sermon

Enigma Wrapped in Mystery

Rev. Dr. Jack J. Lolla, Jr.

June 16, 2019

Text: Rom. 5:5, Old Testament: Prov. 8:1-4, 22-31, New Testament: Rom. 5:1-5

Milan, Ohio is a special place for me. That is where my grandfather, Simeon Lollo is buried. His stone is embedded in the base of an old oak tree that my grandmother must have planted when he died in 1918 from the influenza epidemic. Grandfather Lollo was a butcher and no doubt caught the flu from the chickens he butchered at his market.

There were only two times each year when my father would visit his father’s grave. Once on Memorial Day, and sometimes on Father’s Day. He took me with him when he went to remember his father.

Simeon Lollo died when my father was one. My grandmother was pregnant with her eighth child when my grandfather died in Huron. My father never knew his father. Yet my grandmother made sure that my father knew what his father had given him.

Simeon Lollo was an immigrant from Alvito, Italy, 50 miles southeast of Rome. His ancestral home was on the side of a mountain near an old Roman fortification in the province of Frosinone. He traveled five times between Naples and America in the process of bringing his wife, Antoinette and their children, to America. His death tore the heart from the center of his family.

They had depended on his vision of a better life; his industry was providing a better life; and his integrity earned the reputation of being trustworthy and dependable as a faithful Christian businessman. His fairness and compassion led him to care for people less fortunate than he.

When he died, the little Italian community in which my grandmother was left a widow rallied around her and her eight children, protecting them from profiteers and providing for them when they had need.

Their community learned such things from Jesus Christ’s teachings, which they revered and honored with compassion toward Grandma Lollo.

In my grandmother’s home on Berlin Road, in the dining room, was a painting of the Virgin Mary whose broken heart was surrounded by thorns, offering her grace with her tender eyes. My grandfather’s portrait stood higher, above the entry to the living room, surveying the people he loved that he had left behind by God’s providence.

My father visited my grandmother each week, often taking me. But I could not talk with her. She only spoke Italian.

Yet there she was with her twinkling eyes, and wide grin when I came, welcoming me without a care in the world, thankful to see one of her little ones in her great extended family. In later years, her grandchildren would accomplish many things – all of which were possible by the faith of one man and his wife, who believed God would provide them a better life in the new world.

My grandfather’s death ought to have crushed my grandmother’s spirit, my father’s spirit, that of my aunts and uncles. It didn’t.

My grandfather’s death ought to have sown doubt in my grandmother’s heart about God’s goodness and mercy, my father’s heart about God’s goodness and mercy, and my aunts’ and uncles’ hearts about God’s goodness and mercy.

It didn’t.

My grandfather’s death ought to have shown how faith in God is an idle speculation made by those who don’t accept the reality of life and its tragedies.

It didn’t.

His death didn’t fit the image of God’s compassion and goodness. It didn’t fit the claim that God watches over those God blesses and protects them from evil.   His death supported every agnostic who doubts God cares about people and every atheist who doubts God’s existence.

My father was neither an agnostic nor an atheist. He fought in World War II. He saw a near-by troop transport torpedoed and sunk by the Germans. He faced the German army in France. He travelled by Dachau after the war.

Yet my father continued to give thanks to God for His blessings and went to Mass Christmas Eves and Easter.

Through the years of being a pastor I have met hundreds of Christians with similar stories of loss and hardship who have lived resilient lives of faith and hope. Their love for Jesus is shown in their love for their neighbors. Their perseverance and optimism for God’s goodness despite their suffering has been a testimony to the power of Jesus Christ to overcome all things.

These people never preached a sermon nor authored a testimony of Christian faith. They didn’t lead congregations in worship or conduct Bible studies with their neighbors. They simply led their families with gratitude for Jesus.

They were people of character; people of endurance; people of integrity; people of perpetual hope because in their ordinary lives they showed the fruits of the Holy Spirit that strengthened them.

You know them. They were in your families. They didn’t reference Jesus to prove their salvation. They lived Jesus despite their hardships and so were saved.

This is the enigma of Christian faith – genuine Christian faith. How lovers of Jesus can endure suffering yet remain visible examples of gratitude, compassion, and faithfulness to Jesus Christ. They live the mystery of our Christian faith.

God allows His Son to die a most gruesome death. Yet lovingly He raises His Son from the grave to new life. Then He sends the Holy Spirit to confirm the miracle by inspiring ordinary people to give up their lives for Jesus.

They possess Christian character. They do not get ruffled by the winds of change. They are not intimidated by Satan’s threats. They persevere despite their adversity with grace and truth as their companions.

They live honest, industrious lives and quietly praise God in worship grateful for the little blessings that escape the notice of the greedy. They are not jealous for what others have that they have been denied by God’s providence.

Instead, they appreciate the tiny things in life in which they find God’s treasures as signs of His mercy and grace. They will not allow their circumstances to define them as victims of an unjust age.

They embrace God in all seasons, and love Jesus perpetually regardless of the unhappiness they have seen around them. Their faithfulness despite life’s trials justifies God’s goodness. They are a testimony that God has overcome the obstacles they’ve faced and is faithful to those who are tested by trial.

I’m afraid too many Christians want a Christianity without cost. They want a perfect world where life isn’t marred by injustice and depravity, so they never question God.

There is nothing in the story of Jesus that says this is the way it is.

The temptations to give up our faith are legion around us.

We are persecuted by the jealous, the angry, the hateful, the greedy every day. They take advantage of us not wanting to return evil for evil and revel in the guilt we feel when we lash out at their wickedness in our weakness.

They appear to grow more influential through their unrighteousness than we become influential in our weakness. They scoff in our turning the other cheek. They ridicule our efforts at reconciliation.

Their day will come.

Our day has already arrived. We thrive in their ridicule and rise above their mischaracterizations of our integrity. For God is with us. His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness is to all generations of those who love Him.

I never saw my father read his Bible. But I know prayed, in the quiet, on his own. He never complained about the life he lived, or the difficulties his family faced. But he encouraged me to rise above the crowd and represent the standard of Jesus.

I never saw my father afraid, not when he developed tuberculosis at age 62, not when he suffered a heart attack at age 85, not after he had fallen at age 96 and knew his brain hemorrhage would taken him from my brother and me, and my family.

He lived undaunted like many of his generation who quietly worshipped God and listened to Jesus. He trusted in God’s goodness to prevail and set an example that withstood time’s test.

This is what Jesus’ disciples do who live the enigma wrapped in mystery.

They live in God, with God, through God, for God, to the glory of God, no matter how difficult life is for them. Amen.

Happy Father’s Day!

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