Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen - June 19th 2016
Children’s story: The stone soup
June 19th, 2016
(not precisely the version I told in church but close enough that the point is made)
Three soldiers trudged down a road in a strange country. They were on their way home from the wars. Besides being tired, they were hungry. In fact, they had eaten nothing for two days.
"How I would like a good dinner tonight,” said the first.
“And a bed to sleep in,” said the second.
“But all that is impossible,” said the third. “We must march on.”
On they marched. Suddenly, ahead of them they saw the lights of a village.
“Maybe we’ll find a bite to eat there,” said the first.
“And a loft to sleep in,” said the second.
“No harm in asking,” said the third.
Now the peasants of that place feared strangers. When they heard that three soldiers were coming down the road, they talked among themselves.
“Here come three soldiers. Soldiers are always hungry. But we have little enough for ourselves.” And they hurried to hide their food.
They pushed the sacks of barley under the hay in the lofts. They lowered buckets of milk down the wells.
They spread old quilts over the carrot bins. They hid their cabbages and potatoes under the beds. They hung their meat in the cellars.
They hid all they had to eat. Then – they waited.
The soldiers stopped first at the house of Paul and Francoise.
“Good evening to you,” they said. “Could you spare a bit of food for three hungry soldiers?”
“We have had no food for ourselves for three days,” said Paul. Francoise made a sad face. “It has been a poor harvest.”
The three soldiers went on the house of Albert and Louise.
“Could you spare a bit of food? And have you some corner where we could sleep for the night?”
“Oh no,” said Albert. “We gave all we could spare to soldiers who came before you.”
“Our beds are full,” said Louise.
At Vincent and Marie’s the answer was the same. It had been a poor harvest and all the grain must be kept for seed.
So it went all through the village. Not a peasant had any food to give away. They all had good reasons. One family had use the grain for feed. Another had an old sick father to care for. All had too many mouths to fill.
The villagers stood in the street and sighed. The looked as hungry as they could.
The three soldiers talked together.
Then the first soldier called out, “Good people!” The peasants drew near.
“We are three hungry soldiers in a strange land. We have asked you for food and you have no food. Well then, we’ll have to make stone soup.”
The peasants stared.
Stone soup? That would be something to know about.
“First, we’ll need a large iron pot,” the soldiers said.
The peasants brought the largest pot they could find. How else to cook enough?
“That's none too large,” said the soldiers. “But it will do. And now, water to fill it and a fire to heat it.”
It took many buckets of water to fill the pot. A fire was built on the village square and the pot was set to boil.
“And now, if you please, three round, smooth stones.”
Those were easy enough to find.
The peasants’ eyes grew round as they watched the soldiers drop the stones into the pot.
“Any soup needs salt and pepper,” said the soldiers, as they began to stir.
Children ran to fetch salt and pepper.
“Stones like these generally make good soup. But oh, if there were carrots, it would be much better.”
“Why, I think I have a carrot or two,” said Francoise, and off she ran.
She came back with her apron fill of carrots from the bin beneath the red quilt.
“A good stone soup should have cabbage,” said the soldiers as they sliced the carrots into the pot. “But no use asking for what you don't have.”
“I think I could find a cabbage somewhere,” said Marie and she hurried home. Back she came with three cabbages from the cupboard under the bed.
“If we only had a bit of beef and a few potatoes, this soup would be good enough for a rich man's table”
The peasants thought that over. They remembered their potatoes and the sides of beef hanging in the cellars. They ran to fetch them.
A rich man's soup – and all from a few stones. It seemed like magic!
“Ah,” sighed the soldiers as they stirred in the beef and potatoes, “if we only had a little barley and a cup of milk! This would would be fit for the king himself. Indeed he asked for just such a soup when last he dined with us.”
The peasants looked at each other. The soldiers had entertained the king! Well!
“But – no use asking for what you don’t have,” the soldiers signed.
The peasants brought their barley from the lofts, they brought their milk from the wells. The soldiers stirred the barley and milk into the steaming broth while the peasants stared.
At last the soup was ready.
“All of you shall taste,” the soldiers said. “But first a table must be set.”
Great tables were placed in the square. And all around were lighted torches.
Such a soup! How good it smelled! Truly fit for a king.
But then the peasants asked themselves, “Would not such a soup require bread – and a roast – and cider?” Soon a banquet was spread and everyone sat down to eat.
Never had there been such a feast. Never had the peasants tasted such soup. And fancy, made from stones!
They ate and drank and ate and drank. And after that they danced.
They danced and sang far into the night.
At last they were tired. Then the three soldiers asked, “Is there not a loft where we could sleep?”
“Let three such wise and splendid gentlemen sleep in a loft? Indeed! They must have the best beds in the village.”
So the first soldier slept in the priest’s house.
The second soldier slept in the baker’s house.
And the third soldier slept in the mayor’s house.
In the morning, the whole village gathered in the square to give them a send-off.
“Many thanks for what you have taught us,” the peasants said to the soldiers. “We shall never go hungry, now that we know how to make soup from stones.”
“Oh, it’s all in knowing how,” said the soldiers, and off they went down the road.
The moral of course is when people work together they can make great things happen. When they bring varied and complimentary skills to bear on a problem they can produce remarkable results.
Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen
June 19, 2016
Over the last 16 years you have have been very generous to me an allowed me to stand here and deliver, I think, 7 sermons. In the previous 6, I frankly spoke from my head and talked about things that I strongly believed need talking about. I talked about the dangers of taking the Bible too literally, the challenge of living in a world with shades of grey, of why bad things happen to good people and the need for a modernism reformation of Islam. Keith was teasing me the other day about including a glossary of terms and footnotes in the bulletin for this one. Well, today I’m going to do something a little different and talk from my heart. Not because I think what I have to say needs to be said but because I want to say it.
On February 28, 1983, I sat down in front of my family’s TV set and joined 121 million people to watch the series finally of M*A*S*H. For those of you were not born before 1983 and don’t watch “TV land”, M*A*S*H was a television show about a group of surgeons, nurses, and army personnel in a mobile army surgical hospital close to the front lines during the Korean war of the 1950s. The show, which amazing lasted almost 4 times longer than the actual war in which it was set, wasn’t really about war, it was about people. It was about people, and relationships, and the journey they were on as individuals and as a community. It was about the joys and sorrows they shared. It was about laughing and crying, and surviving and growing. The title of that last episode was “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”.
That title stuck with me for some reason. Goodbye is a contraction, derived from the middle English, of “God be with you”. Farewell is another middle English derived contraction of “Fare thee well” and Amen is from Hebrew meaning “So be it”. It seemed to me to be a very fitting concluding sentiment for the show.
That last show was about change. The war had ended. All the characters packed up their tents and went home. There was much reflection about what that time had meant for those characters and how the experience had changed them all.
Change is an important and inevitable part of life. It is at once scary, because what has been comfortable and well known will cease to be, and sad because the people and relationships that you have come to value and cherish will be much more remote and a much diminished piece of your life. Change is also exciting because of all of the new possibilities and it offers the hope of new potential.
Change is often unsettling. When I was 7 years old my family moved from Toronto to Montreal. I remember being very scared and bewildered. I was leaving everything that I knew behind: my house, my school, my friends, my cousins, my grandparents. I was moving to a city in another province a very long way away. I was going to be going to school in French with people I didn’t know and wasn’t sure would want to be friends with me. I remember moving in, and my dad detecting my unease, which was probably complicated by the fact that I was going through that phase of having trouble sleeping due to the existential angst of recognizing and coming to terms with my apparently unavoidable mortality. I was a complicated kid,… anyway my dad, trying to both distract me from my fears and get me excited about new possibilities asked me, in a very excited voice, if I wanted to go and see the Rec. Now, I had learned a few things about Montreal in school. I knew that it was an island in the middle of a very large river that had dangerous rapids and locks and a port with big boats. I had also been reading about pirates and Robinson Caruso. So naturally I though there must be some great ship wreck we were going to see and due to the casualness with which my father referred to it, it couldn’t be very far away. I couldn’t figure out it that was a good thing or a very bad and scary thing. I was pretty uncertain and anxious. Well it turns out that the Rec in question was the “recreation center” where all the soccer fields, the swimming pool, the baseball diamonds and of course the hockey rinks were. It wasn’t very far from our house and it was pretty neat. I decided then and there this change wasn’t going to be all that bad. It turns out to have been a great place to grow up.
I again moved away from all of my friends when I went off to University and again when I went to Grad school. Life changed when I moved to Ottawa and then again when I moved to Montreal and then back to Ottawa. It changed when I got married and started a family. It changed when IBM asked me to take a 2 year assignment to its headquarters in Westchester NY. That was 17 years ago. It changed when my friend Ron Sebastian who had come on assignment with me mentioned that he had found a church on the internet called FCC that looked kind of interesting. At the time I was living in Ridgefield CT and it was a bit of a commute but we made that commute a goodly number of times a week. We found at FCC a warm, lovely group of people that made us feel welcome despite our being Canadian.
This church has been a big part of our lives and my life in particular. This really surprised me as while I like to think of myself as a casual and lifelong student of world religions and societal evolution, who reads a fair amount, I don’t consider myself a very religious or spiritual person. Still for some reason FCC seemed to fulfill some need in me.
This church has help me and my family though some tough times. It has been a respite from the stresses of life and a means of channeling various parts of my personality that needed an outlet. I am at a bit of a loss to explain it rationally, which for me is very disconcerting, but maybe that is just fine.
You all have been generous enough to let me teach your children Sunday school, mentor some of them through confirmation and sing Christmas carols a bit too enthusiastically. You have indulged my love of musical theatrical and my penchant for fixing things. You’ve allowed me to indulge in more bingo and St. Patrick’s trivia than is frankly healthy. You’ve let me talk and share my ideas and you have shared your with me and invited me to listen. You have blessed me with your song and allowed me to share my love of music with you.
The old testament reading from this morning was from Ecclesiastes. By the way, and as an aside, the world would be a much more interesting place if we had a little more Ecclesiastes in it and a little less Deuteronomy and Leviticus. If you ever have a spontaneous need to pick up a Bible, open it to Ecclesiastes, it is full of some really wonderful poetry and profound wisdom…. Anyway, Today’s reading reminds us that “To everything there is a season”. Seasons make like interesting. I love living in this part of the world because we have real seasons here. It is the coldest days in the winter make those first few warm days of spring with the crocuses emerging, magnificent. It is those balmy humid days of August make the crisp days of autumn with all its changing colors breathtaking. And it is those dark damp days in November make that first snowfall in December…just wonderful.
Life has its seasons. We are born, we grow, we learn, we love, we raise children, and nurture grandchildren. We reflect on life and we pass on the lessons we have learned to others and at some point, our life eventually comes to an end. But we don’t really die because part of us lives on in all those who’s lives we have touched.
My life has been touched by so many wonderful people in and around this building. I have, as a member of this congregation, said goodbye to many dear friends who have left us to start new and different chapters of their lives. It is always bitter sweet. It is sad to see them go, and I can’t help but feel some emptiness, but then I make myself recognize that it was great to have them here for as long as we did, to have learned from them, to have shared a meal, to have laughed and cried with them. Each one of them touched us and left us richer for them having been in our lives, even briefly. They were our friends.
Life is so much more interesting when you get to share it with friends. I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have visited some pretty amazing places. But I’ll tell you when you are standing on top of the Great Wall of China, or lying on a dock watching a meteor shower, or wandering the corridors of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and there is no friend standing beside you that you can turn to and say “isn’t this amazing”, somehow the experience isn’t quite as wonderful as it should be.
But when Tim Ives high fives you as Bill Spade hits a softball over the fence, or when the light bulb goes off and you and Bob Buzak finally figure out what some arcane electrical appliance at the barn sales is or does, or when a car wash devolves into a water fight, or when one of the members of the confirmation class, unbidden, comes up with with the amazing profound question would Jesus be a Christian if he came back today? or when Paul Warren, in the middle of a stewardship meeting, suddenly goes on about the merits of a certain wine vintage and his strategies about clearing the trees in his neighborhood to refill the church’s wood supply, or when Mia squeals that we should do a black out bingo round, or when Colin and Barbara welcome us into their house to sign carols, or Kathy and Bill host us for a BBQ, or when Keith starts to vamp Dixie in the middle of a choir practice for no obvious reason, or when Doreen, or Barbara.. well do almost anything, or when Martha gives you a hug and Pat gives you a chocolate chip cookie…. These are the wonderful moments that life is made of. These are the moments that were co-created and shared with friends, and often stick with us in a more profound way than standing alone on top of the great wall of China.
All of this begs and important question. What does it mean to live life well?
I’ve always loved Paul’s entreaty to the Thesolonian’s at the end of today’s new testament reading. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good”. What he means by this is “live, try things, and the ones that work, the ones you find rewarding, the ones that make a difference, the ones that are good, hold on to them, remember them, live your life by the lessons you’ve learned from them. I think that is pretty good advice. I would add two additional pieces of advise to this: “Do it with friends” and “share…pass on what you have learned” When you go through life surrounded by friends you get to see the world through their eyes. They can reign you in when you get carried away and when your judgment fails. And they can encourage and give you a push when you need one to move forward. When you share your experiences and lessons learned you enrich the lives of others, and that ultimately is the legacy that we all leave as we move on to the next chapter in life’s book.
Moving forward is what life is all about. I love what one of my favorite philosophers, Albert Einstein said about this: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” He is so right.
My daughter Olivia and I were talking about moving forward the other night. We were both feeling a little melancholy about the change that is soon upon us. She was explaining how strange it was to be driving down streets, streets that mean something and represent stories and memories, and wondering if it was going to be the last time she ever did so. I know that feeling, I have felt it many times in my life, and I recognize that it is a proxy for so many other sign posts along life’s journey.
And what a journey it is.
My family’s journey brought us to this place. It brought all of you into our lives and we are much richer for it.
We all bring something special to this place. This church was making stone soup long before my family and I came here. I think we’ve made some pretty good soup in the last 16 years. I have great confidence that it will make great soup once we are gone. It will undoubtedly have a slightly different flavor. A little more carrot and a little less broccoli, and maybe a dash of cumin. It will be great. We will be sure to visit and drop by and sample it.
God bless all of you, and thank you for the last 16 years.
Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.