A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, August 1, 2016

Funeral Sermon (Helen Hildebrand) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "We Still Believe!"

(In Loving Memory of Helen Hildebrand, December 30, 1924 to July 25, 2016)

     A few years ago, just before Christmas, I pulled up to a traffic light where I was living at the time, and as I looked toward my right out of my driver’s side window, I noticed some steps leading from the sidewalk down to a very modest apartment.  I remember thinking that I had never realized that an apartment had ever existed on the corner of that street even though I had driven past it many times.
     And there it was.  And on the door of this hidden apartment was a sign that had these three words in very large letters...
     A smile came to my face as I thought about the child or the children who lived in that apartment and who wanted to make sure that Santa wouldn’t forget them.
     That sign reminds me of the unbridled and confident faith that the scriptures tell us that we can have as we go through life.  A faith in God who knows all about us – where we live, our hopes, our dreams, our joys, as well as our times of grief and sorrow.
     I’ve been thinking about that sign a lot lately because it reminds me of Aunt Helen’s faith, a faith that stayed with her all her life to the day she died. In more recent years, she sought to reassure her family that she was ready to go and be with the Lord. She wanted to be reunited with Uncle Quinton, Uncle Mac, Dad, and the many family members and friends who had gone before her.
     Stacy told me that Aunt Helen would tell her the story of when Aunt Helen, Uncle Mac, and Dad were kids. Dad was the youngest so they would tend to pick on Dad. Dad didn’t like his middle name which was “George” so Aunt Helen and Uncle Mac would get under his skin by calling him, “Georgie, Georgie.” I bet they are having a great reunion in heaven.
     This is why Aunt Helen was ready to be with the Lord. To the very end and in our humble way she was letting us know that even though her body was slowing down, her faith was still strong, stronger than ever. She still believed! It was just that she was at a point in her life where she was ready to be with the Lord.
     Aunt Helen had a quiet and humble faith. She wasn’t so much a talker as she was a doer. She loved serving the church through her cooking and baking and by helping with the annual Christmas bazaar at her church. Just think of all the people she blessed through these simple acts of kindness.
     She also lived out her faith by blessing her family and friends through her gift of hospitality. I will never forget all the holiday meals that Uncle Quinton and Aunt Helen held at their home. We loved going to their house because they had a really cool basement with a pool table. I mean, we just had a dirt floor cellar at our house, but they had this big basement where you could play games and have fun.
     And of course, there was always great food at those holiday meals. Aunt Helen was the best!
     Jerry told me that after he got married, his mom would always bring him a homemade cherry pie on his birthday. As Jerry told me this, it was all he could do to contain himself in describing to me how incredible that pie was. It was like he was reliving what it was like to take a bite of that pie. I asked him why he liked it so much.
     And he said, “Oh, my. She used cherries that she had picked and canned. They were so good. She also had this incredible homemade crust.” But then Jerry told me, “The best part was all was the sugar she sprinkled on the top of that pie!”
      That kind of reminds me of Mom-Mom’s famous iced tea. The reason it was so good was because of all that sugar and lemon she would put into it. Here’s the secret to the McDowell & Hildebrand recipes. Just use sugar.
    The grandchildren will tell you the same thing. They remember the awesome cookies that she would always have in the cookie jar. But I think her most favorite treat was to give them frosted pop-tarts with butter spread on top of the frosting! 
     Aunt Helen was one of a kind. What a wonderful, humble, person of faith she was. She might remind us of one of Jesus’ closest friends that we read about in the Bible. Remember the story of Mary and Martha, the two sisters who would host Jesus in their home whenever Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem?
     Mary was the one who we remember as sitting at Jesus’ feet and taking in every word of his teachings. Martha was the one who we remember as cooking and getting things ready for their meal. Sometimes we elevate Mary in this story and forget that Martha’s role of serving was just as important.
     I like to think of Aunt Helen as a great blend of Mary and Martha. She not only loved Jesus and wanted to grow in her faith, but she also knew that she had the gift of hospitality and serving.
     Where would the church be without the loving and humble servants who are providing a meal and who will be cleaning up after us following this service today?  That is so Aunt Helen. She lived out her faith through humble service to be a blessing to others.
     Our Gospel reading is a portion of the Jesus’ raising Lazarus story in which Mary and Martha had sent a message to Jesus to come and heal their brother, Lazarus who was close to death.  Mary and Martha were friends of Jesus, and they knew that Jesus had been sent by God and would be able to keep their brother from dying.
     But as the story goes, Jesus arrived after Lazarus had already died.  And when these sisters finally greet Jesus, they are still clutching to their faith when Martha says to Jesus, “But even now, I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
     And notice that this is Martha speaking these words of faith and not Mary in this particular story.
     Jesus said to Martha or maybe we should just call her, “Helen” in this story because it is very fitting.  Jesus says to her that he is the resurrection and the life and that everybody who believes in him will never die. When he asked Martha if she believed this, she said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
"Yes, Lord, I believe..."
     Martha, who we remember as a doer, shows us that she was equally a believer that with God, all things are possible. Martha sounds a lot like Helen to me.
     When Jesus tells Martha that he is the resurrection and the life, John, the Gospel writer is giving us a little hint of what will happen toward the end of his gospel when Jesus will rise to new life.
     It’s because of Easter and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, that we can dare to believe that one day all of God’s people will be reunited in God’s glorious kingdom. It will be one great big “Georgie-Georgie” family reunion.
     Helen was ready to go and be with the Lord because she knew of this hope. She had an assurance that there is nothing that can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. Not even death.
    Maybe the best thing that we can do to honor Aunt Helen today is to join her and all the saints in heaven in reaffirming that we still believe. Yes, even with heavy hearts, we still believe. Please stand as your able, and together, let us recite the Apostles’ Creed that you find printed in your bulletin.
    I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.
     We still believe! Thanks be to God!

[Left to Right: Aunt Dot, Mom, Aunt Helen, Uncle Quinton]

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