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John 3:6:8

"What is born of the flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit...The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit."

    So it was with Merv Campone.
    Merv has a passionate relationship with the Spirit,
    But it wasn't a relationship defined by organized religion.
    So, our church never quite knew what to do with Merv.
    He simply came into our lives one day
    And made us an offer we couldn't refuse -
    This Lutheran with an Italian name.

    We never quite knew what to do with Merv
    Because Merv exemplified the gifts of the Spirit
    That many preach about.
    But that makes us nervous when they actually show up
    Because we're afraid of what they might do next.

    We never quite knew what to do with Merv
    Because he brought to us a standard of creativity and excellence
    In movie production
    That we were not used to in this church.
    That's why he came to us - we needed it.
    Our giant sister church to the south
    Was envious of his work and
    Amazed that we could afford him.
    Little did they know!

    We never quite knew what to do with Merv
    Because he was always bartering for services
    And getting us thousands of dollars worth of production
    In trade for the use of our equipment:
    Equipment he obtained
    Through means we also never completely understood.
    "We have an editing suite?"
    "Oh yes," said Merv, "and it makes money for us!"
    And so it did.

    We never quite knew what to do with Merv
    Because we are such a middle-of-the-road church
    And he hardly ever lived in the middle.

    He was busy poking around the edges,
    Looking for stories of human experience.
    Merv was forever hammering the point
    That every preacher ought to repeat every week:
    "You need a story"
    You can't shoot a video if it doesn't have a story to tell!
    There aren't many exciting stories in the middle of the road.
    And so Merv told us stories about people overseas
    And stories about those who live on the edge.
    And he helped us to see ourselves
    Not the way we were, perhaps
    But the way we could be.
    Merv told us stories about ourselves
    That had room for us to grow into them.

    Our youth knew what to do with Merv!
    Merv was a friend of our youth.
    He directed the video work
    For every national youth gathering since 1988.
    He let young people hang around the control board
    And he let them handle the camera.
    One of those, at last year's gathering,
    Was a big kid, named Bishop Pryse!

    At the youth gathering in 1998
    Merv and I were sitting in the lounge of the hotel in Halifax
    Talking about nothing and everything,
    About some of his hopes and dreams.
    He told me about a historical drama he wanted to make:
    About going to England to meditate
    And to work on his story.

    He watched and heard things in a way
    That was very different from most of us
    Because he had a very special relationship with the Spirit.
    He never tried to nail the Spirit down
    With the kind of theological definitions
    We use in our confessions.
    He didn't define at all, he merely described.
    Merv encountered the Spirit in many ways and places,
    in many people and his relationships with them.
    His sacramental experiences weren't limited to church;
    They came to him out from among the world's mysteries.

    I've been deepening my appreciation of Russian icons:
    A recurring feature in them
    Is that the figures are portrayed looking off into the distance.
    Almost as if they are disinterested in each other.
    That is an iconic device:
    It is the way the artist tells us that they see into another realm,
    The realm inhabited by the mystery of God.
    I saw that look in Merv's eyes when he talked to me?
    ...and sometimes it was just Merv enjoying a good joke.

    The Reign of God comes about of and by itself, said Luther.
    What Jesus asked was that we have
    The eyes to see and the ears to hear.
    Merv was one set of those eyes and ears
    And we will miss their perspective and insight.

    Many of us are here because Merv saw something in us.
    We are a diverse group of people.
    Many of us have never met before,
    But we have been connected for a long time.
    We are all part of Merv's network.
    Although Merv didn't try to connect many of us to each other,
    We all had some connection to him.
    That is how he worked,
    that was how he saw the world,
    that was how he lived.
    He created community around him,
    Yet he was also a very individualistic, often private, person.
    He lived in a large diverse community
    One person, one relationship at a time.
    While he was a close and dear friend,
    He was also radically independent,
    Often away on his own, off on another trip or
    working with someone else or
    pursuing yet another of his story visions.
    He was away from home a lot of the time,
    Even when he was in town.
    His was a unique, individual talent and spirit,
    And he never allowed anyone to possess it except him.
    It can be very hard getting interactive with a person like that,
    Even when you try hard to understand him.

    So we often didn't know what to do with Merv.
    We like a little more corporate conformity in this church of ours,
    More domestic relationship,
    More group commitment
    Than Merv was prepared to make.
    And yet, we know that he loved us dearly.
    Why else would he work so hard and so creatively for us?

    We didn't know what to do with Merv
    Because he was so unencumbered by
    The religious scruples with which many of us operate.
    Which is probably all the more evidence
    That the hand of God was involved in Merv's making.
    Walter Brueggemann once preached a sermon on Job
    In which he talked about Job's insistence
    That God recognizes his integrity.
    Brueggemann's take on it was
    That God is not tied to our categories of appropriate behavior.
    God, said Brueggemann, is unencumbered, undomesticated,
    Acting out of savage freedom.
    The only possible response to such a God is awe and praise.
    It seems to me that Merv was made, at least partially, in that image.

    The images with which Merv worked are very transitory.
    We have a lot of his old videos in our church archives,
    But most are too dated to be of much current use.
    That is the nature of the medium.
    The physical medium of magnetic tape itself
    Is also impermanent.
    Archeologists will not be able to get much out of our old videos
    Merv, I think, appreciated that more than some of us.
    He was modest, sometimes to the point of being self-effacing.
    That powerful, independent ego of his, he knew,
    Was also part of the passing order of things.

    Laila and I talked about Merv exactly a month ago
    When we went to the Sunshine Coast
    And had breakfast in Molly's Reach,
    A set from the old Beachcomber days
    That is now a real working restaurant.

    If they could make a real restaurant out of a movie set,
    Then perhaps God can make reality
    Out of that story Merv wrote about us.

    After all, everything begins with a story.
    In the beginning was the Word, the Story,
    and the Story became flesh and blood.
    That is the way it is with stories people believe.
    They become real.
    May it be so among us.

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