Death, Where is thy Sting?

I was asked to participate in a service honoring Dr. George Tiller last Thursday. I wrote a little sermon to deliver there.  I have included it here for your reading pleasure.

Celebrating the death of anyone is contrary to the Gospel that I read.  Most certainly Dr. Tiller’s family and friends must be embraced this evening as we mourn their loss with them.  The 55th verse of the first letter to the Corinthians reads, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?”

This day the sting of death weights upon the hearts of those whom Dr. Tiller sought to serve as he protected the rights for all women to decide what they shall do with their body.

This day the sting rests upon the shoulders of those that speak out against the violence that claimed Dr. George Tiller’s life. 

This day the sting of death cannot and must not be ignored.  Let us embrace this pain, this sting as we gather here today unified against violence as a way of political power.  Violence shall lead us all down a road to which there is no return.

The sting of death is real for us all, but the victory of death has no place here.  There was no victory gained by anyone in the death of Dr. George Tiller.  Left are a widow grieving the lose of a friend and confidant, a son that shall no longer share his life with his father, and us the mourners that chose not to forget.

There is this part of a verse from the prophet Micah that I love.  It says, “…act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  This is a response to the question, “what does God require of you?”  I think Dr. Tiller understood what it meant to answer the question in a profound manner.

Dr. Tiller gave his life answering this question, “what does God require of you?”  For Dr. Tiller God required the total reorientation of his life.  When George Tiller was entering the work force his life was transformed by circumstance.  He lost his father, sister, & brother-in-law in an airplane accident.  This gave Dr. Tiller a life’s calling.  He took over the family business in Kansas and he raised his nephew.  The nephew became a son and the family business cost him his life.

Dr. Tiller was not short on acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly.  With great compassion and mercy Dr. Tiller resisted the pressure to cease his mission to provide all women with options.  Dr. Tiller did not retaliate when his practice was threatened or when his life was attempt to be extinguished.  In humility Dr. Tiller mended his wounds and kept walking the path to which he was called.

There is a story that I am drawn to in this moment.  It is a story by Bernard Malamud called, The Mourners.  This is the story of Kessler a poor old man living alone having left this young family many years ago.  He lives in a meager apartment.  He is full of meager ways.  He keeps to himself and a chaos surrounds him he remains clam…a non-anxious presence.

He has a quarrel with the tenement janitor, Ignace.  Ignace spreads rumors and lies about Kessler.  Kessler is pushed to his non-anxious limits.

            Ignace punishes Kessler unjustly and goes to the owner, Gruber, and asks him to rid the building of Kessler.  Kessler’s rent is denied and eviction notice is given.  When Kessler ignores this and returns his rent once more a confrontation ensues between Kessler and Gruber.

            Kessler is thrown out by force on to the streets.  He is left in the harsh cold and rainy element.  The tenement residents see this and bring Kessler and his stuff back into the building. 

            The final scene is Gruber full of anger returning to kick Kessler out again.  He opens the door and sees Kessler on the floor a huddled mess reciting the Kaddish.  Gruber’s response to this is to don the bed sheet as a mourner himself and recite the prayers with Kessler.  For his humanity is gone, it left with the dignity he forbade Kessler in their dealings. 

            We mourn here today so that the injustice perpetrated in the name of God shall not pass without a witness.  We mourn the death of Dr. George Tiller so that the threat of injustice shall meet the resistance of justice.  We mourn today to answer the question, “O death, where is thy victory? Where is thy sting?” with the justice loving mercy that inspires us to walk humbly with our God.


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