“The Most Difficult of All Things” Funeral Meditation
Julia Grace Metzler
January 17, 2003
Matthew 18; Mark 10
A reporter called me this week. At first it seemed like he wanted details about today’s schedule, the location of the service, whether the public was invited. I could hear him tapping my responses into his computer. But soon enough he wanted to know what I was going to say; what answers I had; what perspectives I would offer; how I was going to explain this tragedy. In about 60 seconds he asked a lot more questions than I had answers for, and finally I said, “Yes, great questions, that’s the challenge. I have 36 hours.” And we said good-bye, with no doubt, my having left the impression that I had no clue. Which is the simple truth, even now, 36 hours later.

We are pressed up against the questions this week, the most profound questions and doubts and fears that any of us can face in life. In the hallways of the hospital, on the streets in town, over the phone lines, in the bays at the fire house, and along these pews, we have been making the best case that can be made against God and God’s existence out of Julia’s heroic struggle and tragic death. She went to the safest place she could think of, hid under her parent’s bed, and waited for some very brave, and now very soffowful people to come and rescue her. Many of you will never forget the events of that night, and now most of us struggle with our faith, and wrestle with a healthy and honest ager at God. We wonder if God exists, and if so, whether God cares. This morning, this week, much of the evidence runs to the contrary.

But you know, these are curious doubts and questions really. Monday wasn’t the first day that faith was called into question. Every day provides new opportunities to doubt and fresh challenges for faith. Julia was not the first child to die a needless, meaningless death. In my notes this week I ran across a prayer which acknowledges this reality. It begins, “Let us pray for all the children who have lived and died in unloving circumstances. For those who have died of starvation. For those who have died through lack of water; without homes, without love; for those who died through the brutality of war or crime…” Only last week our newspapers were filled with stories about a little boy found in a basement. The reporter didn’t call me with his questions last week. Our streets were not buzzing with fears. Our hearts were not filled with the doubts we now experience. And perhaps it is just as well, because we couldn’t survive if every week were like this week. A personal tragedy is what sparks our questions and doubts. But maybe this personal tragedy will further sensitize us to the vast oceans of suffering and sorrow which sweep over our world daily. But if so, the questions will remain, and the answers will become even more elusive.

I thought this week about what Soren Kierkegaard once said, that “faith is the most difficult of all things.” This isn’t what we want to hear, is it? Like the reporter we would like to sew up the matter in 300 words for the morning edition. What’s worse today is that this theme is operating at two levels; the most difficult of all things: the death of a child, and in face of that, the difficulty of maintaining our faith. How do we let go of Julia and hold on to our faith? The most difficult of all things, times two.

Whatever you do, don’t risk making faith impossible. Did you hear what Jesus said about little children and lost sheep? That “it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” What part of that statement don’t we understand? It is NOT the will of God that a child dies, of either smoke inhalation, starvation, wasting disease, or war. And yet we hear people anchoring their doubts to this dubious foundation. What sort of god would will these kinds of deaths? Faith in such a god becomes mission impossible.

I am more and more persuaded that faith depends upon our perceptions about the character of God. Neither scripture nor tradition speaks with a single voice about God’s character. We find both a god of vengeance and a God of love in the Bible. The question (as framed byt Dominic Croassan), is “weather God is a God of vengeance or of love, and if both, is that possible?” Another way to express this question is to ask “Is God a god who causes or a God who cares?” And if both, is THAT possible? Jesus seems to have answered by saying, “No, not both. God is love. God is compassionate. God cares.” And if that is so, then God does not take vengeance on children, or cause them to die. So do not tether your doubts to the insecure mooring of a vengeful god. Reconsider instead, the character of your God.

“So,” you will say, “but what good is a God who is powerless to protect our children? And what evidence do we have that God cares or is compassionate?” Yes, faith is difficult. It has always been so, not just this week. It is a decision, a grope in the dare, a leap across the chasm of sorrow and despair. In a certain sense one almost has to be a simpleton in the face of the evidence, and to risk looking like one doesn’t have a clue. But maybe another way of saying this, is how Jesus said it. You have to be like a child. You have to have a child’s innocence; a child’s wonder and enthusiasm; a child’s trust. Unless we are like children, we’ll never get it.

This week I heard wonderful stories about a child, Julia Grace. She was named after a couple of people on the family tree, but just as much it was a name inspired by another Child, Julia Child. Who knew then that this new child would also have an outsized personality, equivalent in force to that of tree people? Her enthusiasm and joy and energy were infectious. And if you were lucky, you have been infected yourself. If you have to be like a child, may I suggest that you act like Julia Grace? When in the days and weeks and months to come, you find yourself losing the battle of hope and faith, pretend to be Julia for a few minutes.

When you go to the IMAX theater to see the movie about Jane Goodall and her apes, come out making monkey noises, and crack up all the gloomy people around you. Take off your shoes and stand on someone else’s feel and dance around the room with them. Become a hair-stylist and poof up your mother’s hair, wildly imagining that the mess looks beautiful. Get in trouble for kissing the kid next to you in nursery school too much. You have to be like a child!

Race down the streets of Provincetown, running between the café tables, to see if your grandfather, mother or big sister can catch you. Arms open wide, run up to you father when he comes home and give him a big hug. Go out into the backyard when the snow melts and shows where the dog has been, and point out the poop. But don’t touch it! Fill up the bird feeders and spill the seed down the steps. Take off your diaper and sit with a friend in a puddle on the beach. Play “find Uncle-Drew” at Epsteins and squeal, “Here you are!” when you find him. Point out the mouse every time you see her in Goodnight Moon. Snuggle up every morning with your mother or lover in bed. Climb all over your brother and sister. Curl up and take a nap on the 1st fairway at pee wee golf. Brighten every room you go into. Say to someone older, “You are my friend.” And shout and shout and shout, “It’s not fair!” Make some more monkey noises. Hug your friend and give out some kisses. That’s the only way to faith. A child’s way. Julia’s way.

Craig Anderson
Brookside Community Church
Brookside, NJ

Prayer of Sorrow and Thanks
God of Sorrow and compassion, this week there have been many questions for which there are no answers. Questions which touch our anger and emptiness, our sorrowful and hopeless feelings. This week there are broken dreams about things which will never come to be. There is a charred home to remind us that there is no object or possession which can make up for Julia’s loss; no treasure nor memory to substitute for dreams of what would have been: the ways Julia would have grown; the ways we would have loved her; the person she would have become.

And yet God of comfort, we know you as one who holds all children close at heart. So now we pray that you would embrace Julia Grace as we give thanks for her life as one who was born and lived among us full of energy, hope and promise. Even as we remember that Jesus lifted little children into his loving arms to embrace and bless them, we ask you O God to embrace and bless Julia in your eternal love, where all life ends in hold grace and peace.