606 West 15th Street, Austin, Texas 78701 - 512/476-6757 - fax 473-2946


 S H A R I N G   G O D ' S   L O V E

Pr. Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Austin, Texas
November 21, 2000
Psalm 23
Romans 8:38-39
John 8:12


Sharolyn, you said it best on Sunday afternoon: "This is a war." Whether you are young or old, fighting cancer is a war. And like any war there are casualties. So tonight we are here again -- so soon after the death of another little one. We are here, because Hope Browning has fallen in the war against cancer. And it hurts. And it is devastating. And it is demoralizing. And there is nothing we can say that makes it any better or worse. The bad news is very present with us tonight. Our little sister Hope Carolyne Browning has fallen in battle like our little brother Bailor Goodnight just one week before. And we are sick about these deaths. Indeed we are sick of death, that horrible monster that Paul calls the last enemy in 1 Corinthians 15.

Duke, Sharolyn, and Navy - Zack and Carolyn - family and friends of Hope, you have been through a terrible battle. You have fought well and fought hard. But tonight is filled with the dreadful calm after that storm. Yes, our hearts are sick, because this was a battle no one wanted to fight. And the cost was one that no one wanted to pay. Tonight it hurts so much that Hope was lost in the midst of battle. And yet we have gathered because we need to believe and to trust that our Hope is truly in God and with God. We are here to tell each other and to tell ourselves that Hope is found in God and with God.

Sharolyn and Duke, you've talked about the strange camaraderie that comes with those who are your fellow combat veterans. You've talked about the other children and the parents joined together with you in a lonely battle that is both common and yet deeply personal. You have marveled at the dedication and depth of caring of the medical staff - doctors, nurses, child life specialists, social workers, technicians, and so many volunteers. You have been overwhelmed by the care given by dear friends, neighbors, church family near and far, and even almost strangers that have been there with Hope and with you. Going to war has meant discovering a previously hidden culture of people that have cheered with you and have cried with you.

Sharolyn and Duke, you've said that you don't want to see Hope as a martyr or a folk hero. You said that in the course of this war she has been scared. She has hurt. And she has hated the battle. What a perfectly normal and fundamentally human response she has had to her situation! This time last year she was a normal two-year-old. All of a sudden in April she was drawn into a war and you were dragged along just like all the other heartsick parents of cancer soldiers before you. Last Christmas she was such a confident vibrant little girl singing the song "Tomorrow." But you and she had no idea what tomorrow was going to bring. You didn't know that you would lose Hope.

All of a sudden she was a little soldier hospitalized time and time again. There she was watching those children's movies, and you began to see her like the characters in the movie. When Hope began cancer treatment, she became like Mulan who cut off her hair and went to war. When she was hospitalized or when she was going down for all those awful treatments, Hope was like Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz" who was scared and just wanted to go home. But like Dorothy constant companions on the journey joined her and offered their brains, their hearts, and their courage. Yet in the midst of all these living metaphors, you knew that God was no would-be wizard hiding behind a curtain. God was there with you in the battle. And you still had Hope.

Then when you were on the mountain top beginning to believe that you would get through the battle with Hope - then you woke up last Friday and Hope was gone. Your beautiful little girl who was so cuddly from day one fell asleep Thursday night and did not wake up in this world. Like Dorothy she woke up in another world, and it was not a dream. And now our hearts are broken with you.

As you said the other day, Duke, Hope's whole life was not spent in battle - just the last seven painful months. So we thank God that there are other memories - happy memories of that beautiful child whose picture is out there in the narthex of the church. You will remember Hope as not only a loving child but also a polite child who seemed to teach herself to say "thank you" and "excuse me." You will remember her charming self-confidence that showed when she would say, "you can color with me" and not "will you color with me?" You will always remember how much your family meant to her - how she adored her sister Navy, whom she called "Nay nee" and how much she treasured all of you adoring parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts.

In the midst of this terrible battle with cancer you lost Hope. That's true. That's why we are here having a memorial service. But we are not Hopeless even though we can no longer see her. We are people of Hope. We are full of Hope trusting the promise that our Hope has not been disappointed. Our Hope is in God and with God forever.

Almost three years ago Hope Carolyne Browning was baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. On that day, November 30, 1997, Hope Browning died and she rose again with Christ Jesus. On that day God promised that even if Hope's body died that would not be the end of Hope. For the Lord of Hope has already conquered death, our last enemy on the cross. And never again can death have the last word - no matter how it may shout its dark message of despair and destruction.

On the day that Hope was baptized, she was given this candle as a symbol that she carries the Light of the World into every corner darkened by sin, death, and evil. When death closed in on Hope, her light did not go out even when her body died.

We are here as the family of Hope, the family of God, soldiers not only in a war against cancer but soldiers in a war against despair and meaninglessness. As Paul said to the Corinthians, if for this life only we have hoped in Christ we are of all people most to be pitied. If all we have is this life, then we must admit that we are abandoned without Hope. But that is not our story. For we are people of Hope, and we believe that we will know Hope again and have Hope again someday soon. For in that day we will be with the Lord of Hope, who promises that nothing - not even cancer, not even death - nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.