Stories abound about Uncle Ira. When we visited the farm in Kansas where he lived with his wife, my mother’s Aunt Tune, he always supplied us with 7-Ups and a slightly sweet cracker or cookie that I’ve never found since. We looked for four leaf clovers in the yard, listened as our parents identified the stars crowding the dark sky and marveled at the ice box – literally an ice box, not a refrigerator – standing on the back screened in porch.
Uncle Ira couldn’t be bothered to walk the short distance to their mailbox, so he would drive his car he kept parked at the front of the house on the circular driveway. He couldn’t be bothered to take my mother’s cousin Miriam to town to church on Sundays, so once she hit 10 years old, he gave her the keys and had her drive herself to worship services.
Uncle Ira. Years later, when he and Aunt Tune were old, he went to live in a nursing home. My mother told me that when he got there, he simply sat on the bed and cried and cried and cried.
Jesus tells us: “ … when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” And then, immediately, he commands: “Follow me.”
Follow me. Two of the most exhilarating and terrifying words in all scripture. Exhilarating, yes, because if one loves Jesus, then one wants to follow him, be like him. But terrifying, too. Uncle Ira surely had been taken to a place where he did not want to be. And when we follow Jesus, we may very well be taken to places where we do not want to go.
We wonder: How do we follow Jesus? What will happen? Where might I have to go? What sacrifices might I have to make?
Three years ago this fall, a small group in the church where I work started meeting to discern God’s will in terms of a particular ministry. We have our report to the vestry, the governing body of the church, due soon, and I have wondered here at the last if our energy is starting to wane. It would certainly be understandable – almost three years is a long time to spend in discernment. It would make sense that we would be eager to move into action. We have been trying to follow where God wants to take us, but how long can we keep going? But the scriptures also teem with Jesus’ assurances that he is here to continue to feed us, to give us the strength and stamina we need to keep on the path where he’s leading us. A circular motion of feeding: Jesus feeds us, we feed others, Jesus feeds us again.
The third time he appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, Jesus was grilling fish and bread on the beach for Simon Peter and the others as they came in from fishing. “Come,” he said to them, “and have breakfast.” It was in this context that he warned the disciples and us that times will come when we will be taken to places where we do not wish to go and then adds that we are to follow him.
A woman and her husband recently joined our church, and she let us know of her interest in the ministry we’ve been pondering over for almost three years. She has agreed to help us in that process, and I have experienced her fresh energy as a gift from God, energy that can flow into the rest of us and give us what we need to wrap up this phase of our work.
We used to refer to our great-uncle and great-aunt as Aunt Tune and Uncle Ira. Aunt Tune and Uncle Ira. As if they were one person. Yes, Uncle Ira suffered in the nursing home, and I don’t know how the decision to put him there came about. I also don’t remember if Aunt Tune lived in the nursing home with him. What I do remember is that they died six months apart. So even through the suffering, joy came in the end in that they didn’t have to live long on earth without each other.
And so it will be again and again, for all of us. No matter what we do, no matter where we go, no matter how long it lasts, we can look to the beach and see Jesus standing by a charcoal fire, arms outstretched, beckoning us to come and have breakfast.