Remarks of Ronald W. Brown At The Home Going Service of Mary Elizabeth Brown
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Like humpty dumpty I have been and remain shattered by my sister’s passing. (She had not been ill. I spoke with her on Tuesday evening and she was fine. Late Thursday I learned she had passed.And in my mind I started hearing the words of Walter Hawkins’ “Going Up Yonder” ,http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=going+up+yonder&go=&qs=n&form=VBREQY&pq=going+up+yonder&sc=2-15&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&mid=A4CEC12EF9D6FE56E9B7A4CEC12EF9D6FE56E9B7. And my eyes started leaking as I realized she was gone and our last goodbye was embodied in recorded voice mails. I also found myself thinking about the lyrics from the song “Praise Him Anyway”(In The Middle of It) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vqN1iSOuOU:
“Tears running down your face
And your heart feelin’ like it’s gon’ break
And your earth feels like it’s ’bout to shake
And you’ve taken all that you can take
Just remember where your help comes from
Realizing you got somewhere to run
Don’t worry ’bout what you’re going through
Instead of worrying, here’s what you can do
Praise him anyway
In the middle of it (repeat3x)
You should praise him anyway
In the middle of it”
I also thought about her during the different seasons of her life, from when we were kids going to church, to kneeling with cousins on the beach at Belmar, to me with a six-shooter and her posing, to her being a bridesmaid when Geri and I got married, to us being at Pebble Beach in Califormia after Mike Graduated from Stanford, to her being with us in Seattle when Sean and Kim got married, to this October when she took Kim, Mike, and Geri to breakfast here in Montclair.
Unlike humpty dumpty, I don’t have to worry about any ordinary kings men trying to put me back together again. I am being held together by the power of prayer and by many prayer warriors bending their knees in prayer and practicing the disciples they have mastered and lifting me up.
It is my hope and prayer that if there is someone here who does not know the lord, that that person will be touched in a special way by what they hear today, and say I don’t know what those speakers have, but they all spoke of their faith and want to know the one before whose name every knee shall bow and who empowered them to speak with such power through unspeakable personal pain.
One of the sources of strength for me during this unbearable time has been reading again the powerful sermon Rev. William Sloan Coffin gave at Riverside Church when his son Alex passed. You can find it in The Collected Sermons of William Sloan Coffin, The Riverside Years, Volume 2. I did not realize when I gave it to myself as a Christmas present this year, that I would find myself in Bill’s shoes. Let me share with you the first two paragraphs of Bill’s sermon.
“As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm, my son Alexander—who to his friends was a real day-brightener, and to his family ‘fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky’—my twenty-four-year-ole Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and in every race, beat his father to the grave.
Among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms:’The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.’ My own broken heart is mending, and largely thanks to many of you, my dear parishoners; for if in the last week I have relearned one lesson, it is that love not only begets love, it transmits strenth.”
And these powerful words from another part of that sermon: “And of course I know, even when pain is deep, that God is good. ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’ Yes, but at least, ‘My God, my God’; and the psalm only begins that way, it doesn’t end that way. As the grief begins that way, it doesn’t end that way. As the grief that once seemed unbearable begins to turn now to bearable sorrow, the truths in the ‘right’ Biblical passages are beginning once again, to take hold…’The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (John 1:5)”
I think you may also be able to download an audio file of Bill delivering this sermon. Here is a link to those downloadable sermons: http://williamsloanecoffin.org/index.php?page=download-sermons.
In thinking about how to send my sister off, I was tempted to simply bring my flugelhorn and play “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”. But the last time I played that was in a end of year video and I was not sure I could get through it here.
Some people who play musical instruments are sometimes better at expressing themselves in music rather than in words. One of my favorite people who can sing, play violin, and express herself verbally is Charisa Rouse know professionally as The Violin Deva! http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/21772-charissa-the-violin-diva-wins-the-2011-rising-star-talent-search. However since I have not practiced in a while, I thought I would go with speaking rather than playing. Also, I worried that some religious historians or lawyers might think I was borrowing from Bill Coffin’s “Preached from A Piano Bench” without attribution and committing some type of copyright infringement. Notwithstanding that I won’t be playing, here is the link to that sermon by Bill and you can listen to it at no charge, unlike some of the other sermons for which there is a fee like you would pay if you downloaded an iTune.
Let me warn those of you sitting in the first or second pews. You may need to put on a raincoat or put up an umbrella. The men in my family cry over the women they love. And it just may be that we need to alert the FEMA folks that Linden has not been hit by a tidal wave. It’s just Ron, missing his sister so, and letting it show.
And it’s not my fault. My friends and colleagues Liz Caldwell and Shelley Bates have kept me and my family in their thoughts and prayers. My sisters and brothers (we dropped the in-law part ages ago) Gloria, Marietta, Myra, Stephanie, Sue, Rob and Ray have lifted me up, and all my cousins have hugged me with love. My wife, son, and daughter have hugged me with love. Cookie’s co-workers have hugged me with love. Sarah and Josh the cousin of Sue Rosenfeld havs hugged me with love. (Sue and Cookie have known each other since before dirt. Even though Sue has lived most of her adult life in Africa, and is curently living in Niger, she is here through her cousin’s presence.)
Sue advised me that when she and Cookie were kids, my sister had ‘tormented’ Josh, saying stuff like, ‘Josh, you know we were meant to be together; I’m going to wait for you.’ This at a time when Josh, and all the boys his age, thought girls were icky. And when Cookie was at Sue’s house , if Josh were out, Cookie would leave a little ‘love note’ on his pillow. Often when Sue saw Cookie these last couple of years, Josh would join them and the banter continued. Sue also informed me that as for Sarah, her mother adored my sister and, when Sue would be back in Jersey, Debra (Sarah’s mother, now also deceased) would invite Sue for a meal and always say, ‘Bring Mary.’ Sue remembers kidding Debra and saying, ‘I know I’m just the vehicle through which you get to see Mary.”
Pastor Marcus Burbon has hugged me with love and lifted me up in prayer. Pastor Anthony Franklin has prayed for me as I stood at the alter with my son Michael standing behind me providing emotional and physical support.. Friends from St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Montclair have lifted me up in prayer.The Morningstar Christian Community Center has welcomed me and my family with hospitality, graciousness, and prayer. And my sister in Christ Mrs. Lenora Saunders Isaac — who sometimes refers to herself as an military brat because like my cousin Birdie, she grew up on military bases because her dad was career military, and everyone knows such brats do not believe in or practice public displays of emotion or affection—just gave me a big public hug and allowed my tears to wet her hair. (I am so glad her hair was in braids and not hanging long in a perm, because even though she is my sister, no brother better wet the hair of a sister who just came from getting a perm at the beauty parlor!). And last, but my no means least, I have been lifted up by the support, love, and prayers of Cookie’s dear friends Hazel Jones and Rev. Pastor Denise M. Wooten-Troutman. Cookie was god-mother to Hazel’s son and to Denise’s son.
I was lifted up by Gail Opacity and these words about my sister: “Mary was” Employee of the Year” given to only one person from all of the agencies in the county. Both I and Chris Monoco, now also deceased, had to write a short essay recommending her. She was awarded this by the county freeholder and received financial compensation and an extra day off as a reward…. There were many reasons we nominated her. She was always on time. She was instrumental in arranging for Shiloh Baptist Church to make Thanksgiving dinners for the children in Detention Center and helped to pack them herself for many years. Even I helped her a couple of times. She was the unofficial supervisor and training officer for the education department. I wouldn’t have made it 19 years without her. She was also, the unofficial guidance counselor for the entire staff.”
But my sister’s “secret identity” was “Cookie”, the name by which she was known by family and friends. My sister was a superheroine, not like Wonder Woman with her Amazon powers or Superwoman who like her male counterpart could “change the course of mighty rivers.”. My sister changed the course of every life she touched as a teacher, friend, relative, and believer in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
For those of you who don’t know, let me put you on notice. My father, my mother and my sister are here. And I’m not talking about like Patrick Swayze in the movie Ghost with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. I’m talking about really here. My dad just raised a single finger in the air. And those of you who knew my dad, know when he raised his hand, he had my undivided attention. My mother just gave me “the look” conveying quite clearly what she expects of her son. And in the event I don’t meet her standard, she will do the same thing to me that she would do to her brothers and sisters and anyone else that didn’t rise to the occasion, namely slowly look away over her left shoulder. And my sister just whispered in my ear the words she said and she made the gesture she made when she enjoyed good singing or preaching, “Allright now!” with a wave.
I am going to say a few words about saints, service, what I hope you will do when you hear the word Cookie in the future, and conclude with what my sister just told me to tell you.
Some saints are easy to recognize. In New Orleans, you can recognize them by their National Football League helmets and by their fans who and who belong to the Who Dat Nation and say things like “Who Dat”. But there are some other saints among us today who are not as easy to recognize as those who love football in New Orleans. And I am going to tell you who they are.
I have it on the highest authority—- well not the highest but pretty high up—that my wife is a candidate for sainthood. So are my son Michael, and my daughter Kimberly. So are Rob, Annette, Gordon, and Susan Reed. So is my friend from childhood David Brinkley, my friend from our days in the National Guard, Dorian McGee, my sister in Christ Lenora Sanders Isaac and my Omega Psi Phi frat brothers Walt Frye and Joe Rouse, every one of my cousins, uncles and aunts, everyone with whom I have ever worked, and until she passed, my beloved sister Cookie. Would you like to know why? (Say “Yes” walls).
Part of the criteria for being considered for sainthood is the performance of a specified number of miracles. And undoubtedly everyone I just mentioned has met those criteria, because on innumerable occasions they performed a documented miracle by resisting the temptation to strangle me in order to get me to shut up. (Say “Amen” walls.) I do not intend to tempt them or any other would be saints very much this morning.
Marian Wright Edelman tells us that “Service is the rent we pay for being.” One form of service is what we do when we help others. Another form of service is simply sharing what you know to inform or to educate others. And somewhere in Scripture we are informed that even as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me. For thirty plus years as a teacher in the Juvenile Detention Center, and outside of that facility my sister helped, informed, and educated and did it unto the least of these. Cookie paid her rent and rendered her service.
When You Hear the Word Cookie in the future please remember that each letter in that word has a meaning, and hopefully you will remember my sister, your relative, friend, and former co-worker:
C – Be Compassionate, Considerate, and Caring – You never know what may be going on in another’s life
O – Be Obedient to God’s call for your life
O – Be an Original – there was only one Cookie – let her originality inspire you to always be yourself.
K – Seek out Kindred spirits – Cook and my mom shared a special bond. Invest your time in the people you love.
I – Embrace your Insightful – your never know how your perspective can help those around you
E – Lend an Ear – She was a confidant of many. People found peace in her listening.
My sister, who had a sense of humor, wants me to tell you two things that happened to her this past week.
There was a zebra standing in front of her at the entrance to heaven. And the zebra seemed quite distressed. Saint Peter asked the zebra what was the matter. The zebra said, “I have to ask the Lord a question”. St. Peter said, “The Lord is quite busy this week. We have praise and worship full time up here, but when they celebrate Christmas on earth, that’s nothing to what goes on up here. When we do In Excelsis Deo, we rock the firmament.”
But the zebra insisted, saying “I have always been troubled by this question! Please let me ask the Lord”. Saint Peter said, “Tell me the question, and then I will decide whether to let you speak to the Lord. The zebra said: “My question is this: Am I white with black stripes, or black with white stripes?” Saint Peter said, “Okay, you can ask the Lord”. The zebra was ecstatic, galloped over to the Lord, and asked the question. The Lord whispered an answer in the zebra’s ear. The zebra walked slowly back to Saint Peter, shaking his head. Saint Peter, asked, “What’s the matter?” The zebra replied, “I don’t understand the Lord’s answer”. Saint Peter said, tell me what the Lord said. The zebra replied: “The Lord said ‘You are what you are’. Saint Peter said, you are new up here and the Lord always speaks to people in the language they are most familiar with and understand the best. You are white with black stripes because if you had been black with white stripes, the Lord would have said “You is what you is!?”
My sister says to tell you whether you are what you are or you is what you is, you respond to the voice of the Good Sheppard when He calls you, just like she did when he said, “Mary, it is I. Come home. Well done thou good and faithful servant.” When he calls your name, you drop everything you are doing, just as Cookie did. You don’t have time to send an email or update your Facebook timeline, or send a text message or make a phone call. You go when the Shepard calls.
Here is the final thing my sister wants me to tell you about her first Christmas in Heaven.
MY FIRST CHRISTMAS IN HEAVEN
I saw the countless Christmas trees around the world below with tiny lights, like Heaven’s stars, reflecting on the snow. The sight was so spectacular! Please wipe away that tear, for I spent Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
I heard the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear, but the sounds of music can’t compare with the Christmas choir up here. I have no words to tell you the joy their voices bring, for it is beyond description to hear the angels sing.
I know how much you miss me. I see the pain inside your heart, even though I am so far away, we really aren’t apart. So, be happy for me, loved ones. You know I hold you dear. Be glad I spent Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
I send you each a special gift from my heavenly home above. I send you each a memory of my undying love. After all, “LOVE” is the gift more precious than gold. It was always most important in the stories Jesus told.
Please love and keep each other, as my Father said to do, for I can’t count the blessings or the love He has for you. So, I hope you had a Merry Christmas and wipe away that tear! Remember, I spent Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
With Eternal Love,
There is one last thing I want to share with you. It is a poem written by my second son, Sean, the husband of my princess Kimberly.
Good Morning/Good Night
Sun up to Sundown, 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in each hour, 60 seconds in each minute
Each inhale and exhale is a gift from God, a miracle; our time together is a privilege
Life is an undeserved expression of love from the Father that he offers to his children
Those of us who received his gift of grace by believing in the Son whom it was revealed in
Cookie was one of these, those that believed, and through her conviction she lived life
When she was finished she went home and now Cookie is spending eternity with Christ
This isn’t Mary’s ending; God is saying good morning Cookie, as we gather together to say goodnight
Sweet Dreams Cookie, We Love you.