I’ve really been struggling over the few months. To be honest, I haven’t been this sad for a really long time. There has just been so much loss and senselessness that I don’t even know what to think anymore. The question: Why? Keeps running through my mind. And I ask God: Why?
On Jan 2nd, I got a call from one of my students, telling me that her Great Grandmother, the one who has raised her and her sisters since her mother died many years ago, had suffered a massive aneurism and Stroke. She was unconscious in the hospital and on life support. I joined the family who was gathering at the hospital. We cried and hugged each other. This family was losing their rock. The glue that held everything together for their fragile family. They were frantic, panicked and lost. Shirley passed away a day later on January 3rd with her three great granddaughters, Maycie, Jasmine and Kadie holding her hands and letting her go home.
Then while trying to come to grips with all of that, we got notification that Lisa, a 16-year-old student of ours, my advisee, was at Children’s Hospital in Critical Condition due to a Bacterial Infection that had taken hold on her skin condition that she had. I spoke to her mother on Tuesday, the 8th of January and her mother told me she was doing better. Then on Friday, the 11th we got the news that the infection had turned Septic, she has slipped into a coma, but they couldn’t save her, and Lisa died--she was gone.
I was numb. I didn’t know what to think, how to think, or what to do next. I couldn’t even pray. I knew I had students who were grieving and fellow staff members who were devastated. Why? is all I could think. Why God?
A dear friend of mine, reached out, as she often did. I consider her to be a spiritual rock and she always is able to share some enlightenment to any situation. She kept telling me that even in this sadness Jesus was with me. Jesus Cared about me and my sadness even this time of darkness where I couldn’t find any comfort. Jesus Cares about me? Hummm…If he cares about me, why am I so sad and so lost?
On Jan. 17, I went to the first of two funerals I would attend that day. Lisa’s funeral was first. It was a very solemn affair. It was also typically traditional; it was at a funeral home, most people were wearing black, lots of sunglasses hiding swollen sad eyes, the family distraught with grief. The surroundings however were perfect: the flowers, the music, the PowerPoint, the guest book, etc. The service was very much centered on how loving and caring Lisa was. Baptist Pastor Kent Gravley was the officiant. I’ve known Kent for many years, and have always respected him as a spiritual leader. When it came time for Kent to say a few words in his homily, he shared the Mary and Martha story about Lazarus. To my surprise, he concentrated on the shortest line in the Bible: Jesus Wept. Jesus, who knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead when he entered the house, paused at the entrance, and looking around, saw all the people so filled with sadness and grief, that he was touched so deeply that he wept out of compassion for those who were mourning. Kent stated: Jesus Cares about them and he cares about us. He cares about us? Then why do I feel so bad? How could he care about me?
The second funeral I attended was for Shirley who was just shy of her 80th birthday. This service was anything but traditional or perfect. This funeral was filled with grief, but also with lots of laughter, love and the sharing of Shirley’s life. It was attended by many people wearing bright purple, (Shirley’s favorite), to biker dudes, camo, jeans, Romeos, to floor length dresses. It was an interesting group of people, with varied backgrounds and experiences. This funeral was held at the South Side Baptist church, with their Pastor as the officiant. As we awaited the service to begin, the song, On the Old Rugged Cross played over and over. Some family members were late. The order of the service was modified at the last minute, the PowerPoint was just not done quite right, the 5 songs on the PowerPoint all played at the same time overlapping, small children were running up and down the aisle, we all sang Amazing Grace. This Pastor also chose to use the Mary and Martha Lazarus story for his homily. He spoke about how Shirley in her life cared for others. She baked pies for people, she cooked for people, she gave shelter to people, she gave people hope, She Cared for People, just as Jesus Cared for us…and the Pastor said, Jesus never leaves our sides. Okay, Okay, Okay.....I get it Jesus Cares for us. But, But....
Then I went downstairs to join the reception. Once there, I found people hugging, laughing, chasing small children around, crying, eating awesome food...the common theme, Sharing Stories about how much Shirley had touched everyone’s lives. Jesus Cares.
Jesus does Care. Even when we don’t think he does. It’s just that simple.
In our Gospel lesson today, we hear how Jesus enters the Synagogue to attend the service just as he did when he was a child. Much like many of us did when we were children. Jesus had just returned after being anointed and filled with the Holy Spirit and spending time in the wilderness, battling with Satan who wanted Jesus to simply give up and lose his faith. Jesus reads the scripture, and then makes possibly, the shortest sermon on record saying, “Today, the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.
Jesus Cares. I was fighting my own wilderness. Where was God when all this sadness and in these sudden deaths were happening? The truth of the matter was that in this wilderness of life, God was right there. I was the one who just couldn’t see him or feel him. But he was there. Jesus Cares.
Jesus has given us all the tools we need to get through our own wildernesses. He taught us to have faith. To Believe in Scripture. To know that he is always in us, through us, and for us. He has told us we are forgiven. That we have eternal life through his death and resurrection. He told us to be involved in our own personal ministry to love the unlovable, to serve the undeserving, to forgive the unforgiveable. He wants us to know that this ministry isn’t easy, but that it is right thing to do. He wants us to be steadfast in our ministry to serve those who can’t serve themselves. We can and must build Christ’s community of faith, right where we are today.
Even in those times when we find ourselves lost in the wilderness of our own lives, Jesus reminds us that He cares and so should we.
Jesus stood and took the scroll and read:
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed, go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s Favor”
And then he gave back the scroll and sat down. With all eyes fixed on him, he simply said:
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.
The message is simple:
Jesus Cares and so should we.