Every entrance and exit into the community of faith makes an impact. We feel it. We know it. Presence is felt as well as absence.
People are born into our family of faith. There is something singularly exciting about babies born into the church.
People come to us searching for "sanctuary" and a place to practice their faith and they find it here. Nothing is more liberating than to see someone once wounded by religion finding a safe place to be and know they are a beloved child of God.
And people leave us.
For some, life's travels move them on to other places and they go to new cities hoping they will find another Saint John's.
There are some who find that what we offer, who we are, no longer feeds them and they make the decision to find another community in hopes that there is a place to provide the bread for which they hunger to nourish their souls. My deepest and abiding wish for these is two fold: one, that they find what they're looking for; and two, that as they take their leave, they do so in the peace of Christ and that those who remain pray Godspeed upon them.
And then there are those who leave us because their days here are accomplished. They move into that "cloud of witnesses" who cheer on those of us who remain.
Entrances and departures matter. No one matters more than any one else. We are each bound to the other.
You know, that whole "Blest be the tie that binds" thing? It is real.
That being said, though, our congregation cannot ignore, nor should it, the impact of last week on who we are. In what can only be described as a shot to our spiritual solar plexus, we lost four people.
We grieve the loss of Jean, Ed, Lucy and Dot.
Saint John's members of the recent past will not know Jean or Dot. Due to their health neither has been a part of the active life of the congregation for some years. The devotion of their Sunday School class to keep them in prayer and reach out to them is a witness for the rest of us for how to care for our people.
Any who have been a part of the past couple of years will know Ed. His presence was known in any setting. It mattered not what subject we were studying, he was ready, he took notes, he asked questions, and all of his questions had at heart the same root question - "how can I know God more deeply?"
And then there’s Lucy. Lucy was in worship three Sundays ago. The embodiment of a warrior, she fought to the end. She was a member of Saint John's for over 80 years. She loved her Church. She loved Luther, to whom she was wed for almost 70 years. This woman, short of stature, did nothing halfway. In far more ways that can be counted, she was a giant.
True to the faith we claim, we celebrate their place in The Church Triumphant.
They were part of what Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation."
This generation knows what it means to rise up and meet life's challenges. They know what it means to work in "team" to reach their goals. They also have a particular approach to their discipleship.
When I came to Saint John's over seven years ago, I used the example of this generation as a template for our renewal. Believing that each of us teaches the rest of us, even to the end, I have thought and still think that this generation's last and best lesson for those who come after them is to instill a sense of purpose and devotion to our common ministry on this corner.
- It is this generation who decided to stay at Peabody and Bellevue.
- It is this generation who heard that the Queen was dead and heeded the clarion call of the pastor to embrace the role of a servant church through whom a resurrected life would spring forth.
- It is this generation who gave their assent to the notions of pastor/doctor from Atlanta who looking to start the Church Health Center.
Last week was a rough week. It got to where I was afraid to answer the phone for the news I'd hear. But I left last week thankful for our congregation, for the ways we reached out and remembered our folks.
What we are is a reflection of what they were.
What the next generations will be will reflect who we are now and the bold journeys in faith we make together.
Wherever ministry takes me I don't think I'll ever forget last week. I won't forget those last hours and minutes with Ed and Lucy, and neither will I forget the congregation who honored them so well.