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Songs of Love

Songs of Love

Philippians 1:3-11

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

2 December 2018

 

 

            As a nice transition from one holiday season to the next, our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi begins with thanksgiving.  As teacher and preacher Fred Craddock points out, “To begin with a word of thanksgiving was not unusual for any correspondent of that day, but for Paul it was theologically central and essential.”

            So hear now the word of the Lord from this ancient letter:

 

Philippians 1:3-11

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

 

It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.

 

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

 

For the Word of God in scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.

 

The day of Christ is coming, Paul declares.  Time to prepare.

I imagine that many of you are caught up in the midst of your preparations for the coming of Christmas.  Today I’m here to remind you not to forget one vital aspect of that preparation—to let your love overflow.

Because the Christian story is fundamentally a love story.

The theologian James McClendon tells the story this way:

 

God who is the very Ground of Adventure, the Weaver of society’s Web, the Holy Source of nature in its concreteness—the one and only God, who, when time began, began to be God for a world that in its orderly constitution finally came by his will and choice to include also—ourselves. 

 

We human beings, having our natural frame and basis, with our own penchant for community, and our own hankerings after adventure, found ourselves, before long, in trouble.  Our very adventurousness led us astray . . . .

 

In [God’s] loving concern, God set among us, by every means infinite wisdom could propose, the foundations of a new human society; in his patience he sent messengers to recall the people of his Way to their way; in the first bright glimmers of opportunity he sent—himself, incognito, without splendor and fanfare, the Maker amid the things made, the fundamental Web as if a single fiber, the Ground of Adventure risking everything in this adventure.

 

[God’s] purpose—sheer love; [God’s] means—pure faith; [God’s] promise—unquenchable hope.  In that love he lived a life of love; by that faith he died a faithful death; from that death he rose to fructify hope for the people of his Way, newly gathered, newly equipped.  The rest of the story is still [God’s]—yet it can be ours, yours.

 

 

And how did the God of love come among us?  Incognito in that little peasant baby whose birth we await a few weeks from now.  The familiarity of this story often masks precisely how strange it is.

Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo reminds us by telling the story this way:

 

Behold the unalterable power of Love’s being: now a single-celled zygote . . . now a free-floating blastocyst . . . now an embryo, fully implanted in the thick and marshy, nutrient-rich endometrial lining of a young peasant woman in ancient Palestine.  The fused cells of Love-incarnate “push long, amoeba-like fingers deep into the uterine lining while secreting digestive enzymes that facilitate its burial.  In response, the tips of the spiral arteries break open and spurt like geysers.  Thus, life begins in a pool of blood.”  The incarnate life of divine love begins in a pool of blood—life-giving blood that nourishes the progression of Mary’s pregnancy through neurogenesis, musculoskeletal somitogenesis, organogenesis, replete with “cellular migrations worthy of Odysseus.”  The bloodiness of this second Genesis makes the life of Mary’s child possible—a recreation not from nothing, but from everything, from the universal stuff of life. . . .

 

Love incarnate did not pass into the world through Mary’s womb like a ray of light.  Rather, the hard-as-steel muscles of Mary’s uterus pressed the baby’s head down on her cervix until it slowly, painfully dilated and effaced and made way for the child to gradually inch his way through the birth canal with each grueling push, his bruised and misshapen head finally emerging through the stretching, tearing perineum into the hands of Mary’s birthing attendant. 

 

            Elizabeth Gandolfo asks, “How can it be that the invulnerable can at once become vulnerable, that the vulnerable can bear the image of invulnerability?”

            And her narration of this love story reminds us that we all made the same adventurous journeys through our mother’s wombs.  We all were overwhelming invulnerable and only survived and thrived because someone else risked themselves to love us.

            Do each of us, then, incarnate in some way the invulnerable love of God in our very vulnerability?

 

            “There is a special moral intensity to the love between parents and children,” writes philosopher Allison Gopnik.  She continues, “Just deciding to care for this one particular special, individual child automatically makes that child the focus of our deepest moral concern.  Parents routinely sacrifice their sleep, their time, their happiness, even their lives for their children.”

            She adds, “The immediate, intimate, loving interactions between babies and adults dissolve the boundaries between the self and others.”  And so she concludes that the origin of our ethical traditions resides here, in the love we have for children.  This is how we learn to be moral beings.

            But it is also how we learn everything.  Gopnik declares, “Because we love babies, they can learn.”  Because we care for them, they have the ability to focus their energies on learning and they learn so quickly because of our care for them.  And the more love they receive, the stronger the attachment and the affection, the greater ability they have to let their imaginations thrive and through this imaginative capacity, they learn to make sense of the world.

            So the greatest human gift you were given was by those adults who loved you and cared for you when you were at your most vulnerable.  That the adult you can dream and imagine and hope and learn and seek the truth and live an ethical life all is because someone overflowed with unconditional love for little baby you.

 

            Yes, we are each an incarnation of divine love.

            This Advent, let your love overflow.  Make loving one another a vital aspect of your preparation for this season.  And not just a sentimental emotion, but the kind that risks the adventure, that creates new opportunities for life to thrive.

            And in that way we will sing our love songs for the coming of the Day of Christ.


Giving Thanks for God's Blessings

Give Thanks for God’s Blessings

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

18 November 2018

 

The Apostle Paul is on his way from Greece to Jerusalem to deliver an offering that he has been collecting.  You see, Paul’s preaching to Gentiles was controversial in the early church, so he entered into an agreement with the original disciples and part of that agreement was that the Gentile churches would remember and care for the poor Jewish Christians back in Judea.  Paul then spent a good deal of time fundraising on this latest missionary journey.  More than one of the letters of Paul contained within the New Testament were fundraising letters.

So, Paul’s returning to Jerusalem to deliver the offering and he is bringing a contingent of Gentile Christians with him from Europe.  They are going to stop in Corinth on their way, so Paul is encouraging Corinth to make a good showing of welcoming the delegation and also delivering their offering to him. 

That’s the context then for our scripture lesson today.  Hear now the Word of the Lord.

 

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

 

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each of you must give as you have made up your mind,
not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance,
so that by always having enough of everything,
you may share abundantly in every good work.
As it is written, “God scatters abroad, God gives to the poor;
God’s righteousness endures forever.”

The One who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity,
which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;
for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints
but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.
Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that has been given you.
Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!

 

For the Word of God in scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.

 

            Let’s begin today with a little stress reduction, okay?  This week is Thanksgiving so it is typical for you to be asked what you are thankful for.  Take a moment to think about that.  What are you thankful for?  Now turn to someone near you and share briefly.

           

            Good.  According to scientific studies your cortisol levels may have just been reduced by 23%.  Which means you are less stressed than you were a few moments ago.

            The scientific research into gratitude is rather clear at this point.  According to positive psychologist Derrick Carpenter, “The benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they're thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.”

            Gratitude can improve our most intimate relationships, give us more disciplined self-control, increase our mental and physical health, make us more optimistic, and make us happier.  Studies even demonstrate how individuals practicing gratitude improves society, as gratitude is contagious, spreading quickly from one person to other people.  We all appreciate being thanked and in the glow of that appreciation are more likely to thank other people.

            Gratitude also has a cathartic function, helping us to overcome feelings of guilt.  When we let people down, one way to heal the breach is to express gratitude to that person for something they’ve done.  Broken social relationships can be mended, and we can overcome our negative feelings.

            And maybe most exciting is how easy it is to practice gratitude.  Some of the virtues, like courage or humility, might be more difficult for us.  But gratitude is one of the easiest to develop.  Even simple practices like writing thank you notes or keeping a gratitude journal have been shown scientifically to have significant lasting effects upon our attitude and our character.

            According to positive psychology, gratitude is ultimate more than being thankful, “it is more like a deeper appreciation for someone (or something,) which produces longer lasting positivity.”  Our thanksgiving, then, contributes to an overall emotional development within our character.  We become people with a deeper appreciation for the world. 

 

            St. Paul encourages the Corinthians to be appreciative for the blessings of God that they have received.  And these aren’t simply material blessings.  They should be grateful to God for their spiritual blessings.  They are part of this new movement, slowly changing the world, making it more just and peace and holy. 

            And because of their gratitude, they should respond generously in hopes of passing those blessings along.  Their gifts will increase the blessings, making them more available to more people. 

            Paul’s fundraising appeal is for a vision of the world “so grand it almost takes the breath away” writes Calvin Roetzel.  For Paul imagines a new world with a new humanity, united across the old divisions that once separated people, yet now all working together as sisters and brothers in a common family united in purpose to achieve God’s vision for the world.  And Paul thinks, “Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?  Who wouldn’t want to be an initial investor in the creation of a more just world?” 

            Paul calls this opportunity to donate money “an indescribable gift” for which  we should give thanks to God.  You could update the language.  “This is going to be bigger than if you were an initial investor in Berkshire Hathaway!”

            Only this time instead of a great financial return, you are contributing in the making of better world.

 

             Guess what?  That’s still the church’s financial appeal.  2,000 years later we are still in the business of making a better world—more just, more equitable, more peaceful, more loving and joyful. 

            So I thank you for your gifts and for your participation in God’s on-going mission and the small part we play in that big picture here at First Central Congregational Church. 

            Happy Thanksgiving.  And “Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift!”


Songs of Peace

Songs of Peace

Philippians 4:4-9

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

23 December 2018

 

 

            This semester I once again taught the introductory philosophy class at Creighton University.  The final book we read is Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, her exploration of the evil of Adolf Eichmann who was the Nazi responsible for assuring that the trains ran efficiently to the concentration camps. 

            What Arendt discovered surprised her—Eichmann was not a larger-than-life monster.  Instead, he was a boring, thoughtless, joiner.  Someone fixated on his own self and incapable of feeling or thinking from another person’s perspective.  She concluded that evil had become banal—something boring, ordinary people were capable of.

            But for Arendt, this was good news, because it meant evil wasn’t some great metaphysical problem that threatened the rationality and the goodness of the universe.  Evil was something easily overcome, because the opposite of thoughtlessness is to think and to think well.  And for Arendt thinking originates not as some abstract enterprise, but out of our sense of wonder and gratitude at the world.

 

            The last class period before we begin discussing Hannah Arendt’s book, we wrap up the series of lectures by William James entitled Pragmatism, and this sets up the Arendt discussion.  In the final lecture James explores what he considers “the final question of philosophy”—will the world be saved? 

            James explores three attitudes to this question: the Optimist believes that inevitably all will work out for the best, the Pessimist is certain that there is no meaning or purpose to life, but there is the middle ground of the Meliorist who believes that the final outcome is neither inevitable nor impossible, but fully up to us.  The world is the “workshop of being” and our existence is “a real adventure, with real danger, yet [we] may win through.”

 

            What is Peace? 

            We have this negative idea of peace as the absence of violence or war between people or states.  But this is a rather limited notion.  Does peace have any positive qualities?

            When we pray to receive God’s peace, what are we longing for?  Is peace a state of our own character?  Some quality we can achieve.

 

            The philosopher I specialized in during graduate school was Alfred North Whitehead, who was an English mathematician and logician who taught at Harvard and developed a grand metaphysics.  And Peace was a key virtue in Whitehead’s thought.  He called it the “Harmony of Harmonies” and described it as the state of character that is sensitive to the tragedy of life and yet enjoys beauty.

            The human condition is vulnerable.  We have tendencies to do some bad things.  We often succumb to temptation.  We can fall into vices. 

            But all of existence is vulnerable as well.  We live in a world of violence, where natural disasters and human catastrophes can rob us of our well-being.

            On an even more fundamental level, the very passage of time involves perishing.  Even the greatest moments of our lives—those where we are overwhelmed with joy, love, adventure, or beauty—are temporal and therefore fleeting.  Change and loss are built into the very fabric of the cosmos.

            How do we respond to these realities? 

            One human tendency is to ignore them and wish that they go away.  This is to live an apathetic, passive sort of life, what my graduate school college Kevin Durand called “the Tranquilized Soul.”  The Tranquilized Soul is “unmotivated to adventure, novelty, or exploration” and doesn’t let the external world “intrude at all on its self-contemplative tranquility.”

            Another human tendency, and one we see a lot of these days it seems, is what theologian Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo calls “ruthless egotism.”  This person tries to control every situation in order to minimize the effects upon him or her.

            Both of these responses try to be invulnerable to reality and tragedy.  Gandolfo writes, “But refusing to be vulnerable to pain carries with it the price of closing oneself off to Beauty.”

            There is another way, a way that embraces our vulnerability, and that is what Whitehead and those influenced by him call “Peace.”  Gandolfo writes, “Peace entails an understanding and an acceptance of the tragic structure of existence, and thus frees us to appreciate the Beauty that continually and infinitely emerges from” life.

 

            So the God who created the cosmos incarnates in a peasant child, born among the animals and laid in a manger—an explicit sign of embracing our vulnerability.  If we are to “follow the way of the Incarnation,” as Gandolfo describes it, then we must “embody vulnerability differently.”  We have to quit mismanagement by egoistically ignoring or trying to exert total control over it.  Instead, we must accept the reality of the human condition as one of weakness and vulnerability and pain, yet productive of great beauty, love, and joy.

            This is what it means to be a Peaceful Soul.

            She writes, “The point of the Incarnation, then, is not to see the awesome power of divinity and bow down to worship it.  The point is to recognize and realize ourselves in it and it in ourselves.”

            To follow Jesus, is to become human in a new way.

            The Peaceful Soul is able to embrace vulnerability and still enjoy life.  She transcends the narrow focus on the self and is attentive to all others.  She not only understands that others have value, she marvels at them and enjoys them.  The Peaceful Soul participates in the creative advance and develops character, as my friend Kevin Durand describes it.  “Peace is the control of self-interest that moves the soul toward harmony with the self and greater harmony in participation in the world.”  The Peaceful Soul experiences wonder and gratitude at the world.

 

            This, I believe is what Paul is describing in his joyful letter to the Philippians.  A peace of God that will be with us, that is one of the excellent things, that surpasses all our understanding. 

            The day of Christ’s birth is drawing near.  We will be born anew this year.  Jesus opens up the possibility for us to become Peaceful Souls.

            So, beloved, keep on doing what is true and honorable and just, and the God of peace will be with you.


Give Thanks for Those We Remember

Give Thanks for Those We Remember

Psalm 107

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

4 November 2018

            Walter Brueggemann writes that “Psalm 107 is the fullest, clearest example of a song of thanksgiving.”  The psalm opens with a “summons to thanks that imagines” God’s people gathering home.  Next are four case studies: people find themselves in trouble, they cry out to God, who delivers them, and they respond with thanksgiving.  And finally the psalm ends with a statement of God’s sovereignty.  The overarching theme of this psalm is that the people are grateful for God’s steadfast love.

            Hear now this ancient song of thanksgiving.

Psalm 107

O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; for God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those God redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town;

hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God delivered them from their distress;

God led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.

Let them thank the Lord for steadfast love, for God’s wonderful works to humankind.

For God satisfies the thirsty, and fills the hungry with good things.

Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons,

for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.

Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with no one to help.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God saved them from their distress;

God brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder.

Let them thank the Lord for steadfast love, for God’s wonderful works to humankind.

For God shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;

they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God saved them from their distress;

God sent out God’s word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.

Let them thank the Lord for steadfast love, for God’s wonderful works to humankind.

And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of God’s deeds with songs of joy.

Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters;

they saw the deeds of the Lord, God’s wondrous works in the deep.

For God commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.

They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity;

they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits’ end.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God brought them out from their distress;

God made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Then they were glad because they had quiet, and God brought them to their desired haven.

Let them thank the Lord for steadfast love, for God’s wonderful works to humankind.

Let them extol God in the congregation of the people, and praise God in the assembly of the elders.

The Lord turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground,

a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.

The Lord turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.

And there God lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in;

they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield.

By God’s blessing they multiply greatly, and God does not let their cattle decrease.

When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,

the Lord pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;

but raises up the needy out of distress, and makes their families like flocks.

The upright see it and are glad; and all wickedness stops its mouth.

Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

For the Word of God in scripture,
For the Word of God among us,
For the Word of God within us,
Thanks be to God.

            Positive psychologist Derrick Carpenter writes, “The benefits of practicing gratitude are nearly endless. People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they're thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.”

            For the month of November we are Giving Thanks in our worship.  This year, let’s not save thanksgiving for one holiday, let’s spend the month practicing gratitude.  I invite you to take on some special practice this month.  Maybe every day you will write a thank you note or start a gratitude journal or post on social media something you are grateful for or simply say daily prayers of thanksgiving to God.  I invite you to explore our worship theme in your daily spiritual practice.

            The science of positive psychology has demonstrated conclusively the importance of practicing gratitude for a healthy human life.  But we people of faith already knew that.  Walter Brueggemann proclaims that gratitude is “the ultimate practice of faith.”  He describes thanksgiving as the very “impetus for life with” God in the Hebrew tradition.  He writes, “Israel endlessly recited the inventory of acts of divine fidelity and probed for the right responses in gratitude.”

            He explains that our gratitude to God “calls us away from the modern illusion of self-sufficiency” and reminds us that our lives depend upon God.  This “is an odd way to live” he admits.  Yet we see it in the stories of all those people who’ve found themselves in times of trouble and called to God in their distress and been delivered, like the people in this here Psalm.  “No wonder the folks in the psalm have tales to tell and offerings to bring!” he writes.  “By them we are drawn into the generosity of God, which evokes gratitude.”

            In the summer of 2004, not long after their wedding, I came out to my Mom and my new step-dad Revis Stanford.  I didn't know how the moment would go,  Iespecially didn't know what my new step-dad might say.  But Revis reached out and held my hand and said, “Scotty, why should that matter? I love you like my own son. This doesn’t change anything.”

And so Revis Stanford became a hero in my story.

Revis died at the end of August.  This All Saints Sunday, I remember him and celebrate his life.  I give thanks to God for Revis Stanford and how I was blessed by him. 

Who are the people you are remembering and celebrating this year?  For whom are you giving thanks?

What I remember most about Edna Kruse was that she was always smiling.  Her smile and her laughter were infectious.  She was a lifelong Congregationalist, proud of that.  Here at First Central she was a devoted Sunday school teacher, having blessed the children of this congregation.  Jim Harmon shared with me that every time he visited Edna over the last decade when she was mostly homebound, she always wanted to be sure she was caught up on her pledge, as giving financially to the church was important to her.

Ron Butler and Ken Coats were only members here for a short while, as they ultimately moved on to Palm Springs, California to enjoy their retirement.  Ron and Ken were a couple for more than fifty years, an amazing accomplishment for two gay men who met in the 1960’s in Nebraska.  At Ron’s funeral his nieces and nephews mourned his loss, as their entire lives he had so good and generous with them.  More than an uncle, he was another father figure to them.  And I remember Ron's kindness when our son Sebastian was born—he sent a gift with a note celebrating that Michael and I were able to adopt, confessing that having their own children was something he and Ken would have enjoyed but never were able to even consider it.

            One thing about Ellie Caron that stood out was the way she contributed money to multiple causes and organizations.  But what I remember most about her was her devotion to her late husband Joe and to honoring his memory.  One of the trees in our courtyard was given by Ellie in memory of Joe, and she was always so concerned about that tree and whether it was being watered and otherwise properly taken care of.

            Janet Bouma was a devoted wife and loving mother and grandmother.  She was gracious and hospitable, sharing with everyone, including many in this church.  One of our former members described Janet as “God’s hands and feet in the world” and added, “I’ll never forget her laugh.”  Janet made people’s lives more rich and full and enjoyable. 

            Of all Pipi Peterson’s many gifts, this congregation will remember her the longest because she loved our kids.  She demonstrated during almost thirty years of being an on-again, off-again staff member here.  Pipi touched so very many lives.  Her influence continues to bless others, because the kids she helped to teach have their own kids and they’ve become teachers and influencers.  Her life soared beyond its physical limitations, reaching out across space and time. 

            This year we gather for All Saints, to remember and honor our dead, a week after eleven worshippers were killed at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  We remember and honor them as well today, giving thanks to God for their lives.

            Joyce Fienberg had retired from a career as a research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh where she specialized in researching the best classroom educational techniques.  According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, her students most remembered her for being “a warm host who welcomed them into her family’s home and kept sending holiday cards for years afterward.”

            Dr. Richard Gottfried was a dentist who donated his time to dental free clinics, in particular one that served refugees and immigrants.

            Rose Mallinger was the oldest victim, at 97 years of age.  A devoted member of the Synagogue, her family described her as a woman of “sharp wit, humor and intelligence until the very last day.”

            Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz was a beloved family physician.  One of his colleagues said that Dr. Rabinowitz was “one of the finest people I've ever met in my life. He had a moral compass stronger than anyone I have ever known.”

            Cecil and David Rosenthal were brothers with developmental disabilities who loved attending synagogue and went every week without fail, according to news reports.  Cecil was one of the greeters at the synagogue.  They were described as “larger than life. . . . two of the most kind, generous people. . . . entwined into the fabric of their community.”

            According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Daniel Stein helped out everywhere and made the tough stuff look effortless.”  One of his friends said, “You call on him for a tough task, and he’ll do it without looking for any kind of pat on the back or plaque or anything.”

            Melvin Wax, a retired accountant, was leading services last week.  His rabbi described him as “perpetually happy.”  His cousin said, ““If you look in the dictionary under the word unselfish, you’ll see the name Melvin Wax because he was one of the most unselfish people I’ve known in my entire life.  If anyone on this earth walked humbly with their God, it was Mel Wax. He did not have a conceited bone in his body.”  The 87-year-old Wax had recently organized a voter registration drive.

            According to the Tribune-Review, “Bernice Simon baked delicious cranberry orange bread.”  Bernice and Sylvan Simon, both victims, had been married in that synagogue in 1956.  Their children descried them as “deeply in love with each other.”  He was a retired accountant, she a retired nurse.  That day they were going to host a family birthday party in their home.

            The Post-Gazette wrote of Irving Young, He “did the tasks no one else wanted to — and he did them with a smile.  When people came in to Tree of Life for services, he would greet them. He would guide them to a seat, and he would hand them a book if they needed one.”  He was the congregant who always arrived early and always stayed late.

            We give thanks for these lives, their love, and their influence.  And we remember them.  In the words of a Jewish prayer of remembrance,

At the rising sun and at its going down; We remember them.

At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter; We remember them.

At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring; We remember them.

At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer; We remember them.

At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn; We remember them.

At the beginning of the year and when it ends; We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as We remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength; We remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart; We remember them.

When we have decisions that are difficult to make; We remember them.

When we have joy we crave to share; We remember them.

When we have achievements that are based on theirs; We remember them.

For as long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us as, We remember them.