Archive for the ‘marty’ Category

This reflection is from OPC’s U2Charist service. There is more, including some of the live recordings, at the church website.

Ephesians 4:25-29

One of the things that the band U2 has said is that this is OK to do their songs in a worship service royalty-free if you take up a collection for which none of the money goes to the local organization (in this case OPC) but instead go toward an organization that supports Millennium Development Goals. If you’re not familiar with these goals, They were adopted by 192 countries at the U.N. in 2001 as things to strive for by 2015:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

Whatever you might think about the U.N., I’m sure that the meeting in Copenhagen has left you wondering if there is anything that the U.N. can accomplish when 192 nations are trying to work together. But when I look at these development goals, the thing that strikes me is, “Aren’t these things we should be doing anyway?” Whether or not the U.N. says so, aren’t these the things that we should be aiming for anyway? To make life better for children, to strive for equality for all, especially women, to feed as many people as possible, to take better care of our planet, these are all things that we should be doing anyway. What the U.N. says isn’t nearly as important as what the gospel calls us to do.

There are two phrases from tonight’s passage that I want to highlight. First: “we are all members of one another.” We’re all connected to each other. You’re here tonight for one reason or another. Was it because you like the music of U2? Is it because you’re a fan of the U.N.? Or the Millennium Development Goals? Is it because you wanted to be together with a group of people? Were you looking for community on New Year’s Eve? There is something, call it God, or community, or the Holy Spirit, that brought you here tonight, because we are members one of another. We know that we’re all connected.

The second phrase is this: “Our words give grace.” We are the instruments of God’s grace. We are vessels of God’s mercy. We’re the hands and feet of Christ. We are the ones who do God’s work in the world; not just for each other, but to the ends of the earth. And in doing so, we need to remember: we can’t be vessels of God’s grace, pouring it out, if we’re not taking time to fill ourselves up. And that is, in part, what we do here tonight. We fill ourselves up quite literally at the table, and in the Spirit as we gather for worship and as we sing the songs and as we celebrate and as we welcome the new year in together. And, of course, it is not only important to speak of our words bringing grace but that our actions ought to be grace.

One challenge I want to make to you, as we all make our New Year’s Resolutions: What’s the one thing I can do to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals, to end poverty, to raise the standard of living for children, to bring about equality, to care for the planet, to treat treatable diseases? What’s the one thing I can do? Here in our backyard, right here in Atlanta, there are numerous ministries that are doing these things, and we can pick one to get engaged with.

But the moment that gets overwhelming is to recognize this is not only a local issue but a global one. What can I possibly do to combat malaria in western Africa? Tonight, we’ll take up a collection for one organization that, I think, gives some possibility for engagement from here: the Presbyterian Hunger Program. It’s a program of our own denomination, the PC(USA), and by virtue of being part of a national body can have an impact far around the world. In addition, though, they also have very concrete suggestions and resources for how what we can make simple choices about what we do here that can make a difference around the world. Two quick examples:

  • Fair Trade Coffee. This is coffee which is grown intentionally with an eye toward minimizing environmental impact and maximizing profits for the growers who typically remain in a struggle with poverty otherwise. Can your church, or your office, or even your own kitchen afford a few bucks extra to make a difference?
  • Just Eating. This is a study guide from the denomination that takes a look at how it is that what we eat affects others. The choices we make of what we buy, where we buy, how we cook, all of those kinds of questions end up offering the simplest way for us to make that impact in that other part of the world where we feel like we could never reach.

We don’t have to wait for the U.N. We are the instruments of God’s grace. We are the vessels of God’s mercy. We, together, are the body of Christ. We are Christ’s hands and feet, here, in this world, incarnating and living out God’s love. We can make a difference. We can change the world.

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Acts 8:26-40

As we move closer to our 60th Anniversary celebration, we are remembering stories and events from years past. In a few weeks, we are going to post some of those on the church website, kind of an OPC Story Corps.

But why is it that we remember? We honor those who have come before; we re-tell stories that are precious or meaningful to us so as not to forget them and to hold onto them as firmly as possible. I think we largely remember so as to preserve the past and not lose it.

When Dad died last year, our family found grief an occasion for remembering. Some of that, no doubt, comes from realizing that there is one person now missing who used to be the link to all of these stories. And so we told them in our own effort not to forget, to preserve Dad’s memories as though they were our own. And Dad was a fantastic story teller. He loved to talk about his grandmother Wilkes, who was so left-handed, she would drink your water. Or his stories of college hijinks and pranks. I remember him talking about discovering the thermostat for the entire dorm was in his room, and how he manipulated that in order to make the whole building heat up one night and freeze another.

But there was one story that Dad was famous for. It was the candle story. It doesn’t present well in written form because of the physicality of it, so I may try and post a video of it here in a few days. I don’t know that any videos of Dad telling it exist, but that’s somehow fitting, because it wasn’t really his story. It was a story that Uncle Henry used to tell, and before that Uncle Brock. And who knows who told it before them.

But we tell these stories, and re-tell these stories because we so desperately want to remember. And that remembering says something about who we are and to whom we belong.

One of my favorite podcasts is Radiolab, a show that describes itself as being “about curiosity.” It often focuses on science as part of understanding the curious. Their show about memory looked at the latest discoveries of neuroscience and the mechanics of remembering. I think for most of us, the assumption is that memory is like a file cabinet or a hard drive. They’re all in there somewhere; it’s just a matter of accessing it somehow.

The truth about memory, however, is surprising. Through what neuroscience has learned within the last few years, it seems that memory is not like this at all. Instead, when we remember, we re-create or re-experience the memory. When those memories are not so wonderful, like abuse or trauma, this is why there is a need to find ways to heal the memory; each remembrance is as though we are living it again. When those memories are things we do want to remember, this is why so often it seems that memories change.

Have you ever had the experience of retelling an old story with an old friend or sibling who has a very different memory of the event? How can it be that two people are remembering the same event so differently? In essence, we are re-living the experience imperfectly, because we are not the same person; we are not in the same situation; we are not in that place. Jonah Lehrer, a science writer speaking on that Radiolab program, says it best: “What you are remembering is that memory interpreted in the light of today, in the light of now.”

I don’t know of a better description of how the church employs memory. Our primary purpose in telling these stories from Scripture, or from our memories of this congregation, is not necessarily to preserve them; instead, it ought to be for the sake of remembering what it is that God has done in the past for us, seen in the light of what is doing in our lives now, and understanding that God will be at work in the years to come.

The lesson from Acts about Philip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch is an excellent example of this. Here is this high court official from Ethiopia (who may or may not actually be a eunuch – the evidence is unclear based on Greek usage of the term) who is leaving Jerusalem where he has been worshiping. He is either a Jewish proselyte/convert or is getting close to that. And so, as he reads the scroll of Isaiah, he gets caught up on the passages we know as the “Suffering Servant” passages. Outside of the Christian context, this wasn’t understood so much in a Messianich framework; instead, it was a general way of understanding suffering and its role in God’s work and mercy in the world.

So as Philip approaches this chariot, the Ethiopian invites him in; and Philip remembers this story to him in light of the gospel. Or as the lesson says, “the good news about Jesus.” It is then that he notices that there is water along the road; the stop, and Philip baptizes him.

Next week we are going to be celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism here in our worship service. And the moments when we do are a chance for us to remember our story in light of what God has done and continues to do. Both of our sacraments, both communion and baptism, are moments when we re-tell the salvation history, the work of what God has done as we know from the Scriptures. We begin with creation, the calling out of a nation, the sending of prophets, the coming of Christ, and the meaning of his crucifixion and resurrection. We re-tell and remember each time we celebrate the Sacrament, because they serve as reminders of what the Holy Spirit has already done and continues to do in our lives.

I have posted the French Reformed Church’s baptismal liturgy, where the pastor speaks directly to the child:

For you, little one, the Spirit of God moved over the waters at creation, and the Lord God made covenants with his people. It was for you that the Word of God became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth. For you, Jesus Christ suffered death crying out at the end, “It is finished!” For you Christ triumphed over death, rose in newness of life, and ascended to rule over all. All of this was done for you, little one, though you do not know any of this yet. But we will continue to tell you this good news until it becomes your own. And so the promise of the gospel is fulfilled: “We love because God first loved us.” 

We tell this story again and again, if science is right, not because we want to preserve it as it was. Instead, we re-tell it and remember it so that it becomes real and it becomes ours. When we baptize, or when we simply see the font in front of us, we remember the whole story of salvation. And whether we have already been baptized, or hope to be baptized, or don’t know what all the fuss is about, there is still this amazing thing that happens whereby we ourselves are brought into this story.

Religion, re-ligion, is at its heart a word about reconnecting. As is re-membering: taking these members and bringing them together again. All of this leads us to a simple truth: God is at work in our lives before we even know it; this is why we baptize infants. God has been at work at OPC and in our lives. But let us remember this: God is at work now at OPC and in our lives. And God will be at work at OPC and in our lives in the years to come.

May we never forget.

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The Elder Laughs

Today was the Spring Presbytery meeting. In the opening worship service, after Larry Owens preached a tear ’em up sermon, we had the annual necrology – the reading of elders and ministers who had died within the past year. I was caught off guard to see the name Marthame Elliott Sanders, Jr., listed under elder at First Pres. My first reaction was surprise – he was an ordained deacon, not an elder; then discomfort – grief catchs me at the oddest moments; and finally amusement – as though Dad’s still got surprises for me to stumble upon.

All this was swirling when Larry got up to pronounce the benediction:

May the God who mothers and fathers you in all good things open your eyes to the children heaven has placed in your way to take you by the hand and lead you home.

It was one of those moments, as though he had written it just for me. There in this service, where we moved from a crisp, prophetic sermon on “let the little children come to me” to a personally jolting necrology, the benediction pulled it all together with one of those deep down gut-created epiphanal smiles. My earthly father was still playing away with that child-like irreverence that both drove me and made me crazy.

I miss you, Dad.

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Sam Hagan, who has been a friend of the family for years, was the soloist at the Memorial Service for Dad. I could listen to him sing for days on end. He sang two pieces, the 23rd Psalm

and Going Home

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One more video for Dad.
[Note: YouTube disabled the audio for this video because of “copyright violation” according to Warner Music Group. I would argue fair use, but…not really interested in hiring a legal team to do battle with the corporate music dinosaurs. So to view the video, you’ll have to go over to my Facebook site here.]

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by Alan Kelley (Marty’s Nephew)

The last time I saw Uncle Marty was at a Westminster High School reunion. I was celebrating my 20th. He was celebrating his 50th. He had seen me from across the room and came over to chat. I remember vividly how happy he seemed. He had a great smile and a fun twinkle in his eye.

During the past couple of weeks I have thought a lot about my Uncle Marty…the skits he would give at family reunions, his special sense of humor, the ease with which I could relate with him, his fortune of having such a close family, the pain and difficulty felt during these past few weeks, and the opportunity I was given to talk with him by phone several days ago when he was in the hospital.

I am very sad to see Uncle Marty go. I have felt heavy and shed some tears. But I like to keep in mind the image from our high school reunions. I believe that if we could see him now in heaven, we would see some of that same happy smile and fun twinkle.

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My Father

My earliest memories of my father were of laughter. And what I yearned for more than anything was to try and make him laugh. Doing so was better than winning the Heisman and the World Series combined; it was the height of perfection in my little brain. And as the years passed, it remained a high water mark to aim for. Alecia reminded me that it wasn’t only Dad’s refined sense of humor that made it so wonderful to hear him laugh; it was the sound of the laugh itself: a high-pitched cackle that came out of that ear-to-ear smile.

When our son Ramsay was born, he and Dad were fast friends. I admit being a bit jealous, though, because it never seemed like Ramsay had any difficulty making Dad laugh. I could tell my Dad “Ramsay Stories” for hours, and he would howl the whole time. It didn’t matter what Ramsay did: a story about projectile vomiting would have Dad in stitches.

When Elizabeth was pregnant, I sought Dad’s wisdom about being a father. I remembered when Alecia and I were kids that he was always there with us at breakfast and dinner, and that he was always home on weekends. When I asked him about that, his response still rings in my ears: “You guys were so much fun that I didn’t want to miss anything.”

I loved that answer, and when I became a father myself, I knew exactly what he meant. I don’t want to miss a thing. When Ramsay was born, Dad wasn’t the only one with that ear-to-ear grin. I touched something holy; holding my son in my arms and looking into his face, I got a glimpse of what it must be like to see something created in your image take life. I know Dad must have felt the same way about me and Alecia. And I can’t help but wonder if this says anything about how God looks at us.

Scripture often talks about God as “Father.” I would be betraying my heritage if I didn’t transcend this language to say that God is our parent. Could it be that this parental relationship, which I have been blessed to treasure with my parents and with my son, tells me something about my relationship with God? Could it be that God steadfastly remains in our lives because we are so much fun? Is it possible that the ridiculous things we do make God howl in hysterics? Not a capricious laughter of judgment at our follies and sufferings, but the laughter of pure joy of a God whose deepest desire is to be in relationship with us. Could it be that God so wants to be a part of our lives because there is such divine joy in watching us, holding us, simply in spending time with us? Maybe it’s just that God doesn’t want to miss anything.

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*Professional Stand-Up Comedian

Dad had a second career as a stand-up comedian. It was after closing the construction company and a few years of self-discovery. For many folks, it made all the sense in the world. He was a natural in front of a crowd; it took a while for him to hone the writing part of it, but his first time on stage, he killed. His routine was kind of a cross between Steven Wright and Rodney Dangerfield. He first got on stage in 1993:

He took to the stage again a few months later with largely the same act, but now with a closing song:

The last time I remember seeing him on stage was 2004. His act had changed over the ensuing years (with a few jokes recycled here and there), and he was clearly much more comfortable on stage. Here he is in November, a show I saw live:

Then the same act (but with some new bits thrown in) in December:

I am so grateful that he got to do this thing he had probably wanted to do his whole life.

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The Night Before Christmas

Christmas is a particularly bittersweet time of year for so many who have lost a loved one. We’re no exception, of course. Dad loved Christmas. He loved getting family together at every opportunity, and was often the glue for our family gatherings.

On Christmas Eve, we had a particular ritual which included, among other things, Dad’s dramatic retelling of Clement Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas. Alecia and I would howl at everything he said. Watching these videos now, they are not only precious memories (and painful, embarrassing reminders of years gone by), they also strike me as still pretty funny.

Here’s 1980.

And 1983.

And 1984.

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Family Gatherings

Dad was one of the funniest people I ever knew. He really tapped into that much later with his stand-up comedy (see below), but as he slowed down over the years, I had forgotten how quick-witted and sharp he was.

The two videos below are from the Sanders’ extended family Christmas gatherings. Dad was usually the one documenting the proceedings, but he always made sure he had a few moments in front of the camera as well.

In 1980, each family member was asked to share their favorite Christmas memories. Dad went last and stole the show. The camera is shaky because I (age 10) am trying my best to keep it steady while laughing hysterically at him the whole time.

In 1981, we had just returned from a trip to Mexico, and the siblings and inlaws are all curious. Mom’s behind the camera and she, too, is having trouble with the “hold steady” approach.

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