Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hebrews 12:1-2 "All Saints' Remembrances"

         This past week I took a course at Maine Medical Center to become certified as an Advanced Care Planner.  That is someone who works with people to create an Advanced Directive (formerly known as a living will) for the first time.  It is also someone who, because an Advanced Directive is a document that is sure to morph over time as one ages or experiences health changes, helps to rewrite and edit one that is already in place. 
         Because a meaningful and helpful Advanced Directive is so much more than checking off boxes in an attorney’s office, we talked a lot about helping people reflect on what it means to live a good life.  In other words, what gives their life meaning and purpose, and what makes their life worth living. 
         As you listen to the All-Saints’ Remembrances this morning and recall (or meet for the first time) those people in our congregation and in our own individual families who died this past year, you will hear about just what gave their lives meaning and purpose, and it will be so many different things – choir, the Navy, creativity, precision, spontaneously dancing to Mac the Knife – and, of course, the joy of family, friends, and community. 
         I do not believe that the dead are gone forever, but rather that they go on living in ways we cannot fully understand.  I believe that, somehow in remembering them, they live in us again, teaching us what it means to have a good life, a passionate life, an abundant life.  I believe that better understanding that will guide each one of us to a good death as well.  After all, we are all going to die someday.
         Listen to their stories then.  Remember them  and their stories well – and reflect on just what it is that gives your life meaning.
MARK DIXON – Mark was part of our church family through his wife’s and sons’ commitments to our church.  Mark’s academic background was in science, and he fulfilled his passion working for research and biotech companies.  He received his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State and his Master’s degree from West Virginia.  Mark was very outgoing with a wonderful and contagious smile and a sense of humor appreciated by both family and friends.  He loved his dogs, classic cars, and music, especially jazz.  However, above all these things, the greatest joy he experienced was the joy he felt in watching his two sons grow up, participating when he could in their activities, and being their biggest cheerleader.  He was so proud of both of them and their accomplishments.
JEFFREY DYER – Jeffrey is Polly Dyer’s grandson.  Jeffrey attended Bonny Eagle and Portland high schools.  He enjoyed soccer, video games, and being outdoors, especially when he went fishing with his Grandpa Dyer at the family camp in Eustis.
LOIS FORAN – Lois is Joe’s mother.  She was also the best mother-in-law ever, and I can only hope that I am half as good at that role as she was.  By the time she was in her mid-thirties, Lois was the mother of eleven children, often raising them nearly by herself as her husband (and their dad) often traveled or worked exceptionally long hours. 
         One of her children described her as the nurturer, preparer of meals, washer of dishes, taxi driver, creator of projects remembered at 8:00 P.M. and due the next morning, groundskeeper, bookkeeper, nurse, doctor, confidant, planner, party host, referee, instigator, human calculator (before calculators), teacher, wielder of the ironing cord (you did not want to be the last person to run), comedian, dealer of cards, creator of milk soup, fried spaghetti, and city chicken legs.  She was the absolute authority for a pack of eleven.” 
         There are many stories (too many to mention), both true and apocryphal, about Lois.  Here is one that one of Joe’s sisters recalled:  “The new mustang and a bunch of us kids in the back seat urging her to “floor it”, so she did and got pulled over.  The cop made her get out of the car so he wouldn’t have to yell at her in front of the kids.”
         Joe summed Lois up well:  “My mother loved life - what else can I say?  She loved her kids, her husband, cooking, her family - and she loved to dance. Oh, how she loved to dance!  Among so many lessons, she taught me never to be shy about getting up on the floor when a good song is being played.  Thanks, Mom!”
ANN HARRIMAN – Ann was a longtime member of our church.  She sang in the choir for many years and was elected a Church Elder.  When not in the choir loft, you could find Ann helping at church suppers and fairs.  She frequently worked the bake table at the Holiday Fair and could always be found making brownie sundaes at most every pot roast supper.  Ann was gentle, kind, and always thinking of others before she thought of herself.  She was quite the roller skater in her youth, perfecting a trick whereby her partner would hold her by the ankles and swing her around, bringing her close enough to the wooden floor of the rink that she was able to light the match she held in her teeth. Ann was the last of the “Gold Girls”, here at church, - that much loved trio of BFFs that also included Muriel Yeager and Rosemary Tripp. 
         Ann’s daughter Leann said this about her mother:  “What I remember most and value in my mom was her care, concern and compassion for others.  She was always willing to help others in need and did so with grace.  My mom’s good sense of humor and her optimistic outlook would so often help us all through difficult times.  Her love of nature and how she passed this on to me.  She loved feeding the birds and especially the humming birds.  She loved to garden and taught me the names of flowers and plants.  She would often take us to watch the sunsets at Quaker Ridge in Casco.  My mom had a strong work ethic and passed this on to her children.  She was independent and would always try to do things on her own before asking for assistance. These are what come to mind first and foremost.  Thank you again for remembering my mom this coming Sunday.  I miss her!”
RUSSELL LAMBERT – Russ is Lori’s brother-in-law.  Lori’s husband Dan had this to say about his brother:  “From my earliest memories of Russ all the way to my last, he was always kind, gentle, and humble. Russ followed his bliss and was a true artist.  He was creative.  He was impulsive.  He was ‘a nice guy’.   Russ was probably one of the simplest people you might know and at the same time could be one of the most complicated.   He was quietly influential.
         Russ taught me the art and importance of subtle humor.  He taught me how to put my imagination to work on creating something and to not be afraid of making stuff up as you go along.  I’m not really sure that Russ entirely appreciated how many of our lives he affected in a positive way.”
HEATHER MAKER – Heather is Nancy Yate’s sister-in-law.   She leaves a family that meant the world to her, most particularly her husband Hal and her two daughters, Meghan and Alexandria.  Nancy had this to say about Heather:  “Heather's family meant everything to her.  She was very supportive of them all, but particularly her husband, Hal.  When Hal was in the National Guard, she began getting involved with supporting other families in the Guard, calling other wives and mothers to offer support in any way she could, even if it was only to bring a cup of coffee to them at their workplaces, or be a listening ear. 
        When Hal was put in charge of an Honor Guard unit, she was very proud, and often accompanied them to the funerals of fallen soldiers. After his retirement from the Guard, she and Hal became active in the United Vets Motorcycle Club, which turns out for various events and does fundraising for charity throughout the year.   She and her only sister, Holly, were very close, and she took Holly's grandchildren under her wing, as well as being a loving and giving mother to her daughters. I never saw her when she wasn't cordial and soft-spoken.”
MARCELLE OLSEN – Marcelle is Rolf’s mother.   Much of Marcelle’s adult life was spent serving her family, community, and nation.  She was in the Navy during the post-World War II period and then again during the Korean War.  In fact, she is unique in being the first WAVE to ever reenlist. Between her stints in the Navy, Marcelle attended Wagner College, where she met the love of her life with whom she enjoyed 54 years of marriage and raised three children.
         Marcelle’s church meant a great deal to her.  She was a devout Lutheran all her life and taught Sunday school for over 60 years - truly a saint in that regard!  She also volunteered as a Girl Scout leader and was an Avon representative for over 45 years.
Marcelle's hobbies included camping with her family, gardening, baking, knitting, water aerobics and sharing stories with friends.
JUSTIN SHARAF – Justin was an attorney and accountant here in Raymond.  He had several ties to our church.  First, as Nancy Yates recalls, he and his wife sang in the choir for a number of years.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, Justin was our church auditor, going over the books to ensure that every “I” was dotted and “T” crossed. 
         Caryl remembers this about Justin during her years as church treasurer:  “We would meet once a year and he would meticulously go over our books and help with corrections, then write a brief audit report.  My impression was that he was analytical, very intelligent, very precise, and kind (although the first three intimidated me at first).”
         Nancy also recalls his generosity:  “Even though (Justin) hadn't attended in a long time, every December he would send a check for $800 for his annual donation, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and a request for a receipt with specific verbiage for the IRS.  He felt there was a right way to do things.”
 FRANCES WALTON – Frances lived in Raymond for 24 years.  He had an abiding love of God and was a deeply religious man.  He was a deacon at the East Raymond Chapel and was active at RVCC during the winter months.  He loved puzzles of all kinds, and on most Saturdays you would find him at the Fire Station cleaning the trucks and doing chores.
         Developmentally disabled, but mainstreamed before mainstreaming was considered viable, Francis was smart (brilliant in some areas).  His parents raised him with the same expectations as his three siblings. They challenged him, and he rallied. 
         Francis’ interests were both broad and deep. He loved to swim and walk.  He collected vintage comic books (with Blondie and Dagwood being real favorites), wrote letters, created greeting cards, and assembled model trains and vintage cars. 
         His family will always remember his beloved “packets” given spontaneously to family and friends – series of pages of intricate drawings of trains, people, fire trucks, cars, landscapes, and letters that he folded compactly and neatly and sealed with tape. 
         A family member described Frances this way: “Francis’ soul just shone, a steady and strong beacon for all in his family.  He was polite; he was gentle.  He was smart; he was compassionate.  He was generous and forgiving.  He was brave and determined.  He was protective and gave us stability in all things truly good.  He was unconditional love and joy.”

         Whether you consider these people to be saints or just good people, they are there, a great cloud of witnesses.  They do live on – around us and in us, always urging you and me to, first, find meaning and passion in what we do and, second, to live life to the fullest.  So – thanks to all of them for their gifts to us!
         In closing, listen to Frederick Buechner’s thoughts on folks like the ones we have remembered today:  “How they do live on on, those giants of our childhood, and how well they manage to take even death in their stride because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them.
         Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it is beyond a doubt that they live still in us. Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer;
it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still.
         The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things. Dead and gone though they may be, as we come to understand them in new ways, it is as though they come to understand us—and through them we come to understand ourselves—in new ways too.
         Who knows what "the communion of saints" means, but surely it means more than just that we are all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years since ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us.
         They have their own business to get on with now, I assume—"increasing in knowledge and love of Thee," says the Book of Common Prayer, and moving "from strength to strength," which sounds like business enough for anybody—and one imagines all of us on this shore fading for them as they journey ahead toward whatever new shore may await them; but it is as if they carry something of us on their way as we assuredly carry something of them on ours.
         That is perhaps why to think of them is a matter not only of remembering them as they used to be but of seeing and hearing them as in some sense they are now. If they had things to say to us then, they have things to say to us now too…’

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