Tuesday, 03 November 2009 16:40

November 1, 2009 Sermon

“Rivers of Remembrance”
Psalm 77
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
All Saints Day
November 1, 2009
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

I went to my 30th High School reunion back in September.  There were the usual, obligatory questions: “where do you live”, “how old are your kids”, “who are you”, and of course, “you’re a minister? Seriously?” The thread that ran through the crowd was “I’m taking care of my mother.  I lost my dad a year ago.”

We gathered here have lost people.  We think of people in our network of this church:  Georgia Druk; Mavis Allen; Albert Osborne; William Hervey; Robert Medeiros; Anne Supplee’s father; Mary Lou Hartley; Mary Alma Lundberg; Guffrie Smith, Sr.  There are certainly others that I am neglecting to name, but that we know.

We celebrate their lives.  We call to mind each of them—their walk, their hands, the way they looked a the world, their courage, their frailty, their influence on us that effects how we take in and integrate this world of ours.

When we lose those close to us, we often find ourselves confused and unpredictable.  Grief is a kind of madness after all.  It’s not that we don’t think they are in a better place or at least a place without pain or disease, it’s that we don’t know how to be without them. They are still without us and we are without them.  There is a hole in our lives that we long to fill and yet we know we can’t.

What we really want is to feel whole again.  But what is wholeness when reality has shifted?

So we fumble around in the dark.  We grieve and we remember.

We remember the good times: the family meals; the holidays; the hard lessons; the love; the Forgiveness; the reconciliation; the every-day normalness of life in the time of innocence.

We remember the not so good times: the fights; the arguments; the disputes which were really important then and really petty now.  We remember the misunderstandings and the way that we saw each other—and saw each other only in part.  We remember the unfinished business.

We remember where we were with them.  We remember the Halloween costumes preserved in yellowed photographs.  We remember the first things we shared: the first taste of some delicious food; the first sip of forbidden fruit; the first curse word off our tongue; the first risk and the naughty excitement of the first testing of boundaries; the first time we felt love or hate or rage or heartbreak.  The way they forgave us and welcomed us back in spite of our selves.

They have gone and we rage like the psalmist:

7 "Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has God’s steadfast love ceased forever?
Are God’s promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has God in anger shut up all compassion?"

The rage happens when we are in that mad place.  Where we can’t control and we accuse God who is supposed to control all things.

I spent the weekend with my friend Chaks Zadda who is from southern India, near where Betsy and David Perkins serve as missionaries.  On October 2, there was a flood that devastated their town of Kurnool.  It wasn’t just a small flood, it was one of those once-in-10,000 years flood.  The whole town was leveled.  His home was destroyed.  His parents and the rest of the town of 300,000 have lost everything.  Luckily his family is still alive.  But the stench of the rotting food, the nonexistent septic system, the carcasses of the animals, the mold, the lack of aid, all makes the situation pretty unbearable.  The prospects of rebuilding are still a long way away.  They need to cut a road first.  We even called Betsy and David this weekend to help facilitate a trip to get them the aid they need.  Luckily we have people from International Ministries and Church World Service on the Peace Fellowship Board, so we used all of our resources to help out where we could.

We are now raising money to help Chaks and his family get to India to reunite with their extended family and investigate further opportunities for the wider Peace Fellowship to help.

I expected Chaks to rage.  He rages at the government for not getting aid quickly enough.  But he reminds me that God is good.  They are alive.  He needs to cling to hope amidst the disaster.  Even when the flood happened, he reminded me, God provided manna in the wilderness.  God will not leave us comfortless.  This is a man whose very religion makes him a suspect minority.  But he connects with the larger and more powerful river of hope that is the rock of his faith.

We rage like the psalmist and we remember like the psalmist.

11 I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15 With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

As we remember our loved ones, we rage, we weep and we celebrate their lives. We also remember that we are all here on earth for a brief moment in time.  There is no one who has lived or died that has not been the receiver or the generator of salty tears.  Our humanity is connected through our tears.  Our compassion and the compassion of God are connected in the remembrance of others.  This river of remembrance flows through us and joins with each of us.  We remember.  We remember the names on these banners.  We remember their names, their faces, their stories.  We carry them with us, the good and the bad.

Only we can decide how to live our lives.  Why not live your life because someone else lived?  It’s one of the ways they reach immortality.

I invite you to call to mind those who have gone before, paving the way for your life and influencing the way you choose to live.  How do you remember them?  Do you just call them to mind once a year or do you do things or see the world in a unique way because of something they instilled in you?  For good or ill, we are part of the legacy of those who have gone before.

I walk a little bit duck footed because I imitated my father’s gait as a young boy.

I love going barefoot.  My pastor in Granville, Ohio loved it too.  My maternal grandfather ran track in bare feet, having learned it from the Arapahoes with whom he grew up in Oklahoma.

I love the land, just as my paternal grandfather and great-grandfather did.  I worked at their farm every summer of my adolescence.  I garden now just as my mother and her mother gardened.

I avoid interpersonal conflict from time to time because generations of my family have avoided conflict and I have ingrained that kind of codependency.

I wonder what my kids might do because I do it.  Will they do the bad as well as the good?  Or will they only remember the good?

Often unconsciously, we arrange our lives because of the influences of the saints that have preceded us.  We usually don’t remember where a thought or an action came from—the seed that was planted long ago.  But we still bear the fruit of that imprinting upon our psyches.  As we remember the past and those who have gone before us, we reconnect with who we seek to be.

Take a moment of silence and remember them.


We come to church because we remember one who lived and who died.  We remember that Jesus called us to walk with the lonely, to stand up for the outcast, to be a blessing in this life so that the world can know that God not only exists, but wants God’s children to live in peace and harmony.

Each of those memories are like a river that flow through our lives.  As they  mingle with the memories of those who have gone before, we remember who we are supposed to be.  We remember the possibility of who we can be.  And we give thanks for our lives.  We give thanks for the life of Jesus and we recommit ourselves to a life of service, of blessing, of being the best person we can be.  When we are, the best of our ancestors live on.  And we can celebrate with each of them.

We remember them.  We remember their voices, their faces, the smell of their cigars, their perfume, their cologne.  But let us not let it stop there.  Let us remember the very best of them.  And let that part of them live on in us.  May the lives of those we remember flow through us, nurturing the very best part of us.  For even now, aside God, they look to us and long for us to remember who we are meant to be.