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2014 11 02


All Saints Day   
For: First Mennonite Church, Denver
November 2, 2014
Copyright, Theda Good, 2014

Life Worth Living: Philippians 4:8-9

8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Recently I read a memoir entitled Both Sides of Now, where author, Nancy Sharp tells her story of love, loss and bold living in the face of her young husband’s diagnosis of brain cancer. They were married five years when they received the diagnosis, Brett was 33 years old and Nancy was 31. When Brett reached a state of remission life seemed to be going back to normal for them. Through In Vitro fertilization Nancy became pregnant with twins. On the day of the twins pre-mature birth, they also learned that Brett’s cancer had returned after 18 months of remission. Brett died three years later. Nancy’s story, is her journey of holding life and death together in the same moment. Her twins, Rebecca and Casey, initially thought Daddy was hiding and that is why he was not around anymore. This phase did not last long. One day they were driving in the car and passed a cemetery. Nancy pointed it out to the kids just to see how they would respond. Rebecca holds an imaginary phone to her ear. “Hi Daddy. I miss you,” she sings. She is in a chatty mood and tells Casey that even though they can’t see Daddy anymore they can still talk to him. Casey, however, offers his own explanation. “We can’t see Daddy   because he’s in the sky.” Rebecca unsure of what this means asks, “Is the sky back that way, Mama?” pointing in the direction of home. Nancy is unsure of how to respond but doesn’t have to wait long for Casey to jump back in with the same confident tone, “No, Rebecca, the sky is everywhere.” The sky is everywhere! What a startling, perfect truth the twins have de-coded: Daddy is in the sky, and the sky is everywhere. (pp. 251-252)

Nancy says, “There will never be an acceptable answer to the question of why it happened. Before Brett was diagnosed with this freakish brain tumor—running on the treadmill at the gym one day, falling against the walls in [their] apartment months later—I was one of those people who believed that ‘things happen for a reason.’ Now I know the truth: this just isn’t so. There was no rationale for why a healthy young man slipped behind the veil of life. It happened.

But why everything at once? Newborn twins and a death sentence all on the same day? Nancy says, “It’s only now that I begin to understand the fluid line existing between past and present, remembrance and breathing, the scent of yesterday and the air of today. Brett has been gone nine years and still I see him in the light of day.”  (pp. 3-4)

Holding both life and death together in the same moment seems impossible or is it?

Every form of life is subject to birth and death. Life without change does not exist. Dying and rebirth are a constant evolution. We see this annually in the natural created order of the seasons from Spring to Summer, then Autumn to Winter. This is an essential life cycle for vegetation and animals. The life cycle of trees is one of the most prominent displays of this cycle. As the leaves fall to the ground each autumn season and if left untouched in their natural habitat, they will decay and become food for the nourishment of the tree to continue the annual cycle of springing new birth of leaves and fruit.

I tend to be a hopeful person and enjoy change to some degree. I love the changes of season. As I get older, I’m not always ready to let go of the current season and move into the next unless you talk with me in the month of March.

Change is most evident in the formation from childhood to adulthood. But change and evolution in our own lives does not stop there. How many of you believe everything you thought to be true when you were 19 years old?

As I have grown and developed in my spiritual life, my sense of God has changed, but my faith has grown in expansive ways.

Richard Rohr recently wrote in one of his daily meditations, “I came out of seminary in 1970 thinking that my job was to have an answer for every question. What I've learned since then is that not-knowing and often not even needing to know is a deeper way of knowing and a deeper form of compassion. Maybe that is why Jesus praised faith even more than love; maybe that is why Saint John of the Cross called faith "luminous darkness."

That is why all great traditions teach some form of contemplation, because it is actually a different form of knowledge that emerges inside of the “cloud of unknowing.”
 Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture As Spirituality, pp. 38-39

Luminous Darkness – Cloud of Unknowing; passing over to the next life. These all have a common element, void of clarity. Our consciousness is the one place where we can hold all of these elements. The deeper we go into meditation and contemplation, the deeper we access our consciousness. Here is where we hold reality beyond our experience. And, thank goodness, our consciousness is not attached nor confined to our physical bodies. Our consciousness is transcendent and is not subject to birth or death.

In the past few months I have had a growing desire to connect more with my dad who died 14 years ago. I have felt a block any time I think of him and wish to feel his presence more closely in my life. In early July I visited his grave but found no consolation or connection there. It was after returning back home that I got the idea of playing with a toy tractor. In our house, we have a shelf with two toy tractors, one representing my family and the farm I grew up on and one representing the farm Dawn grew up on. My father was a collector of Oliver Tractors which we used on our farm. So I took this tractor off the shelf and laid on the floor and pushed it around for a while and thought about my dad. It didn’t take long for me to have a very real sense that I was on the driver seat of the tractor and my dad was standing behind me saying to me, “you know how to do this, keep going!”

Sometimes we need to know that the love and energy of those who have crossed over is still alive and real in our lives.

In the book of Philippians, Paul has a sense of the goodness and potential in each one. He was exhorting the community in Philippi to trust that God had begun a good work in them. This good work had the signs of love, wisdom and insight producing generous living.

There is some debate whether or not Philippians is Paul’s last book or not. But what can be seen in this writing compared to his earlier book of Thessalonians is a less anxious Paul. He seems more rooted, grounded and relaxed. This is the book where he states that he has learned to be content with whatever is. In any and all circumstances he has learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry; of having plenty and being in need. He gains his strength by following the life and teachings of Jesus.

What is it that inspires us to follow after those who have gone before us? My Grandma Good inspires me to keep upbeat, speak your mind, and keep on with the tasks at hand. She was always humming as she worked around her house and in her gardens. I found her to be a content person and enjoyable to be around. She also would speak up especially if there was a decision being made and she was not consulted. When my father and grandfather were planning to build a 4-bay truck garage, they were going to take down the walnut tree which was the only tree in the yard. When my grandmother learned about their intent, she along with my mother bonded together and protested and were persuasive enough to save the walnut tree.

What are your memories of your loved ones which inspire you to live a life of worth and joy? Paul in our text today implores the community at Philippi to focus on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellence or worthy of celebration. Think on these things! Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received by those who have gone before. They are all around us everywhere.

Bishop Spong says in his reflections about Paul and the book of Philippians:
The ultimate purpose of human life is to love in the face of hatred, to forgive in the face of pain, to live in the face of death. In doing those things one must be free of the need for self-exaltation. That is what it means to reveal the divine in the human. It was this concept that convinced Paul that the God presence had been experienced in Jesus. The pathway into divinity is through humanity. The pathway into eternity is through time.
 Spong, John Shelby. Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. 2011

All Saints Day is a time for both gratitude and inspiration. We are all saints in the making.

Other resources:
Rumi – “You are not just the drop in the ocean. You are the mighty ocean in the drop.”
Borg, Marcus J. Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written. 2012

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