Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mother, daughter, fiance, aunt, and sister . . .

     We gather this day to celebrate the life of Amalia (Molly), and to remind ourselves of the promises of God.  I know when Nathan read me the text from Tom, I thought Tom was playing at some sick game.  “Mom is at the hospital and not going to make it.”  Are there sadder words that can be said or read?  I suspect that so many are here today because they know your kids’ history.  Two of you are now orphans, while two more of you have “just” lost your mom.  In some ways, though, there are other tragedies that draw others here.  Molly’s mom and dad bear that unspeakable burden of burying a child.  A fiancé will, today, bury dreams that he shared with a woman that he loved.  Where is the good news?  Where is the comfort?

     We gather here at a church in witness to the faith of Molly.  Those of you who knew Molly, know the role her faith played in her life after the death of her first husband, and the father of Tom and Joe.  Being a widow in one’s thirties is not a common experience.  The world might not be too surprised and acknowledge such is the way of things to a woman in her sixties or seventies or older, but younger women, especially younger women whose husbands are not serving in times of war, are rare.  Yet that was the path given to Molly to walk.  Some sitting with us this day might be tempted to say that Tom’s death was easier.  At least Tom had time to say his good-byes, at least his family had an opportunity to get used to the prospect of his death.  As if a lingering death is somehow a blessing, as if a lingering death somehow lessens the pain, the hurt, the anger, the impotence, the frustration.

     Those of you who knew Molly might be here because you know the role her faith played in the aftermath of a failed marriage.  I cannot claim to have known her then, and I cannot claim to have been privy to the dissolution of their marriage.  Our only real conversation about that was her frank discussion of her unwillingness to regret it.  She had two more beautiful children whom she loved dearly as a result.  The divorce was painful, it was a sin, but God had blessed her beyond measure.  And she would treasure that blessing just as she treasured Chris and Carlotta.

     Naturally, I met her through Tom.  If you have ever raised a teenage son, and if you know Tom and Molly, you might well understand her gallows’ humor.  Sometimes she wondered whether Tom was her punishment.  She always said it with a twinkle in her eye and with upturned lips, but those of us who know Tom might well understand her exasperation.  My guess is that her mother and father well know that frustration.  Apples, it seems, fall very close to the trees.  My suspicion has been a bit confirmed by the words of Mrs. Pokora this morning.  Yes, Molly was a good woman, but she was by no means perfect.  But she knew someone who is!  Molly’s faith in Christ made her a formidable woman.  By most accounts, she was a great mom, a great daughter, a fantastic aunt, a dependable friend.  In the liturgical tradition in which I serve and of which Molly was not a part, Molly was like a candle burning in a dark place.  She had a joy about her which drew others in, a joy which pervaded her life, a joy which came from knowing that she was redeemed by her Lord.

     How do I know this if we did not serve in the same tradition?  My only significant story of Molly involves my mother-in-law.  Tom decided he wanted to join my son Nathan on a mission trip to an orphanage in Honduras.  During the course of fundraising, Tom came up short and needed to cancel.  Molly and my mother-in-law talked and spoke of trying again next year.  What impressed me and my son about the conversation was my mother-in-law’s impression of Molly.  Those of you who have mothers-in-law might have noticed that they can sometimes be difficult to impress or satisfy.  My mother-in-law came away from that conversation less worried about Molly’s salvation than she is about my own.  When Nathan shared that story with Joe, Joe asked if she had forgotten I was a priest.  Nathan said no., and I gather everyone laughed.

     But I learned that was Molly.  Tom’s mom, Joe’s mom, Chris’ mom, and Carlotta’s mom had a joy and peace about her in all that she did.  The kids at school often noted how their friend’s mom was always so happy — at school we parents really have no identity outside our kids until somewhere in Upper School!  Chris’ mom is always so happy.  Joe’s mom has a great smile.  Carlotta’s mom makes me smile.  That’s how she was mentioned, that is how she was known.  Seeing your nodding faces and the tears in your eyes, I can see you know of what I am speaking.  Molly had walked through the shadow of death with her husband, she had walked through the failure of a marriage with her second, she had faced all kinds of trials in her life and knew, absolutely knew that God was actively redeeming her life.

     Although I could better relate to the grumblings of raising a couple teenage boys, one of my favorite stories about Molly was the nieces’ and nephew’s discussion of them being a prince and princesses in one of the Scandinavian countries.  Molly always cracked them up by pointing out that they were the real heirs in that country because it was their names which were mentioned in the press releases.  It was nothing for her nieces and nephew to get a notification from social media pointing out that “this is you!”  No matter how many times they would remind her that Scandinavian stock and Hispanic stock were different, Molly would insist that they were the real prince and princesses.  It is a well-known image given us by God that informed her.

     One of those images which confuses people outside the faith is the idea of the firstborn son.  Throughout Scripture we are reminded that all who accept Jesus are heirs.  Better still, we are not just heirs, but firstborn sons and daughters!  Each of us, by virtue of His adoption of us into His family, are entitled to double portions of inheritance.  The math makes no senses to us.  How can there be millions and millions of double shares?  It is part of the mystery.  Such is God’s love and provision for each of us that one day we will all inherit a double portion.  Such is His love for each one of us that we will all be treated like ANE firstborn sons!  CS Lewis drew on that imagery in his wonderful series known as Narnia.  In one scene, Edmund famously corrects the enemy king who, understandably is confused by Edmund’s assertion that he is a king and Peter is a king but that they rule as stewards of Aslan.  When the king fails to grasp it, Edmund shrugs and acknowledges the difficulty but insists on its truth.  Molly understood at a fundamental level of her faith and her being that she was a princess in God’s eyes.  She was entitled to a firstborn’s double portion of inheritance.  And so, from time to time, some of us might have found her trying on a tiara, modeling a crown, and reminding us that we were princes and princesses.  Our heritages did not matter.  Our sins which had been forgiven by Jesus did not matter.  We are all heirs of those crowns.  We will all one day be kings and be queens in His eternal kingdom.

     Wonderfully for her, that day has come.  No doubt she has entered into that joy promised by our Lord.  She has received her crown.  She has received her robe.  And she now resides at the throne in the presence of His eternal glory.  But what of us left behind?  What of a mother and a father who mourn the passing of a beloved daughter?  What of us who have buried our plans with her death?  What of her children who face the reality of being orphans?  What of her children who face the reality that mom will not be there to kid away boo-boos and hurts, to hug away the stings of life’s disappointments, to share in the joy and awe of a child’s imaginations, to look upon a mother’s proud face at our accomplishments?  Where is our good news?  Where is our comfort?

     Our comfort is to be found in the same Lord where Molly found hers.  Mom and dad, the pain of losing a child is deep and heart-wrenching.  The world has convinced us that the “natural order” is that parents are buried in turn by their children.  I am here to remind you that lesson that you have learned from your Father in heaven: this was not what He intended.  Death was not part of His plan for us.  There was no natural order that included death intended.  But, if there is One who truly understands your hurt, your pain, your anger, your sense of loss, it is your Father in heaven.  Like you, He watched His Child pass.  In fact, He has watched all His children pass.  Rather than leave us in this mourning and hurt, thought, our Lord used the death of His Son to make it possible that all of us might be with Him forever.  Though you miss Molly terribly, and will in the days and weeks and months ahead, this is not the end of her story nor of yours.  That same Lord who feels this pain has also promised you that all that believe in Him will be with Him, together, for all eternity.  That you might know He has the power to keep His promise, He raised our Lord from the dead that Easter morning so long ago as a first fruits promise of the harvest that will come.  Mom, Dad, cast your hurt, your pain, your grief on the Lord.  He will send you the Comforter.  But remember, one glorious Day in the future, you and she shall rise in Him and see each other, as well as Him, face to face.  Remember this as well: as parents, we are given one job.  We are instructed by our Lord to tell them of the wondrous things He has done and encourage them to follow Him.  In that singularly most important of tasks assigned to you when God granted you your beaming daughter, you succeeded masterfully.  Your daughter was well-prepared when others may have been caught unawares.  And because of your faithfulness to your Lord and your responsibilities as her parents, she knew her Redeemer face to face, as a friend.  Well done.  Well done, indeed, mom and dad.

     Jeff, you stand in a kind of limbo land for many.  People will not quite know how to deal with you and what you are feeling.  For their confusion, I apologize.  For the unintentional things that they will say, I apologize.  Understand, too, that the Lord in whom Molly placed her faith, understands your loss today in ways that many of us cannot.  For all those idiots who might wish to comfort you by telling you things like “God needed an angel more than you needed a wife” or “at least you did not get married so you are not a widow” or some other such nonsense, know that our Lord weeps.  He has made that salvation He promised to Molly and all whom she loved available to everyone.  He has, in a real sense, invited lots of brides and lots grooms to His Wedding Feast, only to see far too many choose not to join Him.  Like her parents’ grief, He understands yours, Jeff.  Like His promises to them, He will keep His promises to you.  And one day, one glorious Day in the future, if you continue to trust in and serve Him, you will see her, radiant and smiling, not just for a fleeting time here on earth, for all eternity.

     Joe and Tom, what brings me to this particular labor of love has been you and your brother and sister.  The four of you share the pain of having lost a mother and all that entails.  You will never hear again your mother’s voice encouraging you to “go, play, be a kid.”  You will never again feel your mother’s arms hold you when your heart is broken, or you have an accident, or when she is overjoyed by your accomplishments.  You will never again hear her us your full name, recited in anger, as she chews you out for something you should not have done.  You will never again hear her voice say “I love you” or “I am proud of you.”  A mother’s love is like our Father’s in heaven.  No matter what we do, moms love their children, even if we drive them to distraction and frustration.  In your case though, as many have already reminded you, you have the unfortunate experience of having lost both your mother and your father.  You are orphans.

     I know, Tom, that as the oldest of the kids, you feel the weight of her death.  You have worried about Joe’s anger, about the care of Chris and Carlotta.  You have wondered how you are going to ever keep her commitments for her because, well, that is how she raised you—to keep commitments.  Thankfully, you have a room full of friends and family who want to help.  All of those hear gathered understand your grief, even if they cannot yet understand the pressures you might be tempted to bear.  And through all this uncertainty, the voice of the Enemy will remind you that you are unloved, unvalued, that you must have done something terrible to deserve to be punished.  Remember, though, the words of our Lord.  Throughout Scripture, when He reminds His people that He is The Lord and that He has power to accomplish what He wills, He always reminds them that He loves two people in particular: the widow and the orphan.  Though God is often thought to be fixated on keeping the planets and stars in their courses, preventing nuclear war, and whatever other such things, always He reminds us that He loves the widow and the orphan.  Tom, He has loved you since the foundation of the world.  Tom, He has remembered you to His people since He first revealed Himself through Scripture.  In the weeks and months and years as you find your way to church or reading Scripture, remember that your mother’s Lord loves you.  None of what has happened or is likely to happen as a result of Molly’s death is part of God’s plan.  This garbage was not what He intended for you.

     He is, though, a God who redeems.  He is a God who takes an active role in our lives, more so, I think, in the lives of widows and orphans.  Tom, things will likely happen that you cannot control, cannot fix, cannot keep.  The pressures you are thrusting on yourself as a 17-year old are not what He wanted for you.  But know this: just as your mom is wearing her beautiful tiara in His presence this morning with her smile beaming like the stars, He will redeem all that has happened to you.  He promises.

     The same goes for you, Joe.  Joe, I know you feel the need to “step up” and help Tom.  As hard as such weights are for him, they will be harder for you.  For us, you are not yet a man; for some in your extended family, you are the baby.  It makes it challenging for all of us to deal with you.  Please understand, Joe, that much of the dumb things that will be said to you will be said out of that confusion.  Forgive them, Joe, for they do not understand.  They do not understand the hurt; they do not understand the anger.  The strong emotions and the desire to do or say anything in the face of it will cause them to misspeak.  Understand that, though they err, they do so out of love for your mom and for you.  First and foremost, this was not what God intended; God did not need another angel and took your mom; God did not plan this.  He will redeem this, but He did not plan it.  Your grief and hurt, though, will make it hard to consider the possibility that your mother’s death can be redeemed.  Guess what?  He understands that as well.  Our Lord’s love for you, Joe, is not best known by reciting and throwing verses at you.  The study of Scripture has its place, but now may not be the best time for it.  Now you may want to rage.  Now you may want to cry.  It is ok.  He understands.  He understands your heart every bit as well as He did David’s, and David wrote the psalms of imprecation, of wailing, of unspeakable pain.  For now, simply remember the trust and faith your mother shared with you.  Yell at Him, rage at Him.  He has broad shoulders and will bear it the same way He bore the Cross for your mother, for you, and for each and every one of us.

     Chris and Carlotta, I fear that Molly’s death will be the most disruptive to and least understood by you.  Chris, I know you mainly through your time with David; Carlotta, I know you only by name.  Whatever comes when all this settles, your lives will be impacted.  The plans that Molly had for the two of you with her will not happen.  I wish there was a word or phrase or gesture I could say or do to make everything better.  Alas, such is not the gift given me.  I leave you with two thoughts, though, that I hope you can carry with you into the future.  One, though this day is sad for all of us here gathered, it is not a day bathed only in darkness.  Your mom in her care of you, in her sharing of stories, in her demands that you go out and be kids, in her expectation that you use your gifts and talents to the best of your abilities, has testified to you that she knew she would not die forever.  She knew Jesus had been raised that Easter morning and that He would raise her from this coffin and grave.  I would encourage you, as you continue to grow, to learn all you can about this Jesus that placed such a beaming smile and playful spirit in your mom.  Second, as you have learned so harshly this week, bad things happen.  We live in a world that groans for its Creator to finish the redemption.  For reasons beyond our understanding, He continues to show incredible patience with those whom He created.  Never, however, mistake His patience for indifference or impotence.  Our Lord cares more for what you have experienced this week than you will ever know.  As He cried at the grave of His friend Lazarus, I have no doubt He mourns here with us at the grave of His friend Molly.  But know this, learn this, understand this: she has already heard His voice and come out of that grave.  We may not be able to see her, we may not be able to feel her, but we can sure know the One in whom she has been raised.  In this, Tom and Joe will be great older brothers.  What you suffer this week, they have already suffered at the death of their dad.  They, better than all of us, will likely be able to tell you how the death of your mom will be redeemed.

     What of the rest of us gathered here today to celebrate the life of Molly?  What lesson of Good News is there for us in the midst of such pain, suffering, senselessness, and confusion?  Molly’s untimely death can be for us a reminder that none of us, none of us knows when we will find our journey over.  The world likes to entice us with claims that we can nearly master death by medicine, exercise, and good sense.  Molly’s death, though, reminds us that Jesus was right when He compared His return and death to a thief in the night.  We no more control life than we control the sun and moon in their courses or the stars in the sky.  Thankfully, as Molly often shared with those of us present, we do know the One who does.  The God that Molly served never promised us a life on earth without hardship, a life on earth without toil, a life on earth without evil, a life on earth without suffering, a life on earth without hurt.  If you have heard others present our faith in those terms, I am deeply sorry.  Our Lord has taught in all times and in all places that our lives is service of Him are cross-bearing lives.

     But the great news of the Gospel is that this is not all that there is.  We do not just live and die and fade to nothing.  We are known and judged by our faith in the living Christ.  Our Lord has promised, through faith in His beloved Son, that He will redeem all suffering in His name.  Today, such redemption may appear far off.  But our Lord’s promise is ever the same.  And to demonstrate to us and to the world His ability and power and desire to keep that promise of redemption, our Lord raised Jesus on that Easter morning nearly two thousand years ago!  That is the promise upon which Molly staked her life, her life not just on this earth, but in the age to come.  It is that promise which assures us that one day, one glorious day in the future, all of us who know Him who call her mother, daughter, beloved, friend, or sister, will be reunited with her in His presence for all eternity.  Remember that promise, all you who loved Molly, and think of that radiant smile when next you meet in His presence!



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