Reflection March 11, 2018

Farewell Eulogy for Matthew Mark Brownlee by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     Everyone wishes our brother, our son, Matthew, made a wiser last decision. We struggle to understand. We struggle to comprehend the extent of the suffering that drove Matthew to his desperate final decision.

     The truth is that we will never fully understand until that day when we, like Matthew, finally come at last into the presence of the God of All Life, the God of Eternal life. But until then, we cannot and should not pretend that what happened to Matthew on Friday, February 23, did not happen. It happened.

     Matthew died by suicide, sticken down in the springtime of his life by a dark and malevolent disease that lurks beyond our human comprehension. Suicide impacts so many of us. Its malicious power destroys too many of our young - often the most gentle and sensitive of our young - as was the case with our good and gentle Matthew.

     We don’t know all of suicide’s nefarious roots, running deep down into the fabric of our society. But we do know that suicide is malicious. We know that suicide is darkly dangerous and decidedly evil.

     The evil that is suicide has snatched our beloved Matthew from us. And we who are left must now learn how to live without the beautiful presence of our brother, Matthew Mark Brownlee.

     Before my beloved and beautiful Beth was stricken down by the terrible cancer that took her life, we asked the hospice doctor why Beth had been so viciously attacked. She did everything right. She watched what she ate. She exercised almost daily. She watched things like stress.

     The doctor replied simply that our environment is filled with terrible toxins. Beth may well have been the unwilling victim of industrial sins. Too many love profits more than our fragile planet.

     We don’t know what toxins may have contributed to Matthew’s erroneous final decision. But we do know that many factors may well have conspired to his death by suicide.   

     Be that as it may, this morning we must still ponder a problem that pushes itself into our faces, into our hearts, into our souls. Where was God in all of this? If God could have prevented this, why didn’t God? If God could not prevent this - then is the God we worship supremely impotent?

     God is who God is. I cannot and will not try to speak for God. Only God speaks for God. But this I know from 44 years of full-time ministry: God always has the last word. Matthew does not get to have the last word. God gets to have the last word!

     We all want a God who will rush to rescue us from all the troubles plaguing us. Even Jesus in agony at Gethsemane, wanted to be rescued from what lay before him! But the Father did not rescue the Son from that horrible, degrading death on a Roman cross.

     Yet, thank God, Jesus’ death on the cross was not the final word. The final word from God was shouted out on Easter morning. “Arise!”

     We, like the crushed disciples on Good Friday, must wait for Easter morning. God will have the final word on the life and death of Matthew Mark Brownlee. And that final word is always “LIFE!”

     I believe God will transform every tragedy, ever suffering, into the joy of Easter morning. God is stronger than death. God is stronger than the most malicious evil. God is stronger than our deepest doubts. God is stronger than our darkest fears.

     I believe and worship a God who doesn’t rescue us from tragedies. I believe and worship a God who redeems every tragedy, turning every Good Friday into Easter.

     I conclude with a prayer-poem from the Chicago theologian Jack Shea:
On the road that escapes Jerusalem
And winds along the ridge to Emmaus
Two disillusioned youths
Dragged home their crucified dream.
They had smelled messiah in the air
And rose to that scarred and ancient hope
Only to mourn what might have been.
And now a sudden stranger falls upon their loss
With excited words about mustard seeds
And surprises hidden at the heart of death
And that evil must be kissed upon the lips
And that every scream is redeemed for it echoes
In the ear of God and do you not understand
What died upon the cross was fear.
They protested their right to despair but he said,
“My Father’s laughter fills the silence of the tomb.”
Because they did not understand they offered him food.
And in the breaking of the bread they knew the imposter for who he was -
The arsonist of the heart.

May the Arsonist of the Heart set our hearts aflame with the certain peace and blessed assurance that Easter is on the way! Amen!


Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643