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There had always been a genealogical mystery that had brewed amongst the family on my mother’s side for years. Since my grandmother was divorced from my grandfather, genealogy on his side of the family was spare. We did not know much past his parents. So, there was a big hole in our understanding of our heritage. After his death the proverbial floodgates came open and we found out much more information about his lineage. For me it has been like finding out something that I never knew existed. It turns out that my grandfather was Welsh and the family was part of the great Bebb migration to Ohio.
If I had to tell a secret this morning, my grandfather is one of the relatives that I admire the most in my family. Old pictures of him show someone handsome, with an olive reflection and a smile that looked like a smirk.
The stories my mother told were of a man whom she obviously loved dearly and was devoted. She told me stories of how during the depression he rode the trains all over the prairie helping to build windmills. She also told me that he never turned a traveler or hobo down for a free meal. That he lived a “hard life” and that was something that she was unwilling to explain.
Grandpa was the one whom everyone talked about in hushed tones during family gatherings when I was a little child. He had left a lot of wreckage and grandma had every right to divorce him. I only remember him being around a couple of times. One in particular always stands out. It was of him sleeping on our large, neon green couch. He had given me a silver dollar earlier. I stood staring at him snore, the smell of alcohol and cigarettes filling the large rec. room.
If that were all, his life would have been a tragic footnote to my childhood. After all we rarely saw him, no one wanted to have grandma and grandpa in the same room. Fortunately, that was not the end. One day we heard that grandpa had met a woman and that they were going to be married. It was astounding to me that this man could find someone that wanted to be with him. To me he seemed to be a shell of the man from stories of old. Years of drinking and smoking had made him seem even older than his age. Emphysema also seemed to slow him as well.
Yet, things got much better. Grandpa seemed happy, he quit drinking, and he quit smoking, started attending church and had become quite a domesticated man. He moved in with his new wife in Scott City, Kansas. He would have this one address for the rest of his life. In fact it seemed that everything had changed in his live. He tried to make amends to his children, he had a new family and we actually wanted to be around him again. No one talked about it in front of him, but he had seemed to change just about everything, he was a new man.
When Grandpa died his Baptist minister went on and on about what a complete docile and saintly man he had been, a real pillar of their small town church. I noticed that there were audible laughs from certain members of the family and the minister looked confused knowing only one side of my grandfather. We of course had seen him before and after.
In the end my grandfather was loved and respected when he died. This is something that would have been lost if his history had been stopped in the middle. If his family would have only been able to focus on the first half of his life then they would have missed out on this wonderfully transformed man.
That is where we are uncomfortably standing this morning in lent. We are the ones who believe in resurrection. In the face of our society’s fatalism, in the face our genetic predispositions, in the face of medical conditions, in the face of our parent’s socialization, in the face of political norms, in the face of our own propensity to believe in our own unique situation, in the face of advertising, in the face of our justice system and in the face of puritanical churches we believe in change and transformation through living the teachings of Jesus Christ. We believe in freedom from sin, addiction, abuse, lust, impatience, uncontrolled rage, pride and self-negation.
It is because we believe that God is the patient gardener. There is a reason we can proclaim with the scripture in confidence that we have grace that is sufficient for our needs is that we know the nature of God and ourselves. Our problems are not unique, we are not special, and we have to follow the same path to redemption that so many before us have trod. We are all equal in our human condition.
We also know the nature of God that has been revealed to us over and over again throughout scripture. Although we break the covenant, sin, walk away from our relationship with God, God always remains upholding the divine side. God is longsuffering when it comes to mercy and grace. God is going the extra mile, believing that we will return, repent and change with divine grace. God truly is the gardener pleading with fate to give us one more chance. Believing that if there is just a little pruning, just a little fertilizing and just a little more care we will produce the most wonderful and luscious fruit.
That is why I look so favorably upon my grandfather this morning. He knew something that I must always learn in life. No matter how far I have gone down, there is always the possibility of redemption from a loving God. He found this out and his life was completely changed and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the change that I seek beginning this lent! Thanks be to God.
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