A sermon preached at the Memorial Service of Milla Menzies
When Paul writes to the church in Corinth about the variety of gifts given by the Holy Spirit he notes that some in the community are given the gift of faith (I Corinthians 12:9). It is often assumed that faith is a common gift, one that all in the church are meant to receive. But Paul thinks otherwise. He knows that living in faith, trusting wholly in the God we meet in Jesus Christ, is a gift received by a few on behalf of the many. When thanking God for the life of Millanka Menzies we find ourselves so grateful that the Holy Spirit gifted Milla with such deep and abiding faith. Milla’s faith was in evidence at every turn. It made her resilient in the face of many hardships. It kept her joyful when she could have been filled with despair. It brought her back to worship and to Bible study even when the minister exasperated her. Milla simply believed, trusted, somehow knew that God intended healing, wholeness, care for her, for her children, for all people.
It is the reason that she took her life in the church so seriously. For forty-eight years Milla has been a faithful disciple in our midst. It seems somehow fitting that her death comes only a few short weeks after the death of Bernice Balfour. Together they lived through great changes in this congregation’s life. Yet their lives among us also testify to an unwavering faithful witness in the congregation’s life over the past half-century. So it comes as no surprise that Milla left instructions for today’s service in her last will and testament. She did not leave a pencilled note or a page in a file folder. She included these hymns and these scriptures in her will. This is our inheritance from her. This is what she has willed to us. What a rich inheritance it is.
“I feel the winds of God today, today my sail I lift,
though heavy oft with drenching spray and torn with many a rift;
if hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use,
I’ll seek the sees at his behest, and brave another cruise.”
“Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes:
O whence for me shall my salvation come, from whence arise?
From God the Lord doth come my certain aid,
from God the Lord who heaven and earth hath made.” (Psalm 121)
“The Lord’s my shepherd I’ll not want; he makes me down to lie
in pastures green he leadeth me, the quiet waters by.” (Psalm 23)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.” (John 14:1-14)
“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. Fort this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:16-18)
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored."
Milla was born in Belgrade, Serbia in 1928. In means that she was thirteen when the Luftwaffe bombed the city. She was sixteen when Belgrade was bombed again, by the Allies. She did not often speak about the hardships of those years but we always knew that her faith had been formed in the crucible of war, that her bark had been “torn with many a rift.” No wonder that she discovered a kinship with the Psalms. She specifically asked that we sing both psalms today from the Scottish Psalter. Serbs and Scots share a kinship of faith that has been tempered by hardship and ache. Both peoples discovered in the psalms a daring and truthful faith that does not sugar coat the trouble even as it trusts in God’s goodness.
Milla often longed for healing for herself and for others. It was her persistence in asking for a healing service that resulted in the rite of healing that we now offer here, twice each year. Milla prayed diligently for the Holy Spirit to come with power. At times it did. At other times she wondered why God did not seem to answer. But Milla never lost heart. Somehow she knew, trusted, believed that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.” Remember that “glory” is the biblical word that speaks of God’s energy, God’s life force, God’s power. In Hebrew it is the word “chabod” which means, literally, “weight”, “heaviness”, “gravitas”. God’s glory is massive. So we expect the glory of God to be revealed in huge displays of nature and in awesome miracles. But then, paradoxically, we discover that God’s glory is fully revealed in Christ’s suffering, in the crucifixion, in God’s self-emptying so that creation might be given new life, that humanity might be redeemed, that we might be healed.
The eyes of faith “look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.” To be given such a gift of insight, to be able to sing “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord”, is to somehow come to trust that God’s healing, God’s love, God’s purpose is being accomplished even through “the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” This is what Milla has given us as her inheritance. She has passed on to us the most precious of gifts - trust in the goodness of God in the face of every adversity, even death itself. With the eyes of faith we see Milla now healed and whole, her voice added to the great choir of witnesses whose song echoes through all creation:“Glory. Glory. Hallelujah.”