Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 3, 2019
“Our Not-Yet Reality Made Real”
Isaiah 2: 2-5 – Common English Bible
In the days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
will be the highest of the mountains.
It will be lifted above the hills;
peoples will stream to it.
3 Many nations will go and say,
“Come, let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
to the house of Jacob’s God
so that God may teach us God’s ways
and we may walk in God’s paths.”
Instruction will come from Zion;
the Lord’s word from Jerusalem.
4 God will judge between the nations,
and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
they will no longer learn how to make war.
5 Come, house of Jacob,
let’s walk by the Lord’s light.
I once heard the story of an architect who died before seeing her masterpiece project completed. At the grand opening, the emcee lamented, “It’s a shame she didn’t get to see this.” A wise soul in the audience replied back, “but she did see it. That’s why it’s here.”
People said about Martin Luther King, Jr., that it’s too bad he didn’t live to see the first black president. But he and other civil rights giants did see it. He even described it in a dream. “One day in this nation…” In this case, of course, the building isn’t complete, but like the Prophet Isaiah who saw a world that had abandoned war, it’s there. It’s just a not-yet reality.
The prophet said of those who walk on God’s paths, who learn God’s wisdom, “They will beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war.” Imagine weapons that have become the garden tools with which we can feed the world.
There is a vivid description of heaven and hell found in the folklore of a surprising number of different cultures – Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, medieval European, Chinese: Imagine it. There are two groups of people sitting around tables overflowing with food. One group of people appears fully fed. Happy, healthy. The other group looks like they are starving. Miserable. Both groups have utensils with which to eat from those piles of food – forks, spoons, etc. – but the utensils are six feet long. Too long for people to feed themselves. The one group used their six-foot-long forks to feed each other across the table. The other group… well, you get the picture. Hell is where there is plenty to eat but no one is willing to feed the other, so they all starve. Not willing, or no one has figured out how.
Guy Harris figured out how. As a church, we all want to make a positive impact and contribute to the quality of life for our neighbors in Park Hill. Yet, it’s one thing to do that by providing meeting space for groups, financial support for our mission partners, or even overnight shelter. Those of us who gather inside the church on Sunday mornings wish more people could benefit like we do from participating in the rituals and liturgy of the church, especially the rituals and liturgy of an open and affirming congregation. But Guy knew that there are walls and barriers around even the most welcoming sanctuary. That’s why he championed the idea of a labyrinth outside. Not as an amenity for our members but as a resource for our community. A way to contribute to the quality of life for our neighbors in Park Hill – spiritually.
You may not know that our playground was built before we had a school. Members raised money and built it because there are no other playgrounds close by. But a playground, just like meeting space and overnight shelter, serve external, physical needs. Guy saw how a labyrinth serves an internal, spiritual need, something we provide mostly through Sunday worship. But that doesn’t help someone unable, for whatever reason, to walk through the door. He saw something our neighbors could use 24 hours a day to help them through times of grief, a place to center our chaotic lives, or a place to encounter the divine in whatever way one is able, in whatever way one describes.
We might say it’s a shame he didn’t live long enough to see it become a reality. But just walk out the door and, as Guy anticipated, you are likely to see people on it all times of the day – including one morning when Kathy Blake came over to the church before dawn. A man was walking with the aid of the streetlight dappling through the leaves of the trees. You have to wonder what was on his heart and mind at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning that he would decide to use our labyrinth. Guy knew and saw this not-yet reality. That’s why it’s here and we can dedicate it today.
On this All Saints Day, we honor the lives of the three members of Park Hill UCC who died this year. They all saw and pursued their own not-yet reality.
Lucy Black Creighton died at age 91 on Christmas Day. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, she retained the best of southern hospitality as the most gracious host one has ever encountered. A staunch Democrat married for 62 years to Tom, an equally staunch Republican, they modeled a marriage that polls today indicate parents most fear for their children – not inter-racial but cross partisan. The business editor of the Rocky Mountain News in 1990 described Lucy as “perhaps the best known of Denver’s businesswomen,” a pioneering, highly revered economist. Another retired CEO described her as the Duchess of Data. She became the go-to source for economic forecasts and then vice president at First Interstate Bank, economics professor at Colorado Women’s College – the college where Johnson and Wales is now located – and the president of the State Board of Land Commissioners. Can you imagine what it would be like for a woman in the 1960s to decide to get a PhD in economics from Harvard? Who was her role model in such a male dominated field? She lived and modeled a not-yet reality. Not just for herself but for us too. For which we are grateful.
Cliff Cressy died in April at age 95. He was always coming up with ideas – practical ideas while doing something, like changing his grandkids diapers. In the early '80's disposable diapers were new and if you thought the baby was wet, unwrapping the diaper to check would rip off all the plastic. He solved that problem with duct tape. But then he thought of an idea involving a little transparent window with moisture sensitive tape that would change colors when it was wet. He named it the "Wee window" and "Tinkle tester." He went to a patent attorney and found out that Kimberly Clarke already patented the idea, even though at the time they hadn’t actually yet made it work.
He was always thinking. He'd be in a restaurant and say, "I have an idea!" and start drawing it. Marilyn would say, "Oh no, not again!!" If he wasn’t inventing, then he was fixing things – inventively. Once Collette went to visit. His reading glasses had broken. He fixed it with the ink tube from a Bic pen and a pipe cleaner. Cliff did actually have a number of patents on tools and a whole business manufacturing and selling his innovations and inventions – in addition to being an insurance agent.
Always thinking of how to make the world a better place, that’s why Cliff answered the call of Martin Luther King Jr. Cliff went to Selma to cross the Edmund Pettis bridge because Dr. King said things won’t change until white people show up. He did. And lived and modeled a not-yet reality. For which we are grateful.
Jane Van Buskirk died a few months ago at age 98. She ran this church in the 1970s. She wasn’t the pastor, but from the office, she knew more about what was going on than anyone else. And was on the front lines caring for anyone in need or crisis. Roy Smith would tell you that she served as much as a pastor as anyone and helped him as a novice pastor succeed. Jane’s life may have looked more conventional, but she was hardly a conventional woman within it. When her son David came out as a gay man, many decades ago, Jane not only accepted him without question but helped this church become Open and Affirming. A not-yet reality she could see.
I last talked with Jane the week before her death. Hospice was in the other room preparing a bed for her. Clearly with little time left on earth, I asked how she felt about what was coming next. As she lay in her bed, she raised her head a little and very clearly and confidently said, “I’m optimistic.” I had never heard anyone speak that way on their death bed. Some people will say they are ready to go, as she had been for several years, never intending to live for 98 years. Or people will say that they are happy to be reunited with loved ones. But she said, “I’m optimistic.” I love that. That’s also why she beat breast cancer when she was 90. She lived and continued to model a not-yet reality. For which we are grateful.
These three otherwise ordinary but yet also so extraordinary members saw something not-yet and made it real. They are the legacy we carry for the next generation. We who are otherwise ordinary and yet also just as extraordinary have a story that will be told too.
What do you see that isn’t a reality yet? It’s easy to get bogged down in what cannot be done. It’s easy to say “I just can’t imagine it” when confronted with a problem we think has no answer. But you see something too. You carry around a something not-yet. For yourself, your family, your community, and our church. You can make it real too. Like the Prophet Isaiah said, if you walk on God’s paths, by the light of the Lord, instruction will come – wisdom by listening. As impossible as a world where weapons have become gardening tools.
That’s one gift and intention of the labyrinth we dedicate today. Like life, if we will keep with it through the seemingly endless twists and turns, if we stay on the path, we will not get lost. It’s not a maze. It’s not meant to confuse us. We won’t get lost if we stick to it. We enter with an intention to find our center and then return by the same path ready to engage. One author described three movements – entering, centering, and returning. Every time we need to, 24 hours per day.
Thank you to Guy for seeing it. To David Conger for the enormous lengths he went to make it happen and everyone who helped him. To the 52 different donors who contributed to make it happen. To our talented architect. And especially to the men who laid it out and carefully placed every brink.
Our not-yet reality is finally real! Thanks be to God!
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world