Today, we come to celebrate, grieve, and remember a family member, a brother, an uncle, a friend, and a simple man, T___.
Although I knew T___ little apart from our family gatherings at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’ve learned in the past week that he was an ordinary guy who would loved an ordinary game, baseball much like his own nephews he used to love to play as a child. And his joy was found in the most common situation of owning his own home and caring for his garden and little or not so little dogs. But he was also willing to do the extraordinary, to give his shirt of his back, to be a friend and father like figure for some.
Some us here are filled with memories of T___, and those that he spent his time with remember his jokes, his laugh, his gentle touch, a genuine relationship. Others here are filled with smaller memories of his presence, his smile, or for myself, buying a flannel T-shirt for him for Christmas for the last 20 years, or so it seems.
One of life’s gifts is that we get the opportunity for our inner selves, our souls to be filled by others.
It seems as a child that we are born with the whole world before us, so much to learn, so many people to meet, a family to grow into.
And so we grow up and are filled with memories, filled with the joy of relationships, filled with the love of our children, our parents, our uncles, our aunts, and our families. We grow up to being filled and made full.
But there exists in life this paradox, that as we grow up and are filled, we experience unfairness, unfairness that seems to shortchange our being filled with life and love. Certainly, in a time of loss such as this we are reminded that although one’s life may have filled us with joy and memories, we are also left with holes.
And this is why death is unfair, we miss our chances to be filled completely.
Today, we are grieving more then just the loss of a family member, but we are also grieving the missed chances to be with and get to love T___ better. We are saddened and angered by the fact that we’ll never get to offer a helping hand again, we’ll never get to tell T___ we love him, forgive him, we’ll never get the opportunity to know him better or invite him over for lunch, or watch a Cowboys game together again.
While we are filled with the presence, and memories of T___, we are also left with the unfairness of what we didn’t have with him. Death is unfair. It is unfair that those J___, D___, and those closest to him have lost a friend at the age of 55, it is unfair that the hospital couldn’t do all that we would have liked, it is unfair that we have a family member who we could and should have been closer to, but weren’t.
But while there is this tension in life of being filled and being left unfilled; there is also this strange tension between the unfairness of death and the unfairness of hope that God offers us.
On the heels of his journey to the cross, Jesus stops along the roadside with a huge crowd gathered around. In this crowd were people of all different kinds and types, from the poorest and unrighteous, to the rich and priestly.
And as usual, Jesus takes the norms of the day and flips them on their head, revealing how unfair God’s grace and hope really are for us in this world. Unfair because Jesus opened the doors to everyone.
In Matt 19 & 21 there are 3 stories the Gospel writer uses to show the unfairness of grace that Jesus always taught about. These 3 stories work like a sandwich with 2 outer slices of bread supporting the inner meat and cheese.
The first slice comes at the end of Matt. 19, there’s this story: popularly titled the “rich young ruler,” where Jesus takes a fair and normal teaching and flips it. See in that day, if a person was rich it meant that they were blessed so of course they’d be first in God’s kingdom, I wonder if we don’t sometimes think this way still.
But Jesus shows how ridiculous this folk wisdom is by making a ridiculous comment about how its easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
This statement is of course confusing to his disciples because it seems so unfair, so they ask if a rich person can’t be saved, then who can. If the person who they thought for sure was in, but wasn’t then who could be. And Jesus answers saying, “with God all things are possible.” “With God all things are possible.” Its by God’s hand that we enter into any kind of healing, it by God’s sacrifice and broken body that we are made whole, and it is by God’s grace that we live fully.
The other piece of bread to this sandwich is a story about two of Jesus’ disciples who are vying for power. They want so much to have the highest place of authority when Jesus rules, they ask their mom to ask Jesus to be made number two and three. Immediately Jesus flips what real authority and power are. “For in this world,” Jesus says, “people ruler over others with authority and manipulation, but in God’s kingdom it is the servants who are the leaders. As Jesus says, “the first shall be last, and the last first.”
The meat and cheese of these 3 stories is an incredibly offensive parable that Jesus tells. It’s a story that defies not only his crowd’s sense of fairness, but our own modern day sense of what is fair. In this parable, the landowner goes and hires workers all throughout the day, hiring the first crew in the morning, then another crew around lunch, and a few other crews all throughout the day up until a few hours before its quitting time.
Seems harmless. Certainly hiring workers who need work is fair. Fairness in this culture and our own, always means that those who worked the longest get the most pay. The first will get the most, the last the least.
But in this story, the landowner pays everyone the same amount: one day’s wages. So no matter where the workers were at, no matter how far ahead they thought they were or how far behind, the landowner’s generosity shocks the idea of fairness. “For the first shall be last, and the last first.”
Paul writes that nothing can separate us from God’s love, he even goes as far to write a poem about the unfairness of death in light of the unfairness of God’s grace and he says, “O Death, where is your sting!” The sting of sin is death, but thanks be to God who gives us victory through Jesus Christ.”
For what Paul and Jesus knew is that in God’s kingdom, the shadow that overcasts itself in death and leaves us with unfulfilled wishes for a family member, the unreconciled relationship, the holes we are all left with whether we are grieving not only what we had in T___, but also what we didn’t have:
That in God’s kingdom, we find Christ’s light bursting through the shadow. The holes left by the unfairness of death, filled by the unfairness of God’s grace, hope, and love.
So, here we are, left full of memories of T___, full of his love for us, full of our love for him and one another, but left with the holes from the injury of his death. It is not only normal, but good for us to cry, to be angry, to live in this brokenness, but it is not good for us to continue living this way among one another when God offers such love that not only may he, but Christ can heal our anger, Christ can forgive where we can’t, Christ can offer hope to the situations we cant.
So today, I hope we remember T___, and in remembering both what we had and didn’t have and will can never have, that in light of God’s unfair grace offered to anyone, that we take the time to be unfair to one another.
Be unfair in your love. Be unfair in your forgiveness. Life is too short to keep living in the light of what could have been, life is to grand to not offer a relationship to those we don’t spent as much time as we’d like.
In the midst of our grief, in the valley of our anger, in this broken place, it may not seem that love can conquer; but this is exactly the paradox. Grace, hope, and love in God’s kingdom are unfair: made available to anyone no matter how deserving or undeserving we think they or we are.
Thus, I pray that you will allow these tensions to work themselves out. And May you allow the unfairness of love, conquer the unfairness of death.