Memorial/Cemetery Service

(Genesis 12:1-8, 13:3 NRSV) "Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. {2} I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. {3} I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." {4} So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. {5} Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, {6} Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. {7} Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. {8} From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD." { 13:3} "He journeyed on by stages from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai,"

(Hebrews 11: 1-2, 7-12 NRSV) "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. {2} Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. ..... {7} By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith. {8} By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. {9} By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. {10} For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. {11} By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old--and Sarah herself was barren--because he considered him faithful who had promised. {12} Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."

(Luke 18:1-8 NRSV) "Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. {2} He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. {3} In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, 'Grant me justice against my opponent.' {4} For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, 'Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, {5} yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" {6} And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. {7} And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? {8} I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?""

Remember all of those TV shows where someone is lost in the woods and ties little pieces of yarn or material around tree branches so that they will guard against going in circles, or help someone else to find the way they went? If you believe the movies, expert trackers can follow someone even if they have not deliberately left a trail. The Search and Rescue people have dogs that are trained to find people who are lost.

Abraham is on a journey and he's taken everything, including, the kitchen sink with him. While there is no indication that he was ‘lost' he sets up altars or markers to show that God has been with him in that place or that God has led him to that place.

In this Season After Pentecost, in the Revised Common Lectionary we are reading the major texts which cover the life of Abraham and his journey toward the promise. Perhaps I should say ‘the promises' because there were at least two aspects to the promise. The fist aspect was the promise of innumerable descendants. The second aspect was the promise of a certain land. Today's passage is one of the ‘in-between' lessons, not covered in the usual Sunday readings. If I had time to read the entire story of Abraham and his travels, we would discover that after he pitched his tent at Bethel, and before he returned, he and his entourage paid a visit to Egypt because of a famine. Out of fear, he made some serious ethical and moral blunders and when he was discovered he was kicked out of Egypt. While understandable, this fear amounted to a lack of trust in the promised of God he professed to follow. He then returned to that place called Bethel and began the next phase of his journey.

We might ask, "When he had already been there, at Bethel, why did he go back?" It seems to me that these altars are reminders of God's promises, as Abraham goes about his wanderings. These altars not only reminded him of the God of promise, but also reminded him of the importance of trusting in that promise.

Like many of us, Abraham had a hard time with that one. Promises, by their very nature, involve a journey of trust and faith. They are not like a Christmas present, wich can be received and then enjoyed again and again at our discretion. The faithful person can't, "move into", or "receive ownership of" a promise, secure forever in its reality; faithful people are called to live in faith. Faithful people are called to live according to the promise.

In the book of Hebrews, there is an attempt to define faith, and it is most definitely more than ‘believing something'. Faith in God involves more than ‘believing that there is a God', or ‘believing that there is an afterlife'. In order to define faith he cites examples of people, well known to his first readers; examples of those who were people of faith. Because of its length I have read only a portion of this passage.

We have heard these stories before. I have read a brief portion of the life of Abraham, one of the people the writer of Hebrews mentions. These folks struggled to follow the will of God in the circumstances of their lives. These people tried to follow the God who called them, the God who would not leave them alone. These folks lived their lives in faith and could not have imagined that these lives would someday be held up as an example of faith. Perhaps the people who are the best examples are those who are just trying to be faithful, not those trying to show others that theya re faithful.

As I said a few minutes ago, faith is more than belief that there is a God, but rather it is living in trust of the God who ultimately rewards those who seek God. Faith is patient, for like Abraham, it may take a LOOOONG time. Faith is not coerced, for like Abraham there must always be the option of returning to the land that was left behind.

Interestingly, Hebrews holds out two contrasting views of faith. One is filled with triumph and vioctory, while the other is filled with stories of oppression, homelessness and mocking. It is in the midst of these two realities that we live our lives. As people of a community of faith we are part of a wider community but when push comes to shove, as they say, we need to be able to stand on firm ground and be sure that we are called to broader purposes and higher loyalties.

The Gospel passage speaks of the persistent widow. It seems that, as people on a journey of faith, Abraham and the children of Abraham were persistent in their trust of the promise, despite the evidence to the contrary.

That being said, we must never forget that when we talk about the faith of our fathers and mothers, it is their faith that we hold up and not their lives, situations or beliefs which are bound to a particular time, place and context. Like the people mentioned in Hebrews, I would hope that we remember them for their ability to rise, in faithfulness, to the challenges that came their way - to maintain their integrity in the face of great odds, to worship as if they were aliens in a foreign land, while at the same time they were trying to make their new land their true earthly home.

When we gather, here in Kouchibouguac, for a memorial service we do not remember Abraham and Joseph and the early church as much as we tend to remember those who had a hand in forming our own community. A look through the cemetery will give us the names of those who have been our ancestors in the faith - names that still exist in Kouchibouguac and names that have disappeared from our mouths and our mailboxes. For the lives of these witness we give thanks - but when we gather to honour them we need to remember that it is their faith that we need to grasp onto and learn from, and then we need to go on to fulfill our calling.

The next chapter of Hebrews begins, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, {2} looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. {3} Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart."

So we have our action plan, our work order, our job description.

We give thanks for the witness of the scriptures. We give thanks for the examples of Abraham and Sarah, and of the countless biblical figures that inspire us. We remember and give thanks for the lives of those who have built this community, who have formed our families and made us who we are today.

We remember, like Abraham. Like Abraham though, we do not remember for the sake of the past alone but because we worship the same God who was with our ancestors, who is with us now, and who will be with us, in the future. This God calls us to a life of faith, a life of living the promise into being, a life of trusting as we journey toward that high calling as disciples of Jesus the Christ. Back
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