As many of you know, last week one of my former students from St. Paul’s in Maumee, Ohio took her own life. Below is the transcript of the sermon I gave at her funeral this morning. I’m sharing it as a word of hope for those who are mourning the loss of Sarah this Christmas or for anyone who has suffered from the suicide of a loved one…
“When I think of Sarah Monroe three words come to mind: leader, laughter, and love. My wife was Sarah’s small group confirmation leader from 6-8th grade. She told me one thing was apparent in her group, they followed Sarah’s lead. Whenever my wife would ask a question, this shy group of middle schoolers, who are anything but shy now, would always look to Sarah to get the ball rolling. Once Sarah would talk, everyone felt at ease to share.
I had the privilege of seeing her leadership as well in my six years of knowing her. She always had this ability to control the climate of the room. In our youth group, she was a leader who helped us be vulnerable with one another. She was an example to those around her that it’s ok not to be ok.
The second word is laughter. This one goes without saying. As all of you know, Sarah is one in a million. She’s one of those people that I would have loved to spend five minutes in that brain, because you knew she was on a different wavelength. The pure randomness that would spew from that girl’s mouth sometimes was… well there is no words to describe. Her laughter was truly a gift to all of us. No matter how stressed or angry I get at the world sometimes, her humor had a way of penetrating that. She reminded me not to take myself too seriously.
The last word is love. When it comes to loving Sarah leaves an awe-inspiring legacy. As I sat and listened and read Facebook and Instagram posts over the past two weeks one thing is abundantly clear: she loved. It was a love that comforted, inspired, and protected those around her. On mission trips it was evident when in the midst of her pain and sorrow she would rise up and speak to those who suffered from similar issues. This love shone in the way she interacted with children and the elderly. This love could be felt by all who saw her interact with her sister Shawna and her step brother’s Carter and Dylan. It’s was a beautiful thing to watch. Lastly, it’s amazing to think that even in her death, she continues to give that love away. Through organ donation her cousin is a testimony to that along with countless others who have received their loved ones back from a death sentence.
But here we are. Amid the legacy of her leadership, laughter, and love we are mourning the loss of Sarah. More than this, we are coming to grips with the fact that someone who touched so many suffered so deeply. Deeply enough to take her own life. The truth is, like all of us in this room, Sarah was deeply conflicted. Her life had an undercurrent of deep pain. A pain caused by the sadness of life, tragic events, but most of all from a depression that at times was too much to bare.
As her youth pastor and friend for six years one of the most heart-wrenching things about Sarah was her difficulty in receiving the love that she freely gave away. Sometimes she would come to youth group crying that everyone judged her and no one loved her; when we would say time and time again in both words and actions, “Sarah, we love you. We are your family.” Amid her struggles I think she at least believed the message because she kept coming back in times of distress.
This pain was evident in Sarah’s relationship with God as well. In their meeting with Pastor Paul, Beth and Matt shared two passages that Sarah highlighted in her Bible. The one was Psalm 8 which we read this morning. In a nutshell it is a song of thanksgiving that ends by saying,
Psalm 8:9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The other passage that was highlighted in her Bible was Psalm 88, which is a song of lament. It is a crying out to God from an impossible situation. This one says:
Psalm 88:13-15 But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
So what do we do now? What do we do with the sadness of this loss? How do we make sense of it? Where is there comfort? Well, since I received the phone call of this tragedy, a certain Scripture has been floating around in my brain that has given me comfort. It’s a Scripture that address Sarah’s inner conflicts, where Sarah is at now, and how we cope in the present. It is Romans 8:38-39 where the Apostle Paul writes:
Romans 8:38 – 39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For Sarah I’d paraphrase this verse as follows,
For I am sure that neither illness, conflict, depression nor self-inflicted death can separate Sarah from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sarah believed in this love. Sure, she had conflicted relationship with it, but that doesn’t matter anymore. The good news of the Christian faith is not a command that we must hang on to Jesus and his love perfectly. Rather it’s a promise that no matter how weak our faith and how unsuccessful our efforts may be, God is always holding on to us. Friends I can promise that God is holding on to Sarah right now. The love that she found impossible to receive in this life is all that she knows now. How do I know this? Because 2,000 years ago Jesus Christ lived the life I should have lived, died the death that I should have died, and rose again to show me that he was victorious. In his death on the cross Jesus took my sins and gave me his righteousness. He saved me. And he saved Sarah too. As our gospel reading said this morning:
John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Because of his love for you, me, and Sarah God saved the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Because of this, I believe Sarah would want you to know something if she could speak right now. She’d want you to know that no matter what you feel, God loves you so much. No matter where you’re at God is seeking you. And no matter how far you feel you’ve fallen God has not left you. She would want you to know that the value of your life rest on God’s infinite, incomprehensible, and unconditional love for you—not your love for him. Therefore, you can rest in the fact that no matter what you do, feel, or suffer you are loved.
Ultimately that’s how we cope in the present. God promises us that nothing can separate us from his love. Sarah believed that and now that that’s all she knows we can rejoice in amid this tragedy. More than this, we can hope and rest in that same love as we mourn the loss of our friend, sister, and daughter.”
For further reading:
“One-Way Love” Tullian Tchividjian
“We Are All Suicides Now” Paul Zahl