|UNITY OF VANCOUVER
3814 FRANKLIN ST. VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON 98660 360-696-0996
In Memory of Those Who Have Gone Before Us
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
May 29, 2022
All Rights Reserved
MEMORIAL DAY SERVICE
Good morning and welcome to our Memorial Day Service. The 1st official recognition of Memorial Day was May 5, 1868. It was originally called Decoration Day and commemorated soldiers killed in the Civil War but the holiday was later extended to include all U.S. war dead. This Memorial Day weekend we are in this room to renew our faith in God and remember those who have gone beyond our sight. The strength of our country, our church, our family, is togetherness. We are here to be together, to remember and with a positive mind to go forward toward a brighter, peaceful tomorrow.
Let us begin our meditation this morning by resting in the silence for a moment and feeling God moving in and through us and honoring all our brothers and sisters who have served in the military and lost their lives in the defense of our freedom. If you have family members or friends that you are honoring and remembering this weekend, softly speak out their names now as we light our Candle of Dedication.
Let us pray: The 23rd Psalm - The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We are eternal beings on an immortal journey. This is the place we’ve come up to. Affirm: God is with me as all the wisdom, strength, courage and love I need for my eternal journey. Now let us radiate our faith in God to each other to strengthen each other. God is with you as all the wisdom, strength, courage and love you need for your eternal journey.
On this Sunday before Memorial Day, we naturally think about all the people who have traveled with us that we’ve loved and who have put on the invisible body. Though they’ve passed beyond our physical sight, they’re precious to us still. We love them and we miss them. Many of them represent some of the happiest moments of our lives. We abide in God wherever we go and in whatever we do. We are never separated from God or each other. Knowing this, our hearts can reach through time and space, and we can touch one another. We can bring our loved ones into this room with us now. That’s what we have minds, imagination, and hearts for, and we can know that God is with our loved ones as they continue their eternal journey.
Call to your loved ones now, speak their names and seat them alongside of you and mind, know that the healing, prospering, illumining power of God is at work in them. Speak their name again, and say, “God is with you as all the wisdom, strength, courage and love you need for your eternal journey.”
One of the greatest challenges we all face is how to fully accept the gift of life. Jesus said, 'In my Father's house of life, there are many rooms. We are still in this earthly room and our loved ones have passed into another, but we are still together in God's great house of life. There’s a modern-day parable by Henry Van Dyke that helps make sense of this change we call death that I’d like to share with you. It’s called
A PARABLE OF IMMORTALITY
I'm standing on the seashore. A ship at my side
spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and
starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of
beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her
until at length she is a speck of white cloud just
where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says, "There! She's gone."
Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She
is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she
was when she left my side, and she is just as able
to bear her load of living weight to her destined harbor.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just
at the moment when someone at my side says, There! She's gone!
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, "There she comes!"
And that is dying.
As we prepare to bring our prayer time to a close, we come to a crossroads on our eternal journey and those we have called here today simply take a different turn in the road as we return to this time and this place called today. Now let us bring our prayer time to a close by speaking together our prayer for protection. The light of God surrounds us, the love of God enfolds us, the power of God protects us, the presence of God watches over us. Wherever we are God is. Amen.
IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE
A 10-year-old boy was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Influenced by the threat of nuclear war and the reality of terrorist attacks around the world, the boy thought for a moment and then replied with just one word: “Alive.” I’m sure that all of us join him in his wish. The love of life lies deep in the human soul. Jesus summed up his mission with the words: “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
A woman came here in the late 1980’s when she was in her early 90’s named Elba. She was a real inspiration to me. One of her favorite occupations during her life had been as a truck driver. People who road in her car with her would tell me how fast she drove and how they clung to the dashboard white knuckled. Elba had a saying, “Have a Blast While You Last.” She liked that saying so much and would always say that to me as she was leaving church. “Don’t forget, Pastor, have a blast while you last.” I always thought that little saying summed up an enormous spiritual truth. Since none of us will be here forever, we might as well have a blast while we last. Folk singer Joan Baez put it this way. “You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die, or when. You only get to choose how you’re going to live now.” Go to a cemetery and look at any gravestone. Underneath the name you will see something like this: 1921-1919. You’ll see a date of birth, a date of death and a dash to represent everything in between. Shortly before Elba left Vancouver to move to Seattle to be with relatives, she gave me a poem that she loved and wanted me to share at her Celebration of Life Service when the time came. It is called “The Dash.”
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came her date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years. (1903-2002)
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth…
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, now much we own;
The cars…the house…the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So, think about this long and hard…
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
And more often wear a smile
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your Eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say,
About how you spent your dash?
That’s all this life really is the short little dash between the time we show up and the time we depart; that thought can depress or inspire us to action. The question this Memorial Weekend is: What are you doing with your dash?
King Solomon is credited with writing the Wisdom of Ecclesiastes in which he poses the question, “How should we live in light of our coming death?” He then goes on in Ecclesiastes 9:10 to offer an inspiring but simple answer. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” If we probe his famous verse, we find 4 principles that will help us to live our best possible life.
1. Do whatever lies close at hand. Whatever your hand finds to do. A more contemporary translation would be: “Whatever turns up, grab it and do it.” This idea emphasizes the unpredictable nature of life. No matter how well planned your day may be, something unexpected always turns up. When it does, “grab it and do it.” This phrase challenges us to take hold of the most ordinary tasks and make sure they get done in the best way possible. It is easy for any of us to live in the land of what we plan to do tomorrow. For Example: We dream about starting a diet, an exercise program, a new job, or going back to college. We dream about doing a thousand things tomorrow! While our minds drift off on what can be done tomorrow, we ignore what needs to be done today. Sadly, someday never comes for many people. This reality prompted Theologian Charles Spurgeon to say, “It is better to do what you need to do than to waste 4 hours dreaming about what you would like to do. There is always meaningful work to be done today, so do it!” Regardless of what is going on in the world, someone must clear the table, take out the trash, walk the dog and clean up the dog poop, today! Someone must pay the bills, put gas in the car, teach Sunday School and be in the Nursery with the babies, today. Life is a whole bunch of jobs, large and small that someone must do. It doesn’t help to complain and say, “I don’t feel like doing it.” Our feelings don’t matter. There is work to do in every moment to keep life running smoothly for everyone. We are God’s Hands in the physical world. We all have jobs, responsibilities, and assignments in life. No one gets a free ride. In his book, “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis said, “Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment for the Lord. It is only our Daily Bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done, or any grace received.” The future can seem to be more fun and exciting when compared to the drudgery of the present but as the Nike Ad says, “Just do it.”
2. Do Your Work With Passion. “Do it with all your might.” We are to do whatever lies close at hand with gusto. Life is too short, too fragile, and too precious to squander. Whatever you do, do with enthusiasm and 100% commitment. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead and the unborn could do it no better. If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the Hosts of Heaven and Earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.” There is a great Spiritual truth underlying this idea. If you believe in God, as the One Presence and One Power then it must also be true that everything is in Divine Order. You are where you are because God wants and needs you to be there. You are there by Divine Appointment. If God didn’t need your unique capabilities in that exact place, you would be somewhere else. Do your work each day, even in a very bad situation, with all your might, for God.
3. Ponder the Brevity of Life. “For in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” At first this verse seems to be a real downer. Who wants to hear that they are going to the grave? That’s a fact we’d all rather ignore. There is a slightly different translation of this verse in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. It says, “Work hard at whatever you do. You will soon go to the world of the dead, where no one works or thinks or reasons or knows anything.” When I read that, it sounds like something you’d find in a bad Chinese fortune cookie. But it’s true whether we like it or not.
My father passed in 2000. Between his death and the funeral Mom and I went to the cemetery to examine the gravesite. It was a sunny November day. We’ve known the man who works at the cemetery for many years, and he has a great sense of humor. At one point he looked at my mother and said, “Mrs. Refosco, we’re going to bury your husband a little bit off-center so that there will be plenty of room for you later.” I was shocked but Mom just laughed. My brother Emil died in 2014 and I visited my father’s gravesite again. As I stood there it was as if there was a wrinkle in time and the years since my father’s death had suddenly been swallowed up. I was 47 when my sister died, 50 when Dad died, 64 when my brother passed, and 69 when mom passed. When I last went to the cemetery, I was standing 3 feet from where we buried my grandfather in 1960 when I was 10 years old. It felt as if we had buried my grandfather one week, my father the next and I had a sense of how quickly the years pass. It seemed as if God whispered in my ear, “Life is shorter than you think. Enjoy it!” It was a revelation and a reminder that “Remember O man that Dust thou art, to the dust thou shalt return.” This is true for all of us even if we don’t live as if we believe it. All too soon our moment in the sun will be over.
Do you recall how after the events of 9/11, millions of people picked up the phone to call each other? Parents called children, brothers called sisters, friends called friends, long-lost relatives called to make sure everyone was okay. One of the ironies of life is that it often takes a tragedy for us to face the brevity of life and get us to reach out to tell someone that we love them. I hope you ‘ll do that today.
4. Be Thankful for Things Large and Small. Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 says, “Eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun– all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your labor under the sun.”
King Solomon knew a lot about pleasure, and he offers some very practical advice. To translate it into today’s language we’d say: Enjoy a good meal. Appreciate every moment as a gift from God. Wear clothes that speak of joy, not sorrow. Brush your hair. Wash your face. Iron your shirt and look sharp. Put a smile on your face. Don’t be a grumpy old man or woman or a grumpy young one either. Look for God’s Hand at work in your life. If you are married, enjoy your husband or your wife. Savor every little moment you spend together. Savor time with your children and friends. Realize that God is at work in the large and tiniest details of your life. Nothing has ever happened to you by chance because there is no such thing as chance, luck, or fate. You have never had a true accident and you never will because God as Divine Order is unfolding as every part of your life.
God apportions to you a “lot” in life that involves being born in a particular place, to a set of parents, growing up in a particular home, town, country, going to a certain school, meeting certain friends, and following a particular career path. Things that seem to randomly happen to you are not random at all. Some of it you see clearly, some of it makes no sense. If we are wise like Solomon, we see God’s Hand at work even in those things that don’t seem to “fit.” My life would have been completely different if I had been born in a village in Bolivia, or Greece, Vietnam, or Norway; not necessarily better or worse just different in its outward details. It is my “lot” in life to be Bernadette, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1950, raised in McDonald, Penna., the daughter of Emil and Margaret Refosco and sister to Janice and Emil. Mother to Nathan and Phaedra and wife to Jim. I could add more details, but what does it matter?
If I’m ungrateful or unhappy with my lot in life, I am wasting what God has given me and guilty of questioning God’s wisdom and goodness. I am not seeing God in the places of my discontent. We all need reminders that God is FULLY PRESENT in the tiniest details of life. When you catch yourself grumbling and complaining about your lot in life, stop and look around and see where you can find God’s fingerprints in your life. Do this and you will start to see God everywhere: A surprise phone call from a friend, a sunny day, a nice email, a friend who dropped by a note from someone with good news. Keep your eyes open and soon you’ll see God everywhere. You’ve probably heard the following quotation, it’s over 200 years old and comes from the Quakers. “I expect to pass through the world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” If you intend to do some good deed, do it now. If you have some great plan, work on it now. This is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 9:10.
Martin Luther said a man should live with the day of his death placarded before his eyes. We need the same realistic view of life and death. Growing old isn’t just a matter of chronology. You can be old at 20 and young at 85. My goal is to die young at a very old age; doing everything I can to express God. I want to go down serving, singing, loving, laughing, and having a good time living until I take my last breath in this body and as this personality. The question isn’t “How old are you?” The question is “How old do you feel?” Looked at in that light, the statement “Have a blast while you last” is more than a nice slogan. It’s a biblically based Spiritual Philosophy of Life.
The best way to look at life and death is to see them not as two separate subjects but as one continuous experience, intertwined and indivisible, each containing the other, each forming out of the other and dissolving into the other. I’ll close with a writing by JAMES DILLET FREEMAN called IMMORTAL JOURNEY
I am on an immortal journey, and I have yet more journeying to do. Through chance and change, by way of worlds forgotten and courses unremembered yet graven into my soul, I came up to here and from here, by ways unknown yet ways my soul has drawn me to, I journey on. This is the human condition.
I have risen on innumerable nights.
I have journeyed on innumerable journeys.
I have lived in familiar and unfamiliar worlds.
I have had brave and beautiful companions, lovely friends. I shall have them yet again.
I have been weak and strong, wise, and unwise.
I have come on much curious knowledge, some remembered, some forgotten.
I have done many deeds, some worthy, some unworthy. What I am undertaking I am not sure—but somehow, I am sure it is an enterprise worthy of my effort. Where I am going, I am not sure—but I am sure it is a destination worthy of myself.
Here I am at this place on this day.
Tonight, I shall lie down once more to sleep, and tomorrow I shall rise again and journey on.
So, in memory, recognition, and honor all of those who have gone before us we say, “Enjoy the life God has given you.
Live every day to the max and have a blast while you last.” Amen
What do you think?
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.