Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection October 10, 2019
"The Language of Loss" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
(Sermon from our Sunday, October 13, Memorial for Marilyn and Warren Gunn).
Today, sisters and brothers, we gather together to remember the lives and the eternal lives of our long-time members, Marilyn and Warren Gunn. I do this today in light of our on-going series of sermons on prayer. Today I’ll bring that series to a conclusion.
Some time ago our friend, Vinal, preached on prayer languages. Two weeks ago, I did the same. But I kept one prayer language unexamined. This prayer language is, without doubt, the most powerful and deepest prayer language. It is the language of loss.
Scripture is filled with the prayer language of loss. Look at the Psalms. Look at the Book of Lamentations. The language of loss, however, is the most difficult of all prayer languages.
Loss is a language often wrapped in tears and wrapped in an uncomfortable silence. I know the language of loss intimately. I have been immersed in the language of loss for the eleven and a half years I have served as your pastor.
Most of us gathered here this morning know well the language of loss. The language of loss arises from a hole in the human heart, from a deep wound that seems beyond healing.
Yet it is from this sacred place, from this heart-wound, that our moist honest, most intimate, most compelling prayers arise. Is this not so, church? In our prayers of loss there is often found an elegant sorrow under-girding true and lasting faith. Is this not so, church?
It’s through the wounds of the heart that most beauty, most truth, most goodness is essentially encountered. Trust me on this, church!
I find it nigh unto impossible to trust any political or religious leader who has not walked through the valley of darkness. Without walking through the valley of darkness, a person cannot be gifted with the grace of compassion, the grace of kindness, the grace of wisdom. Trust no leader who has not walked the dark valley. Without the valley of darkness, one invariably remains mired in selfishness and narcissism. All important human growth passes through the valley of darkness.
Today, brothers and sisters, I will not add much to what has already been said about Marilyn and Warren (earlier reflections from Susan Soria and Rev. Millie Myren). I enjoyed visiting Marilyn and Warren over the years even though many of those visits were in hospital settings.
In their final months, when I’d visit them at the nursing home, Marilyn and Warren were always found together, holding hands, joined together. When I visited Warren not long after Marilyn’s death, what I encountered was a profoundly lost soul. I saw someone whose heart was so severely wounded that the wound could not be anything but lethal.
When Susan (Soria) and I visited Warren on what would be his last day on this wounded earth, we prayed together that Warren’s soul would soon rush to where Marilyn waited for him. And so it was.
No surprise of any kind in Warren swiftly following his beloved Marilyn. Nothing was holding Warren back from his final, faith-fueled, journey.
As Jesus teaches his disciples in Luke 9:3: “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bread, nor money, not even an extra tunic.” And so it was with Warren. So it had been with Marilyn.
As the well-known Kris Kristofferson song, Me and Bobby McGee states it: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose.” And so it was with Warren. And do it was with Marilyn. Ultimate freedom is now their’s to share.
So this morning we say our goodbyes to Marilyn and Warren. Goodbye, as we may know, originally meant “God be with Ye.” And so we send Marilyn and Warren on their way with our sacred goodbye.
Every goodbye creates an empty space in us. We need to fill those empty spaces with the presence of each other. Without the presence of each other, how can we possibly prevent getting crushed under the weight of human life and human loss?
Yes, we believe with the prophet Isaiah that our God is a God-With-Us. Let me read Isaiah 40:11, which may be the single most consoling passage in the Hebrew Scriptures: “God will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom.”
Yes, God is with us in our many losses but we have also been given the grace of this family of faith, this beloved community of Christ. Together, always together, we carry each other as we make our tear-stained way through our wounded world. We cling to each other in our losses. We comfort each other through our tears and our sorrows. We pray together the language of loss.
I’ve mentioned before that I love Fall. I believe Chicago is at its best in Fall. I get to celebrate my birthday in Fall. Yet Fall is also the Season of Loss. Our trees lose their leaves. Most of our birds head south, leaving the air devoid of their songs and their calls. Our daylight lessens. Our warm days dramatically diminish. We lose much in Fall. So Fall is an appropriate time to say our final goodbye to Marilyn and Warren Gunn.
But let us take to heart these words from our brother Paul: “Blessed be the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Mercies and the God of All Consolation, who consoles us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to console with the consolation with which ourselves are consoled by God.” (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4)
Sisters and brothers, the same words proclaimed by Jesus at the tomb of his friend Lazarus: “Lazarus, come out!” have been proclaimed to both Marilyn and Warren: “Come out, Marilyn! Come out, Warren! Unbind them and let them go!” (John 11:43-44) And so it is! Amen!