The Presbyterian Pulpit

A homily by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 4/3/10

Our family has heard many words of sympathy and compassion over these past several days. We are grateful for all of them. I know I speak for the entire family in saying how much they are appreciated. But there is one phrase that we all use...I use...that if I never hear again for the rest of my life it will be too soon. "It's a blessing...It's a blessing." How many times has that been said over the past few days in reference to Mom's death? I have no idea. But I will tell you, it is NOT a blessing. About the only situation I can imagine where that phrase might aptly apply is in the death of someone awful, and Mom was the opposite.

Good wife, mother, sister, friend, Nana, even in-law (and she worked at that - she was very intentional about being an IN-law, not an OUT-law with her children's spouses). She had her own ministry which she took very seriously - a kitchen table ministry that cared for people who did not want their situations to be considered "official" in consulting with the pastor. Her ministry extended overseas as she maintained contact with mission workers around the globe offering encouragement and support - moral support, prayer support, financial support, any kind of support she could. Eventually, that support was offered in person as she served several tours as a Volunteer in Mission through the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan and Mexico.

If you asked her, I suspect that she would say that her most important ministry was with her family. Not simply in support of her husbands' ministries, but with her own children and grandchildren. No one cared more deeply about our spiritual lives than Mom.

There is much we will all remember about Mom. I will remember her response when I told her that Christie and I were getting married. She said that was all well and good but that we should not have any children. What??? Yes. "David, you are old and set in your ways and you would never have enough energy to deal with kids." She went on, "God was very smart in having us have children when we're young because when we're older, we don't have enough get-up-and-go to handle them." Uh-huh. Well, as you know, I ignored her advice (not the first time nor the last), and gratefully so.

Some years later, as we all know, she and Fred Tinley began a life together and it was a special joy for me to be able to be a part of that wedding ceremony. Prior to the service, as we waited to go into the sanctuary, I told Mom, "Just a reminder: you should not have any more kids, because you are old and set in your ways and would not have enough energy to deal with them." She grinned and stuck her tongue out at me. That was Momma.

Does all this sound like someone whose death would be a blessing under ANY circumstance? Of course not. Oh, I know why it has been said. The ravages of the Alzheimer's were brutal - no one could want her to continue to live that way. Early this week, as her death appeared imminent, as family members were being alerted to what might soon occur, Judy and I talked on the phone - we talked about our prayers; "How do you pray for your Momma to die?" We did not lose Mom on Monday - we lost her long ago. But it was not a blessing. The Apostle Paul called death "the last ENEMY."

But then we remember that we did NOT lose Momma, neither Monday nor anytime before...not permanently anyway. One day we will be together again in Glory. You see, the Christian gospel makes it plain that, in human existence, death is a comma, not a period. Tomorrow's celebration of Easter will affirm it again. As Paul shouted out at the end of I Corinthians 15, "Death has been swallowed up in victory," the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over the tomb. Now, that IS a blessing!

In situations like this my mind is drawn back to a scene described by Dr. Anthony Campolo in a book called, It's Friday, but Sunday's Comin' (Waco, TX: Word Publishing, 1985). Mom bought it for me on her way back from Pakistan one year - she figured she needed a gift for her preacher boy as she returned from her journey. I have made good use of it through the years. It is a series of essays with the title work telling of a Good Friday service in which the author participated - it is a line from a sermon preached by one of the other speakers that day, a wise old black man. Tony writes (pp. 124-126):
For an hour and a half he preached one line over and over again..."It's Friday, but Sunday's comin'!" He started his sermon real softly by saying, "It was Friday; it was Friday and my Jesus was dead on the tree. But that was Friday, and Sunday's comin'!" One of the Deacons yelled, "Preach, brother, Preach!" It was all the encouragement he needed.

He came on louder as he said, "It was Friday and Mary was cryin' her eyes out. The disciples were runnin' in every direction, like sheep without a shepherd, but that was Friday, and Sunday's comin!"

The preacher kept going. He picked up the volume still more and shouted, "It was Friday. The cynics were lookin' at the world and sayin' `As things have been so shall they be. You can't change anything in this world; you can't change anything. But those cynics don't know that it was only Friday. Sunday's comin'! It was Friday, and on Friday those forces that oppress the poor and make the poor to suffer were in control. But that was Friday! Sunday's comin'!

It was Friday, and on Friday Pilate thought he had washed his hands of a lot of trouble. The Pharisees were struttin' around, laughin' and pokin' each other in the ribs. They thought they were back in charge of things. But they didn't know it was only Friday! Sunday's comin'!
Campolo continues, "He kept on working that one phrase for a half hour, then an hour, then an hour and a quarter, then an hour and a half. Over and over he came at us, "It's Friday, but Sunday's comin!" By the time he had come to the end of the message...He had me and everybody else so worked up that I don't think any of us could have stood it much longer. At the end of his message he just yelled at the top of his lungs, `It's FRIDAY!' and all 500 of us in that church yelled back with one accord, `SUNDAY'S COMIN'!"

That is the good news, the Gospel, the word the world is waiting to hear. That is the message of the church. When life begins to get you down, our word is Sunday's comin'. When you are so far down you don't remember up, the word is Sunday's comin'. When Momma dies and you wish she had not, remember, it's Friday, but Sunday's comin'.

As you may know, Christie spent some of her High School years at Northfield in Massachusetts. Northfield is a school that was founded by one of the most famous evangelists of the last century, Dwight L. Moody. In fact, his grave is on the campus.

I love what Moody said: "One day you will read in the paper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts has died. Well, don't believe a word of it. I shall have gone up higher, that's all, out of this old clay tenement into a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And at that moment, I shall be more alive than I have ever been."

I suspect that Nana is saying Amen to that right now. All that is left for us to say is, "It's Friday, but Sunday's comin', and "Thanks be to God who gives our Mom...and us...the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

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