Pastor Lynn Schlosser's Message at Bergthal Mennonite, May 26, 2013

May 26, 2013

If it feels like you’ve come to a funeral today, well you have,   kind of. People often talk about how given the choice they hope their loved ones might come to see them one more time while they’re still living rather than wait and come for the funeral. That’s what we’re doing here today. I am thankful so many of you have come home, one more time, to tell this people, this place, this church how much you have loved her and what she has meant to you.

This has been a long journey with decline - one that began generations ago, really when a former pastor told the congregation that unless some really radical steps were taken, this church was going to die. His prophetic message was not received well. At the time, while numbers were quietly slipping, still there were many families to fill the pews. But the relentless decline continued. And so two and a half years ago, rather than try and deny the church’s condition any longer, we faced into our reality, acknowledged the condition was terminal, and began a really emotional journey, preparing for the end while simultaneously working to live and serve fully throughout our final years.

So here we are today, gathered from near and far to honor this dear church who has touched our lives in so many different ways. And as is often the case at funerals, I want to talk about resurrection this morning.

I wonder if too often we reserve the topic of resurrection, pulling it out only for fancy occasions like Easter or funerals, kind of like that good set of china dishware we love to admire but hesitate to use. What we perhaps need to remember is that resurrection was not just some one time cosmic event that happened early one morning 2,000 years ago. No. Resurrection is woven into the very structure of who we are and how we are. Resurrection is the very essence of life.

Look around you and see evidence of resurrection - look at these living plants assembled up here reminding us of the very seasons of nature and the ways in which fresh, new life determinedly burrows its way through all the dank, dark, dead matter of winter to emerge into the light and warmth of spring. Look at all the children here who carry the hopes and dreams of their families, of the generations who have gone before them. See in our children new promise emerging in our future.

And now, look at all of us gathered here today. We come from Texas, from Illinois, from Colorado, of course from Kansas. We are old. We are middle aged. We are young. We are rich and poor and all shades in between. Look at us. And know this. We represent but a drop in the ocean of lives Bergthal Mennonite Church has reached out and touched in her 138 years. Our brothers and sisters circle this globe. Bergthal’s influence ripples out, with a never-ending gentle touch that shapes and nurtures.

We have up here the pulpit and two pews from the original stone church. If you look closely, perhaps you can see Peter H. Dirks there behind the pulpit. Or Susan Unruh, Benjamin P. Schmidt and Elizabeth Rudiger sitting there in the pews. I think the foremothers and forefathers of this church, people we never knew, are with us today and will continue to watch in the shadows and guide generation upon generation of people. This too is resurrection at work and it is a most breathtaking sight to behold.

Think about the hymn we sang a few minutes ago. “In the bulb there is a flower” seems to be a favorite for an awful lot of people. It must communicate a message we need to hear. Here in these words is the voice of resurrection hope. “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody. There’s a dawn in every darkness, bring hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

The quilt hanging here today is about resurrection. You can maybe make out a faint cross there in the middle growing up from the rich brown and black hues of the earth. But you see how in every direction, from the ground up, your eyes move out into light….life. There are pieces of material in this quilt taken from old curtains from the church basement, from material used to help with worship visuals over the years. There are pieces given by people from the congregation. Wynona provided many blocks from her extensive quilt block collection. You see how the old weaves its way through new pieces so that there is no way to see them as separate. Rather these disparate pieces merge together to create something new, something, right, something good. Resurrection.

Paul writes to the Romans, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (6:4-5).” We will be united. We are united. We participate in resurrection each day.

I promise you. Bergthal will live on. Does live on in a myriad of mysterious and holy ways.

Todd and I had the opportunity to see the movie Les Miserable earlier this year. In this movie I kept seeing my dear church’s eternal eyes shining through. Since then, I’ve steeped myself in this story and in these songs.

In the final scenes of the movie, the main character dies and is welcomed into a new realm of light where he is finally able to see life clearly, to see truth clearly. A beloved woman from earlier in his life is there to accompany him from this life to the next. She says to him, “Take my hand, I’ll lead you to salvation. Take my love for love is everlasting. And remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God.”

Once in heaven, all these people from the movie who have lived really difficult lives and have died are united again in the streets of Paris where their temporal life unfolded. But their joy in life is now radiant. Together they climb the very obstacles that wounded and imprisoned them in their former life. We see through a mirror but dimly. But they see clearly how all their trials and turmoils in this life were woven into the very fabric of time creating a beautiful tapestry of redemption and resurrection that is and is also yet to be.

Here are their words as they lift their voices in triumphant song,

"Do you hear the people sing? Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the earth there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise.
"We will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord.
We will walk behind the ploughshare, we will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward! 

"Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing? Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that we bring when tomorrow comes!"

In a similar way, I can hear those original founding ancestors from 1875, their children and grandchildren, your parents and grandparents, I can hear them singing.

We’ve dealt with such a mix of emotions these last few years - grief, anger, shame, disappointment, relief, confusion. In the book of Philippians Paul says, “ I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” This sounds like truth. We take it on faith. But sometimes it’s hard to really believe it. How can a church’s death be a victory? How do we celebrate the loss of someone so dear. Surely we’ve let all those good people who labored hard to build this church, surely we’ve let them down. We see through a mirror but dimly.

But if we listen closely, we might just hear their voices raised in a song of triumph. I believe they stand together this day singing a song of hope and faith. They see what we can only intuit. They are enfolded by a resurrection we long for, their vision unhindered. I believe they see Bergthal’s good, long life, the many ways in which God’s Kingdom has been revealed in our midst. They see also the many ways in which Bergthal will continue to move and live, there in the realm of resurrection.

I’d like to close now by asking us all to join in prayer with God, with each other, with the saints who have gone before us. May we lift up this vision from the book of Micah and with eyes of faith dare to believe that not only is this possible, but that Bergthal has advanced this cause, here in this life and in the life that will be - when tomorrow comes.

Read together Micah 4:1-5

No comments:

Post a Comment