11/6/16: The Fullness of God, Ephesians 1:11-23
The Fullness of God
First Lesson: Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1:11-23
As I mentioned in the welcome, for centuries the church has set aside one day each year to lift up all those who have come before and reflect not only on the meaning of their lives, but also our own, and reacquaint ourselves with the ties that bind us to each other and with God and with all things.
But this Sunday doesn’t have to be the only time we do this each year—in fact it shouldn’t be. If we leave our heart open to it at all, there will be other moments or days when “deep calls out to deep” in this way—sometimes in this sanctuary, but more often not. Last weekend was one of those moments for me, and it happened on a golf course and then at a baseball stadium.
It began last Friday when I had the unique privilege of conducting the wedding ceremony for my mother and her new husband. They were married back in Charlotte, in a beautiful ceremony. My mother had said she’d done the traditional church wedding before, and wanted this one to be different. I told her there weren’t many things more non-traditional than asking your son to marry you, but they decided to have the ceremony outside on a terrace overlooking a country club golf course back home in Charlotte. It turned out beautifully, my mother looked stunning, the weather was perfect, and we all enjoyed an evening of dancing and eating and celebration, but also some tenderness.
As many of you know, my father passed away just over 3 years ago, and so this marks the beginning of a new chapter in my mother’s life and each of our lives; my sister and I, a transition that if you’ve been through something similar, you’ll know has not always been easy, but one that standing on this side of it I can say without question had been very, very good. I’m so proud of her.
On her new husband’s side, Dennis—or Denny as we learned his family call him—they’re still recovering and always will be, in some way, from the tragic and unexpected passing of his son almost two year ago, who was just a few years younger than me. He died of an overdose after many years of sobriety, the night before a family wedding in Philadelphia. Last weekend was the first family wedding they’d had since. Dennis said at one point leading up to the events of last weekend, that he always thought he would be planning his son’s wedding, not his own.
And so they both stood there at this altar of God’s creation on this beautiful, unseasonably warm evening, bringing all these many things with them—memories and loved ones, unspeakable grief and profound joy (and how often is it that these two spring from each other?)—all of it was there as they committed themselves to each other and to the great hope of our faith andespecially this Sunday that love wins in the end and on the other side of death there’s more life waiting for us—however unexpected, amen?
And that would have been enough for me—more than enough—to reflect on these mysteries. But the previous Saturday I’d gotten a call from my uncle, my father’s younger brother. It was actually I who had called him, when our beloved Chicago Cubs were just a few outs away from heading to the World Series—which unless you’ve been living under a rock over these past few days, you know has not happened very often. My father’s family are what I call devoted Cubs fans, going back at least 4 generations. It’s a condition that perhaps peaked with my father, but I’ve got it pretty bad too, and I’ve already done my best to pass on to my boys. And so I called my uncle to get his thoughts on the game, and we poke for a minute until he told me, Look, we shouldn’t even be talking about what I’m about to tell you, but I spoke with your grandmother, and she said that if the Cubs make it, she wants to send you and me out to Chicago for a World Series game.
I was in the car driving up I-16, I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a second. I should have pulled over, but I regained my composure long enough to ask him if he was serious and if she was serious, and he said that he was and she was, and we immediately agreed to not say another word about it until after the game was over. Of course, the Cubs did end up making it to the Series, and my uncle confirmed with my grandmother on Monday morning, after he had checked tickets prices, which were sinful, I’ll confess to you, if she indeed still wanted to do this and she told him, I don’t care. I want you to go. Doug—my father—would have loved this so much.
Now, my grandma loves me, I have no doubt about that. And she loves my uncle, too. But it wasn’t me or my uncle that she wanted to send to the game so badly, it was her other son, my father, who hadn’t quite lived long enough to see all of this transpire—it was him who she wanted to send to the game. So we went for him. Met each other in Chicago last Saturday morning, soaked in the city that was electric, shared stories about my father, found our way to the outfield bleachers and had ourselves a good cry.
And it turns out that we weren’t alone. One of the remarkable storylines that’s come out in all of this is how so many other families and loved ones made the pilgrimage to the Northside of Chicago and to the hallowed grounds of Wrigley Field on behalf of loved ones who didn’t live long enough to do it themselves. (1) You may have seen the report about how last weekend during the Series, folks spontaneously began writing the names of these loved ones in chalk on the brick walls of the stadium—the walls were covered with these names, and little messages: We miss you, dad; This one’s for you, mom. Wish you were here, grandpa.
News stations went out and interviewed some of the people writing these message and asked them what all of this meant for them, and with tears in their eyes one after another spoke about how the Cubs had been a link between the generations of their family, and how all these memories of time spent together watching games through the years, and coming to the ball field, but even more, the shared language they had found, mostly with the men in their life, all of this was flooding back over them. The truth was that all those people walking around Wrigleyville with tears in their eyes weren’t crying for the team—though that was a part of it—those tears were for their great cloud of witnesses.
As for me and my uncle, we saw the chalk messages on the wall, but I didn’t feel the need to write anything, myself. You see, several years ago, before my father passed, when the Cubs were doing renovations on Wrigley Field, my sister and I purchased a commemorative brick for my dad for Christmas, which is still there on the walkway leading into the outfield bleachers where we sat last Saturday. So in my holy imagination, it wasn’t so much that I was bringing my father with me to the game; it was that he was already there waiting for me.
And I know we’re talking about baseball here, but these mysteries that we speak of in here, and read about in here, that we immerse ourselves in over there, and pass around in silver plates right here—they don’t mean a whole lot until we’ve experienced at least a fraction of them in our own lives.
And for me, all of this is something like what Paul means when he speaks of this great inheritance of hope promised to us, and to which we already have access. That is, so far as we live in light of God’s promise of peace and love and joy in the end: the righting of wrongs, the repairing of breaches, the binding of wounds, the restoring of relationships, the reuniting of loved ones, and the scandalous promise that all of this, all of this, is not only possible but is already happening—in small ways. It’s already at hand, it says in the gospels, so close you can reach out and grab hold of it, or even more, from time to time this life of the world to come will reach out and grab hold of you.
This is the inheritance we’ve received in the church, and are called to do something with in our time here on earth until the time comes when we hand it on the next generation, and they hand it on to the next, and this continues down the line, each generation passing down this nest-egg of hope—and I think this is how it is with hope. I don’t think hope appears spontaneously or randomly but can only be passed down.
Hope is inherited, but this passing down isn’t passive, it’s actually quite active, quite involved. We inherit hope, or we learn what it means to live hopefully, when we witness it in others. When we see how others persevere in spite of adversity. How they keep living after death, how they keep expecting more despite receiving less, when we see them finding joy amidst sorrow—we inherit hope when we witness it in others and learn to translate it into the story of our own lives. When we learn what it means to embrace life in all it’s fullness—and I love how Paul uses this word to describe Christ.
Paul says of Christ that he is the one who “fills all in all.” Who completes all. And so we can say that a life lived in Christ is not an easy life or even a happy life, but a full life. A complete life. A life that embraces all the highs and lows and everything in between, and through it all trusts that Christ is there in it, somewhere, someway—isn’t this what it means to live by faith?
And the church, Paul says, is to be a place and a people where this fullness is revealed in the world.
The church—you, us—is “the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
The church is a place where the fullness of Christ is lived out in so many ways and through so many people. Not fully and completely in each of us, thank God, but a little bit here, a little bit there. I little bit in him, and in her, in this family and that couple. A little bit in me, a little bit in you—none of us revealing this fullness completely, but when brought together, there it is.
And isn’t this what we’re revealing each year on this Sunday when on the one hand we join the wider church in remembering those who have come before, and then on the other hand embark on our own yearly journey of commitment down to the little model church. We hold these two things together as best we can—remembering those who have gone before and what they’ve left here with us, and committing ourselves to those who are here now, all with an eye to those who one day will be—isn’t all this revealing the fullness of Christ and of this Christian journey that we can only live together?
The fullness of life.
The fullness of Christ.
Right here among us.
And the mystery is that you didn't even have to bring it with you this morning or any morning. It was already here waiting for you.
(1) This short video is well worth your time, but have a tissue handy. http://wgntv.com/2016/11/01/cubs-fans-write-tributes-to-loved-ones-not-here-for-world-series-on-wrigley-walls/