Yesterday I was honored to preach the funeral of Grady McMahan. I took as my text Matthew 10:42 (blessings promised to those who give to the little ones) and I Corinthians 15:51-58 (the sting of death has been conquered).
Grady was at most an acquaintance of mine. He was/is the younger brother of Dr. Oliver McMahan who is the Vice President for Ministry Formation at our seminary, a dear friend of mine. Through Oliver I became acquainted with Grady.
I titled the sermon “Grady McMahan: A Icon into the Image of God.” Grady was born with his intestines outside of his body. Emphysema scared his longs in early childhood and he suffered from asthma all of his life. He was severely hearing impaired and had the corresponding speech impediment.
Due to his pulmonary difficulties he lived his life on reduced levels of blood oxygen. Three and a half years ago a relatively minor work related injury triggered a near fatal reaction. When he awoke after days in the ICU the first words he spoke to his Oliver were of his desire to move to Cleveland and be with Oliver and Martha (Oliver’s wife).
I believe the image of God in which we were created is the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead, three persons eternally existing in perfect relationship. Humans are by design relational beings; it is our nature to be connected. But sin brought death which in us is at war with our nature to know and be known.
We live in a “culture of death” where there is little respect for life. This can be seen in part in the use of death as a tool for entertainment. There is currently an onslaught of movies and TV programs featuring vampires and werewolves, each glamorizing death. At the same time we have tamed death with images of an easy transition in which everyone simply goes into the light. All of this cheapens the reality of death. Death is our enemy, an enemy conquered by our Lord but our enemy none the less.
When we in our parents, Adam and Eve, entered into sin we received the curse of death woven into our very beings. Our enemy became part of us. Sin separated us from the face of God and death wounded the image of God so that we no longer could know as we are known. Our capacity for relationships was severely injured, not destroyed.
Grady McMahan offered to us an example of how the image of God could be retained in the face of death. He faced death from the day he was born and he refused to allow death to separate him from others. My childhood pastor, Bud Braddock, use to say “trials will make you bitter or better; the choice is up to you.” Grady made the choice in every setback in life to not be bitter. He was not envious of others who seemed favored by God with good health. He simply pressed on and made a friend of whoever he met, whoever was willing to connect with him.
During visitation with the family I heard someone give what may be the most powerful complement to Grady that I have ever heard. Some spoke of his forthrightness, his love for the grandchildren (Martha and Oliver’s), his peaceful presence, and his presence as an anchor. One person described him as follows. “Have you ever entered a room full of people and just sensed something was missing. You couldn’t put your finger on it but there was just some connection not being made. When Grady entered the room whatever that was always went away.”
What a powerful testament. The man with the hearing and speech problem filled in the gap between others. Somehow he helped people connect. He communicated something beyond words. In the words of the Bible he brought peace, shalom, meaning wholeness. The one who was broken brought a sense of connectedness and wholeness when he entered a room.
Another look through Grady into the image of God can be seen in the pictures shared at the visitation. There was a picture of him receiving his high school diploma, head and shoulders held high, striding across the stage. The biggest of the many smiles on his face was in a picture of him sitting behind the steering wheel of his truck. I especially like the one where he was wearing a children’s tinseled hat/decoration. But of all the pictures the thing that stood out to me the most was not his smile but the smiles on the faces of the children around him. He loved in a way that nurtured love. It is one thing to love children; it is another to love them in such a way they love you back, bringing love full circle. This is the love of God.
Much was said about Grady’s steadfastness, his faithfulness to his mother, family and church. It is as if the brush with death 3 ½ years ago triggered in him a desire to finish his race well as an example not only in how to live but also in how to die. He died what the old Methodists might have called a good death.
I believe Grady McMahan was a window into the image of God that we all share but struggle to see. He faced death and did not let it defeat his spirit. He would not let his challenges keep him from making friends and building relationships.
I remind us that death is our enemy but it is also a doorway through which we must all pass. Christ taught us that if we would live we must first die. If we die to sin we will have eternal life. If we do not, we will have everlasting death. Christ has already conquered the power of death for all who believe.
Grady has shown us a better way to live; Death, in its various forms, does not have the power to determine who we are. Here at the time of Grady's death may he be in our memories as he was in life, a healing presence reminding us of all that we can be with and for each other in Christ. May we be more like him.
February 7, 2010