Today is Friday! I usually declare Fridays as being fabulous. This Friday is different.
Today, a pall has settled in upon our church family. A shroud is covering us.
For a week and a half, we have been in vigilant prayer for a daughter of our church body by the name of Anjalie Sherry. She was placed on life support back on Sunday, February 11th.
To our greatest sadness, she has left this world. We are poorer.
The premature death of someone like Anjalie is the toughest test that Christians will ever face. I received my first clergy appointment 26 years ago! Suffice it to say, I have been doing this for a very long time.
Even so, I have no special powers of understanding. Like many of you, I am rendered speechless by this tragedy. My heart is broken.
And, to further rub salt into the wound, in the face of a death like this, the Bible is strangely silent. Of course, I will cite King David’s lament over the loss of his young friend Jonathan in the Old Testament.
David was not much more than a boy at the time. His young friend Jonathan was tragically killed.
David’s lament was otherworldly, declaring this loss to be grievous, “How the mighty have fallen in battle (2 Samuel 1:25 NIV).”
But, even this biblical passage does nothing more than state the obvious. That old are expected to die, yet the young can die.
The entire book of the Bible entitled, Lamentations goes on and on about sorrow, sin, God being at a distance and the fact that you and I bear the sins of our fathers.
I can’t even remember ever preaching a sermon out of this book! OK…so we name depravity! Simply naming it does not help!
There is an entire discipline of theology called apologetics that sets out to defend God. It even questions how God can allow heinous events to happen in the first place.
But, studying apologetics will not bring us one step closer to unraveling this mystery of how we could have lost Anjalie after only fourteen years of life.
Yes, we search the Bible for comfort but we still come face to face with the fact that death, like birth is an impenetrable mystery.
Yes, I know the Bible tells us that before death we were with God and that God knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).
But then we read, “My frame was not hidden from youwhen I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:15-16 NIV).”
Yes, we believe that our souls originate from God but the details are a wee bit foggy. It offers no explanation with regard to why.
Why did Mystery take Anjalie away from us while she was so young?
Does God have a plan that requires her death? The Bible just does not tell us this.
Well, what more does the Bible say? Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who has sent me draws them (John 6:44 NIV).”
Yes, I know. The conclusion of that verse is “I will raise them up at the last day (vs 44b).”
But, this is still vague. I need a clanging cymbal!
Sure, the only way that we can get to God is to die! But, this still does no answer my question…why so soon?
Why, after fourteen years of rigorous and joyous preparation for life was Anjalie taken from us?
And, on a very dark night of the soul we are sorely tempted to ponder that if those amongst us were not destined to be granted a full life, then what’s the point? What’s the point in any of our births to start with?
But…oddly…it is here, it is at this juncture, that I do believe that I can in fact, answer this question! It is here the lights do turn on!
For starters, you and I would not be the people that we are, the souls that we are, had we not known Anjhalie. Anjalie made our lives richer!
She brought joy into my heart and yours as well. Simply watching Anjalie work within our mission programming was a joy to behold.
Anjalie had a special gift from the Lord. Humans call it ἐξουσία. The English spelling is either exousia or exosia. Yes, it’s Greek to me!
It simply means out of being authority.
In other words, Anjalie showed up, things got better! She didn’t have to speak or do anything.
She had an aura, a presence, something beyond herself. In short, she walked around with the presence of Christ pouring out of her; and, this light glowed all around.
I spent lots of time dreaming about how God would use this child to build the Kingdom. Today, I am no longer dreaming, I am seeing!
I am seeing that Asbury would not be the same if Anjalie had not walked our halls. Her fourteen-year-life had purpose!
She did more for the kingdom in fourteen years than many will do in a lengthy lifetime! And, she showed up at Asbury with her hard hat on, she cowgirled up and worked on the Kingdom!
And, now for the real lump-in-the-throat moment. I will need something of a buildup here.
Author Shel Silverstein renders a touching story regarding ultimate compassion, love and giving in his fifty-year-old book entitled, The Giving Tree.
Through every season of life, a young boy who grew to be a man repeatedly came to a special apple tree to ask for something that would make him happy.
The tale begins with the boy making a request for apples. For each season of life the boy returns, again and again to request more and more from the tree.
From apples, to the branches for lumber, to its trunk! The tree gives and gives.
Finally, at the end of the story, the boy is an old man; and, the tree has been reduced to a stump. The old man needs a place to sit down, a place to rest!
And, even in its death, the tree still gives. The stump gives the man a place for solace and comfort.
Anjalie’s mom and dad told me several days ago that her organs would be donated…so that others may live. Anjalie is the giving tree.
How beautiful…the body of Christ (Twila Paris, 1991)
So, with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes I bow my head in humble reverence and shrink at an even greater mystery. I will slightly paraphrase Jesus’ words, “Greater love hath no one than this, that one offer their life that others might live (John 15:13 KJV).”
Finally, one more tidbit and I will let you go, the apostle Paul literally mocked death!!!! He wrote, “Where O death is your victory? Where is your sting? Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54b & 55 NIV).”
Anjalie has given us the ultimate gift of pure, unconditional love. Let us courageously and victoriously live this day as if it could be our last; and, one day this statement will ring true for each of us.
For the conclusion of this sermon, you’ll have to come to the service on Saturday, at 11:00.