Every year I wear a deep red tie with an almost hidden fish symbol buried in
large silver circles to our Annual Conference. A careful look reveals a
series of crosses emerging from the silver patterns. People always
compliment it. Maybe they are simply happy to see me in a suit and tie.
I have a half-dozen dark red ties but I often select that tie for a funeral,
or a stressful meeting, or a Sunday I feel some inner need. The tie belonged
to Dr. Ben Alford who pastored Hendersonville, Brentwood and taught at
Martin College. I did not know Ben from church work so much as from life.
Ben is the grandfather of my boy’s best friends. The tie reminds me I belong
to something bigger than Paul Purdue. The tie reminds me of lunch with Ben’s
retired pastor friends pontificating over the new bishop. The tie reminds
me to: read a little more as I prepare each sermon, not cave in when church
winds howl, to remember better preachers than me got hate mail, and to lean
into the wind. I will share a memory.
As Ben lay dying of cancer, we spent the weekend on the farm. Early that
Saturday morning I walked down the lane and saw Ben lying in the sun-room on
a hospital bed. We shared coffee, stories and unspoken prayer. After a
while, Connie, Kyle, and Julie drove up with a truckload of boys. Seeing me
with Ben, they eased onward to the orchard. Ben grimaced as he shuffled the
covers, trying to get comfortable, his eyes full of life, his body failing.
He spoke “Paul go pick apples with your kids… life is out there.” Sensing
my willingness to linger, Ben said again: “Go… live.” He closed his eyes.
We prayed. I walked to the orchard with tears co-mingled joy and comfort.
The apples tasted sweet. Life is beautiful.
Throughout the Old Testament, people build altars, re-name wells, and name
children in order to remember. We, who are so inundated with new media,
messages and experiences can forget where we have been, who we journeyed
with, and perhaps even who we are. Gratitude requires memory. Peace with the
past enliven our future. Good memories revisited benefit our souls. Even
wounds washed in prayer begin to close. Let us remember.
This Sunday, we will gather to remember the saints who have gone before us.
We do not worship or pray to the saints, we simply remember those who have
helped shape us in the image of God. I pray that you will gather with us in
worship as we remember who we are.