Friday, October 28, 2011

A Celebration and Reunion 96 years in the Making

Yesterday morning, I had the incredible privilege of preaching my Grandma's funeral. Grandma lived a long and godly life. She was the physical matriarch to a clan of about 100 and a spiritual matriarch to, well, a number that will be revealed in the next life.

As usually happens with funerals, this one was a great reunion. For the first time in years, all of my cousins were in the same place. And as we all recognized with a melancholy acceptance, it was probably also the last time that will ever happen. There were some great pictures taken and great pictures shared from my Grandma's long life and if I ever get access to them, I will share them.

Below is the message I shared.

If I were somehow able to talk with Grandma after the service today, she would say, “you did a great job, Tim. I mean… Dean. No, Eric. Danny. No, Donnie.” Even though she couldn’t get my name right, there were some things she always got right for me. When I was little, whenever I sat in a pew with her, usually right around there, she always had saltine crackers for me and a blue motorcycle. Sometimes they were a bit stale from being in her purse for a long time, but she always had them for me. When I got older, she saved the Sunday comics for me. She always had a stack for me to read. And from the time I was little, up till the last couple of years, if Grandma knew I was coming over she always made me mashed potatoes and gravy and had a peanut butter cookie with a Hershey kiss in the center.
She was there when I preached my first sermon. Dad said she cried through the whole thing. It was pretty bad. She endured one Ft. Madison football game and several Denmark Elementary Christmas concerts. We hadn’t been married long when my wife, Erin got in a wreck and totaled the car. A few days later, Grandma sent me a letter. In addition to the usual update on the weather and Uncle Henry’s activity in the garden, was a check for $100. Dad about fell over from shock when I told him. “Your Grandma is tighter than bark on a tree.” Grandma just wrote, “I felt like I should send this to you.”
All of those things, especially the cookie, were ways Grandma let me know she loved me. We could all tell stories of the ways she let us know she loved each one of us. Knowing that, think of how big her heart must’ve been – to be able to share so much love with so many of us. No wonder she couldn’t remember my name. I was one of a jillion. A group of kids. Bunch of Grandkids. Platoon of great and great-great grandkids. And for good measure, add the stepkids, step grandkids and step great-grandkids. Oh yea, two husbands that she loved. And we loved her back. Especially both husbands. Those who visited Mildred at the Hospice House know of all the loving ways Henry took care of her. Patting her arm, holding her hand. Being with her till 3 AM. Henry, we offer you our deepest sympathy. Grandma had such a big heart. A huge love. An incredible legacy.
Legacy is one of the two words we could use today, in our celebration of Mildred’s life. Is there a much better word than legacy? All 5 of her children-in-laws are still married to her children. Think of all the different things her grandchildren have done. All the different ways we have served God, other people, our families. I couldn’t remember the exact year of all my cousin’s weddings. But my best estimates are that we have collectively been married for 225 years. Those 225 years of marriage have produced a lot of great grandchildren. Mostly from the Ortons.
There is a passage of scripture that thoroughly summarizes Mildred’s life and her legacy. She lived this out. Proverbs 31:10-31. Vs 28 – we could all rise and call Mildred blessed
Grandma ran a tight ship. The hard-working farm wife and mother. Took care of Roy. While helping on the farm. While taking care of her other kids. While cooking for the farm-hands, paid and unpaid. She was a multi-tasker way before that term was in use.
Her kids remember her working in the basement, sorting and casing eggs, doing laundry and praying all at the same time. She would share at church that the time in the basement was her opportunity to talk with God. Pray for her kids. Grandma wanted other people to know God’s love.
One day she was talking with me about the church I was pastoring at the time. She asked, “are people being saved?” When I told her yes, she smiled and tears welled up in her eyes. In that tearful smile, I could see years of prayer. Layers and layers of love for her family. And an incredible desire to help other people know the love of Jesus. Grandma didn’t have to talk a lot about a God-honoring life. She just lived it. For decades. It was her legacy.
It’s her relationship with God that brings about the other word that is appropriate for today. It’s the word “reunion.” When Grandma was in the hospice house, she went back and forth between the present and the past. During visits with her, eventually she would have a moment in which she looked at you and really knew you. You could see the recognition in her eyes. “You are my son. You are my granddaughter.” Recognizing her living legacy.
At other times she would ask, “Who is taking care of Roy? Grandma knew that Danny was too young to take care of Roy. But when she was told that Jesus is taking care of Roy, she was calmed.
Mildred would also say, “I want to see Levi.”
On Monday morning, for the first time in decades, she got to see Roy. She got to hug Levi. And the past Grandma had been slipping into actually became her present reality. Her present reality right now.
But it wasn’t the only reunion Mildred had on Monday morning. She also got to see, face-to-face, the Savior that she and Levi first met years ago. Years ago, when Levi and Mildred were living down the lane in the house at the other place, Levi’s brother Wes invited them to a Sunday night service at this church. They attended several Sunday nights. Even attended a revival. One Sunday morning, when they got to the end of the lane, Levi and Mildred asked their kids whether they should turn right to their usual church on Sunday morning or left to the church of the Nazarene. The kids stated, “left.”
And here at the Fort Madison Church of the Nazarene, my Grandma and Grandpa came to know Jesus Christ in a personal way. They came to know for themselves, in a real and life-transforming way, these two verses. John 3:16 and 1 John 1:9
Levi and Mildred came to know that it isn’t just about living a decent life and attending a good church. But that the life God wants for us, created us for, involves a turning. A 180 turn from a life that is going in our own direction, to a life that is lived in God’s direction. A life in which sin and self-centeredness are exchanged for a life dedicated to the pursuit of God. What the Apostle Paul called being a “new creation” in Christ Jesus.
Grandma and Grandpa made that decision to live for Jesus, in this church, years and years ago. And then they lived it out – the rest of their lives.

In the gospel of Matthew, there is a record of a parable Jesus told to his followers. The story of a rich man, a venture-capitalist, who entrusted some of his money to various servants and then left for a long journey. When the rich man got back, he called a meeting with his servants to find out what they’d done with the money he’d loaned them. One servant wimped out, just buried the bag of silver. No return on the money. This rich man was not happy. But the other two servants were able to give their boss more bags of silver than they had originally been given. They were faithful with what their boss had given them. The boss responded by saying, Matthew 25:23.
Imagine Mildred standing before Jesus on Monday morning. Surrounded, in heaven and on earth, by people who came to know Jesus because of missionaries Mildred supported. Or Vacation Bible Schools she helped with. Or kids and grandkids she prayed for. And imagine, because we can know it happened, Jesus saying to Grandma Matthew 25:23
And imagine Mildred, her son, the father of her children, and her sister all celebrating before the throne of God in their now perfect and eternal bodies. No dementia. No heart problems. No mental handicap. Healthy. Whole. Beyond the curse of death. Forever.
Last Monday, Mildred and Henry celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. After everyone else left, my mom and Aunt Karen were taking care of Grandma. Grandma asked mom, “will I get better in this life?” To which my mom answered, “no.” Mom then asked whether Grandma was ready to see Jesus. She just answered, “yes.” Then fell asleep.
The next Monday, Grandma fell asleep for the final time in this life. The day that Mildred went home to be with Jesus, Uncle Pete summed it up pretty well. He said, “Now, we can celebrate.”
And that’s exactly what we get to do today. We get to celebrate a reunion. We get to celebrate a legacy. A legacy that will bring about more heavenly reunions, when someday we get to stand in the same place Grandma is standing right now.

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