Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Facing Life's Uncertainties (Inspired by Wilma, Who Knew How)

[This morning, the funeral and graveside committal services for a member of our Saint Matthew family, Wilma, took place. Wilma was 92 and except for the final two months of her life, was in great physical health. She had some memory loss, but beyond that remained remarkably healthy. 
[The funeral service today had three purposes: to celebrate Wilma's life, to commit her to the hands of God, and most importantly, to proclaim the hope that all who turn from sin and death and turn to Jesus Christ are assured of life forever with God, the good news.]

The Message
This morning, I want to share a few thoughts with you based on what may seem like a strange Biblical text for Wilma’s funeral. But somehow, it seems appropriate to me. It’s Luke 12:16-21, which is Jesus’ famous parable of the rich young fool.
[Jesus says:] “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Except for the past few months, when first, I had some health issues and then, Wilma became ill, I visited with Wilma every month in the past three years.

It took Wilma about a year for her to remember me from visit to visit. Once, she called the church office to say that the appointed time I was to be at her house conflicted with a doctor’s appointment and in talking with my secretary, she referred to me as “that guy.”

A couple of times, though she habitually wrote everything on her calendar, she was caught unaware when I arrived, sitting in her stocking feet, reading, and apologetic for her lack of preparation when I showed up to once more bring her Holy Communion.

Over time, she came to remember me and in fact, on one of our last visits, I was surprised and touched when she threw her arms around me to hug me.

I came to know Wilma as warm and friendly, with a great sense of humor. As I told my wife when I learned of Wilma’s passing, “I really liked her and I always looked forward to our appointments.”

I didn’t know Wilma when she was younger. But like anyone who knew her as an older person, in any given visit, I might have heard the same stories and comments about family and life experiences several times: about her two sons and where they lived; about her extended family in Elyria; about her growing up; about her niece Eloise, who looked after her and provided her with plenty to read; about the difficulty she had in finding people to mow her lawn; about planting her flower beds in the spring and cleaning them out in the fall; about her need to write everything down, including when to take her medicines.

Wilma, in fact, struck me as a disciplined person. I got the impression that even before her memory loss necessitated her taking extra care to keep her life organized, she was always organized. The neatness of her house and its lack of unnecessary furnishings and goo-gobs that most of us acquire in our lifetimes were testimony to this.

But something else struck me about her self-discipline. In Jesus’ parable of the rich young fool, a man thinks that if he disciplines his use of time and saves his money, he will get to a point when he’ll be in control, he will have conquered the world, and he can simply sit back and relax. In a way, this young man deludes himself into believing that he can be his own little god, self-sufficient and invulnerable. No obligations or responsibilities to anyone but himself. We have a term for people like this today: We call them control freaks.

Wilma was no control freak. She laboriously worked out her daily schedule because she didn’t want to be a burden to anyone!

“When I get to where I can’t take care of myself anymore, I’ll go to the Care Center,” she told me many times. And in the hospital little more than a month ago, she said, “I always said when I couldn’t take care of myself, I would go to the Care Center. They might as well send me there now.”

Wilma could be determined when she needed to be; she often talked about how she learned to drive after being widowed. But Wilma was also a realist. Though her willingness to go to the Care Center no doubt had something to do with losing one of her sons, Bob, exactly three months before she suffered a stroke, she also understood, unlike the rich young fool in Jesus’ parable, that we are not in control. We are vulnerable. Life does hit us with unexpected setbacks, even tragedies.

But that doesn’t mean that you stop living! Instead, like Wilma, you live the life that you have been given. You exercise appropriate self-discipline. You take care of the gifts God gives you—whether it’s your health or your house. You live in appreciation for the gifts of brothers and sisters, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and extended family.

Rare people like Wilma, are ones who, I think, can only be described as ordinary people who, in quiet, unassuming ways, lead extraordinary lives.

That’s because Wilma had something that the rich young fool in Jesus’ parable didn’t have. I don’t mean to paint her as some stained glass saint. You all will know her faults more than I do. (Of course, we all have faults and if anyone thinks they don’t, that’s a big fault in itself!) But I got to know Wilma when life—and the God Who lovingly disciplines His children—had worn off her edges. Adversity has a way of showing the real person beneath the veneer. The masks come off the more vulnerable life renders us. And this is what I saw in Wilma: a person of humble faith in Jesus Christ.

She wasn’t the type to go around advertising her faith. (She wasn’t the type to go around advertising anything, as I experienced her.) But she was always anxious to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, always anxious to join in with the Order for Confession and Forgiveness, every word of which she knew by heart and recited with me during our visits. In the sense of vulnerability that I know Wilma felt each day, in spite of the physical vigor she enjoyed until the very end, she knew that she needed the God revealed to all in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Not barns or baubles, just Jesus. She needed Jesus.

And so do you.

Wilma lived a long life. I think of one her life’s lessons is simple: There is nothing to a life like that of the rich young fool. Nothing in this world lasts. But there is everything to a life lived with Jesus Christ, Who has conquered sin and death and gives eternity with God to all who turn from their sin and entrust their lives to Him.

When you know Jesus Christ, you can face this life with all its uncertainties and unfair twists, you can look forward to the future Christ has secured for all who believe in Him, and you can do it all with a smile on your face, with hope in your heart, and with peace.

May you make knowing Jesus Christ the number one priority of your life so that the blessings of being part of Christ’s new creation can be yours here in this imperfect world and in the perfect world awaiting all who follow Jesus Christ. God bless you.
The other Biblical texts shared at Wilma's funeral were: Proverbs 20:29; Isaiah 46:4; and John 11:17-27.
This bit of doggerel, found among Wilma's papers, was read. The fact that she cut it out and kept it shows something of the humor and humility with which she approached life and fit in well with the Proverbs and Isaiah texts above, which in turn, remember the wisdom God grants to those with gray hair, who are attentive to life's lessons, and recall that God promises to save us even in our old age. The author is the ubiquitous, "Anonymous":
Thought I'd let my doctor check 'cause I didn't feel quite right,
All those aches and pains annoyed me, and I couldn't sleep at night.
He could find no real disorder, but he wouldn't let it rest,
What with Medicare and Blue Cross, it couldn't hurt to do some tests.
To the hospital he sent me, though I didn't feel that bad.
He arranged for them to give me every test that could be had.
I was flouroscoped and cystoscoped, my aging frame displayed,
Stripped upon an ice-cold table, while my gizzards were x-rayed.
I was checked for worms and parasites, for fungus and the crud,
While they pierced me with long needles, taking samples of my blood.
Doctors came to check me over, probed, and pushed, and poked around,
And to make sure that I was living, they wired me up for sound.
They have finally concluded (their results have filled a page),
What I have will some day kill me: My affliction is OLD AGE!
That's essentially what took Wilma's life in the end, old age, and we were blessed to have had her with us. As one of the prayers in our funeral liturgy puts it:
O God of grace and glory, we remember before You today, Wilma. We thank You for giving her to us to know and to love as a companion in our pilgrimage on earth. In Your boundless compassion, console those who mourn. Give them Your aid so that they may see in death the gate to eternal life, that they may continue in their course on earth in confidence until, by Your call, they are reunited with all who have gone before us trusting in Christ as God and Savior; through Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

No comments: