Life in the Balance
It is the Sixth Sunday of Easter.
It is also Heritage Sunday in the United Methodist Church, Aldersgate Sunday in the Wesleyan tradition, and Memorial Day in the United States of America.
The modern impulse to organize and label that has fueled science, business, technology is evident in our labeling of days. Are they specimens for examination or the ministry of memory, dynamic evidence for learning?
Methodist remember Aldersgate, May 24, 1738. It was that evening in England when our founder, John Wesley, was dragged reluctantlly to church, after an already chock-a-block day of challenging ministry, by his insistent brother. In the midst of the urgent work of that day and that time in the Methodist Movment, when Wesley was going full tilt, that evening's worship experience opened a space for grace in his soul that he called being "Strangely warmed. You remember don't you? But how? None of were there on May 24, 1738, were we? We remember because we mark the day, we tell the story, we hear the invitation that our hearts might also be strangely warmed.
Its Memorial Day Weekend: a time for remembering and honoring those who gave their lives in battle, for tending the graves of the dead.
We are always balancing between memory and vision,
between past satisfactions and sorrows
and the enduring kernel of joy full new life in each and every moment.
Ernest remembers starting out in the US Army as a freshfaced kid learning to make a bed, scrub fixtures, do KP, and march with perfect discipline. One morning got called out at inspection for the three hairs on his chin. He hadn't shaved. Ernie’d NEVER shaved in his life. Two years, 385 combat days, and two purple hearts later, Ernie headed home looking for love, for a rebalancing point. He found it in the love of his life, Muriel, a love that over 60 years later still sparks the air between them. It is a love that carries God's healing grace and supplies the fulcrum between memory and vision.
In scripture, remembering is not only recollection of the past. Again and again people are called on to remember the present, remember the future, remember God who holds past, present, future in God’s own life.
For God’s people, memory is identity.
And what we remember determines how we act.
Failure to remember God’s actions is apostasy, unfaithfulness.
God remembers too.
It’s the things we wish God would forget that pin us down; things we've done and wish we hadn't, things we wish we had done and didn't. Things that we too often carry to the grave rather than letting them go so that we can live the life of grace.
God’s action is guided by what God “remembers.” The new covenant declaration of Jeremiah 31: 31-34 says that “God will remember their sin no more.”
God remains fully aware of the past, but not defined by it.
But who are we without our sin when that has become the balance of our life?
Doesn’t our past define us? Or at least, our memories of others' past actions define their idenity as far as we're concerned.
We tend to mistake the status quo for balance, but have you ever tried to stand still on a balance beam?
God is not the God of death but of life.
Worship is remembering the living God, remembering who we are, that our balance is created by the living Christ’s presence.
John 14: Jesus speaks to us today from the precarious balance point when his followers are beginning to realize life is never going to be the same, and not necessarily in the way they hoped for when they first joined him.
Jesus offers to help them, and us, stay in balance, stay in God’s sweet spot. “The paraclete,” is a name that holds a multitude of meaning: encourage, teach, comfort, befriend.....
Writer Bill O’Hanlon obeserves that- The difference between a wound that festers and diminishes us and one that leads to growth is whether or not we use the wound to energize us to change something in the world or to make a contribution.
In the early 1820, before there was a Methodist society in Brunswick, but in the same years that Melville Cox began riding a preaching circuit here, Zenas and Merritt Caldwell were two of the first Methodist students at Bowdoin College. They would go on to lay the foundations of Methodist education in New England. (Cox went on to be the first Methodist Missionary to Africa, where he continued the emphasis on literacy education).
Merritt and Zenas’ mother, Nancy Caldwell suffered both from fragile health and from the spiritual turmoil that was typical in those frontier days. When the boys were toddlers Nancy recorded in her journal that:
“In the evening my husband came home, having been absent during the week. I soon began to tell him what God had done for my poor soul. He was very glad to find me so happy, as I had suffered much, both in body and mind, especially the last year. The more I talked of the wonderful works of God, the more I was blessed, til I could say me joys were full, my cup ran over, and I praised God with all my ransomed powers. I shall never find language here to describe my joys, but to listening angels, I expect to tell the story with an immortal tongue. ….I felt as perfectly free as an infant….death was disarmed of its terror.” Walking with God p. 34-35.
She’d found her sweet spot.
For God’s people, memory is identity.
And what we remember shapes how we act.
Prayer in the words of Ruth Duck: Book Of Worship #464
O God, in mystery and silence you are present in our lives,
Bringing new life out of destruction,
Hope out of despair, growth out of difficulty.
We thank you that you do not leave us alone but labor to make us whole.
Help us to perceive your unseen hand in the unfolding of our lives,
and to attend to the gentle guidance of your Spirit,
That we may know the joy you give your people. AMEN.
BENEDICTION by Jan Richardson, In Wisdom's Path
For those who walked with us this is a prayer. For those who have gone ahead, this is a blessing.
For those who touched and tended us,
who lingered with us while they lived, this is a thanksgiving.
For those who journey still with us in the shadows of awareness,
in the crevices of memory, in the landscape of our dreams, this is a benediction.
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist