When Bilbo Baggins was twice my age he gave his 111th birthday party for the Shire folk.
He had spent most of his life among them, except for some strange adventures.
He now sought to be welcomed into a place that had been awaiting his arrival for years.
And so he prepared (apparently) a speech. And he stood up on a stool and spoke out:
My dear Bagginses, and Boffins, Tooks and Brandybucks...Grubbs, Chubbs, Hornblowers, Bolgers, Bracegirdles and Proudfoots...
Today is my one hundred and eleventh birthday. Yes, and alas...
Eleventy-one years is far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable Hobbits!
I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half
of you half as well as you deserve.
I have..things to do and I have put this off for far too long...
I regret to announce, this is the end. I am going now. I bid you all a very fond
(and then he whispered)
Goodbye. We say it with such easiness. We say it with sorrow. We say it with pride.
Shall we say it, at last, in humility, with grace? In abundant joy? In temperate pride?
We can, you know.
For we are the children of God and we go - all of us eventually - to be by his side.
We go together - in every small step we take toward his throne.
When we take the road toward life - when we 'choose life' as Deuteronomy prompts us - we go forward.
We choose life in little ways. And step by step we move forward.
Some of those steps are pretty dramatic. Some are mundane.
The dramatic ones - the ones we notice - we are able more readily to take because we have taken the small steps.
The road away from life, with its soft steady plodding into the darkness (cf. C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters) or its dramatic dives, can be taken in small doses too. But let's not go there.
Let's look at the way of life.
It is the way of God.
Mary Holmes, who taught art history - and life - at UC Santa Cruz, remarked once - and this to a class of young adults in college - that what was missing from religion in our time is
of all things. Obedience.
Obedience to the law of love, the way of life, the way that Moses chose to take, the way the law leads to - and the way Jesus chose to follow, even to the Cross.
The way of life has small steps of behavior - of charity, of celebration, of gratitude.
It is with us whether we are up or down.
The words of the wedding promises almost fit, because this is a covenant relationship too.
for better for worse,
for richer for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
God's covenant lasts forever.
The love of God in which all other loves find their home and origin and consummation, that is eternal.
And we are invited to live into it. Because the way of the Lord is the way of Love.
The way of love - even the way of the Cross - is the way God has laid out for us.
Jesus has pioneered that road. He has taken it - and he is with us as we travel it.
He will be with us always - the end of the ages will find him still with us.
And we will rejoice in that love, and keep to his ways, as we choose life.
Choose life - and the blessing of God be upon you, now and always, together or alone.
Far away or around the corner, God is near.
Bilbo Baggins gives his farewell speech in The Fellowship of the Rings, a 'fairy-story' told by J. R. R. Tolkien (1954).