Special note from the webmaster: That morning upon entering the church, we were told about Nelson's passing. The atmosphere in the Church was quite somber as the last we had heard, Nelson was in good spirits and fighting against that terrible cancer...
Beyond Our Horizons
(I dedicated this service to Nelson Weippert, my favourite preacher and good friend. Nelson was a true Christian gentleman, unselfishly giving, together with his wife, Sharon, to the community around him. Nelson looked at God not as the grand old man with a long white beard, but more like an unseen deity without regard to gender or any other human limitation. This is made clear by the benediction Nelson always used, which I include after this message).
When I was a young boy living on Argyle Ave. in Verdun, my father and I had an interesting talk about the future, specifically my future. I had asked him a few questions in the past, but those were the questions of a toddler, like “Will I keep growing until I hit the clouds?” or “will I be hundreds of years old some day?” He had answered all my questions, but sometimes he’d say, “OK, that’s enough. Let’s pick this up another time.” I sensed a degree of frustration at times like that.
But this time, it was different. This time I wasn’t a toddler any more, but a regular young man of around 10.This time he was asking me questions. Questions like, what did I want to be when I grow up? Where did I want to live? Have I thought of being a farmer, or a scientist? And so on. Well, after a little thought, I said to him. I think I want to be an engineer, and I want to build cars. I’ll work for a big company like GM. I’ll make a good salary, get married, have kids, and buy a nice house, maybe a split-level, and when I turn 65 I’ll retire with a good pension.
This kind of floored him for a bit, but then he bit into a question I’m sure he figured I couldn’t handle. He said, “What about after that?” “After that,” I said, “I’ll have a really good retirement for ten years…and then I’ll die.
Say what? Ten years old! He wasn’t even asking me a question about it. No, I laid it all out for him. This was the master plan by the 10-year-old master. He didn’t really want to question it because for the 1950’s it wasn’t really such a bad plan.
So, let’s fast-forward 65 years, shall we? That would be to today! If the master plan by the 10 year old were to be fulfilled, some time this year you folks would be singing, “Nearer My God to Thee” over my casket.
But let me be frank. Given a choice, I’d sooner stick around a bit longer.
Is that any different for any of us? Even the strongest believer wouldn’t say, hey! Take me. I want to be with God. Not if we’re still in reasonable health. Not if we’re not suffering. Not if we still have loved ones close by. You see, God made our earth for our pleasure. He made it for us not only to exist from day to day, but so that we can take pleasure in His creation. He never meant for us to make it easy to leave. God gave us this wonderful earth so that we can immerse ourselves fully in its fruits. And that includes using all our talent, all our skills, all our waking moment to appreciate what we have and to make sure it is preserved for the next generation, and the one after that, into a limitless future.
At least that is what I believe!
We are approaching Lent, a time when Jesus Christ looked carefully into his coming ministry. He knew the hour of ministry was at hand. He knew it had to start, that he had to make a start. But he had to be very clear he would go about it right. He already knew that he was about to embark on a journey greater than any man – or any woman – had ever taken before. He also knew that the end of that journey would culminate in a great sacrifice, one that would require him to go to the covenant, the agreement made by the prophets with God, that he, Jesus Christ, would give up his life on God’s altar.
Isn’t that a humbling thought? And for what? What possible reason would Christ have to give up his own life in such a manner.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
There is our answer. Jesus gave up his life out of love for us, his children, his brethren, his friends. He did it out of love. Maybe that’s what drove the apostles from the upper room, when they too realized that Christ’s reason for such a sacrifice was unselfish love to all of them, to all of us. When the apostles were troubled by the seeming finality of their lord’s coming death, he said to them in John 14, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me.2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.’
Yet we are still troubled. We don’t see this place. We don’t see the Father. We think of him as remote, as in the clouds or in the ether somewhere. We refer to him as a ‘He’ because Christ referred to him in that way. But why should we get bogged down by gender?
I have mentioned before that when my mother-in-law was close to death she asked me in these very words: “What do you suppose happens when you die?” Yes, what do you suppose happens? It was a tough question. I myself have allowed that question to be asked in my prayers, in my meditations, in my dreams. The answer I gave her came out of those meditations, out of those dreams. I said to her, “I believe you come face to face with God in the most amazing experience you have ever known. You become one with God.”
And she said, “I hope so,” and her eyes told me she was content. Remember these words by Christ in John 17. Jesus prayed for all of us, not only for his apostles, but for everyone. For you. For me. For every man, woman, and child under creation
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who [j]will believe in Me through their word; (In other words, by their example, they will show their belief) He goes on to say “21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
See, the answer again is found in love. We leave our doubts behind when we cross the street to help another in any unselfish way we can. When we concentrate on the needs of our neighbour over our own, when we reach our hand to the refugee, when we offer food to the starving, when we push a stranded stranger out of a snow bank, when we strive to remember a name (one of my personal challenges}, when we turn our attention to the elderly, when we begin to realize that there is no colour barrier, that there is no gender inequality, when we speak to our children as equals, when we decide to say every day as we rise, “I believe, I believe, I believe.”
This life here on earth, in our material world, is not all there is. In the late 1800’s in Concord, Massachusetts, a group of men and women met to meditate and to pray. They called themselves, the transcendentalists. Quite a mouthful, I know. They were the first of the hippies, in a sense. They were the legacy of the apostles in another sense. They studied the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book which included the thoughts of the Hindu religion. They found that Christ’s words resonated throughout this book also. And why shouldn’t it? The truth about God is a universal truth. The truth about love is a universal truth. These men and women, Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott, and others were philosophers. They were vegetarians. They were Spartan in the simplicity of their lives. And they were deep believers. Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott who wrote the classic novel, Little Women, was so strict that at one point in his life he and his family refused to wear leather shoes because leather came from animals. Bronson kept himself and his family in poverty because he truly believed what we often say only in prayer, that God will always provide. Let me quote these line from a book I have read in the past, “In the bitterness of one harsh winter, such as we are familiar with, the Alcotts ran out of firewood. Bronson brought his family together and asked that they all pray for help to God who never failed them. The next morning, looking out on the snow-covered road, the family saw a huge jumble of tangled firewood. With shouts of joy, Alcott’s ‘little women’ gathered it up. During the night a cart laden with firewood had collapsed and the carter had gone on empty with his disabled wagon. While it may have seemed like an accident to some, to Bronson it was no accident but the hand of God.
Too often, nowadays, we fail to see the hand of God in our daily lives because we are impatient, we don’t slow down to measure the pulse of the universe, of God himself, living within us. This is not a male God, nor a female God, but the God of love. And we must approach him in a way that acknowledges his oneness with us. When David Thoreau, another of these transcendentalists lay dying, a friendly caller dropped in on him and said, “Well, Mr. Thoreau, we must all go – nice man, what? The sick man looked up with a smile and said faintly. “Yes, but death is as near to you as it is to me.”
Now, God may decide not to take me yet, so my master plan of age 10 may not turn out exactly as I foresaw it in 1954. In fact, I won’t be disappointed if I messed up miserably with my prediction because, in the words of Robert Frost, the American poet, “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep.”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Nelson’s Benediction: May the love of God, our father, the comfort of God, our mother, and the joy of Jesus, our brother, be with each of us as we leave this place. Go now, in peace.
When I was looking through my computer notes for some inspiration to write about Nelson, I came across this file simply labelled ‘Nelson’. I opened it up to see what it contained and found a poem I had written two years ago but had forgotten. At the time, I had seen and heard Nelson a couple of times, but couldn’t remember his name:
One day I went to church when I wasn’t going to,
and I heard a man with a message,
and I saw him loud and clear.
You see, it wasn’t the content or the way he said it,
it wasn’t the scripture though he knew it well.
It was the man himself, he spoke like a friend
and I saw in his eyes - I see them clear -
I saw a small twinkle like a jolly Kris Kringle
and I knew that this coming to church to just hear him
was the event of my day, this one holy Sunday.
Now, this man made me feel like I’d known him forever,
and yet I’d just seen him a time or two before.
And this day when he spoke he spoke of a whole people
who suffered together beset by the strong.
I turned to my wife, ”Do you remember his name?”
“Who? Why him. The one with the beard like the Baptist.
The one up there in the pulpit, speaking of injustice.
Speaking in a way I picture Christ himself might speak,
kindly, and softly, not like a preacher, but drawing a picture,
more like a neighbour speaking of crops, telling a story
of a great man in Africa, one called Mandela,
who suffered in jail a very long time.”
“No,” she replied, “I don’t remember his name.”
But then he kept talking, and he spoke of his subject again,
this Mandela who suffered more than any ten men should,
but survived, and forgave, and showed the world
the profile of a real Christian, one who perseveres like Job
and loves like Christ…and then…and then I remembered.
The man he referred to with whom he shared a name.
And the name, it was Nelson. And I sighed.
I was finally satisfied.
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