16 August 2018
Before starting to write, just now, I spent 20 minutes or so scrolling through the linked pages of a story I came upon while looking for my E-mail In-box. It was the story of a 14 year old boy who recently, following one of his grandfather’s “stories” found the remains of a Nazi pilot and his airplane from the late days of World War II, buried deep in a field of their family farm in Denmark. Grandpa had been right, all along! It took quite a bit of work, but along with the plane and its armaments, the pilot’s remains were unearthed and turned over to the “proper authorities” to be buried in an appropriate grave, as all of his family had passed. It was quite a story – and quite an expedition to get to the last page of it, clicking one tab after another, avoiding all the advertisements and “traps” imbedded in such material. There were a great many photos of the boy and his family, of the pilot’s personal effects and the chunks and pieces of his airplane. There were sheets covered with ammunition and bombs, awaiting proper disposal by ordnance experts. A great many artifacts were retrieved from what had been a muddy marsh back in the day, making up the sum total of this 19-year old pilot’s life and mission.
Probably the most difficult paper I had to write as an undergrad student at Virginia Wesleyan College was an autobiography. It was such a challenge to determine what to include, and what to “let lie” in my memory as “incidental.” My 20-page paper was supposed to be in the form of a series of “stepping stones” of the important moments, pausing to speak to their importance and impact in the pilgrimage of my, then, very young life. Forty years later, I’m still sorting out some of those things, sort of like those who were unearthing the young German pilot and his aircraft, trying to learn his unique story. I remember writing, however, in the mid-1970s. that the constant thread of my brief 22-or-so years was the presence of the Father, all along, every day. My mother had passed when I was barely 9; we had moved several times before and after that October 1963 day. I changed schools 10 times in the 20 years prior to seminary graduation in 1980! The longest I had ever been in one school building, among the same classmates, were the 4 years I had been a student in Great Bridge High in Chesapeake. And though I was always a part of life in a Church, there were an interesting assortment of them, too! I grew up in a Presbyterian congregation, was confirmed a Methodist, then joined a United Methodist Church… and, as I wrote, was serving as the pastor of a congregation. It reminded me of the pilgrimage undertaken by Moses and “the children of Israel,” for 40 years, wandering in the Sinai Desert.
I expect that you may identify with some of that moving story, especially if you have been away to school, or served as a member of the US Air Force, Navy, or Army. You’ve been places, seen things, had some experiences…. of a quite a range! And all the while, quite like the young German pilot, you’ve picked up a few “souvenirs” of life, some of them good and interesting and helpful, and some…. not so much! And no one knows your story quite like you.
Well, there is that one Other who knows not only the “names and dates, faces and places” of your life’s journey, but also holds to His own heart those moments of which you were certain no one knew, no one heard, no one understood. He knows of your “prodigal” moments, when you tried to escape and shed His presence in some “far country.” [Someone, perhaps Winston Churchill, noted that the “far country” is that place, literal or figurative, where there is a loss of principles, ideals, and values. I think the writer may know a great deal about a great many of us!] There were, among all of us, those moments of confusion – “left or right” at the fork in the road; go fast or slow in the open stretches; even considering starting all over again at the “Go!” spot of the Monopoly board of our lives. What to do?!?
The Bible seems “chock-full” of those kinds of stories. Everyone from Adam to Moses to Saint Paul has been on a journey of faith of some sort. I am especially drawn to the struggle between the Twins, Esau and Jacob. They seem wrapped up in a life-long struggle, starting before they were born, such that the first, Esau, comes into life with the second, Jacob, holding onto his heel! And not only does Jacob “one up” his elder brother at every opportunity, but he manages to steal the birth-right from Esau, with all its privileges, honors, and responsibilities, for the price of a bowl of stew (or as Craddock calls it, “a mess of pottage!”). And all his life, at least until he comes to “Beth-El,” (aka, the House of God) where he wrestles with God Himself, he’s been running from his roots, his family’s values, his father’s household, and especially, his brother, Esau. As he makes that “homeward turn,” newly named Israel (“the one who wrestles with God”) he is really turning toward a life of faith in the One who has never let him go, never ignored is high moments, let alone his low ones. He’s turning toward a comfort that’s been with Jacob – now “Israel” – all along, yet never quite embraced fully.
You see, I believe that a “turning” moment (which is at the root of the Greek word for Repentance) is one that you and I may make once…. or more likely once daily, as we journey through life looking for meaning, direction, meaning, comfort, substance, relationships, and all of the rest of those intangibles we treasure so highly. Like the young German pilot (who, it dawns on me, was not quite a third of my present age!), the artifacts of our lives are known to God who would gather them all together, letting go of all the offenses and holding to His heart those “homeward” steps.
Life feeling heavy? The broken parts seeming to grow in number and import? Wounds and scars multiplying with each passing day? Regrets and the “junk of life” accumulating and weighing your down? I know someone, as I suspect you do, who’s interested in you…. and loves you as if there was only you in the midst of all the universe to love. In some ways, I agree with the popular author of a generation ago who opined that we “can’t go home again,” as so much may have changed. But in other ways, I hear the invitation from the heart of God to “look homeward” and find the peace and comfort and love and acceptance for which we long – so close at hand. It is the journey, the autobiography, of our life with Him.
Grace and peace, on a hot August day.
Jim Earley, Pastor
Responses? E-mail me a not via firstname.lastname@example.org, give me a call (571-239-3529), or see me on Sunday morning at Worship! JE
TABERNACLE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, 831 POQUOSON AVE, POQUOSON, Virginia 23662-1723, United States