Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Congregation Comes to a Close - 2 (Sermon: Brothers and Sisters [Hebrews])

Have any of you heard of the book All The Light We Cannot See? 
It’s a recent novel by Anthony Doerr, with whom I am not otherwise familiar.  It was published last year and won several prizes, including the Pultizer Prize, a major book award, but that’s not why I’ve been reading it.  I’ve been reading it because a friend recommended it -- and by “reading it,” I mean that I raced through it once, because the suspense was almost intolerable, and now I am re-reading it slowly, savoring every word.
All The Light We Cannot See. The title is ironic, in that the two main characters represent seeing and not-seeing in different ways. They are each engulfed in the horror of World War II as it plays out in Europe.  One of the main characters, a young German boy, is pulled into the Nazi war machine, and struggles mightily to see clearly what he does not want to see at all -- the corruption and evil which dominate his life.  The other, a young French girl, is trapped in a city occupied by the Germans.  She is literally blind, and yet she sees the world around her clearly and is thus able to act with tremendous dignity and courage.
The lives of these two characters are intertwined early on, although they do not know it until they meet, by happenstance, in the middle of a great battle.  And we understand that, while the title of the book, All The Light We Cannot See, is about light, and vision, at many levels, light and vision are about relationship – and, ultimately, about relationship for good.
Jesus, too, as we so often hear in the Bible, is about light, and vision.  “I am the light of the world,” he tells us, in the Gospel of John.  I bring not merely sight, but vision – understanding – of what is real, of what is important – he tells us as he heals those who are without literal sight.
And this light, this vision, this Jesus – he is about relationship.  Today’s text reminds us that he is in relationship with us.
Our text today comes from the Book of Hebrews.  We don’t know who wrote the Book of Hebrews, although it’s possible that the apostle Paul did, which would mean that it was written in the middle of the first century.  What we do know is that it makes reference to Jesus’ calling his disciples, calling us, brothers and sisters. Jesus calls us brothers and sisters. 
What is a brother or a sister? The most basic definition is that brothers and sisters are people whose relationship is determined by their having a parent in common. And who is Jesus?  The son of God, the heir of God, as our passage also tells us – which makes us also the children and heirs of God and God’s goodness.  The heirs of God’s light. 
But – let’s get back to brothers and sisters.  What does it mean that Christ calls us brothers and sisters?  It means that he draws us together into relationship as one family of siblings. 
And what does it mean to be included in this family, to be brothers and sisters to one another?  It means that we follow Jesus and his teachings.  It means that we are drawn into his light. It means that his way of seeing, his vision, become our way of seeing and our vision.
And what are those teachings?  Love God.  Love one another.  What path do they light?  The path of love.  How are we to see? With love.
Since we are talking about brothers and sisters today, I want to focus on the call to love one another.  The call to be in relationship. And I want to do that in the light of this congregation’s current situation, and in the light of the path of love we walk during this difficult time of loss and sadness. And in light of the loving meal we are about to share.
At their best, what do brothers and sisters do for one another?
For one thing, they, brothers and sisters recall a common heritage together.  They know who they are – together.  In my husband’s family, there is an old photograph of the four siblings lined up – seated on an ironing board, as it turns out – in a little row, when they were about three, four, five, and six years old.  Last New Years’, the four of them sat on a couch – they don’t fit on an ironing board anymore! -- in the same configuration, so that a matching photograph could be taken – nearly sixty years later.  A sign of one of the things brothers and sisters in relationship do for one another: they remember the past together.
Another thing brothers and sisters often do together is share activities and events together.  Some extended families live in close proximity to one another – my husband’s brother and one of his sisters, and their spouses and families, now extending to two generations, live in the same town as his mother, and so they all share time together on nearly a daily basis.    But even families whose members live at a considerable distance usually find time to get together for holidays and weddings – or funerals --  and for graduations and new babies and other significant milestones.   Brothers and sisters share their lives with one another.  They tend to relationships.
A third thing brothers and sisters do? They take care of one another.  When one is in trouble, others come running.  When life hands one an unexpected challenge, the others are there.  When someone needs a listening ear, it’s often a brother or sister who calls.  When practical needs arise, it’s sometimes a brother or sister who lends a hand.
And I’m not just talking about biological brothers and sisters. Many of us have neighbors and friends who are as brothers and sisters to us – people with whom we share memories, and activities, and care. 
And in the Christian family? We are brothers and sisters together.  In relationship together.  Jesus calls us brothers and sisters because we are his disciples, because we follow him.  Biology has nothing to do with it.  Geographical proximity has nothing to do with it.  Longevity has nothing to do with it.  We are brothers and sisters because we are loved, and love one another, in Christ.  We are brothers and sisters because Jesus is our brother.
What does it mean for us, here at Boulevard, to be brothers and sisters, as we prepare to close? It means the same three things as it usually does, but in a very particular way:
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we remember together.  I invite – no, I URGE—you to spend time with your Boulevard family remembering.  Take a look at those old photo albums.  Pull out old cards and letters.  Talk over the memories with one another.  Treasure one another and what you have been to each other. 
You know what one of my favorite Boulevard memories is?  On one of my first Sundays here, Julie K pulled me aside and said, “Now I’m going to explain to you how things work around here!”  And then a year later, as she lay dying in hospice, she told me all about her childhood in a West Side Hungarian family.   I treasure those memories – and here I am sharing them with you, again.  Please – share your pasts with one another.  How do things work around here?  What did you learn here, together?  How did you worship together?  How did you celebrate together?  Remember, my friends, and remember well.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we also share the present with each other.  Again, I urge you – take advantage of our last weeks of worship together.  Come to Bible study.  Spend time with your friends.  Participate in the work ahead together – come together to help with clearing out of the church.  It can be hard to see the light when the air is thick with sadness, as we all know from cleaning out the homes of loved ones whose lives have ended. But that is work that siblings do together.  And then -- Share in our final services together.
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we also care for one another.  My friends, we have many members who are unable to get out, to make it to worship, very often, or ever.  I urge you – care for one another.  I.  Y. R. D and N.  P.  S. T.  People just in and out of hospitals this past week.    These folks are not solely the responsibility of the pastor.   Cards are not solely the responsibility of S.  Make it your business to care for each other.  A card, a call, an email, a visit – these things mean so much. If you are an elder, past or present, talk to me so that we can plan to take communion to someone at home or in the hospital.  And – look around at those who ARE here, every week that they can be.  Everyone is hurting.  Make up your mind to reach out to one or two people each week so that you can have a talk about our closing. These are the sorts of things that brothers and sisters do for one another.
All the light we cannot see?  We do see the light, the light of Jesus, in relationship. In relationship with one another.
And today – today we have a special opportunity to share memory, and present, and care, not only with one another, but with the whole world!  Today is World Communion Sunday, which means that all over the world, at virtually every hour, congregations are sharing together the meal provided to us by Jesus Christ.  Today we are invited to remember, not only ourselves, but the worldwide church -- which for those of us here means folks from Africa and Europe and Asia and the Americas, and which for all of us means the whole world.  Today we are invited to participate in a great event, to share as brothers and sisters with people the whole world over.  And today we are called to care for one another by sharing the food and drink with which Jesus cares for us.
It is often – no, it is always – the case that our own sadness is relieved by attentiveness to others.  When we struggle and suffer, we grow, and our capacity for love increases, as we tend to our relationships with others.  And so, even as we re-affirm that we here at Boulevard are brothers and sisters, let us also celebrate the brotherhood of Jesus, with us and with all peoples of the world.  All the light we think we cannot see is right here, emanating from this table and filling the world with sight, with vision, and with relationship – with love. Amen.

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