The Missing Seat at the Table
By Charles Rush
November 29, 2009
Ruth 1: 15-18 and John 2: 1-11
(mp3, 4.4Mb) ]
shall never forget my New Testament professor, introducing this passage, his glasses falling down on his nose, saying, “Notice that the hosts run out of wine shortly after the disciples showed up…. And the host looks to Jesus for some help…” Rather like my fraternity brothers in college that could be counted on to empty the sorority keg in half an hour…
celebration and was actually criticized for it. The disciples were accused of being
wine bibbers and gluttons, probably because they took some time to go to
weddings like this one. Jesus’ only answer to these critics was, ‘you shall not
always have me with you.’ In other words, life is short, lighten up.
is a place for fasting and asceticism. Jesus exemplified that too.
There is a time and a place for
celebration. For joy, for coming together, for just fooling around, perhaps
sharing a hug. He taught us that the Kingdom of God is much like a wedding
A couple of
years ago, we had a wedding like that for my son Chad and his wife Elizabeth.
It was at my sister-in-laws camp up in the mountains in North Carolina.
Everyone stayed at the camp and half of those that attended brought their dogs.
The kids got married outside in one of the pastures. The camp has a 300 acre
farm attached to it with 30 chickens, about 50 cattle, a few sheep. A friend of
mine for over 30 years performed the wedding so I could just sit and watch. And
what a pleasant view it was. The sun was just setting behind the mountains in
the background, and the sky was just radiant with orange, red, and blue streaks
across the late afternoon sky. In the middle of the ceremony, the horses in the
front pasture were all curious about what the humans were up to, so they
wandered over, right behind the minister and the bride and groom, almost like
they wanted to hear the vows themselves. I’m just sitting there with my
girlfriend who became my wife and the grandmother of my grandchildren just
wondering how one date and some footsie under the table turned into all of this
that is before me.
most of the extended family had just eaten breakfast and were about to head
back home, we all gathered right outside the Camp dining hall right where the
stream runs into the pond. The morning was just beautiful. Everyone was
standing around, the teenagers with that hair in the face. I’m down in the
stream with my other son. He hands me my granddaughter, just a baby at the time
and I baptized her. We all held hands and prayed for God to bless her life.
What a great moment that was. What a terrific celebration. The Kingdom of God,
Jesus taught us, is a lot like that.
there with my friend of thirty years, saying goodbye to everyone. He puts his
arm on my shoulder and says, “Man, you are going to be a fine patriarch”. I
smiled back at him. I remember thinking to myself, “Patriarchs are old fogies”.
I have a long time to go before that day gets here.
A couple years
later, though, my father died, pretty much out of the blue. Most of my
ancestors live well into their 90’s, so his death was almost a generation
earlier than any of us would have thought. And shortly after my father died, it
became clearer to my brothers and sisters just how much he had been covering
for my mother. She has Alzheimer’s disease and she was actually deteriorating
at a much faster rate than we knew. Within a year, we all figured out that we
needed to sell her house, move her closer to one of us kids and get her much
more involved care. We emptied the house, opened boxes we hadn’t opened in
years. It was like sorting through the first half of our lives. Mom moved into
a smaller apartment with assisted living. And one day, I was standing in an
empty house, walking room to room, saying goodbye to a life that I used to
A few weeks
ago, almost by accident, I was asking my wife about the holidays this year. I
hadn’t really thought about it until then but it just dawned on me that from
now on, for the most part, we aren’t going anywhere to visit the older
generation, the younger generation is coming to us. I’m not too crazy about
being the older generation.
It is funny the way your life is like
that, but in that moment, I just really wasn’t ready for that switch. It was
very sad moment, a rich moment (this whole phase of life is just wonderful) but
We were at the
farm. I was splitting wood. The place is on the side of the Appalachian rise, about
1000 feet higher than here, so we get mist up in the woods, when the
temperature changes. That is why they call them the Smoky Mountains in the
I have an
ancestor that described that seeing that very same mist in a journal that he
kept over 250 years ago. He lived on the coast of Virginia, came into some land
in Kentucky, and he walked all the way to see it.
I’m up chopping
wood, in the middle of a pretty misty day, and I had an image, clear as could
be of my great grandfathers, one of them chopping wood on his farm, must have
been in his late 80’s. Then I could see my grandfathers, one of them smoking
Lucky Strike cigarettes. The other grandfather, I have so many images, the two
of us pushing a boat into the water, him holding a flashlight with his teeth,
fiddling with gear. My grandfather could fix anything. His dog in the boat,
with my brother watching the first streaks of pink greet the day, the ducks
rising off the water… For a moment, I could hear my grandfathers. My
grandfather had such a deep southern accent, it took
passport and a visa to get here from there.
smiling and, of course they usually were when I was around, just the same way
that I’m almost always smiling when I see my grandchildren. I received their
blessing. Somehow I knew that it was going to be alright and that I was going
to be fine on my own. One of them used to rub me on the head when I was little
just to mess up my downy hair, pretty much the same way that I rub my grandson
Charlie’s head just before I pin him to the ground.
The Kingdom of
God, Jesus taught us, is like a wedding feast, where we gather with our family
and our friends in celebration and togetherness. Except at everyone
of our weddings, at every one of our family gatherings at the holidays, at some
point, you notice who is not there this year.
The truth is
that these family photos at the family gathering are always changing, sometimes
not for the better. My sister-in-law died at the too young age of 45 from a
rare heart condition and her two sons, my nephews, they aren’t doing well. They
need their Mom. So does her daughter. The Aunts and Uncle have helped a little
but it is a hole in the family gathering, her irrepressible personality is not
Much of the
time, it simply is what it is- just part of the life cycle. But it is right
that we stop for a moment, and reflect on how those who have gone before us
shaped us and acknowledge that for better and worse. If we are lucky, the
previous generation blessed us and gave us values that can guide us as we seek
wisdom along the journey of our life.
of the gifts that come from the previous generation are the precise things in
ourselves that we most need to overcome in order to find a meaningful life and
meaningful relationships with our spouse and our children. But you have become
who you have become because you did overcome it, you are working on it, you are
growing into someone that loves a bit more deeply. Even when that process is
fairly profound, if you can work it through deeply over years, you
can get to that point where you can see it as all part of what makes
you yourself. It is an important part of the point of your life.
Sunday of Advent we light the Candle of Hope. We are looking forward to the
coming of the Christ Child, the hope of the world. And when you think about it,
how much of our life is really lived in hope. We don’t exactly feel like we are
ready for what is coming next, we don’t have as much information as we wish we
had, and we aren’t all that confident that we have the skills that will be
necessary to negotiate this next set of challenges. But, here it is. This is
your time. This is your moment and you have to play your life for real. And you
call upon hope, sometimes sheer hope.
remember. We remember that we had a lot of people that came before us that did
bless us, and even more who would be blessing us that we’ve never met. Somehow
the faint echo of their blessing bounces down the canyon walls of time and it
resonates in your soul. It is all inner-connected and you will be blessed with enough. You will
be a blessing to others.
Emmy Lou Harris
and Dolly Parton sing a beautiful song about the way we can channel the power
of love for other people. Part of it says,
You'll never be the sun, turning in the sky
And you won't be the moon above us on a moonlit night
And you won't be the stars in heaven, although they burn so bright
But even on the deepest ocean, you will be the light.
You may not always shine as you go barefoot on the stone
You might be so long together or you might walk alone
And you won't find that love comes easy but love is always right
So even when the dark clouds gather, you will be the light.
My brothers and sisters, I invite you
to a moment of reflection on all of those people that would gather at the group
photo of your life, those here and those no longer here.
Even though we
can’t see them, we really are compassed about by a great cloud of witnesses
just like the saints that are depicted in these stained glass windows that
surround us. I’ve asked Patrick to play for us. Rev. Yarborough and Rev. Dean
will be down front if you would like to come forward at some point, light a
candle and place it in one of the windows with the saints, perhaps in remembrance
of someone special, perhaps in memory of one thing you now know that you need
to do and will do. As you wish. Let us cultivate a space of prayer and
meditation in the next few minutes.
All rights reserved.