The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

THE BIRDIES

Delivered 8/28/05
Text: Luke 18:15-17
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

"School days, school days, dear ol' golden rule days..." Starts back tomorrow. Are the kids excited? I suspect. Remembering back to my own dim and distant past, I recall being excited about getting back. I wanted to see classmates whom I had not seen over the summer. Truth be told, a couple of months off from the routine, by this time, had begun to lose its luster. I was ready. That feeling lasted about a week-and-a-half, then I was ready for vacation again.

I envy the kids and their excitement about tomorrow. But, truth be told, that is about all I envy. It is tough being a kid these days, and I am glad that is behind me. But I do like hanging around our youngsters. They have a different perspective on things than I do, and I have learned valuable lessons from them, especially my own two as they were growing up.

I have learned patience - as much as I may have wanted them to do this or that immediately then not seeing it happen on my schedule, I have learned that life goes on anyway. They have taught me to "not sweat the small stuff." I have learned gratitude - gratitude for the fact that currently popular fashion does not stay popular for very long, gratitude for the genius who decided that plugged-in headphones should automatically mute the speakers on a boom box, gratitude that green or orange or strawberry hair dye eventually fades away or washes out. I have learned to keep things in perspective - that just because a teenager can almost instantly turn a bedroom into a garbage dump, there is no reason to panic (we can always shut the door).

Most of all, I have learned something about love... unconditional love...the kind of love the Bible teaches God has for you and me. The way I felt (and continue to feel) about my own kids, this feeling that I love them - always have, always will, no matter what - has given me an inking of the love of God in a way that nothing else ever has.

One more thing I continue to learn from kids. I have learned to see things from their perspective instead of just my own. That is what Jesus was trying to convey when he said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Children have a sense of wonder. Tennyson tells of going early one morning into the bedroom of his little grandson and of seeing the child "worshiping the sunbeam playing on the bedpost."(1)

Children are imaginative. A boy came home from Sunday School where they had just had a lesson on Adam and Eve. He was especially amused by the fact that Eve was said to be created from Adam's rib. Later that day he came down with the intestinal flu and said to his mother: "Mommy, my side hurts. I think I'm going to have a wife."(2)

Children know how to believe. A little boy was told he could not go to the family picnic on Sunday because he had been "naughty." But along about Saturday his mother relented and told him he could go after all. "It's too late," was his reply, "I have already prayed for rain." The faith and trust of a little child!(3)

Recently, Lloyd Glenn shared something profound that he had learned from his young son.(4) It is a lesson about perspective, but most of all, it is a lesson about love, one that probably could not be learned as well in any other way than through the teaching of a child.

It was mid-suummer. Lloyd was on the way to Washington DC for a business trip. It was all so very ordinary, until he landed in Denver for a plane change. As he collected his belongings from the overhead bin, an announcement was made for Mr. Lloyd Glenn to see the United Airlines Customer Service Representative immediately. He thought nothing of it until he reached the door to leave the plane and heard a gentleman asking every male if they were Mr. Glenn. At this point Lloyd knew something was wrong, BAD wrong.

"I am Lloyd Glenn."

The solemn-faced young man said, "Mr. Glenn, there is an emergency at your home. I do not know what the emergency is, or who is involved, but I will take you to the phone so you can call."

Lloyd Glenn's heart was now pounding, but the will to be calm took over. Woodenly, he followed this stranger to the distant telephone where he called the number given. It was Mission Hospital. The call was put through to the trauma center where word came that his three-year-old son, Brian, had been trapped underneath the automatic garage door for several minutes, and that when his wife had found him he was dead. CPR had been performed by a neighbor, who happened to be a doctor. The paramedics had continued the treatment as Brian was transported to the hospital.

By the time of the call, Brian was revived and they believed he would live, but they did not know how much damage had been done to his brain, nor to his heart. They explained that the door had completely closed on his little sternum right over his heart. He had been severely crushed. After speaking with the medical staff, Lloyd's wife sounded worried but not hysterical, so he took comfort in her calmness.

The return flight seemed to last forever, but finally he arrived at the hospital six hours after the garage door had come down. He walked into the intensive care unit. He says, "Nothing could have prepared me to see my little son laying so still on a great big bed with tubes and monitors everywhere. He was on a respirator. I glanced at my wife who stood and tried to give me a reassuring smile. It all seemed like a terrible dream. I was filled in with the details and given a guarded prognosis. Brian was going to live, and the preliminary tests indicated that his heart was ok - two miracles, in and of themselves. But only time would tell if his brain received any damage."

Listen to the rest of the story in Lloyd Glenn's own words. "Throughout the seemingly endless hours, my wife was calm. She felt that Brian would eventually be all right. I hung on to her words and faith like a lifeline. All that night and the next day Brian remained unconscious. It seemed like forever since I had left for my business trip the day before. Finally at two o'clock that afternoon, our son regained consciousness and sat up uttering the most beautiful words I have ever heard spoken. He said, 'Daddy, hold me,' and he reached for me with his little arms."

By the next day, little Brian was pronounced as having no neurological or physical deficits, and the story of his miraculous survival spread throughout the hospital. You can imagine his parents' gratitude and joy. As they took Brian home, they say they felt a unique reverence for life and the extraordinary sense of the love of God that comes to those who brush death so closely. In the days that followed there was a special spirit about the Glenn home.

Lloyd continues. "Our two older children were much closer to their little brother. My wife and I were much closer to each other, and all of us were very close as a whole family. Life took on a less stressful pace. Perspective seemed to be more focused, and balance much easier to gain and maintain. We felt deeply blessed. Our gratitude was truly profound."

Almost a month later, to the day of the accident, Brian awoke from his afternoon nap and said, "Sit down mommy. I have something to tell you." At this time in his life, Brian usually spoke in small phrases, so to say a large sentence was a surprise. Mom sat down with him on his bed and he began his sacred and remarkable story.

"Do you remember when I got stuck under the garage door? Well, it was so heavy and it hurt really bad. I called to you, but you couldn't hear me. I started to cry, but then it hurt too bad. And then the "birdies" came.

"The birdies?" his mother asked, puzzled.

"Yes," he replied. "The birdies" made a whooshing sound and flew into the garage. They took care of me."

"They did?"

"Yes," he said. "One of the "birdies" came and got you. She came to tell you I got stuck under the door." Mrs. Glenn realized that a three-year-old had no concept of death and spirits, so he was referring to the beings who came to him from beyond as "birdies" because they were up in the air like birds that fly.

"What did the birdies look like?" she asked.

Brian answered. "They were so beautiful. They were dressed in white, all white. Some of them had green and white. But some of them had on just white."

"Did they say anything?"

"Yes," he answered. They told me the baby would be alright."

"The baby?" his mother asked, confused.

And Brian answered. "The baby laying on the garage floor." He went on, "You came out and opened the garage door and ran to the baby. You told the baby to stay and not leave."

Lloyd says his wife nearly collapsed upon hearing this, for she had indeed gone and knelt beside Brian's body and seeing his crushed chest and unrecognizable features, knowing he was already dead, she looked up around her and whispered, "Don't leave us Brian, please stay if you can."

As she listened to Brian telling her the words she had spoken, she realized that the spirit had left his body and was looking down from above on this little lifeless form. "Then what happened?" she asked.

"We went on a trip." he said, "far, far away." He grew agitated trying to say the things he did not seem to have the words for. Mom tried to calm and comfort him, and let him know it would be okay. He struggled with wanting to tell something that obviously was very important to him, but finding the words was difficult. "We flew so fast up in the air. They are so pretty Mommy. And there is lots and lots of 'birdies'."

Brian's mother was stunned. Into her mind the sweet comforting spirit enveloped her more soundly, but with an urgency she had never before known. Her little boy went on to tell her that the "birdies" had told him that he had to come back and tell everyone about the "birdies." He said they brought him back to the house and that a big fire truck, and an ambulance were there. A man was bringing the baby out on a white bed and he tried to tell the man the baby would be okay, but the man could not hear him. He said, "Birdies told him he had to go with the ambulance, but they would be near him. He said they were so pretty and so peaceful, and he did not want to come back. And then the bright light came. He said that the light was so bright and so warm, and he loved the bright light so much. Someone was in the bright light and put their arms around him, and told him, "I love you, but you have to go back. You have to play baseball, and tell everyone about the birdies." Then the person in the bright light kissed him and waved bye-bye. Then whoosh, the big sound came, and they went into the clouds."

The story went on for an hour. Young Brian explained that "birdies" were always with us, but we do not see them because we look with our eyes, and we do not hear them because we listen with our ears. But they are always there. You can only see them in here (he put his hand over his heart). They whisper the things to help us to do what is right because they love us so much.

Brian continued. "I have a plan, Mommy. You have a plan. Daddy has a plan. Everyone has a plan. We must all live our plan and keep our promises. The 'birdies' help us to do that because they love us so much."

In the weeks that followed, Brian often came to his parents and told all, or part of it again and again. Always the story remained the same. The details were never changed or out of order. A few times he added further bits of information and clarified the message he had already delivered. It never ceased to amaze how he could tell such detail and speak beyond his ability when he spoke of his "birdies." Everywhere he went, he told strangers about the "birdies." Surprisingly, no one ever looked at him strangely. Rather, they always get a softened look on their face and smiled.

Needless to say, the Glenn family has not been the same since that day. They pray they never will be.

Children. They are SO special. And as Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

Enjoy the new school year, kids. And God bless you everyone.

Amen!

1. William Barclay, Daily Study Bible, CD-ROM, (Liguori, MO: Liguori Productions, 1996)

2. Doug Behm, via Ecunet, "Illustrations for this Week," #447, 9/28/97

3. Doug Behm

4. Posted by James Stewart on Ecunet, "Bottomless Drawer," #197, 8/11/98 which is a Forwarded Copy of #98.7740463 From NOSLRAC517@aol.com(<NOSLRAC517@aol.com>)

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