we do not live to ourselves

A sermon preached on Sunday, September 14, 2014 at a Memorial Service for Elizabeth Ellen Tabler Lemen (November 12, 1931 – September 5, 2014)

- Romans 14:7-12; Psalm 146; Matthew 5:1-12

Ellen was clear. We should not gather today to pay her tribute. Rather, we should mark her life and her death by paying tribute to God. For it was God who made her and God who sustained her. In God she lived and moved and had her being. How fitting that the epistle lesson read in multitudes of Christian churches all over the world today includes these words from the apostle Paul: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living.” This is an odd way to speak in an age when individuals prize autonomy. We like to imagine that we are not beholden to anyone else, that we live to ourselves and die to ourselves. In such a world we quickly find ourselves wondering how we measure up. In such a world we pay high tribute to some and judge others are not worthy of tribute. But Paul declares that in Jesus Christ we have learned that our primary identity does not come from our own record of rights and wrongs. In Jesus Christ we discover that our primary identity lies in the knowledge that we belong to God.

I have only come to know Ellen in these past few precious years. We at University Hill Congregation have been blessed by Ellen and Bill’s arrival in our midst, bringing with them a life-time of ministry that took them across the Americas and to Australia. Sunday after Sunday Ellen’s lively eyes and generous smile encouraged my preaching. On Wednesday mornings at our regular White Spot breakfast Bible study it quickly became apparent that she was an astute student of the Bible. She was our resident expert in the ancient manuscripts. But more than that, she brought from her study of the texts her passion that the scripture be lived - that it become our script, that we be living actors in the drama of God’s love for all people, especially the last and the least. Notice how the script of Psalm 146 describes the plot of this drama: “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.” The One who created the heavens and the earth can be seen here and now when justice is done and the hungry are fed. Those who rely on this God, who live and who die serving this Lord, are happy. They are happy because they know that the least and the last are destined to be released from oppression, set free from prisons of grief, welcomed in from the margins of poverty. This is the script that provided Ellen with a part to play. She was a messenger of God’s mercy and grace, a witness to God’s justice and peace, an apprentice of Jesus’ blessed way.

Speaking of Jesus’ blessed way, have you ever noticed that, of the nine beatitudes, seven of the blessings are rooted in promises for the future. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ... Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled ... Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” We live in an age of immediate gratification, of blessings here and now. But Jesus announces that we are blessed in the here and now when we place our trust in the future ... in God’s future that holds comfort for the grief-stricken, a full plate of justice for the oppressed and long awaited mercy for those who now abound in mercy. This future orientation makes it possible to carry on in hope trusting, that in ways beyond our knowing and seeing, God is at work to change lives and to make new where newness seems impossible. Ellen’s determination, her deep hope and her warm heart were an embodiment of this blessing that places it trust in God’s future. Now we trust Ellen to God’s future. We trust that she is already seated at the Welcome Table with all those blessed ones who once were grieving, once despairing but now are singing God’s praise in the kingdom of heaven. And here is the thing - as we place our trust in God’s future we join the blessed company of the poor in spirit who, even here and even now, are citizens of the heavenly kingdom come, on earth where God’s will is to be done. Amen.


Ellen was born and grew up on a farm on Red Hill in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to Raymond E. Tabler and May Stuckey Tabler. She graduated from Martinsburg High in 1949, and then attended Shepherd College where she met and married Wiloughby [Bill] Lemen on January 3, 1951. She received her BA degree from Colorado State College and an MA degree (Summa Cum Laude) from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She was ordained to ministry at University Church in Toronto, upon completion of a Special Course of Study at Knox College. Ellen completed her education with a D. Min. from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. 

Ellen’s travels with Bill took them worldwide, including Hawaii, Colorado, Virginia, Alberta, Ontario, Australia, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica – all in pursuit of continuing education and service to the ministry.

She raised three children, Morgan Lemen [Linda], Wendy Lemen Bredehoft [Roger], and Drew Lemen [Judy]. Her grandchildren (10) and great-grandchildren (8) delighted her; she recorded their milestones of growth and development in separate journals, one for each new arrival.

A champion of social justice, she worked with the marginalized, the poor, and the downtrodden. She was loved for her quiet, listening ear by those with whom she came in contact. As a friend and former professor stated, “She made her mark in Christian mission on a broad scale …and deep.” Her sincerity, hospitality and generosity were appreciated by all, and she served as a role model for many. Her memory lives on in the work that she did.

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