In my current and first appointment at the Belwood Charge, I have learned many new things. One of these new things is something called “Memorial Day.” Not only is it a national holiday, but in this part of the state, churches use this time of year as a homecoming and All Saints day. That is the best way I can describe Memorial Day in the church. This charge consists of three congregations, each having their own Memorial Day Celebration, remembering those that have died over the past year, celebrating with those that are graduating, and fellowshipping with former members. I wasn’t sure what to preach about, and coming back from the NC Preaching Festival, I learned about preaching creativity. God used me in a different way, and so I share with you this sermon in short-story style, based on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, that I preached at the Memorial Days in the Belwood Charge.
On this day when we celebrate the saints in our lives that have gone on before us, I invite you to journey with me in this story:
She was sitting on her front porch. It was one of those hot Summer days; you know the kind, where the sweat beads on your brow, the haze lingers over the steaming pavement driveway, and the ice melts too fast to keep your sweet tea cool. As she rocked in her chair, she peered off into the horizon. Out far beyond the barn she could see the old oak tree that has stood for centuries; the backdrop of her childhood.
She remembers waking up early in the morning in this old house; the family home; looking out the upstairs window and seeing the oak tree. It was as if the tree was a time-keeper, of sorts, for her. At her young age it seemed so far off, unreachable by her small legs; the distance seemed like miles and miles to her big-ole green eyes staring out the plate-glass window. The field had already been mowed and the straw gathered for hay; the land was sitting in stillness waiting to be plowed for the long-awaited summer vegetables. Running down the stairs she could hear her parents, and grandparents talking over the breakfast table and the smell of fresh baked biscuits, jams and jellies, milk gravy, and fresh churned butter. That smell will never leave her nostrils. She joined in on the conversation, talking about the day’s work ahead of them. So much needed to be done to prepare for the busy gardening season that was waiting.
She came out of her daydream, sat back in her rocker and thought of the preacher’s words from Ecclesiastes,
“There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens: a time for giving birth and a time for dying, a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted.”
What special words she recited, thinking about her life as she spoke. She never thought that a simple farming life could resemble life in general. How beautiful it is to think how God created all things, creating a time and place for everything … providence, that’s the word she was thinking about; the will of God.
She thought of her mother’s words, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it.” Her mother never meant it, always saying it in a jokingly way. But she began to reflect about God.
God doesn’t want to take us out of the world for pure necessity, rather for pure blessing … it is a blessing to be taken from this world and into the heavens.
The farmland was now being rented to a young fellow from town; she was too old to take care of the land, and there were no others to help her like the days of her childhood and youth. She could see that he had come to begin working the land to plant a summer crop. She wasn’t sure what he may plant, but she knew whatever it was, he would give her a taste. Her mouth longed for her mother’s late-summer tomato pie … only a few more months, she thought to herself. She had again dazed off thinking about her years as a youth. Those weren’t easy years for her, now waking up early to help with cooking breakfast. Her grandmother had died and responsibility had to begin trickling down. Oh how she longed for her grandmother’s biscuits. Not the ones she’s now making – the ones she keeps adding too much flour too … not enough butter or sweet tea to wash them down. The breeze began to blow and the wind chimes began to ring, clearing her glazed-over eyes.
The scripture in her mind continued on her lips,
“a time for killing and a time for healing, a time for tearing down and a time for building up, a time for crying and a time for laughing, a time for mourning and a time for dancing.”
The four most influential people in her life were gone now. It was just her in this big-ole farmhouse. There was no more yelling, fussing, laughing, or crying. She missed the fights she used to get into with her father about who she wanted courting her. “No boy ever made it all the way down their long-winding driveway,” she thought and let out a chuckle. She heard the birds chirping and flying by and imagined her father chasing her as they played in the front yard … she smiled as she thought, “no more running around with these old legs.” The far pillar of the porch caught her eye … she focused her eyes, getting a panoramic view of the pillars and it hit her: these four pillars that hold firm this house are just as important as those four pillars that have gone on the glory … those four pillars that formed a foundation in her life.
Her mouth mumbled,
“a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones.”
She remembers her favorite hymn being played at church – remembers it so vividly it sounds as if the church doors are open know,
“Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.”
O how the church was a stone for her, an Ebenezer. It wasn’t a stone that was thrown at someone, it wasn’t a stone of punishment. The church was a gathering stone, a place in her life she would never forget. The church taught her about stumbling stones, the ones you throw away. She remembers sitting with the other children learning about the miracles of Jesus, his love, and his grace … learning how to remove obstacles in her life, these stones that she threw, in order to live a more sanctifying life with Christ.
She never was forced to go to church, it was something innate within her – “the fire of the Holy Spirit,” she thought. “Soon, soon, I will raise my Ebenezer – the marker of my life.”
The words continued from her mouth,
“a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces, a time for searching and a time for losing.”
She never thought she would get over the loss of her mother – they were like two peas in a pod. She continued to search day-after-day for an answer as to why she had to die. She never wanted to let go of her mother’s hand as they lowered her body into the ground, “Why God, Why?” There was no one there to hold her hand, to console her aching heart – only God’s holy embrace, which she finally accepted. She could only remember a few things now about their relationship; she felt like time was slipping by, she was losing her memories.
She closed her eyes, visualizing the last verses of the scripture,
“a time for keeping and a time for throwing away, a time for tearing and a time for repairing, a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking, a time for loving and a time for hating, a time for war and a time for peace.”
She opened her eyes, looking out past the white front porch pickets and railing. The sun was beginning to fade, the sky turning colors of purple, blue, and orange … oh what a beautiful sight. The young fellow from town had quit work for the day, she sees he left her a little note under the sweat of her sweet tea. “Did I fall asleep that long,” she wondered. Oh, “he’ll be back tomorrow,” she read. She took a sip of tea, a bite of one of her still too-dry biscuits, and marveled in the cycle of her life. The haze began to clear, and now she can see, “There’s my rock out there, underneath that old oak tree.” She soaked in the beauty of this moment, as she remembered the beauty of what her Christ did for her … hanging on a tree to reconcile you and me. She thought to herself, “There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens.” Her cycle was coming to a close, “this is perfect peace,” she mumbled one last time, as she knew she was entering the season of perfection.
She grabbed his hand, and he carried her to visit the old oak tree, the one that seemed like miles and miles away. As they neared she could see that the leaves were as bright green as she has ever seen. Underneath those big-ole limbs she saw four different pillars … they were Ebenezers of her grandmother, grandfather, mother, and father gone. She laid her head, and sung these words,
“Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
“She” could be any one of us. We have gathered in a place this morning to remember all people who were influential in our lives, those that took their time and energy to embrace, to love, to correct, and to guide. “She” could be you remembering the great smells and sights of a loved one’s home, the church you used to attend, the people that were influential in your life. We all have some memories of our childhoods, and even our adulthood when we come to know so many people that make a mark in our lives, leaving a stone behind. Today marks an occasion where we celebrate the lives of those gone before and the celebration of a church that continues to be a firm foundation for this community by the grace of God. And as her favorite hymn went:
Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above. Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.
Let this be our prayer … Amen.
 UMH #400, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”