the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Funeral Sermon for Sandra's Mom

KJV Matthew 1:1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren;
3 And Judah begat Perez and Zerah of Tamar; and Perez begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
4 And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon;
5 And Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;
6 And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of she that had been the wife of Uriah;
We are here today to honor and celebrate a Life well lived. The life of one who was well loved by those who knew her, and all who knew her knew they were loved by her.

The meanest, most hurtful Sin of White, Middle-Class, Protestant, Christian America, is the Sin of Self-Righteousness, seasoned with a full measure of Judgementalism. We’re all guilty of it. And we are not even aware of how much hurt we inflict on good, honest loving people who happen to live their life differently from us.

I Samuel 16:7 ...for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
There are five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. These women were outside the norm. They were unorthodox. They were scandalous. But they were instinctive, intuitive, and assertive women who were survivors in a man’s world and in the midst of insurmountable trouble. They are misunderstood and misjudged by people of all ages. But God used them all in the course of their lives. And He chose the lineage for his son to pass through these women. And their blood flowed through veins of Jesus of Nazareth. What greater legacy could one leave?

Gladys Lankford lived most of her life being misunderstood and misjudged by the pious people with whom she came into contact. But like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary, God was planning to use her in a great way. And like these biblical women of old, she too was blessed with a double portion of spirit.

I have known Gladys for 40 years, having been married to her second daughter for 38 of those years. You couldn’t ignore Gladys. There was nothing bland or lifeless about her. She inspired intense emotion in all those that came into contact with her. If you were angry with her your anger was intense, if you loved her you loved her with all your heart. She had a hearty laugh and a joyous spirit.

Like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary, Gladys was a survivor. She was unorthodox in her methods but she was resourceful, resilient and redoubtable. Her spirit, her love and her instincts were a part of every thing she did and in every decision she made. And every decision she made she made doing the very best she knew how to do.

We are told that God tries us by fire. God tried and tested Gladys more than most. For her, hardship was a way of life. And yet she met every day with a smile and a song. She was not poor in spirit.

Her early life was puncuated with the loss of her mother. At age 9 Gladys lay beside her mother in their sick bed, and listened as she gasped her last breath. That was a sound, and experience that would haunt her for the rest of her life. Her father, Mel Lankford, couldn’t work and tend to three small children, so he moved in with his parents and his mother cared for little Gladys, Buck and Vernon. As they grew older, Gladys became like a mother to her younger brothers.

A cousin says of her, “Why, Gladys was the prettiest girl in Union Point.”

Her first marriage was to last for eighteen years. The first four years were spent as a war bride, her husband was in the Navy on board ship during the second world war. Linda was the first child to come along. Gladys and Linda were inseparable as Mother and Daughter while daddy was away at war. Soon after the war, a Second Daughter was born, Sandra. A few years later a boy was born, her only son, Doug. For several years, this family of five lived the American dream right here in Greensboro.

But the dream didn’t last. In today’s world, it’s easier to get a divorce than buying a car, and people get them almost as often as they do a new car. But in those days, divorce was scandalous. And Gladys was talked about and called ugly, hateful names. Whereas in today’s society she would simply be known as an independent woman.

Linda, who was closest to her mother, chose to stay with Gladys, Sandra, always a “Daddy’s girl” chose to stay with her dad and little Doug chose to stay with Sandra. They each had an emptiness in their hearts: Linda grew up without a father. Sandra and Doug grew up without a mother.

Many years after the divorce, she gave birth to two girls about a year apart: Cindy and Angie. When Angie was born, she was unmarried and unemployed. She knew she couldn’t care for two little children on the income she could make waiting tables. Once again she was in a hard place. She could care for one child but not two. How can a mother choose between two children? She knew that the one to whom she gave motherhood would also live a nomad’s life of instability. And she knew what it was like to grow up without a mother. But the decision had to be made and she kept one child and offered the other for adoption. It broke her heart. She kept Cindy who was older and better able to cope with her nomadic lifestyle.

Angie, she let go. How does a woman give up a child who is flesh and blood of her flesh and blood? It’s easy to stand in judgement. And in today’s world unexpected pregnancies are just a simple procedure away from the trash can. But Gladys gave Angie Life. And in recent years, I’ve come to know Angie. Angie’s OK. She grew up in a stable home with a mother and a father who loved her and were always there for her. These were things Gladys was unable to give to her other children.

Cindy had Momma, but not stability. Angie had stability but not Momma. That was the deal. And it was the very best she knew how to do.

To all of her critics, and there were many, Gladys would say, “Walk a mile in my shoes.” I’ll wager that few could have done so with as much grace and love as Gladys did.

Now you’d think that this family would not be very close. And if you thought that, you’d be wrong. This is truly a matricarchal clan. The women in this family are inseparable. They have a bond so strong that I’d even call it a sixth sense. When one of them is in trouble or sick, they all instinctively know it. They all have it, even down to the granddaughters and great granddaughters. Sandra, thats the one I’m married to, can feel her mother thinking about her miles away and know to call her on the telephone. She’ll say out of the clear blue, “Something’s wrong with Momma, I can feel it,” and, sure enough, she’ll call and Momma was in need of her.

We men in the family know we are the outsiders here. In this clan, the men come and go and are rarely missed. But these Lankford women are bonded with a love that is stronger than steel. And Gladys was the glue that kept them together. You never heard from Gladys’ lips the words “I can’t.” Can’t wasn’t in her vocabulary. She had strength. She had determination. She had Moxy.

In the last twenty years of her life, Gladys found the joy of knowing God. Her faith was strong. She tried to pass this faith down to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Gladys knew her heart was right with God. She believed that when her time to go came she would be ready. In her last days, struggling for every breath, she told us she was not afraid to die. She was ready to go.

Today the baton of matriarch passes to one of the daughters. Who will pick it up and carry on. Only God knows which one and He will tell only with the passage of time. It may skip a generation and it may be up to one of you granddaughters to be the glue that binds this family together. But in any case, this family is worth holding together.

One thing we’re going to do. We are going to tell the stories of Gladys, over and over again. We’re not going to forget her. Don’t be surprised if you see us laguhing even at the cemetery. We’ll be telling both the funny stories and the sad stories. And Gladys will live on in our memory of her. Don’t be afraid to bring her up in your conversations with us. Don’t be afraid to make us cry. We want her to be remembered. We want to know how she blessed you and we’ll gladly tell you how she blessed us.

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And he that liveth and believeth in me will never die. Do you believe this? Gladys did.


Blogger will smama said...

Peace be with you and your wife.

3/14/2006 10:06 PM  
Blogger HeyJules said...

Beautiful tribute, Joel. Want to do my service some day? (Not that I'm in any hurry, mind you...)

3/16/2006 9:25 AM  
Blogger the reverend mommy said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you.

3/16/2006 4:07 PM  
Blogger Addie said...

oh, Joel, that was so moving, and I didnt even know Gladys (or you really for that matter)... I can defintely see why you were asked and God richly blessed you with those words, as He did so many others with them through you....
you and yours are in my thoughts and prayers

3/16/2006 5:25 PM  
Blogger My Kid's Mom said...

Loving and beautiful tribute to a woman who showed great courage and grace throughout her life. I am certain you shall keep her memory alive. God bless you and yours.

3/17/2006 8:13 AM  
Blogger Gayla said...

Beautiful tribute to Sandra's mom, Joel. You were having her funeral on the day my mama died. We are having her funeral today.

I know exactly how Sandra feels at this season of her life. God bless her, you and the whole family. May God demonstrate the undescribable peace that truly passes our human understanding.

3/18/2006 9:36 AM  

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