Thursday, May 26, 2011

You'll Never Walk Alone

Every day as Kim Clark was getting ready to leave for elementary school, her Mom’s parting words to her as they were about to separate went like this:
“Remember who you are. All those people who worked and sacrificed for you to be where you are, when you walk out this door. You carry with you the mantle of responsibility-the good name of this family, the hopes and dreams of your Mom and Dad. Remember the promise that is yours, the opportunities that are in front of you and the hope that is in you for a better world.” I wonder if the next line would have been- and you better get it right because if you don’t remember, you don’t love us and it all depends on you. It’s possible to hear Jesus’ farewell words this way- “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Remember. It’s hard to remember this when we’re just getting through the day, but harder still when it’s getting through each day when they’re gone. How will we remember? What will it mean if we can’t keep all that you told us? Perhaps we think of this in our nation, this Memorial Day weekend, we’re remembering those who fought and sacrificed for us to be where we are as a nation, while struggling to remember that Memorial Day is not first and foremost about sales at the stores, or picnics, though we can do those things too because of the sacrifices of others. Some worry that we as a country no longer remember the wars of another time and what we learned from them. What if we aren’t good at keeping the memory alive?
Remembering is about more than ritual. It’s about what is in our hearts. It’s what each of us lives out when we try to hold on those we’ve loved who are now departed from this life. We hold them dear in different ways and times, hoping we’re not alone, that they’re somehow still with us. In my husband’s family, we hold dear my late father-in-law whose birthday is next week and whose favorite pastime was watching horse races, especially the Triple Crown races- the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont. All family events and meals were planned around when these races were televised. All conversation stopped when the horses were loaded into the gates. He always had some crazy way of picking who he thought would win. After studying the racing sheets, it usually was the name, or the jockey or some other inner voice that he relied on. Often he was right. Even now we find ourselves trying to imagine which horse he would have picked; which grandchild has said or done something that reminds us of him. We tell stories, and imagine what he might say about events in the family or the neighborhood. It’ll be eighteen years this fall that he died. Still each spring, his three children take turns putting flowers on his grave for the races- Red Roses for the Derby; Black Eyed Susans for the Preakness and White Carnations for the Belmont. Because he asked us to. Our race is the Preakness- black eyed susans, the Maryland state flower. The winner is draped with a blanket of them after the race. Every year I’ve struggled to find black eyed susans. I never do, so I end up trying to do something that’s as close as I can get. One year I couldn’t even find nice yellow daisies. I ended up getting silk ones and coloring in the centers with a black permanent marker, one by one. To honor his words. It was only much later that I learned that the blanket of flowers the Preakness uses really isn’t made of black eyed susans. They’re daisies with their centers painted because while everyone wants to honor the state flower, they can’t be ready in June. So much for keeping the letter of the law, but we try.
But no matter what we do, we can’t bring back a real sense of my father in law with us, just a memory. For my mother in law, who’s lost both parents and her spouse, it’s can be hard not to feel orphaned and alone, wondering why the world doesn’t see things the way you do. Keeping memories alive is hard.
But Jesus’ words to the disciples and to us remind us that Jesus isn’t only a memory, but a living presence. Although Jesus departs from the physical presence of the disciples, Jesus is not dead, but living. And we’re asked to do more than keep rules, but hold Christ alive in our hearts. It’s ultimately about more than ritual, it’s about ongoing living love, embracing God in our very being. It takes more than we can produce. Enter the Advocate.
The purpose of God sending the Advocate isn’t about demanding ritual, it’s about love. God sends the Advocate out of love for us, knowing it’s hard for us to remain faithful and stay true when we feel alone and at odds with the world. God sends the Advocate, literally as “one who walks beside” so that we continue to see what Jesus first revealed- God’s purposes, God’s power and God’s love. So that we can remember more than who we are, we can remember WHOSE we are. So we can begin to believe what that means for our lives. By the Spirit, we not only see Jesus, but Jesus dwells in our hearts. God’s love is sent to us by the power of that Advocate, to move our hearts to connect to God’s. The Advocate walking beside us brings this awareness of this blessing and this challenge.
Perhaps it is borne out of my own experience, but the best way I see the Advocate is like being the Mother of teenagers. I have two in my house right now. It’s hard to send them out to experience life, occasionally learning things the hard way. I hope that they remember the ways they were raised. Along the way, sometimes I’m there to comfort them, to offer guidance, stand up for them, listen when they need to vent, to talk to their Father when they have a need or a problem, to offer hugs. Other times I need to give them a push, set a limit, or tell them they are flat out wrong. I am both thrilled to see who they are becoming and sometimes really frustrated when I see how they treat each other or others they meet. I want to scream “Remember who you are!” But no matter what, out of love, they are mine. And it’s more important that they remember I’ve got their back, reminding them- you'll never walk alone.

God’s love made known to us is even better than this love on its best day. It’s an eterrnal love we receive and are empowered to share by the power of the Spirit. We can see it when we gather to worship, pray and fellowship, in all of the people the Spirit uses to draw us in, nurture and remind us whose we are. And it’s what moves us to share what Jesus promises each of us-By the power of the Spirit, and through the Spirit, we are claimed and forever connected to the Trinity. We hear “You will never be orphaned. You’ll NEVER walk alone.” We reminded that this promise is ours, as is the opportunity in front of us. This is the real source of hope for a better world. Hold this dear, remember it often and with the help of the Advocate, share your walk with God in your lives so no one walks alone.

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