11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
Sermon February 13, 2016
“A SPIRITED LIFE” LYDABEL “PEG” BREWER
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
When I recall Lydabel Katherine “Peg” Brennan Brewer, a number of descriptions come quickly to mind: strong-willed, feisty, a woman of definite opinions, faithful, loyal, and, yes, on occasion, a bit grumpy. Yet there is a word that, to me, sums up Peg most succinctly – that word is “spirited.” Peg was a “spirited” woman who was unafraid to reveal herself to those who would listen.
Over the course of eight years, I came to know Peg well. In that knowing, I became very fond of her. She very much reminded me of my own Irish mother, Maggie, whom my Irish father always called “Peg.” While I never kept track of the hours Peg and I spent together – talking about this that and the other, if I had to estimate – I’d guess we spent well over 300 hours talking to one another. I very much enjoyed and now deeply cherish those many conversations.
Peg would be at the church often because of her vital role as our church treasurer - an office she held until her death. Usually I’d ask Peg to come into my office and tell me what was happening in her life. We talked about many things: travel, movies, books, her beloved family, her faith, her likes, her dislikes. Peg often complained she didn’t want to take up too much of my time. I’d respond that talking to her was the most important thing I could do as her pastor.
After decades of pastoral work, I know without any hesitation that listening is the single-most sacred task of a pastor. Nothing is more important than the responsibility of listening to those given by God to one’s pastoral care. Peg never took up my time. I was grateful for our conversations. I hope to resume them at a future time.
In our talks, I learned of the disappointments that were part of Peg’s life. Almost everyone who grew up inside the cruel cauldron of the Great Depression suffered from those harsh, hard times. Peg was no exception. And it was certainly a bitter disappointment when her beloved spouse, Darryl, went out for a long walk one day and suffered a fatal heart attack. That wound Peg carried until the day she went back to God.
It’s our deepest hope that Peg and Darryl are now re-united in eternal life as they were in this life. Their love was a love fashioned in the fiery furnace of war. Peg always grew most animated when speaking of those early days of her marriage – traveling with Darryl before he shipped overseas. Those were precious memories to her.
Sisters and brothers, our first reading today from the Book of Ecclesiastes is well-known. I’d like to add a few words about Ecclesiastes. This author wrote that “the race is not to the swift; nor the battle to the strong; nor bread to the wise; nor riches to the intelligent; nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) One’s fate, according to Ecclesiastes, does not depend on being righteous or being wicked but is part and parcel of an inscrutable mystery that remains deeply hidden in God. (Ecclesiastes 9:1)
Any attempt to penetrate this hidden mystery is doomed to failure; it is vanity – it is hot air! Yet in our attempts to discern how God works among us, many, if not most of us, become both frustrated and disappointed. Peg, as most believers, suffered her own frustrations and disappointments because of her deep faith.
Sisters and brothers, it’s a simple truth that life is disappointing. Life is inevitably disappointing. It’s disappointing because wherever we look, we see injustice; wherever we look, we see violence; whenever we look, we see inequalities of monstrous proportions; wherever we look, we see rampant sickness and untold suffering; wherever we look we see evil prosper and righteousness assailed. Peg saw these things. Being a woman of deep faith, she wondered why God allowed such a staggering array of injustice, cruelty, and suffering.
Brothers and sisters, without belief in God, one is never confronted with the question of God’s disturbing silence – God’s lack of action - in the face of endless atrocities. If there is no God, one does not have to face the disappointments which invariably accompany faith.
But, with belief in God, how can one not be disappointed when God fails to rescue us from the injustices and illnesses that come to us all? Why was Darryl stricken down when he was? Why did Peg’s mother die young? Why did my father die young? Where was God in these deaths? And we can also ask: where was God when Peg suffered the catastrophic fall that hastened her death?
The author of Ecclesiastes never well answered such questions. It was a divine mystery and the best thing we can do is enjoy the good things God provides while we can. Not bad advice, as far as it goes. But I believe the Gospels bring us a fuller answer to these difficult questions.
Brothers and sisters, let’s look deeper into the story of Lazarus. I add some thoughts I came across this week from Ronald Rolheiser’s latest book, The Passion and the Cross. “Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, send word to Jesus that ‘the one you love is ill’ with the implied request that Jesus should come and heal him. But Jesus’ reaction is curious. He doesn’t rush off immediately to heal his close friend. Instead he remains where he is for two days longer while his friend dies.
“Then, after Lazarus has died, (Jesus) sets off to visit him. As (he) approaches the village where Lazarus has died, he is met by Martha and then, later, by Mary. Each, in turn, asks him the question: ‘Why?’ Why, since you loved this man, did you not come to save him from death? Indeed, Mary’s question implies even more: Why is it that God … seems absent when bad things happen to good people? Why doesn’t God rescue his loved ones and save them from pain and death?” (Rolheiser)
Sisters and brothers, do we not all ask these questions? I testify that our sister Peg asked these questions. As many know, this beloved church has a laudatory past but an uncertain future. Peg knew this and, as our faithful treasurer, she worried endlessly about this church. Now those worries can no longer disturb her. And – who knows – perhaps in the deep mystery that now enfolds her – she may help us in some unknowable way.
Yet I’d assure Peg that all of us – including our beloved church – were in the hands of a loving and merciful God. But there is more that needs to be said from the story of Lazarus.
Sisters and brothers, a missing piece is this: according to the Gospels – according to the story of Lazarus – we have a redeeming God, not a rescuing God. There is a world of difference between these two understandings. Many of us want a God who will rescue us. But such a God is not found in the story of Lazarus. Such a God is not found in the accounts of Jesus’ agony and death.
And here’s a simple truth arising from the story of Lazarus and from the cross: Just as God did not spare Jesus, his son, from humiliation, pain, and death – so Jesus does not spare us from humiliation, pain, and death. Jesus did not spare his beloved friend, Lazarus, the agony and pain of death so why should
Brothers we expect anything different? and sisters, many of us mistakenly base our faith on a rescuing God: “a God who promises special exemptions to those (with) genuine faith.” Many pastors and preachers mistakenly proclaim: “Have genuine faith in Jesus, and you will be spared life’s humiliations and pains! Have genuine faith in Jesus, and prosperity will come your way! (Just) believe … and rainbows will surround your life!” (Rolhesier)
But this is not who God is. This is not how God acts. God does not rescue us. Just as Jesus did not rescue his beloved friend, Lazarus, so God does not rescue us. But here’s the important point: while we are not promised rescue – we are promised redemption.
“Jesus never promised us … exemptions (from suffering), (Jesus never promised us) immunity from cancer, (Jesus never promised us) escape from death. Rather, Jesus promised that, in the end, there will be redemption, vindication, immunity from suffering, and eternal life. But that’s in the end … meanwhile there will be the same kinds of humiliation, pain, and death (for believers) that everyone else suffers.” (Rolheiser) This is the Christian faith in a nutshell!
Brothers and sisters, I wish I wasn’t standing here today, celebrating the life of this faithful, stalwart, church pillar. I miss her. I miss many things about her. I miss her strong opinions. I miss her sense of humor – especially the dark humor that is embedded in everyone with Irish genes.
When I first visited Peg at the assisted living facility prior to the catastrophic fall, she assured me the place should not be called “Sunrise Senior Living” but “Sunset Senior Living.” Her biggest complaint, she said, was that the place was filled with really old people. That was Peg!
Lydabel Catherine “Peg” Brennan Brewer, your beloved family misses you. Your beloved church family misses you. I miss you. We wish you could have stayed with us longer but, with all my heart, I hope we will meet again in that sacred place where there are no tears, no suffering, no disappointments, no financial worries and no monthly financial reports!
But we wish to long remember Peg Brewer! To help honor her memory, this church will begin a new program. It will be called the Brewer Balance Initiative. It will involve therapists and other health professionals seeking to prevent elderly people from the perils of falling. This initiative will begin around Easter. We pray that it will be of help to all who need such help.
Thank you, Peg, for your life, for your love, for your faithful service, and especially for your strong and feisty spirit! Let us together now stand to applaud the life of this spirited woman of faith, Peg Brewer! Amen!