Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Promise of Love

Preached at Prescott Memorial Baptist Church
First Sunday of Lent
February 26, 2012
Psalm 25:1-10/Genesis 9:8-17

If you met Virginia today you would be charmed by her sweet expression, her kindness and warm southern hospitality. She looks so “together” that you might think her life has been easy, even ideal. She was born in a small Mississippi town in 1922. She’ll be ninety years old on her next birthday.

She was the youngest of three girls. They all grew up in a nice house with a wraparound porch and a yard that was always full of neighborhood friends. Virginia’s grandparents lived around the corner and helped to look after their grandchildren. Virginia’s father worked for the railroad. Her mother kept the house and volunteered at the church. Everybody in town knew each other. When Virginia fell in love and married, she married a local boy, Ted, just three days before he went off to fight in the war. By God’s grace Ted came home alive and unwounded from a terrible war.

Ted went to school and became a lawyer. He and Virginia had three children. When the third baby was born, the doctor looked at the baby and shook his head sadly. The doctor told Ted, “You’ll want to put this baby in a state home. This is not the kind of trouble your family wants or needs.”

Ted looked at the baby, his son. And he looked at the doctor. “Doc, you don’t know my wife.” Ted and Virginia named their baby Allen and they took him home to join his brother, Bob, and sister, Colleen. Allen had Down Syndrome. His muscles were limp and he was slower to start walking than his siblings had been. He had difficulty with things that the other children found easy.

When Allen was seven years old, Ted (Virginia’s beloved husband) died from colon cancer. Virginia reports that Allen seemed to know how to comfort and reassure his grieving family even while he grieved himself. She says, “That child taught us so much about compassion and faith. That kind of thing seemed easy for him. Trusting. Caring. Being altogether present for us when we cried.”

When Allen was nine years old he took on responsibilities at the church. He greeted people at the front door and handed them the Sunday bulletin. Allen carried the flame to the front of the church before worship every Sunday morning. And he helped to collect the offering in the balcony. It was his work, his calling. He took great care to dress nicely and look his best on Sunday and he was always on time. The church family was just as much Allen’s family as were his mother, his brother and his sister.

Virginia tells that the two older children didn’t cut Allen any slack. He had to keep up; the two older children did not slow down for him. Allen loved nice clothes and his brother took him shopping regularly to stay in style. His sister made it her business to make sure Allen knew how to mind his manners in good company.

Virginia heard about The Baddour Center in Senatobia. It’s a community for adults with developmental disabilities. Allen was accepted for admission. Virginia took Allen to The Baddour Center, got him settled in his own room and then she drove home. Or tried to. She could hardly see the road ahead of her for crying. Bob, her oldest child, invited her to pull the car over to the side of the rode. “Mom,” Bob hugged her closely, “Do you remember taking me to college the first time? You remember how excited you were for me? Well, be excited for Allen. This place is going to open up all kinds of possibilities for him. Allen has gone to college.” And so it did seem as though Virginia’s youngest child had gone to college. Allen had a wonderful time at The Baddour Center. He loved his new friends with the same devotion that had defined his life since birth. He had work to do and he learned about his own potential and gifts among people who loved him dearly.

It was while Allen was at The Baddour Center – Virginia’s pastor came to her after worship one Sunday and asked if she would speak with a young couple in the church. They had just learned the results of a test, a test that indicated their unborn baby had Down Syndrome. They were devastated.

Virginia sat down with the young people and told them about Allen. They had seen Allen greeting people at the front doors of the church. They had seen him lighting the candle for worship. They had seen him as he collected offering in the balcony. Virginia consoled the parents-to-be knowing that every parent wants only the best for their child.

She told them, “No child is perfect. Every child has his or her challenges. And so do we as parents. I brought Allen home from the hospital not knowing what our life would be like with a Down Syndrome child. I knew I would be forced to learn some new things about parenting. But I had no idea how much I would learn about love, love of life itself. I’ve never known anyone who enjoys life any better than Allen enjoys his life. I can’t promise you that your child will have an easy life. But I can promise you that there will be enough love for whatever you face together.”

Allen passed away from a heart condition when he was forty-two years old. Virginia says it was the toughest experience of her ninety years—to bury her precious son. But she brightens when she thinks about the young couple in her church who chose not to terminate their pregnancy twenty two years ago. Their son now greets people at the front door of the church on Sunday mornings. He lights the candle for worship on Sunday. He helps to collect the offering in the balcony. Virginia sees this as a legacy that Allen has passed on. ************************************************

My partner, Anna, and I were driving home from a conference in Dallas last weekend. Somewhere between Texarkana and Hope, Arkansas a rainbow appeared over the highway in front of us. It was bright, clear and broad. It was amazing. Every color in the rainbow was distinct. It stretched from one side of the highway, made a lovely crest and landed on the other side. We stopped to eat in Hope and we drank in the hope that comes with something so absolutely beautiful. We got back in the car and drove toward home with that rainbow in front of us. For three hours we stared at the amazing promise before us, God’s work of art.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. We are going on a journey together. This is the season of Lent and together we will walk toward Jerusalem with Jesus. We know that there will be challenges and worse than that. There will be pain and suffering. We wouldn’t ask for it, not for ourselves and not for anyone. But we know that pain comes with life. If we choose not to feel the pain on this journey, not to take part in the suffering, we also choose to be excluded from the fullness of our shared joy. To be fully alive is to know all of life. To be faithful is to walk with Jesus all the way to Jerusalem.

I can’t promise you that the journey will be easy. But I can promise you that there will be enough love for whatever we face together.