Saturday, January 24, 2004

The Certainties We Have, Message for the Funeral of Isaac

Many readers of this web log have been kind enough to include Isaac, a five-and-a-half year old member of the congregation I serve as pastor, in your prayers. Last April, Isaac was diagnosed as having cancer in his brain stem. From the beginning, his prognosis was horrible. There were rallies since the original diagnosis was made. However, Isaac died this past Tuesday. Thank you for your prayers on his behalf. Please now, pray for his parents, Matt and Sheila, and for all who mourn, asking God to give them encouragement and hope. Below is the message I shared at the funeral today.

Message for the Funeral of Isaac (1998-2004)
John 11:32-35; John 14:1-3; Romans 8:31-39
January 23, 2004

Matt and Sheila: Let me begin today by confessing a simple truth to you. It's this: There is nothing that I or anybody else can say that can make sense of Isaac's passing. It doesn't make sense. That one so sweet, so young, so fun, and so joyful should be taken from you cannot be explained. Every person here today—and the many around the world who have prayed for Isaac and you—who have offered their help, who have exulted in his rallies and rued his setbacks, everyone agonizes for you and is praying for you now. Each of us wishes that somehow you could have been spared what you have gone through and what you are going through. And none of us can answer that searing, horrible question of, Why?

You should also know that while none of us suffers from the grief and loss with which you're dealing, Isaac's death leaves a hole in many hearts. He was a special little boy. I've told people that from the moment Isaac first sauntered into a Friendship Church worship celebration, back when we were still in the school, everybody knew who he was. He had the most wonderful, memorable personality. We all will miss his stories and his laughter. I loved to hear him giggle! And I will personally especially miss him during the children's messages on Sunday mornings, which he routinely managed to hijack and make better. My wife always teased me, saying that whenever Isaac was around, I was sure to be his second banana. Frankly, I and everybody here this afternoon, as we contemplate Isaac's death, wrestle also with the question of Why?

But today, I want to talk not about our uncertainties, which are many. Instead, I want to talk today about a few things I know to be true. I hope that from these truths you and all who mourn can gain some small measure of comfort and some glimmer of hope for the days and years and eons ahead.

The first thing I want to tell you is that God shares the tears of all who mourn. In one of our Bible lessons, we're told about something that happened in a small village called Bethany back when Jesus, God in the flesh, was walking the earth. Jesus had learned that a friend of His, a man named Lazarus, had died. Jesus went to Bethany, which was Lazarus' hometown. Lazarus had two sisters and one of them, Mary, hearing that Jesus had gotten into town, ran to talk with Him. "Lord," she told Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother wouldn't have died." Jesus observed Mary's tears and touched by her sorrow, the Bible tells us, began to weep.

Even though we often cannot explain the horrible things that happen in this life, that true story from Jesus' life tells us that whenever we cry, God cries with us. Jesus understands our tears and offers us the broadest shoulders in the universe for us to cry on.

There is a second certainty I want to share with you. It's this: Even Jesus wondered why. The Bible tells us that when He went to the cross, Jesus did so knowing that it was God the Father's plan for Him. But in His suffering, Jesus called out and asked, "My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?" Matt and Sheila and all who loved or prayed for Isaac: You may feel abandoned, angry, hurt, or let down by God today. All those feelings are understandable and anybody with an ounce of Christian compassion won't try to talk you out of them. But you're not alone in wondering why. The Savior of the world, Who died and rose for Isaac and for all of us, went through those same turbulent emotions. Whenever they rush over you, know for certain that Jesus has been there and understands and is right there with you.

There is a third certainty that I want to share with you. It's my favorite one. Jesus, Who wept over the death of a friend and agonized over the mysteries of death and grief, of prayers seemingly unanswered and feeling alone in the face of this world's cruel realities, has written a different ending for the lives of those who follow Him.

One of the first times Jesus proved that He had power over death and the power to give life came when He went to the grave of His dead friend, Lazarus, and called Lazarus to walk and live again. Later, Jesus Himself would bring the final death to death when He rose to life on the first Easter Sunday. That's why Jesus tells us, as He has every generation whoever dared to believe in Him:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and I will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also."

You may be sure that God had a special place ready for Isaac. He's there now, telling stories and spreading the same laughter and joy that he brought to all of us here on earth. And God is preparing a special place for all who believe in Jesus so that one day, we all can be together with God for all eternity.

The good news is this. This world may try to kill our hope. It will use all sorts of weapons to do so, from crosses to cancers. But the Savior Who calls all of His children to Himself has risen from the dead so that we can live this life with all of its uncertainties and also face life beyond death in the greatest certainty of all. It's the certainty that our third Bible lesson for the day celebrates. No matter what befalls us, "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..."

In the end, the only certainty any of us have is the deathless love of God given to us through Jesus Christ. It's what I pray for you, Matt and Sheila, and for all who mourn today. Amen

[The outline of this message is based on a message composed by Pastor Mark Thomsen and appearing in Planning a Christian Funeral: A Minister's Guide by W.A. Poovey (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978).]