Grace and Peace to you.
There’s a beach in California I’ve visited all my life. It’s a special place that holds life-long memories for me. Its contours change dramatically as sea, wind, rain and a river shift its sands around. The river was once dammed and diverted upstream, and seldom ran into the ocean. Lately the river’s flow has been restored, which has changed the beach a lot. But through the decades it’s still the same beach, the same river, the same ocean. It is all shifting and impermanent—waves and rivers, after all, are not things, but movements, flows, comings and goings. Yet it is still the same place.
I think of impermanence, of those waves that come and go, as I think about our church. We have experienced a lot of coming and going lately. New members join us; the waves roll in. Yet they also slide out. Beloved members move away, like the Good-Pratt family, the Pletchers, and soon the Jenkinses. And the death of such dear members as Keith and David and Jane and Gary and now Beth seems like too much impermanence. But we’re still St. Matthew’s. The sand shifts but it’s the same beach; the water flows on but it’s the same river.
The church endures not just because new people come in and replace the old. No one can “replace” any of our departed saints. No one person or group of people, no program or tradition can “make” the church. It’s God who makes the church. The church endures because we are not just a collection of people; we are the Body of Christ. It is God’s presence among us that is unchanging. God is the sea; we are merely God’s waves. God is the flow, and we are part of it. Accepting our impermanence doesn’t prevent our sorrow. Trusting the flow doesn’t diminish our grief, but it locates our grief in praise. We grieve our losses, yet even our grief is part of the flowing of God’s love through us.
Each wave is part of God’s praise. Each arrangement of sand and river is part of the beauty. Each of us offers our gifts of time and presence and talents and prayer, and none can be replaced. All are gifts of God. So our grief is always sustained by hope and mingled with praise and thanksgiving for the gifts of those we lose, for the preciousness of life, and for confidence in what is to come. The river reminds us that life flows on. As sorrowful as any change may be, life will flow on and love and beauty will continue to abound. Knowledge of our impermanence can help us accept changes instead of resenting them. It can raise us even in sadness to trust, to praise and to hope.
And it reminds us to be here now. Life is this moment, here and now, not some other. Now is the time to give the gifts you are given. Now is the time to love the people you are given to love. Is there someone who needs your forgiveness or care? Is there a wrong for which you need to seek forgiveness? Is there an act of love you are gifted to do? What are you waiting for? Now is the time. How does God move in you, how does the Spirit work itself out in your gifts and energies? Discover them and give them now: the moment is passing. That the moment is fleeting is not cause for fear or despair, but service, with joy and praise. Each flower knows the season it has to bloom; each migrating bird knows when to leave. And each lover of God seeks to know how, each day, each moment, we are given the gifts and graces to bear God’s love into the world.
All of life is gathered up into God’s care. All our human history is part of God’s will for blessing. Each of our lives, long or short, and every season of our lives, every church, and every season of every church, is part of the story of God’s grace. Our trust in resurrection is not just that life will go on later, but also that this life, here and now, is part of a greater mystery Jesus called eternal life, a life we can’t see, but we can trust, even when we experience unsettling changes. In that trust we can give thanks, and even in our grief we can love and serve with joy and hope. “The river of God is full of water” (Ps. 65.9). This is our faith. Thanks be to God.