The Difference is in Who is Beside you and What is Behind You

While in Hawaii last May I played a bit of a “dirty trick” on one of our Hawai’ian hosts. I used my iPad to show a beautiful photograph of the sun setting over a bay.

“That’s beautiful, where were you— Mauna Kea beach?”

“No,” I answered, “McClain State Park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!”

Although it may be reasonable, but not intuitive, a sunset over the water looks pretty much identical whether it’s the Pacific Ocean or Lake Superior. Without any distinguishing features but sky and sea a sunset seen from the Keewenau is the same as that of Kona.

The difference is in who is beside you and what is behind you.

On the shore of the Keewenau there is the squeaky soft water soaked garnet sand and white pines with their asymmetrical branches bent away from the harsh cold wind. In Hawai’i the black coral sand cuts at your feet as the palm trees stand tall with gentle random arcs.

From the campground at McClain the harsh lights of Coleman lanterns come on late at night as the soft conversation of fireside conversations mix and mingle with animated games of euchre at picnic tables hidden in mosquito netting. The accents of Michigan, both down state and yooper are occasionally interrupted with the voices of Wisconsin or Minnesota.

In Mauna Koa white lights hang from palm trees to supervise late night feats of sea food, shell fish and spam accompanied by hula dances and Hawai’ian music. The accents heard are from around the world, Australian and French, American and German, Chinese and Spanish. The distinctive “brudder” and “Awwntie” separate the native Hawai’ian voices from the tourists. No one can place the right “vocal stops” between vowels the way they can.

In either place you can watch the sun set over the water. First slowly and then embarrassingly fast the sun goes from a whole to a half to a fraction and then is gone. I think the so called “green flash” is as impossible to observe as Santa Claus eating milk and chocolate chip cookies under the Christmas Tree. But I believe in it just the same.

What you hope for are clouds that are over the horizon and not obscuring it. When this is perfectly arranged, the sun sets over the horizon and the real art show begins. The

clouds are lit by the angled rays of sun. This is really the best part. No clouds are ok—too many void the sunset— but just the right amount in the right place make any painting and any photograph incomplete. The real thing is an amazing and wondrous work of God’s own creative force and energy.

It’s just my observation, but I can hold images in my head of walking alone on the beach during the day or sitting alone as the sun is rising, a cup of coffee and a Bible or book in my lap. To watch a sunset just always seems to be a communal event. Even if someone is alone, on a beach at sunset they will be invited into conversation as folks gather. Maybe just a polite “Wow, look at that!” expression. But in my memory, rarely alone— it’s natural for human beings to protect one another from feeling lonely, because the setting sun isn’t just about the view it’s also about the experience and experience is meant to be shared.

The difference is in who is beside you and what is behind you.

We are not meant to walk this life alone. A community of Jesus Christ walks together— it shares “sunsets” together. It does not leave individuals to stand alone. Standing behind each of us is a heritage of saints who have come before and gives us support and a place of meaning and purpose. A context for living that brings peace and provides love and support.

Recently, our sainted Al Amundsen’s grandson came to us from San Diego to work for a month at the Family Health Center as part of interviewing for a medical residency. I don’t think he realized it, but he sat in nearly the same place in the same pew as his Grandfather did. When he visited as a child that is where he sat. When he came back on his own as an adult it was natural to sit where he had before. He sat by himself but he did not worship alone nor would the community, in love, allow it!

When Luther describes the “Communion of Saints” he says this,

I believe that there is upon the earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, one mind and understanding with manifold gifts yet agreeing in love…

Enjoy your Thanksgiving Day break. Enjoy your family and friends. Get refreshed and ready for Advent and Christmas. Maybe catch a sunrise in quiet and solitude. Share a sunset. As you approach Christmas remember that what matters most. In Christ, there is always someone beside you and a cloud of witnesses behind you.

The difference is in who is beside you and what is behind you.

Blessed Advent, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year

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