Psalm 126 / Isaiah 35:3-7 / Luke 7:18-30
By Cathy Bartholomew
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’
When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”
I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)
My dad’s memorial service was exactly 4 years ago today as I write this. As I read the advent scripture in Luke, I recall how Dad always appeared to be a man of great certainty; perhaps even a bit on the arrogant side when he was younger. He even anticipated his death 6 months early, and sat me down one day in June, before having any obvious symptoms to say, “Look up amyloidosis,” certain that of all the words I knew how to spell and define, I did not know that one. When I read about the incurable, genetic disease that would take his life 6 months later, he began to dictate to me, with that same great certainty, the exact details of his exit strategy. He said, “I will be lucky if I make it through the year. He was right.
He told me that he did not want pearly gate music playing, or altar calls. He wanted my husband, Dave, to do the eulogy – knowing he would honor his wishes. He wanted Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on That Mountain” played and his head coach and adopted son, Jimmy Simms to play his saxophone. He did not want a slide show of morbid pictures of him dying. He wanted pictures of the things he was most proud of – his family, his friends, his players and fellow coaches over his 50 year coaching career. He wanted to celebrate the rich life he was so grateful for. I obeyed him to the letter with the exception of one thing. I put on my game face and told him, “Before we plan a funeral, we are planning a party.”
He resisted initially until I told him, “In September, you and mom will celebrate 50 years of marriage. We are gonna have a party early – on the 4th of July when all the family is here to honor you and your marriage.” And we did, Boy! It was awesome.
Dad did not like surprises. A man of certainty, he liked to be prepared for what was to come and have a game plan. But then, life threw him many curves. He had a Professional Baseball career with the Mets that was cut short by Uncle Sam’s call to the Korean War, and an injury that made it difficult to continue as a pitcher. His first wife had to be institutionalized with severe schizophrenia in their first week of marriage, a detail her family managed to hide in their brief youthful engagement. He waited until his later years to pursue a full-time college coaching career once he retired from the teaching job that provided security for his young family - Only to always be an assistant coach; working for less experienced, younger (sometimes lesser) men. He watched his children suffer the pain of divorce, mental illness, and even prison. He survived cancer, a heart attack and many other bitter disappointments.
As he was robbed of his smaller certainties over the years, I witnessed him recalibrating; circling back and questioning more. He started to become open. He started to embrace the mystery of hope. As we reminisced one night in his final months, he said, “Looking back now, I can see that God was always with me.”
After surviving cancer and many other disappointments mentioned earlier in his sixties, something profoundly changed in the man. He had to admit that he had been wrong – wrong about a lot of things he had previously been certain of. My father, who rarely attended church, announced one day that he wanted to be baptized.
Now, I don’t pretend to understand all the doctrinal opinions about baptism in the church. Infant versus adult baptism; sprinkling versus dunking, etc. What I do know is that for many adults, it is a kind of public declaration that I know I was doing it wrong; I know I need God’s help and Love to do it right, and I am ready to acknowledge that I serve him, not myself.
I can be a cynic at times, but I was not on the day I attended my dad’s baptism. Something changed in him that day. He became less certain of Coach Criner, and more certain of the things that mattered – Love, forgiveness, family, and blessing your children by modeling unconditional love to them.
It is a beautiful thing to see an older person, set in their ways, become less certain of unimportant things and open to the certainty of those things you cannot afford to ignore. I am glad he role-modeled this for me. In this way, his life continues to teach me way into my later years.