Summary: For Remembrance Sunday, commemorating members who have died the previous year. All want significance; some try to be remembered with material things, some with reputation. But the only lasting memory is to be hidden in Christ.
My father-in-law had an irritating habit of trying to identify and pigeonhole people. If you mentioned to him the name of someone he didn’t know, he would invariably ask, "Who is he?" "Who is he?" The question, "Who is he?", I soon learned, really meant, "Where did he come from, who are his parents, and, most of all, where did he go to school?" You see, if we were talking about a minister, the question quickly became, “Is he one of our men?”, meaning, “Is he a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary?”
The greatest sin a minister could commit, in his mind, was to have gone to the wrong school, the wrong school being any other than our school. "Adrian Arnold. Who is he? Is he one of our men?" “Well, no, he attended Southeastern Seminary.” “Oh".
We all need and use various points of reference to try to identify people. We all use various ways to lift up individual lives out of obscurity, out of the mass, and try to make sense of them. And in one way or another, in fact, we are also trying to answer for ourselves the "who is he" or "who is she" question. We are struggling to realize our identities and to see how we can emerge from nobodiness into somebodiness, as Dr. King put it. From nobodiness into somebodiness. From obscurity to memory. We don’t want our lives to be hidden.
And yet most lives are hidden. Most lives are lived in obscurity, never recognized outside of a small circle of family and friends. Even lives of great ability, of genius proportions, are often unsung, unknown, and soon forgotten.
The poet Thomas Gray in his "Elegy Written In a Country Churchyard" speaks of this: "FulI many a gem of purest ray serene/ The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear; Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/ And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
Have you ever thought about the millions of people who live in obscurity? Does it ever cross your mind how many people live and die w1thout anyone noticing them or remembering them when they are gone? Why, the great bulk of the world’s people have lived and died with not so much as a gravestone to mark that passage. Their lives are hidden.
I think of primitive tribesmen, living in little villages along the banks of some great river, scarcely discovered by the outside world. Remote, unknown except to a handful of their fellow tribesmen. And I wonder where the meaning is in that. A life like that seems hidden, doesn’t it? It seems wasted.
One student of the middle ages has commented that before transportation and communication became as easy as they are now, the average person living in some medieval community might never have known more than about 100 people in his entire lifetime! Think of that! This morning in this congregation of maybe 200 persons you are already in touch with twice as many people as the average person in the middle ages! They were obscure! They lived hidden lives.
I think, too, at this time of the year, when the Jewish community is remembering the holocaust and the six million who were gobbled up by Nazism ... I think of the anonymity, the depersonalization they suffered. These people were considered non-persons. Their only identity was that they were Jewish; that’s all that mattered to Nazi racism. That they had names and families and professions and emotions did not count. They were Jewish and therefore were to be exterminated. Their lives were hidden. Wasted. Where’s the meaning in that? Small wonder that the new Holocaust Museum which is about to open will list name after name after name, an attempt not to be hidden any longer.
No one wants his life to be hidden. Everyone wants his Iife to mean something, to be precious to someone. Everyone wants his life to matter. Everyone wants to be somebody, not nobody. And yet our lives are hidden.
"Who is he? Is he one of our men?" How may we overcome the hiddenness of our lives? How may we emerge from obscurity and find meaning? How can we manage it so that we will be remembered after we are gone? Your life is hidden; what can you do about it?
There are several possible answers. Let’s examine several paths we might take in order to prevent our lives from being hidden.
One path that some people take to rescue themselves from obscurity is the material path. The material path, accumulating things, making things. It’s easy to point to something material and say, “I did that" and let that be our monument.
If it didn’t hit so close to home, I would tell you that some folks theorize that pastors work so hard at constructing or renovating church buildings so that they can leave behind a personal monument, preferably with their names on the cornerstone! I say, I think I’d better not even mention that!