With God's help, I want to share just a few thoughts about Heather. When we look at this Gospel, which was a favorite Gospel of Heather and of her family, Andrea and Dan, there need to be some things that we're very much aware of.
The first thing is that Jesus, if we really want to understand him, and God, if we really want to understand him, is most understandable in the attitudes and the kinds of directions Jesus seemed to emphasize. We see that Jesus said to us, "It's okay, it's right, it's good, to be angry." Sometimes in the midst of death, you and I are angry, and we need to be. We need to be, so that we can be healed and so that we can be touched by God's Spirit and by God's love for us.
But the Scripture goes on to say that when you are angry, don't sin, don't use it as a justification for sin, and don't let evil grow from that anger. Instead, turn that anger into good. As chaplains, we deal with people every day who experience things in their lives that they can turn either into joy and peace and hope, or they can use to become more angry, more selfish, and more bitter people. And so this afternoon we thank Heather and Dan and Andrea, because they had a choice to make. That choice was either to grow and bless our community through their anger, or to just be angry.
Jesus illustrated in this Gospel, as he has in other Scriptures, that the scribes and Pharisees and sometimes even the disciples were not particularly in tune with his attitudes, his focus, and his desires. In this case Jesus became angry. He said, "What are you doing? You're turning away the children. Don't you realize? Can't you grow up? Won't you open your ears, your heart, your mind? Won't you understand that the kingdom of God is really made up of people who are excited, people who have joy, people who have vision and dreams and energy, people who are just like a child, with the faith of a child?" What did Heather share with us? She shared with us the faith of a child.
Children are dependent
First, she showed us, as I hope and pray all of us recognize as parents, that children are dependent. Those of us who were blessed to share in this experience with Heather, and with Andrea and Dan, recognized that they were not trying to do it on their own. They knew, and Andrea recognized and would direct, that each of us is dependent on God, that the faith of a child and of a true Christian is a faith that says, "I can't do it by myself." It's a faith that says, "I am dependent. When I'm dependent, I'm really free. I'm really at peace, because then I won't have to do it myself; then I can recognize that God will do it for me." Over and over, Heather taught us what all children will teach us if we pay attention to them: that to really be a Christian, to have the faith of a child, is to be dependent.
Children are spontaneous
Heather also reminded us that children are spontaneous. One afternoon I was blessed to be in the home as Heather colored and played and talked with her friends. There was an awareness as she gave away her Barbie dolls and as she did all the other things. There was a spontaneous excitement about Heather's life. We know, or at least we should know, that the faith of a child is such that a child doesn't know an enemy. We know lots of enemies, and sometimes we make them. But a child doesn't know an enemy. Heather didn't know an enemy. Heather didn't know people that were trying to hurt her. Heather only felt that there were people around her, such as her mother and father, who helped her to be spontaneous, who encouraged her to have a party at school, who encouraged her to go to the zoo, to go sailing, to do all those kind of things, even as she died. To be spontaneous.
You must forgive me this afternoon if I reflect upon an issue that's a tremendous burden to me. Heather came from such a good home, a home that shows its love, its care, and its sensitivity to anyone who takes just one glance at its walls. We might ask ourselves: What was it that made Heather the little girl she was at 7 years old? First of all, my friends, it was a faith, but it was a faith her mother and father had, and have, and practiced. Going to church, being a part of this chapel, helping others, working for good in the community are things that don't just come and go for Dan and Andrea and Heather; these things are part of their lives. And so in memory of Heather, we must affirm the Christian home and be aware that all around us are people who simply give children biological birth. That's all.
But Jesus said, "Don't hinder the children. Let them come to me." I believe that many children have gone to be with God in spite of their parents, in spite of their homes, in spite of influences upon them that have never helped them to be dependent, never helped them to be spontaneous.
Children are honest
Finally, as we look at children and at this particular Gospel, one of the issues that comes forth is that children are honest. Heather was. When she was afraid, she said, "I'm afraid." I pray so much that we could teach grown people to be in touch with their feelings enough to be able to say, "I'm afraid!" But adults don't seem to do that. When Heather experienced something, she said, "Wow!" She was excited. She was honest. She asked questions. And I believe that because she asked questions, God answered those questions. But more than anything, Heather was raised in such a way that she was honest.
Again, I want to emphasize with you that there are people in this world who make the choice, when their children go through an experience like this, to keep them someplace else. This family didn't choose to keep Heather someplace; they made a choice to keep Heather with them, to have Heather die in their arms. They made a choice to be a family. They made a choice to share this together in honesty, not to tell Heather fairy stories or something on TV or something from the magazines. They told her, "Heather, you're dying. You're dying, Heather, and further, you're going to be with God and you're going to be with your little sister, Megan."
I close with a little story that some of you may have heard before. There was a time in our world during both the First and Second World Wars, when men and women who served their country would go off and many times would be gone four or five years before they ever came home. We're told that a good Marine serving his country went off to fight. When he left, his wife was expecting a child. That child was born, and that child was a beautiful little girl. Because this was a special home, the mother would never let the little girl forget her father. Every day the mother talked about the girl's father and showed the girl pictures of the father. The mother talked about the father's love and care for the little girl, and about how someday the father would come home. When the girl was four years old, she was playing in the front yard. A man came to the gate. She looked up. She looked into his eyes with love, and he looked into her eyes with love. Then she said, "Daddy, you're for real. Daddy, you are for real!"
This afternoon in this service, we have the assurance that Jesus Christ is for real. We have the assurance that Heather Ann Gillan is with our Lord this day, and that someday this family and some of us may be blessed to again share the love of Heather and share the love of this family.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?