Perhaps it is because our world is so uncertain. Our lives are full of pain – which is sometimes justified by our actions and cause and effect, but more often is not. There is often a feeling of randomness when it comes to so many tragedies we witness around us, or see constantly on the news, or experience ourselves. So often life’s randomness cannot be explained – other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So we look at things (and people) that we perceive to be unchanging, and we get uncomfortable when anything (or anyone) seeks to challenge our base assumptions – about how the world works and our place in it.
So in the church we look to saints, in our culture we look to superheroes, and in our personal lives turn to people that we believe will always be there for us in the end.
It is a very natural and human thing to do.
Except that life is never clean and neat. We do have real pain and suffering. We experience injustice and see it all around us. The apparent randomness of events and happenings too often can be overwhelming. God can feel absent. Or indifferent. Or harsh. Or cruel. We start to blame ourselves. Or others. Or God. And we wonder if there is any meaning or purpose behind anything.
But look at our base assumptions.
We think certainty equals faithfulness. We think everything happens for a reason. We cling to cause and effect (particularly around our own guilt, and God’s response to us). So when bad things happen the conclusion we draw is that God somehow is punishing us – because we weren’t certain enough.
But rare is the person who can experience pain. Live through hardship. Be overwhelmed by grief. Dwell in doubt. Carry the burden of uncertainty. And remain faithful.
Marge was that rare person.
Losing Megan was the defining event of her life. Which left her a broken mess in a way that she never truly overcame. She coped. She struggled. She shook her hands at God. She was never the poster child for certainty.
Yet because of that experience she was an amazing witness of faith.
Marge told me the day before she died that this church saved her.
And it wasn’t because of our certainty, or because we have worked out all our personal struggles or dealt with interpersonal issues fully or figured out all of life’s impossible questions with definite answers.
This church saved Marge – because people loved her. You loved her with the same undeserved love and mercy of God that is found in Jesus Christ, and you shared that witness; uncertainty and all.
The good news of Jesus is that faith isn’t about having all the answers. It is more about shrugging your shoulders in despair and shaking your head in disgust and finding rest in an embrace that comes almost out of nowhere but grabs hold of you in your uncontrollable weeping and just keeps whispering – “I love you. I’ve got you. I’m not letting you go.”
This church gave that gift of God to Marge. Thank you.
On Sunday morning Marge’s friends brought flowers. Not to put on the altar or send home with somebody – but they put them on Marge’s seat in the back.
This is just one more way to embrace her again and remind her how much she was loved. Not just by them – but by the undeserved love of Jesus – that breaks through the burdens we all carry to hold us in the love of God.
I love this Gospel reading (John 15:9-17 -see below) because it is pretty clear what Jesus expects of us – we are to love each other – and that is a challenging thing to do. It is difficult to share the warm embrace of acceptance and welcome and caring for one another whatever life throws our way. I like this reading because in the time I knew Marge I saw her as the person who was often the first in line to care for kids – to make sure they knew they were loved, and in those moments; it didn’t matter how many questions she still had.
But the other part of this passage which is the key to understanding who Jesus is and the life we are called to live in comes through the promise – “You didn’t choose me; I chose you. Love one another – but love them as I loved you; that sweet embrace you don’t deserve or earn but I give to you by giving my life to you.
I love you and choose you so you might go bear fruit – sharing that same unconditional love I have given you – especially with someone who needs it.” Marge did this in many ways – from teaching, to helping with our Vacation Bible School, and other children’s ministries, but especially by bringing communion to many of our home bound members.
I worked with Marge closely on what we call our mutual ministry committee – which helps the church staff and the church membership work better together. She asked good and thoughtful questions, bit what I always appreciated from her perspective was that she wasn’t focused on policy or procedure but wanting to make sure people felt cared for and appreciated.
Marge got it. She understood (even with so many questions) that the love God gave her in her pain was her gift to share.
When I met with Marge in her hospital room that Wednesday before she died she asked me if I believed. I said. “Yeah, I do.”
She then asked, “Do you think I’m going to be with Megan?”
I also said, “Yeah, I do. Maybe not in the way we think we might understand it or experience the same way we interact with each other now – but I do believe all things are connected together, everything is knit together and the love of God will somehow; someday; bring all things into One.”
She said, “Good. That’s what Linda Demas told me.”
We laughed together. Prayed together. I blessed her. Before I left she told me she was ready, for whatever happened next.
Not certainty. Faithfulness.
Faithfulness given in the love and mercy of God – who embraces us in our pain; who meets us on a cross; who takes the burdens of the crosses we carry; and who leads us to new life both now and beyond what we know and experience.
Marge loved kids. And so at the end of the service today we are going to sing a song that has these words:
“Go my children with my blessing, never alone.
Waking, sleeping I am with you, you are my own.
In my love’s baptismal river, I have made you mine forever,
Go my children with my blessing, you are my own.”
(Jaroslav J. Vajda, “Go My Children, With My Blessing,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], #543.)
The song goes on from here. Its catchy. You might find yourself humming it later. But that is not why I wanted to sing it. It’s a reminder that no matter where we are or where we go, or what we have to deal with, or events that change us forever (both Good and Bad) God is with us. To love us. Embrace us. And empower us to live in the same mercy and love God has given us in Jesus Christ.
But I also wanted to sing this song, because I think it addresses – addresses not answers –the fundamental questions Marge struggled with for so long.
Certainty is not the answer. Faith is the response.
So Marge, go with our blessing. In the sweet embrace of Jesus; now and forever. Amen.
Jesus said: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:9-17)