As I think about people who I might consider heroes I recall some rather ordinary folk who faced changes in their lives with extraordinary courage and faith. Just this past week, for example, I assisted in the funeral service for Mark Binnebose, a man who died at the age of 55 after a brave fight with a form of Ataxia. Mark and his wife, Marsha, were married in our church in 1986. I had the privilege of visiting and bringing communion to Mark and Marsha in their home the past three years. While his health was diminishing, Mark continued as long as he could to read books that deepened his faith and helped him learn more about important matters of life and death. Mark clearly valued receiving communion and found strength through prayer and the reading of Scripture. I will miss having Mark in my life. When I step back and reflect on people like Mark and Marsha, it makes me wonder how prepared I am to face whatever changes might be ahead in my own life and in the lives of those closest to me.
Of course, not all change is unwanted or unexpected. Recently a man in his thirties shared with me all the changes he and his family had gone through in the past few years – changing jobs, moving to a new home and starting new schools, finding a new church home, making new friends, and all the other adjustments that come with major life transitions. After he shared all of this, he ended by asking me, “Does life ever calm down and become easier?”
While we tend to view change and transition as the exception to our normal, stable lives, I recall one book I read in which the author suggested that change and transition are the norm while stability in life is the exception! This seems to be true for our personal lives, our church life and in the world at large.
Facing change and the challenges it brings is a key theme in both of the Scriptures we read today.
The passage from II Kings describes the last days of the prophet Elijah’s life and the passing on of his mantle to the younger prophet, Elisha. The special relationship of mentoring and mutual support shared between Elijah and Elisha helped empower both of them to face this significant transition in their lives. Elisha was able to take up the mantle of Elijah and to go on to do heroic, miraculous deeds because of the life-giving and faith-forming relationship he had shared with Elijah, his older mentor and friend. It was a double portion of Elijah’s spirit that Elisha asked for to sustain and inspire him to carry on the work of ministry.
What a difference it makes having such mentors in our lives, people who care about us, who provide for us a role model and who encourage us with faith to face change. Who in your life has provided such inspiration and support for you?
For several summers I had the privilege of playing golf each week with three senior members of our church: Bill Bridges, Gordon Snyder and Jim Wagner. I came to respect and love each of these men whose lives involved not only devotion to their families, but sacrificial service to our church, our country and our community. I miss these men in my life and in the life of our church. Like Elisha with the passing of Elijah, I would hope for nothing more than a double portion of the spirit of these three remarkable mentors of mine. The greatest honor would be to carry on their mantle of faith, service and support to the next generations.
If we had time this morning, I am confident that most of you could share stories of people in your life who have inspired you by their example and supported you with their love. Whether our mentors are still alive or have already gone before us, their spirits are very present within us, encouraging our spirits and sustaining our faith as we face a world of change.
But in addition to the people in our lives who inspire us with faith to face change, we see in the second Scripture lesson that we also are encouraged by our faith when we remember the faithfulness and love of our God.
The Psalmist cries out to the Lord on behalf of the people of Israel who had been defeated by their enemies and taken from their homeland to live as exiles in a strange new land. The writer of the Psalm begins by expressing feelings of hopelessness and despair crying aloud to God to make sure God can hear him. In that place of emotional pain and spiritual confusion the Psalmist refuses to be comforted. Yet, starting in the very next verse, the Psalmist chooses to shift his attention and begins to bring to mind the ways God had been faithful in the past. As part of his remembering, the Psalmist recalls how God led the way and was faithful even during the most difficult times when the people of his faith community did not recognize that God was still with them, still leading them, still loving them. As the Psalmist puts it, referring to God’s unrecognized presence, “Your footprints were unseen.”
Like the Psalmist when we look back we too can see how God has been faithful during times when we did not discern God’s presence and guidance. In her July newsletter article, Leah shares with us how four years ago while jogging through the neighborhoods of St. Cloud during the mornings of the Annual Conference she had no idea that as she ran past our then downtown church what God had in store for our church or for her part in our future. She felt that her life was in transition but it was not clear at that point how God was leading.
I can relate to her experience. Ten years ago I was working as a full time therapist at Catholic Charities Caritas Mental Health Clinic. Carla and I had been worshipping in this church since 1996 and had become good friends with Pastors Katie and Dan Schneider-Bryan. We were very disappointed when, in the spring of 2007, we learned that Katie and Dan would be leaving our church for other position s and places in the Conference. But now looking back, I can see how God was at work in unseen ways. I was called to begin serving here as one of your pastors when Bill Meier was appointed by the Bishop to begin as Lead Pastor on the first Sunday of July, 2007. It was a tremendous privilege and joy to serve with Bill and to see how God had prepared the way for Bill to help lead our church during our transition from our downtown location to this new land here in Sartell. In a similar way we give thanks today for how God has prepared and brought Leah to help lead us as we continue on our spiritual journey together as a community of faith in transition.
Yes, like the Psalmist of old, we are inspired with faith to face change as we remember the ways God has been faithfully at work among us in the past. So as we celebrate this year of the Spirit, let us find hope and confidence through growing in our relationships of mutual support and care and through trusting in the proven promise that the God who has been at work among us will continue to lead and carry us forward in all the days to come. Amen!