With Thanksgiving fast approaching, someone mentioned to me recently how much they enjoyed a story I told a number of years ago during a sermon I preached for the South Windsor Interfaith Thanksgiving service. In fact, they liked the story so much they encouraged me to share it again this year. As I thought about that idea, I came to the conclusion that some stories are good enough they bear repeating. So I share with you the story entitled, “Save Your Fork,” along with a brand new version of the sermon befitting this Sunday, November 4, 2018 occasion.
“There was a woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her things “in order,” she contacted her pastor and had him come to the house to discuss her final wishes. She wanted to tell him about the songs she wanted sung, the Scriptures she wanted read, and which outfit she wanted to be buried in. As they neared the end of their conversation, the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.
“There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” the pastor replied.
“This is very important, the woman went on. “I want to be buried with a fork in my hand.”
The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say, “That surprises you, doesn’t it?” the woman asked. “Well, to be honest, I am puzzled by the request,” the pastor responded.
The woman explained. “In all my years attending church socials and potluck dinners I always remember that when the dishes were cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Save your fork.” It was my favorite part of the meal, because I knew something even better was on the way—like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. So I want people to see me in the casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them, “Save your fork…the best is yet to come.”
The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman goodbye, knowing this would be one of the last times he would see her. But he also knew the woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She knew that something better was coming.
At the funeral people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing with her favorite Bible in one hand and a fork in the other. Over and over, the pastor heard the same question. “What’s with the fork?” And over and over he smiled. Then he told the people about the fork and what it symbolized to the woman.
So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you oh so gently, that the best is yet to come…”
I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that the bulletin you received this morning comes complete with your very own fork. I encourage you to take a moment and un-tape that fork so you can hold it in your hand. And then save that fork because I have some ideas about how you might decide to use it.
The first and most obvious thing you could do with your fork is take it down to Coffee Hour this morning. If you choose to indulge in a loaded bake potato or a piece of the cake celebrating our new members, or both, a fork would serve you well. But here’s the thing. On a Sunday morning when we have baked potatoes and cake available, I’m reasonably confident there are plenty of forks down in the Community Room already.
So I’m going to invite you to save your fork and actually take it home with you. When this sermon is over, put it in your pocket or your purse and hold onto it for a little while.
Actually, you might want to keep your fork for the next eighteen days. Whether you are the one hosting Thanksgiving dinner at your house or you are a guest at someone else’s house, I suspect you will experience that magical moment when the turkey and the stuffing and the mashed potatoes and the green bean casserole will be cleared off the table and you, or someone else, will offer the most irresistible Thanksgiving invitation of them all.
Three simple words. “Save your fork.” Because the pumpkin pie, the sweet potato pie, the apple pie, the pecan pie, the a la mode, the whip cream, the best part of the meal is yet to come. And when that happens, you can reach into your pocket and jump up with this fork in your hand, telling everyone around the table with a great big smile on your face. “You don’t have to tell me. I’ve already got one…!”
I wonder, though, what you are going to do between now and Thanksgiving? Eighteen days is a pretty long time to save a plastic fork…even a fairly sturdy one like the one you have in your possession.
Of course, you don’t have to save your fork for its most obvious use as an eating utensil. You could save your fork because it will help you think about some important things. Or it will help remind you of some important people.
Today is Endowment Sunday here at Wapping Community Church. Over the 220 years this church has been here in town, a series of committed, dedicated people decided that when they died they wanted to leave a portion of their estate to this church. Many of those people lived and served Wapping Community Church long before I became the pastor. And some of those people have lived and served Wapping Community Church during my years.
But I have an image in my mind of all the saints who have contributed to this church’s Endowment Fund, whether I knew them or not. On the day of their funeral, I can imagine each of them holding a fork in their hand. Not just because they anticipated going on to God’s heaven. But also because giving to an Endowment is a sign of hope. It’s a desire to cement a legacy of goodness for those who come after. And it’s based on a steadfast belief that for people of faith, even when we are no longer here on earth, one truth remains. The best is yet to come…
Today is also New Member Sunday, when five adults have decided to join this congregation. They are five gifted and talented people with their own unique faith stories and histories. Each of them brings to this congregation a depth of faith forged out of their own joy and their own grief. And the five of them have already given a great deal to this church in days past. But this morning, each of them joins Wapping Community Church with a fork in their hand, trusting that when Christians come together in community the best days in the church are yet to come.
At the same time, next Sunday is Dedication Sunday. Maybe you’ve already thought about your financial commitment to Wapping Community Church for the upcoming year. Maybe, in fact, you’ve already filled out your pledge card and sent it in to the church office. But if you haven’t filled out your pledge card yet, I encourage you to do so with a pen and a pledge card in one hand and your fork in the other.
Yes, you and I pledge to this church because we are grateful for God’s blessings in our own lives. And because we give thanks for all the ways this church has made our lives better, not to mention the lives of people we love and the lives of people whom we have never met.
But we don’t make a pledge to Wapping Community Church based solely on past performance. We give a pledge based on our high hopes for the future. We pledge to this church believing that with God’s help and all of us working and praying and loving and serving together, the best days for this congregation still await us. And our fork lets us know how much we want to be a part of it!
So I’ve offered you a few suggestions this morning. The suggestions start with the practical. Use your fork this morning in Coffee Hour. Or save your fork until Thanksgiving Day when you pull it out just before dessert arrives at the table.
The suggestions range all the way to the other end of the spectrum and the theoretical. You could use your fork as a symbolic reminder of the people in this church or the people in your own life who invested their legacy in us or in you. Endowment gifts are an expression of our highest hopes for the future. Or you could use your fork, along with our newest members, as a symbol of your hopes and dreams for this community of faith in the year ahead. If each of us pledges monetarily what we are able to Wapping Community Church, and gives the time and the talent we are able, then next year promises to be even better than this one.
I don’t want to end this sermon, however, without offering one final suggestion. If you save your fork and take it home with you, I invite you to use it in prayer. As we continue to grieve for our Jewish brothers and sisters at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, hold your fork tightly in your folded hands. We may mourn and cry and be anxious in these days of hatred and violence. But the fork reminds us that God promises a newer, brighter day on the horizon. A day when people of any faith can gather in a sacred house of worship without the fear of being attacked…lifting their hearts up peacefully toward a God of mercy, justice and compassion.
Long ago, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews spoke eloquently in the eleventh chapter. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Indeed by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” The message in those words is so clear. Faith and hope go together. And the best is still to come, even when we can’t see it with our own eyes.
Makes me curious whether the writer of Hebrews had a fork of their own…Amen.