Today was a very snowy day in the State of New Hampshire, and despite a small but stalwart group who braved the roads so not to miss church (and the annual meeting that was also supposed to happen today), we decided to forgo our regular service of worship in favor of a brief time of prayer and reflection before heading home to weather the storm. What follows is the meditation I shared this morning:
Part of my own ministry over the years has involved taking my guitar into places like nursing homes, schools and the like, and singing: sometimes songs of faith, but just as often old time sing-a-long tunes, kids’ songs and that which my daughter has long referred to as my “jug band music.” I’ve always had a lot of fun doing this (I guess it’s the ham in me coming out!), but moreover, I’ve always felt like the music, as well as the fellowship in which it is shared has served as a wonderful way of communicating God’s love. Sometimes, however, that love gets communicated to me in strange and unique ways.
One afternoon several years back I was singing in the activity room of a nursing facility, and as I warbling out some song or another, I started to take particular notice of a sweet, elderly lady sitting in a wheelchair right in front of me. The reason I noticed her is that as I was singing, she kept looking as though she was about to say something, but then stopped herself. Actually, what would happen is that she would pick herself up slightly, lift her head and breathe in as though she were about to cry out to someone; but then, her eyes would turn downward, pausing for a moment to gaze at something she was holding there in her lap. And then she would heave a sigh before settling back down in her chair. Over and over this happened throughout time I was singing: she’d look up, get ready to speak, look down at what was there in her lap, and then with a heavy sigh settle down again.
After my program, I went over to greet this woman and extended my hand to her, which she took with a warm smile. But I have to admit that curiosity got the best of me, because I looked down to see what it was in her lap that she kept looking at. It was one of those erasable message boards, on which were written the words, “DON’T TALK. THE MINISTER IS SINGING.”
It turns out that the lady was so hard of hearing she was in the habit of speaking very loudly when she spoke, and especially when other people were speaking! Apparently her voice had become a real distraction to others in the past, so one of the nurses wrote the sign to remind her not to start shouting while I was singing! I don’t know what she wanted that afternoon, but God love her, the sign reminded her every time to remain silent.
I think about that a lot, actually, for it reminds me that from time to time we all need a sign to remind us and calm us. There are indeed times that we feel the urge to cry out for the sheer weight of the burdens we carry in this life. I don’t know all of you here, but I do know that each one of us could name this day the moments of our lives when grief and despair, anger and bitterness threatened to envelop us, and even turn us away from our walk of faith. Maybe there are some of you here today who are in the midst of such a moment; perhaps there are some of us here who even now are feeling the cries of anguish bubbling up from within, our own personal psalms of lament: Why, O Lord, have you abandoned me? The truth, friends, is that sometimes – a lot of times, I suspect – you and I need some kind of sign reminding us of God’s presence.
The people of Israel felt that need as they cried out in the midst of their wanderings in the wilderness; so Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness as a sign to them of God’s presence and providence. In much the same way you and I are given such a sign, and that sign comes to us in the Christ: “…so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
It is a wondrous, inexplicable, eventually tragic yet ultimately and infinitely joyous gift of grace from the God who has loved us from everlasting to everlasting; the incredible blessing that whatever our sin or wanderlust, and despite the multitudes of distractions and road blocks we encounter along the journey, we can always look in one place to know that God has not abandoned us, but is with us still, with mercy and forgiveness, strength and courage, hope and joy and the peace that the world can neither give nor take away.
It’s a sign for all of us to see; and that sign is…
…the cross. Jesus Christ crucified and risen. Jesus Christ, who died and is alive again, Jesus who brings us from life to death.
Therefore we can be calm. We are able simply to heave a sigh and know that our help will come. For we, too, hold a sign in our laps, and that sign says, “God loves you, for God so loved the world!”
It’s a sign of light and life, and it belongs to you and me if we will only heed it as our own.
c. 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry