1525) Connected

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From a funeral sermon.

          It has been said that every time someone dies it is like a whole library has been destroyed, because the accumulated knowledge, experience, and wisdom of a lifetime is lost.  I thought about when I heard Ed died.  Ed experienced so much, read so much, and remembered so much.  His memory and insight always amazed me.  We are preparing to celebrate our 150th Anniversary as a congregation.  As we have been writing our history, we have had many questions for Ed, and he usually had the answers we needed.  After all, he was here for almost two-thirds of the life of this congregation, and he remembered everything.

            Ed had a close connection to this congregation for a very long time.  He was born just a couple miles east of here.  He was baptized in the old church 94 years ago this week.  He was confirmed here in1924, and a few years later, he and Alma were married here.  When the old church burned down in 1950, he was a part of the planning for and building of this building.  Throughout that whole time, Ed was here every Sunday for worship.  Ed was connected to this place.

            Ed’s daughter showed me his confirmation certificate.  On that certificate is printed Ed’s confirmation verse, John 15:5, where Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.”  The illustration speaks of being connected and staying connected.

            Other verses in that chapter describe how a branch withers and dies when it is not connected.  Therefore, Jesus says, ‘Stay connected to me, stay close, and keep in touch.’  Jesus said, “I will remain with you and you shall remain with me.”  That is how to live.

            John 15:5 is a good confirmation verse, encouraging young people with their whole life ahead of them to remain faithful to Lord who created them and who holds on to them.  That would have been the hope of Ed’s parents on that long ago confirmation day.

            Eighty years and two months have passed since Ed’s confirmation day.  And Ed did what Jesus said he should do.  He kept his confirmation promise and remained close to his Lord.  He remained connected by coming to this place to remember Jesus and to worship him for all those years.  In a little while he will be buried here, and will remain on this hill until that day when the Lord returns to wake us all up, on what the old Negro spiritual calls that ‘great, gettin-up morning; what a day that will be!’

            “I have prepared a place for you,” said Jesus, “and I will come back for you, and I will take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.”  Jesus said, “Abide with me and I will abide with you;” and that means forever.  The connection that Ed maintained here for 94 years will go on.

            Some people might wonder what makes a man go to church all his life like that.  Why would he do it?  I have heard that Bill Gates does not go to church, and he seems to be doing all right without it.  He says it is a waste of time.  I also heard that Bill Gates makes so much money, and makes it so fast, that it would be a waste of his time to stop whatever he is doing to stoop down and pick up a hundred dollar bill.  So certainly an hour in church every week would leave him a poorer man.  So why go to church?  Does one even need that connection Jesus describes in John 15:5?  It seems many people do very well without it.

            Thinking about that and about Ed’s life, reminded me of another old farmer who also had a wife and several children.  Joshua Travis was a poor tenant farmer in one of the Southern states.  He was interviewed by Robert Coles, a Harvard professor, social anthropologist, and Pulitzer prize winning author– a very important guy.  Robert Coles had stopped in at Joshua’s for a quick visit to get a few good quotes for his latest project.  Coles was in a hurry.  He had many important things to do.  He sat down fast, got his notebook and pen out fast, and started asking his questions fast.

            Joshua, the old farmer, looked at him and said slowly, “You know, you can get going so fast that you lose your way.  Jesus told us He’s the way, but we get to thinking we’re the way; and that’s being lost.” Joshua paused for a long time; and then went on, again slowly:

It’s only a short time God put us here, and we can’t be expected to remember every day why we are here and who put us here; only once in a while.  Mostly, my mind is on the weather and on the land, on my crops and on my kids, and wondering how I’m going to feed them all.  But come Sunday, I do try to pay my respects to Jesus.  I stop whatever I’m doing and go to church for that.  I’m there to say, ‘Thank you Lord for another week of working my burden, and thank you Jesus for giving me the chance to do it.’  And I’ll work my burden until Jesus says enough is enough, and it’s time to come home.

            Going to church was for Joshua, the one time during the week when he stopped doing everything else in order to remember; to remember why he was here, and who put him here, and where he was going when it was all over, and, to give thanks.  He was, as he put it, ‘paying his respects to Jesus.’  Ed’s steady and consistent faith reminded me of those words of Joshua Travis.

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John 15:4a…5-6  —  (Jesus said), “Abide in me as I abide in you…  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

John 14:3b  —  (Jesus said), “I will go and prepare a place for you; and I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you also may be where I am.”

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Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens ,Lord with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

–Henry Francis Lyte

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