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Tabernacle United Methodist Church

Thursday Thoughts
November 16, 2017

I read Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s ground-breaking work, On Life and Living, Death and Dying, in the late 1970's. In our little west Georgia town, population c. 200, there had been a spate of deaths, all of them, it seemed, members or kin of our 52 United Methodists. Some were well-advanced in years, some in “nursing home” settings, some nearby and others at quite a distance. And then there was “Miss Christine.” (In the social mores of the deep South of that time, it was an assumed practice to add a title, e.g. “Miss” or “Mister” or “Captain” or such before someone’s given name, as a sign of respect and/or honor. “Miss” Christine of whom I speak had children and grandchildren, and a range of family members, ‘most all of whom were my seniors.) Anyway, she was a member of one of Haralson’s 3 congregations - one United Methodist, one Lutheran, and one Southern Baptist. She was a long-time member of the latter. But her daughter, husband, and grandchildren were United Methodists, and fairly often, I had been around to see them, and “to look in on Mama” while there. I learned that she had what would prove to be a terminal illness, and she knew it, as did her family. But more than that, I learned a huge set of lessons from her about “death and dying,” and Kübler-Ross, via her text, became a great companion, too, full of insights and experiences into the meandering journey of passing from this life into the next. From Miss Christine, I learned first-hand about the stages of grief, from Shock to Denial, then Negotiation and Acceptance... and that it’s not a straight-line process. No, it’s full of loops and twists and turns and regressions. From her, I learned that “living” and “dying” are two verbs in the same sentence, whose beginning is before we breathe our first time, and whose ending is more a transition that gets underway, often before our last exhaling.

As often as she was able, she shared the current state/stage of her pilgrimage with her family’s very young pastor, who was barely old enough to shave regularly. I saw her angry at times, and at others, full of tears and even laughing with joy as her family was gathered ‘round her bed. I watched her “negotiate” with the Almighty in her final hours late one night, waiting for her son to arrive from two states away before crossing the threshold and letting go, and taking up her place in the Household of the Kingdom. (He made it just a scant two hours before she took her leave.) Perhaps most important, I learned from Miss Christine that “when the time’s right, it’s okay to go.” She showed me the way to do it.... and I am forever in her debt. The whole town turned out, it seemed, for her funeral. We told somber stories, some full of grace and love, and others that lifted our spirits while we giggled together at something she’d said or done, recently or “back when....”

I share Miss Christine’s story with you against the backdrop that happened a couple of Sundays ago, when we read aloud the names of those of our congregation - plus my dear Aunt Margaret - and then spoke the names of those with tender places still in our hearts, and called them “saints,” dear to the heart of God. Some were gone well before we (or they) were ready, and others who outlasted all their peers in the marathon of life and were ready to go long before they joined in the Feast of the Kingdom of God’s Family. In the brief span since, there have been others who have slipped away, as the sentences of our congregation’s life continue to be written.

I think often of the Apostle Paul, writing his farewell to his young “son in the faith,” Timothy, knowing that the premature end of his own life was looming and drawing closer daily. “The time of my departure is near,” he wrote. But then with a certain profound faith, he said, “I have fought the good fight! I have finished the course! I have kept the faith! And so there is laid up for me a Crown of Righteousness, which the Lord, the Righteous Judge will award to me... and to all who have longed for His appearing!” His work completed, his missionary and evangelistic journeys in their full fruition, he turned to his last, and most important work, emulating the Jesus whom he loved in the giving of his life for the cause of the Gospel. Biblical scholars speculate that it may have been only a week or two before his voice was stilled, his pen retired, the endless stream of visitors into the jail concluded. One paragraph concluded, the next about to begin, and for Paul there was no fear... only a sense of fulfillment, and the hope of being allowed finally to turn the corner around the bracket of life’s end, and come face-to-face with its fulfillment... the point of the journey that had consumed nearly all of his adult life.

A week from today, we will be gathering with family and friends around heavy-laden tables near and far to celebrate as American an event as imaginable.. Thanksgiving Day. I hope that on that day you will remember the One from whom the Bounty of Life has come, and offer Him thanks. There may be absences from your family’s table for the first time, and among those gifts for which you express gratitude before the meal, I hope you’ll take a moment to offer up their names, and perhaps tell a story or two to invoke their presence. I hope you’ll include all those through whose hands the components of the meal have passed - those who raised the turkeys and pigs, those who grew the flour for the stuffing, those who stocked the grocery store produce shelves and checked out the items you chose near the front door. I hope you’ll include all those whose “hands” prepared the meal, and those who are celebrating with you - even those at distance - in giving thanks for the event. I hope, too, you’ll remember those who have given, in Lincoln’s turn of the phrase, “the last full measure of their devotion” to our national story and history. Remember the gifts of God before, during, and after the meal, asking His continuing grace on our world, and giving us the courage of our convictions to feed those who are hungry, shelter those who are living in the bitter edge-places of life, and comfort to those who are weeping the bitter tears of separation from those whom they love but see no more.

God bless your Thanksgiving Day, not just next Thursday, but all the days that surround and follow it.

Grace and peace to you,

Jim Earley, Pastor


Last update: November 20, 2017 8:53 PM