Things Worth Remembering
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Lyon
[this sermon text was adapted from a transcription. This is not meant to be seen as an exact replica of what was heard in the auditorium]
Bishop Goodpaster, members of the Annual Conference, I thank you for this opportunity and great privilege and you who have gathered here to allow us to share in these moments of memory and hope.
Those that we honor on this day have been our friends, mentors, and have been our colleagues in God’s kingdom work. Each of them individually gifted, uniquely crafted for the work God has called them to do and that served with great measures of faithfulness.
The diversity of the places they serve, circumstances in which they found themselves, whether it be in the Parish, classroom or other avenues of Bible ministry beyond the local church, they have been living examples and witnesses of God’s grace in their lives and have faithfully proclaimed the gospel both in word and in deed.
As the bishop said, I am one of those newly minted retirees and we had a gathering of us in this graduating class and were given a minute to speak about ministry and we all expressed gratitude, but it was unique that several people mentioned how surprised they were when they moved from the view in the pew to the view from the chapel, people tend to look at families and ministry a bit differently.
That came home to me years ago when we were serving a three‑point charge. when I was a seminary student at Duke. In these three churches they had a parsonage in a rural area, a hard‑surfaced road that went by with a long gravel drive way. Across the field one other house, across the road, one house, then no houses for the longest way until it intersected with another hard surfaced road and another one in the opposite direction.
My wife Lydia, always a fitness buff, decided to up the physical fitness regimen. She decided she would take up running. I think running is a good idea, if there’s a good sized bear after you. I con fess there were days she came back in looking like a bear had been after her.
But one day she came in gasping not only for air, but from laughing, said she was jogging up this hard‑surfaced road, across the street was the neighbor’s house, the neighbor boy was in the front yard with another young boy we surmised must have been his cousin.
As Lydia jogged by the neighbor punched that neighbor boy and said look at that woman running, the neighbor boy punched him back and said don’t be funny, that’s not a woman, it’s the preacher’s wife.
It became clear people have a different perspective about ministerial families, the truth is you all have stories. Some I hilarious, some poignant, all speaking to the gift of having shared life together with those you loved so deeply.
I urge you to name those stories. To speak of them often. To find a way to preserve them. For generations yet unborn. To be able to look back and experience the quarry from which they are hewn and know the values not just for the current generation, but values that shaped and molded families for perhaps generations. That’s especially important to me because as I matured I notice I don’t remember as well as a used to. When it comes to names, they don’t come as easily. Have you had the experience of running into somebody you haven’t seen for a while and you can tell anything in the world about them, name their dog, but you can’t call their name?
The name always arrives, usually at 3:00 a.m. in the morning when it’s inappropriate to do much with it. I asked my wife to help me with that name challenge. But she said she won’t do it, she absolutely refuses to wear a name tag.
Friends, there are some things I may forget, but there’s some things I want never to forget. There are things I see in the lives and witness of those we honor this day that need to remain with me as long as I have a mind to remember and any of us are on this Earthly pilgrimage. That passage of scripture read was foundational in their lives, for God so loved the world that he gave his only son that who so ever believes shall have everlasting life. For God did not send his son to condemn the world. It was a ministry restoration.
The folks that we honor this day believed it, received, and they lived it. I invited my congregation, it was a sneaky way to get them to read the scriptures. I was running out of ideas to get them to read scriptures, I said read and come up with the time when Jesus whispered in their ear and said you are fine, don’t need a thing I have to offer. Nobody could and come up with something.
These folks believed that Jesus had something substantial to offer them. In turn, they embraced it, wanted to live it out. There hangs outside my office door, at least for a couple more weeks, a print of John Wesley bidding good‑bye to a small group of missionaries heading to America. These missionaries do not know if they will ever set foot in their homeland again. It’s a journey fraught with uncertainty, some will not even survive, yet John Wesley bids them, “offer them Christ.” That was their mandate, their call. They went forth with great confidence they were in the keeping of the holy one. Because they offered, people came to Christ.
You read the names of all of these folks, all the clergy, all the spouses and you see all the places they have served. Think about check collectively because of their faithful service, thousands of people, men, women, boys, girls have said yes to the invitation to life Jesus offered through them because they were willing to say this is substantial, matters to me, impacted my life and I believe it is worthy of yours.
Because of their witness, those thousands of persons not only came into God’s kingdom family, but relationships were restored, character was redefined, eternal destinies redirected. Powerful change of addiction and destructive behavior was broken.
Because they offered. I think under lying their ministry and lives, both clergy and spouses, was this strong current of urgency. They all recognized however long life it, it is brief We live in a more transient society than we have ever experienced. People come and go, used to be only the occasional schoolteacher and a Methodist preacher, now they are about the only ones that hang around for a little while. We don’t know how long we have to touch, to invite. This sense of urgency says every life is a sacred journey. Every life is holy. And God claims every person to the work of the Christ to be embraced and into the great work.
These folks have done it in season and out of season, worked, made a decision never to withhold.
Remember the story about the sewer that went out, worst farmer on the face of the planet. Through the seed willy‑nilly, he knew there were thorns, hard‑packed dirt, birds would get it, but kept sowing, sowing, in a generous way trusting that some would fall in the right places, that maybe looked inhospitable. And life would spring up.
So it was with the lives of those we honor, willing to reach deep in themselves and offer what they had. There’s Moses reluctant to do what wanted him to do. God says, Moses? What’s in my hand? A staff, it’s a staff, just a shepherd’s staff. But it is the symbol of his identity, livelihood, and God says release it to me. Moses releases it, it is empowered in a way far beyond anything Moses could possibly imagine.
So it is, the folks we honor on this day knew themselves well, they knew their capacities but also knew their call was not to compare themselves with others with different gifts or bring gifts, their call was to offer to God that which they had in their hand, and to say here it is and here I am God, send me, use me, deploy me, let me be your person.
They spent their lives inviting people to the larger family of God. When I was growing up, one thing we did was go to something called the Lyon Family Reunion. How many of you ever went to family reunions? Okay. Ours is like a church potluck on steroids.
The Lyon clan has roots up around the Elkin area, Track Hill, North Carolina. We would go up every first Sunday in June. There was a little place they hollowed out ‑‑ the food was 15 kinds of fried chickens, colonel Sanders would love to have. Biscuits as big as a cat’s head with a pinch of country ham.
Fresh vegetables, banana pudding, black berry cobbler with lattice crust, but one thing I didn’t look forward to.
In my family there were four sisters and they were called the Hayes girls –
Cornelia, my grandmother. The girls were as wide as tall. Folks called them ample women. They were amp women. I knew when I arrived, my dad pulled up on that grassy place that all four of those sisters, two of them my grandmother and a sister married Lyon brothers, the other two showed up anyhow, weren’t Lyons, all sitting on the bench, waiting, in their ampleness, and I knew when I walked up one of them was going to call out to me and say, come here child and let me hug you.”
I would hide behind my mother’s skirt. She would pull me around and one of my ample aunties would step up ‑‑ did I tell you they all did snuff expect my grandmother? Yeah.
She would reach with for me with those fleshy arms and pick me up off the ground and push me into her ampleness. My arms were swaying, legs were swaying, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe, and just when I was about to lose consciousness, she would release me, leaving me breathless with the ampleness of her embrace.
Well, the food would be eaten, the cousins would all play, the sun began to set. We would gather up what food was left, wouldn’t be much, pack up the car, get ready to leave. My dad put the car in reverse, look over the back seat to see where he was backing, I was laying down on the back seat from too much banana pudding. He would pause and a, “Ken, don’t ever forget, these are your people. This is your heritage.”
So it was, the writer of Hebrews may have picked up his pen and he began to write of a community of the people of God who were faces challenges. Some hardships, some maybe even times of loss. Over in chapter 11 he begins to name folks, heroes of faith, men and women, every one of them flawed in some way, he honored them each with different capacities, abilities, all with a willingness to give themselves to the purpose of the holy one. For God’s good kingdom.
Then he began in chapter 12, therefore since we are surrounded so great a crowd of witnesses, let us lay aside every sin that clings so closely and run the race with perseverance that has been set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. He calls out to that long‑ago church and says, “Look at your forebears, you are not the first to walk the path, but also calls to the mountaintops of challenge and the deepest valleys where the dark shadows look and loss may come.”
God was faithful to them and God will be faithful to you. Take heart, he says to them, and take heart across the centuries he says to each and every one of us.
He says that same God of faithfulness will embrace you as that God of holiness and grace has embraced those who have gone on before. Friends, they are all gone now, Aunt Fannie, Aunt Mamie, Aunt Myrtle, Grandma, they joined that great cloud of witnesses as have these, that we remember this day, but their legacy remains. That legacy calls to us and beckons us and we remember, we will never forget.
These are our people. This is our heritage. Let us then in Jesus name and in theirs, live and love, lead and serve, as they have taught us in such a way, in such a way, that we leave the word breathless with the ampleness of God’s loving embrace of grace, amen?