July 30, 2011

Harrison Burke Taught Us To Love

(Homily notes for a celebration of the life of Harrison Burke)

We are gathered here to celebrate the life of a little boy who graced his family and friends with his love and innocence for five and a half years. He never held a high position, made a lot of money or became famous. The tragic death of this little boy is teaching us that these things are not important. He is teaching us that the quality and depth of our love relationships with family and friends are more important than wealth or fame. Harrison was successful in life because he loved with a pure love. He taught us to love.

 1. Children teach us about God’s love
There is a wonderful story about a little boy who told his parents that he liked God a lot more after God found out about Jesus. Many people have noticed a difference between the stories about God in the Old Testament and the stories about Jesus in the New Testament. The Bible of course is written by human beings and even human beings inspired by personal experiences of God interpret their experiences through the filter of their cultural beliefs. The God of the Old Testament appears angry and vengeful. Many people are killed in wars and acts of divine punishment. This was a tribal and primitive understanding of God. Behind all the violence there is still the good news of a God who reached out to people, called them into a covenant relationship of love and even forgave them when they rebelled and then decided to come back. In the New Testament stories of Jesus, as the little boy noticed, we can see God reaching out in love even more dramatically. We all have a hard time grasping the idea that God Himself could come to Earth in the human form of Jesus. We underestimate God. We do not understand or believe in the metaphysical dimension. God wanted to teach us how much He wanted to be in a love relationship with us. Jesus stuns His disciple Phillip by telling him “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.19). God is with us in this time of grief. God has seen His only Son Jesus die on a cross so that human sin could be forgiven. Harrison’s death is teaching us about the love and pain of God.

2. Love always hopes (1 Corinthians 13.7)
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the people of Corinth was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the most beautiful definition of love we have. It is not the vague warm fuzzy love we are used to. It is a new kind of total, unconditional and self-sacrificial love. It is the love of a child. This is the kind of love that God has for us. Hope is a very dangerous kind of love. Hope includes the risk of disappointment. God could have created a safer world where we were not free to build docks and other dangerous things. But that would have been be a boring and less beautiful world. God could have created a safer world where there was no pain and suffering – but then we would never grow in love. As we come together to support this family in their time of grief, we can see how much they love their children and each other. Grief is a terrible thing but it is also a sign of great love.
3. Jesus welcomed and blessed children
In the Bible reading (Matthew 19.13-15) the disciples try to stop the children from bothering Jesus. Jesus rebukes them and gives us a wonderful teaching on what is required for entry into Heaven. Big surprise. It is not doing good works or faithful religious practice. What is required for being included in the invisible Heavenly Kingdom is the love and innocence of a child – like Harrison. Like many of us Harrison was baptized into a spiritual relationship with Jesus in this church. Parents are often shocked when I tell them that children who are baptized are now considered full members of the Anglican Church. Thirty years ago children had to wait until they had received instruction and were Confirmed before receiving the bread and wine during Communion. Parents think children do not understand what communion is about. I sometimes challenge them to tell me what it is that they know about communion that the child does not know. Often a light goes on in their heads as they begin to realize that the children may actually understand communion better than the adults. Children in fact pick it up right away – even babies. If you get the bread you are included! As we grow in spiritual knowledge we realize how wonderful it is to be a child of God and have eternal spiritual life. This is what we are about to celebrate in ‘The Eucharist’ – the celebration. The Eucharist re-connects us to our spiritual covenant relationship with Jesus. By saying ‘Amen’ and receiving or coming forward for a blessing we are personally re-connecting with a huge heavenly host - that now includes Harrison.

The Good News often comes out of the bad news. Today, in this terrible time of grief, we have come together as family to try and celebrate the good news of a God who loves us and a little boy who was with us for a few years and who taught us to love.

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