Sunday, 17 April 2016

Lessons from the Pastoral Visit and the Mortuary

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, ..." (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2).

My brother shared this amusing picture with me of the hearse towing a U-Haul trailer. I laughed, not so much because of all the potential captions and stories that the image conjures up, but because it took me back about twenty years in time when I had some of my most memorable “ministry” experiences.

Already well into my thirties, I felt the call for some more education which included some undergraduate studies as well as a theology degree from a local seminary. While I studied a full-time course load, I also worked full-time night shift and juggled family responsibilities of being a husband and father. Apparently I still wasn’t busy enough, and so I also volunteered at a small local church as an Associate Pastor with primary responsibilities being the visitation of seniors and elderly, including several shut in’s. Despite the hectic schedule, I loved those four years.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “What’s that got to do with a hearse towing a U-Haul trailer?” Good question.

There was one dear elderly lady that I used to visit regularly who couldn’t get out much. As I recall, one of her favourite topics of discussion was how people, Christians included, seemed to be trapped in a materialistic mindset. She would often say, seemingly unaware that she told me the same story a hundred times before (sound familiar? –LOL), “You know, Reverend Roach, I ain’t never seen no hearse pulling no U-Haul.” I would, of course, respectfully acknowledge her statement, while deep inside be amused at how she would always get my name wrong, and still insist on calling me a Reverend. I never did have the heart to tell her that, though on more than one occasion I had been offered ordination in the church, I always declined. But that’s story for another time.

But her point was taken; perhaps we do tend to cling to material possessions and wealth a little tighter than we ought. And now, some twenty years later as my wife and I begin to discuss the possibility of downsizing and as we prepare for, Lord willing, semi-retirement, the picture of the hearse towing the U-Haul trailer and the memory of that dear lady, reminds us that we will not be leaving this world with fists clenched tightly around our possessions, but rather with hands held wide open, leaving this world just as we entered it; empty handed.

A few years later we moved away to answer the call to serve another church in another community. While I haven't heard to the contrary, I'm sure that based upon her age at the time, that dear lady has long since had her ride in a hearse. And I'm also certain, there was no U-Haul attached to it at the time. 

It is interesting how, the older I get, the more faces and names I recognize in the obituary columns. Many are even younger than I am now. I don’t say this to be morbid, for as Paul said, “to be away from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Personally, I look forward to that day; don’t you?

So I just want to take a moment and thank my brother for sharing that picture and for reminding me of what’s really important in life as I too begin the process of loosening my grip on some stuff.

“I ain’t never seen no hearse pulling no U-Haul,” said that dear old saint on my visitation schedule. And if you ever do see one, don’t for a second think the deceased has figured out some way of taking their stuff with them to the other side. It just isn’t so, and it begs the question of how we ought to use our “stuff” this side of the mortuary. Something to think about. Peace.

Photo Source: Unknown

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Tale of the Long Spoons

At my son's wedding, the grandfathers were given the opportunity to share a "blessing" to the bride and groom following the service. Little did my Dad know that the whole theme of their wedding would be one of "serving one another," and would include such elements as the literal washing of each other's feet, which left a very powerful and wet-eyed image to most, if not all, of the wedding guests. So when Dad came up front and included this story, well, it fit the overall theme of the wedding like a glove. Here's the story he told:

A Rabbi once asked God to be able to see heaven and hell. God permitted it and gave him the prophet Elijah as a guide. First, Elijah led the Rabbi into a large room. In the midst of it, on a fire, there was a pot full of delicious food. Round about people were sitting with long spoons which they dipped into the pot. However, the people looked pale, thin and miserable. The handles of the spoons were much too long, so that they could not bring the wonderful food to their mouths. 
When the two visitors were outside again, the Rabbi asked the prophet what strange place that was. It was hell. 
Then Elijah led the Rabbi into a second room that looked exactly like the first one. In the middle of the room was a fire and delicious food was cooking. People sat about holding long spoons. However, these people looked well nourished, healthy and happy. They did not try to feed themselves, but rather they used the long spoons to feed one another. This room was heaven.

Yes, there are a few theological liberties concerning heaven and hell in that tale, but I love that story nonetheless. I'd heard Dad's story several times before, but every time I hear it, it leaves me with the image of Jesus' call to each of us as to how we are to care for our fellow man. He, who fed the 5000 men (plus women and children) in John chapter 6, and fed the 4000 (Matthew chapter 15), through those feedings illustrated the importance of one-anothering and of giving the other a higher priority than ourselves. How well are we doing in that department? I wonder.

Perhaps this side of eternity there is also some measure of heaven and hell, and it's largely predetermined by the way we respond to the needs of one another. After all, as John said, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4: 20-21; NIV).

Recently someone shared the following video on Facebook, which instantly made me think of Dad's story. At the very least, it's something for all of us to think about. Peace and Blessings.



Photo Credit: Dino Abatzidis; Flickr Creative Commons
Story Source: Translated by Gunter Rochow from: Both, Beate. "Die Geschichte von den langen Löffeln". Wenn wir anfingen mit dem Herzen zu denken. Wuppertal: Kiefer Verlag, 1986, 2. Auflage, p.38.