Summary: Funeral sermon for Andrea Pitts, who had instructed this preacher a few days before her death about the ways in which she felt hope.
The message this morning is not just about Andrea Pitts. It comes from Andrea Pitts. I bring no eulogy, but rather a report, a report that proclaims the truth of Christ in the midst of suffering from the very lips of a woman who embraced her death and lived her hope. The words today are not so much mine as they are hers. I am merely the translator. Let me explain.
On Sunday a week ago, having learned of Andrea’s illness, my wife and I spent the afternoon with the Pitts family. When we went into Andrea’s bedroom, she began to speak about such things as wakes and memorial services and songs that she wanted sung. I stopped her. I interrupted her. I said, “Andrea, wait, you’re way down the road. Surely you haven’t given up hope, have you? You’re going tomorrow for a new medication, and it may slow or stop your cancer. Don’t give up hope!”
As quickly as her weakened condition would allow, but as strongly and as incisive as ever, she began to instruct me. She preached to the preacher, which is always a good thing. Andrea’s word was, “There are different kinds of hope.”
She went on to explain, as if that thought had been turning in her mind for some while. “There are different kinds of hope”.
The first, she said, was the hope for healing. There is always that possibility. But Andrea did not linger long on that aspect of her hope. Instead she spoke of being blessed. She said, “God has been good to me.” In a most pointed and definite way, Andrea insisted that even in her suffering, she was blessed. Not an easy thing to get your mind around, but there it was, and she was definite. “I have been blessed, but, no, I AM blessed, right now.” She said it over and over again, as if it were a new idea that she wanted to savor: “I AM blessed, no doubt about that.” It could not have been said more clearly if it had been a thunderclap. “I am blessed right now.”
I could not begin to unpack all that she meant, but it sounds very much like what the apostle tells us in the Roman letter, that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This sort of hope strengthens, even when the suffering intensifies and the illness deepens. This sort of hope reaches out for answers and expects to find them, even though the questions multiply. This sort of hope, this hope that comes from character, is built over months and years of thinking about your life and of living out your convictions.
The Andrea Pitts who advocated for the poor was honing a character that would be formed in suffering and would endure into hope. The Andrea Pitts who had worked with dying children and had compiled their stories into a lovely booklet was delving into the deeps for truths beyond our normal perception. The Andrea Pitts who would think things through and give her energies to causes she knew to be right, though often inconvenient, was growing a character that would be tried in the crucible and would be refined into wholeness. Andrea lifts up for us the kind of hope that sees blessings, even in the most dismal of circumstances, and does not give up. She had that kind of hope – a hope born of suffering, endurance, and character, a hope for the moment of trial.
But that is not the only sort of hope. No, I have to go back and remember that Andrea said she had a different kind of hope. It was for more than healing, for more than feeling better, for more even than knowing blessing. Andrea went on to point out to me the second kind of hope she knew. She named her daughters and said that they embodied hope for her. “My girls are another kind of hope. They don’t really need me any more.” Andrea knew she had poured into them her very heart. She knew she had given them all that they needed to be capable and self-sustaining young women. But Andrea hinted that she had never quite turned them loose. Like many of us who have young adult children, we feel as though they still need us. They may still be babes in the woods, you know, even if they do have degrees in chemistry or in law! They may still be naïve to the ways of the world, you know, even if one of them is married and is the mother of three children and the other has found her soul-mate! But Andrea had come to terms with her need to be needed by her children, and by that Sunday afternoon had come to see them in their maturity as signs of hope, the sign of hope that Paul describes as sharing the very glory of God. “We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”