even if by different paths. (And remember I am a universalist, so I mean not just death but afterwards too.) But still, this Tuesday – Wednesday run was a bit much.
I also spent a good amount of time this week with four different beloveds in our own faith community who are facing serious medical conditions that will presumably color the rest of the years of their lives. All four are positive and hopeful despite their changed realities.
I was speaking with a colleague about our sermons this week for Pentecost, and she told me something she’d read, “Pick your Spirit. Choose one of the texts and just preach its understanding of the Spirit, rather than covering all the texts and ending up with a spiritual train-wreck that leaves folks in the pews asking, “What’s the Spirit? How’s that work?”
She asked: “What Spirit does the congregation at Old First need this week?” Hmm, what kind of Spirit could you use about now? Do you need to hear about the Spirit as your advocate, the Spirit of truth who accompanies us in our believing? Or do you need to hear about the Spirit as a mighty wind, poured out upon us, taking over our every word and our whole speech? Or do you need to hear that you are being led by the Spirit of God because you are children of God?
Hmm, I wasn’t sure what Spirit you needed. So my friend asked, “Michael, what’s the Spirit you need?” It wasn’t even Wednesday yet, and I didn’t know of all these losses to come. But I knew that I was preaching this Pentecost about the Spirit as Comforter, the ways God finds us in our sorrows and provides us consolation.
Actually, I already had an idea of what I wanted to try for Pentecost — and a picture of Spirit as Comforter works well with it. Earlier this year, someone (not from our community) confessed to me, “I believe in God, but I don’t think I have ever known an experience of God.” I keep thinking about that. Humbly, I think the person was wrong. I believe he has had experiences of God, but he doesn’t know to recognize them as such. He won’t be in worship (I don’t think!), but I am going to try and help us think about how we identify the presence of God. That’s the Spirit too.
Whether your week has been heavy like mine, or it’s been lighter –more blessing and celebration– I hope you will join us in church this Sunday for Pentecost. I think the Spirit can serve up something for all of us and our various, different needs.
We will also be celebrating the Choir’s music ministry among us. And saying goodbye to Beth Manus, our organist. And, sharing at the Table that Jesus has prepared and by which the Spirit feeds us.
In the meantime, gladden someone’s heart, love swiftly and find every opportunity to be kind.
See in church,