Saturday, August 9, 2014

"I Know How You Feel"

Steve died. He was just about 50. He was married and had four children, ranging from one still quite young to the one ready to start college in the fall.  Steve was a lawyer, but his work didn’t define him. What defined Steve’s life was coaching sports for his kids and all of their friends.  What defined Steve was volunteering to help children find a new “normal” in programs like Rainbow Kids.   What defined Steve’s life was actually talking to his kids and watching movies with them and just being Dad.  And Steve loved his dear wife of so many years.  And then one morning, without warning, young Steve’s heart stopped working.  Steve died.

The funeral service was a few days later.  The eldest son spoke eloquently on behalf of the children.  Of the many, many men in the congregation, few had dry eyes.  We didn’t know how that young man felt, but we could see our own sons, or we could remember our own fathers.  Steve’s sister spoke.  She began by telling us that she wished she could tell us about how much Steve enjoyed seeing his children graduate from college; sharing their wedding day joy; coaching his grandchildren’s teams. But, of course, she could not. And the many, many women in the congregation joined the many, many men in weeping for the shared moments that would not be.

The pastor spoke next and he began with a story of his own life.  You see, as it happened, the pastor’s father died when the pastor was a young boy.  So it was that he could relate to the children “I know how you feel.”  In speaking with the pastor’s wife after the service, she related what people in “compassion work” know: one of the last things you want to say to a grieving person is, “I know how you feel” unless, of course, you do.  And the pastor did know, and his message for the children was simple and profound: your father’s early death will change your life forever, but, you will grow into someone unique and treasured, because of who your father was.

I marvel at this: God’s design is not that Steve should die young, but that when Steve dies young, his family would be a part of a faith community led by a pastor who could say to Steve’ children, “I know how you feel.”  A sermon, we believe, is the Spirit speaking through imperfect preachers God’s perfect message for God’s children.  You could say it was happenstance, but I say it is providential that God brought this preacher to this family at this moment to let them know, God knows how you feel.  “Jesus wept.”

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Things That Only Seem Late

Babies, for example.  The “due date” of a baby is, I suppose, a helpful thing for parents and doctors to guess about.  But,  from my very limited perspective, announcing a due date seems to cause more stress and strain than necessary.  I think that if I were a baby-predicting doctor I would just give general windows, like, “your baby will be born sometime around June, or maybe May or July.  Whenever it is, you’ll know. So, be ready!”

Jesus, for another example.  One of our readers, in response to my comment that “Jesus was never late”, commented that to Martha and Mary, at the time, Jesus appeared to be late.  You remember the story.  Jesus’ best friend, Lazarus, was very sick. Jesus got the word and delayed his departure. By the time he arrived at their home Lazarus had died and Martha told Jesus that if he had made it on time her brother would not have died.  But, of course, Jesus wasn’t late.  He had his reasons.  So, Jesus calmly tells her, “Your brother will rise again.” And, of course, he does.  Which sort of was the beginning of the end, or the beginning of the beginning (depending on your point of view.) (John 11)

The bridegroom, for example.  Not the bridegroom who keeps his bride waiting on his wedding day. He really is late, and he is really in trouble.  But the bridegroom for whom the ten virgins are waiting.  They all want to go to the big party, but the party doesn’t start until the bridegroom arrives.  They wait and wait, and they all fall asleep. Finally, at midnight, the big announcement comes, “here comes the bridegroom.”  But some of the virgins had forgotten to put enough oil in their lamps to re-light them. So they need to find an all-night oil store, but while they are gone shopping the bridegroom arrives. The virgins who were prepared for the “whenever” arrival enter the banquet with the bridegroom. Let the party begin! But, those who weren’t ready, well, by the time they got back from their shopping trip, it was too late. (Matthew 25)

You can give babies a due date, but no one told the baby.  You can give Jesus a deadline, but he has a better sense of time that do you.  The party starts when the party starts. Be ready.  Some things, you see, only seem late.