Rev. Kathryn Nelson
Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. . .These words have echoed true in my heart these days. I have spent many hours with Mark Nelson and Karyn McLean as Mark journeys through these last days of living. They are days filled with pain and music, much love and tears. But the week took an unexpected turn for me on Monday when I received a phone call to do a funeral for another man whose life was filled with music. Today I officiated at the memorial service for Bob Johnson who was at one time the choir director for our congregation. Bob loved music—playing as a percussionist for the Symphony and the Twin Port Wind Orchestra. Bob rose at 2 am last Wednesday as he did every work day and gathered his newspaper and began delivering them. But the ice the day before left the roads and sidewalks slippery. And sometime around 7 am he fell hard and hit his head. Because he was on kymadin, a blood thinner, the fall proved to be fatal. His life, a life that was filled with music, attention to detail, love of Gooseberry Falls and family was over so quickly and unexpectedly. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return, but the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever. “
None of us knows how much time we have here on this earth, and really this is what makes life so precious. We are part of this fragile creation. This means we are called to love and live each day creatively, passionately, lovingly. As Daniel Deffenbach wrote in Seeds of Shalom, “Like Adam being brought forth from the earth, I want to wear on my forehead the ashes of creation. I want to take strange comfort in the fact that from dust I came and to dust I shall return. I want to look at those who are close to me and remember how much their lives have enriched my own. I will also remember how my lifestyle choices affect those whom I may never see, both human and nonhuman.”Robert Frost once wrote, “Earth is the right place for love/ I don’t know where it is likely to go better.” There is wisdom in this. Our hope, our love must be shared right here, this day.
We are dust filled with the Spirit , the breath of God, the breath of life. We are called to live God’s love now—in the present, Isaiah proclaims for God, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness.
No , we never know how much time we have. The ashes mark us with this truth. And so it is important to make things right between us each day. But the ashes are not the final word. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return, but the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever . Tonight we mark our lives but ashes, but we also will feast at the table of the eternal, we share in the Lord’s supper. We eat and hope in the one who shows us that life is stronger than death and love is stronger than hate . . .
We can step out in hope, for the steadfast love of the Lord does endure forever. . . amen.
In that last Supper Jesus goes over again the central truth of his message . . .”This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you . . You are my friends if you do what I command of you . .. you are my friends. . . .Abide in this love. This is the central line of our story. As one of the men at the Chum Bible Study said once, “Jesus’ message is love, that’s it” And he was right. “Love” appears in the Gospel of John more often as a verb than a noun. Feelings won’t suffice. Actions must prevail.
Love one another as I have loved .. . . Jesus loved by listening, really listening to the stories of those around him . . so often before he healing anyone . Jesus asked them, “What would you have me do for you? And the stories came out .. the woman with the flow of blood, knelt and told him the whole truth of her life . . and her telling and her faith in God healed her . . .
He shared what he had . .bread, fish, cup, broke them open and asked God’s blessings and then passed them out . . passed the food and the stories around and it was enough . . .
You are my friends, Jesus says, if you do what I command you. The command of course is to love one another. To really see the faces around us. To know the stories of one another’s lives, to sing our faith out together, the pain and the hope and joy of it all.
On Friday morning Bill Staubs of our congregation died from lung cancer. He had survived to brain anerysums when he was 45, had returned home to Duluth to his family and continued to work until just a few months ago at Good Will. Bill had seen hard times, but he always seemed to take what life gave him and make the most out of it. Over the last few weeks I had visited him more often . early on I had asked him what his favorite scripture was . . he immediately said Psalm 100 – Make a joyful noise on to the lord . . come into God’s presence with singing . . . We said it together again on Wednesday night when I visitied . . trust now that he has come into God presence . with sining .. . tthe song goes on and on and on . . . beyond this world and we carry sometimes on our shoulders and in our songs. Alleluia and Amen.