September 17, 2021
Life gets messy sometimes! These last 2 weeks have been especially messy and difficult for my wife, Cyndy. Cyndy found out two weeks ago that her sister, just 68 years old, was full of cancer and travelled to South Dakota to be with her in her last days. Cyndy stayed with her for two weeks and then flew home yesterday morning. Late last night she got the call that Nanci, her sister, had breathed her last breath. In response to this news, I’m going to post an excerpt from my sermon this Sunday. In this sermon I mention the death of a very messy life. I am not insinuating that Nanci’s life was this messy. Indeed, she was a pretty put together gal. But her unexpected death, like it would be for all of us, makes for a bit of a mess. Please read this excerpt and then keep reading for what I think the Christian response is to having faith in this kind of God.
“My last story is the story of the Apostle Paul. It’s the story of a particular moment in Paul’s life when he knows what lies ahead of him. He knows that just like Jesus, he’s going to put to death by the authorities for his faith in God. And he’s writing about this to the church in Philippi. And he has this strange conflict in his heart. There’s a part of him that wants to die, because he knows that yes, his death will be terrible, but that after that death he will go on to be with God. And this would be awesome! But another part of him knows how important it is to stay here on earth, because the church and Philippi and others he is leading need him here.
Isn’t that an interesting passage? Paul can face a terrible future because he knows that at our death we don’t just unravel into a bunch of untethered pieces of string---but that God will be there to put all those untethered pieces together again. Listen, I’ve lived enough and been around enough to know that most people---when they die---don’t have things wrapped up in a neat little bow. Most people die with life unfinished. With a mess there at the end. But we as Christians believe that our souls and our spiritual lives don’t end in that mess and all alone. .
Adam Hamilton, the pastor of a UM church in Kansas, tells the story of one of his uncles who died. His uncle was a mess. So many unfinished parts of his life. And the family asked Adam to do the service. His wife said, “I don’t know what you can say, Adam. I’m praying for you…what can I say…his life had a lot of unfinished pieces. He just never got it together.” What do you say in a funeral like that? Adam got to thinking about it. In a way, he thought, a funeral, was a way to celebrate a God that had been there, especially in our messes, and who was surely there now at the end of our life…taking up our frayed edges and mending them. .
At the funeral…Adam had placed on the altar…an old beat-up dining room table he found at the dump. It had a broken leg; cigarette burns all over it. It was dried up, beat up, and broken. And Adam said that this in a sense was his uncle. He just didn’t have a very easy life and there were times when he made it even harder. But, he said, we come here today because we don’t believe it’s the end of our uncle’s life…why? Because we believe in a God doesn’t believe in junk. We know that right now God is taking our uncle up into his arms. That God is taking all those frayed edges and broken pieces…and God is reworking him. Taking off the old varnish, sanding out the bruises and burns…and making our uncle new again. To have faith in God is to know that death is not the last word.”
The Christian response to having a God that is there at the end tying up the loose ends, is to be a people who are there at the end of life doing the same. As Cyndy has shared her experience of being there at the end for her sister, Nanci, she has not stopped talking about the kind and experienced nurses and caregivers who work for Hospice! The knowledge, love, kindness, and compassion that these folks do is remarkable! When Cyndy said her last goodbye to Nanc, she totally lost it. I couldn’t be there, her sisters couldn’t be there at that time, but a hospice caregiver was there and the hug and embrace she gave her there amid that mess and pain and anguish was invaluable and will remain with us a gift from our God forever. I don’t know that person’s name, but she truly became the living Christ for our family at that moment. May we all learn to be God’s hands and feet “ends of life”, helping God gather up the loose ends and weave them back together again.
Your friend and pastor, hurting for my Cyd, Brook