Well, here it is again, the last Lord's Day of the year. Boy it seems like it got here quick. Sure doesn't seem like a year ago that we were feasting on the holiday goodies, watching the "bowl" games and making our New Year's resolutions. Speaking of resolutions, I'm only going to make one for this coming year: as long as I'm alive, I'm resolved to get up at least once a day. See, I believe in resolutions that are "keepable." (New word for the year)
So, having "preambled" (2nd new word) you to this point, I'm going to base our lesson today on some year-end and coming-year thoughts. And, to help me do that, I'm going to resort to a favorite method of editorial illustrating - the words of an old familiar hymn and a story accompanying it. I think this song will fit right in with our general theme of ending a year and beginning our journey through the next. Before we get any further along, the title of our hymn is "Abide With Me."
When we look back in remembrance of this past year we can pretty much relate it to the opening line of Charles Dickens's book "A Tale of Two Cities." You know, where he says, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." I guess that some events of just about every year can be viewed, in the rear-view mirror so to speak, as fitting into one or the other of those two states. Every year seems to have their highs and lows and their ups and downs, don't they? And I speak of them in both the individual sense and in the collective sense.
Congregational-wise, or collectively speaking, we've all experienced some good things occur with baptisms and way-ward souls returning to their "first love." And, we've had the "worst of times" occur with the death of members and loved ones. I think that the only thing we can surmise here is that our "times" on this old earth will always produce events that fit both of these occasions and when I bring today's thoughts to a close, I'll leave you with a quote befitting of what I just said.
Right now, let's look at the little story relating to our hymn and then we'll look at some of the words in the hymn itself. Perhaps some of you are working, or have worked in the medical field and if so, this story will have more meaning to you than others. It's the account of a nurse by the name of Edith Clavell, her heroic activities during The Great War (WW1) and the end of her life. In this account we'll see both the "good" times and the "bad" times with the bad being terrible.
Edith was the "nurse in charge"of the Red Cross Hospital in Brussels during the First World War. By taking advantage of her position, she was able to help English, French and Belgium soldiers to, not only survive wounds, but to escape to England. This wasn't an easy thing to do as Belgium was then occupied by German forces. The saving of the soldier's lives were the "good" times.
History doesn't provide us with the information as to how the Germans "got onto her" but somehow they did and she was arrested. She was put into solitary confinement in a German prison. Her trial was before military court and when she was asked about her activities, she did not deny them. She readily admitted to helping at least 200 of them escape before she was caught. Apparently it never occurred to her to lie about what she had done even though she knew the cost.
The trial lasted two days, ending on a Friday. There were diplomats aware of her arrest and trial and were trying to get in to see her, but without success. The Germans, however, kept reassuring them that everything was going to be okay. On Sunday night the military court found her guilty and sentenced her to be shot to death by a firing squad on Monday morning. At 6:00 AM the next morning, she was taken to the place of execution, blindfolded and shot.
At a late hour on Sunday evening, the night prior to the execution, she was allowed to have a chaplain visit her. It's reported that they sang the hymn "Abide With Me" together during this visit. As we leave this year 2009 and journey forth into 2010 let's remember the faith and courage of Edith Clavell as she faced that "worst time" of her life. And let's join her in the words of this great hymn.
Abide with me: fast falls the even-tide. The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide: When other helpers fail and comforts flee. Help of the helpless, O abide with me!
Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day; Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me!
I need thy presence every passing hour; What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who like Thyself my guide and stay can be? Thro cloud and sunshine, O abide with me!
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; Shine thro the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav'n's morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee; In life, in death O Lord abide with me!
So, as we enter this new year, if by the grace of God we do, let's remember who we "Abide With." Whose "presence" we need every passing hour of our lives. Who we can count on to be our "guide and stay" whose power overcomes Satan's. The One who is there at all times whether they be "clouds or sunshine." During the "best of times or the worst." And never lose sight of "the cross." To always "hold it before our eyes" and recognize that it signifies salvation and eternal life to come.
And also remember that God will never leave us - will always "abide with us" so long as we "abide in His Way." God made "The Way" and will not abandon nor make another one. It's man that either doesn't get in "The Way" or chooses to leave it. And that "Way" is always "shining thro the gloom."
I said that I'd close today's thoughts with a quotation that I felt appropriate to our lesson, and so I will. It mostly fits with what we think of as the "good," or the "best of times" and without further ado, here are the words of Thomas Moore.
"Take all the pleasures of all the spheres
And multiply each through endless years -----
One minute of heaven is worth them all."