Friday, May 13, 2011

Three Great Gifts from God

[This was shared during the funeral for a friend of ours earlier this week.]

Ecclesiastes 1:1-15
1 Corinthians 15:51-58
John 14:1-4

All of you who mourn Betty’s passing this morning: Today we know for a certainty that Betty wants you—and all of us—to hear the words of Jesus that begin our Gospel lesson. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me.”

We know that Betty wanted you to hear these words because back in 1988, she took the time to do what, in my experience, few people ever do, when she selected the passages of Scripture for possible use at her funeral. So, let Jesus’ words be our theme as we worship God and commit Betty to Him today: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Betty’s love for family—evident in how she and Virgil always made their kids’ and grandkids’ events, among many other ways—shines through in all of the Bible lessons she chose for us today. It was important for her to give a testimony for the Savior in Whom she believed, of course. And you can hear that in these passages. But it was also important to her that she comfort all of you and everyone who loved her with three great gifts from God: realism, joy, and hope!

The realism is supplied by King Solomon in the passage from Ecclesiastes that Betty selected. It begins with the famous words: “For everything, there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…” And that includes “a time to be born, and a time to die.”

This family knows too well that the time to die Solomon mentions can come tragically soon, as it did for Chad. But you also know that the death of someone you love can come, as it finally did for Betty, as a blessed release. She and Chad and all the saints—all who have trusted in Jesus in this life, are safe in the hands of their Lord…our Lord!

Betty once asked me, “How do people who don’t believe in Jesus face hard things?”

Betty, like many of us, could be a worrier. But she could face all the times mentioned by Solomon—the times to be born and to die, the times to plant and the times to pluck up what is planted—because of Jesus. And the fact is that it is only those with faith in Jesus who can face life and death with realism. We know, as we celebrated just a few weeks ago, that Jesus has conquered sin and death and futility. We can, even in the midst of tears, be filled with joy because we know that while the times of this life will one day come to an end for us, all of our times and all of our eternity are in hands of our risen Lord!

We see joy in all the passages Betty picked, but maybe especially in the reading from 1 Corinthians. There, the apostle Paul assures us that those who have died in the Lord share a great joy: “Listen!” he says, getting our attention, “We will not all die [death is not the end of the road], but we will all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable…then the saying…will be fulfilled, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is a victory? Where, O death, is your sting. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There’s joy in this passage, laughter in the knowledge that those who die in Christ rise again. And that seems appropriate because, not only did Betty believe in Christ, she also loved to laugh.

Ann and I have had so many fun times with Betty and Virgil! In the wee hours one Sunday morning, Ann woke me up while I was sleeping over in the parsonage. “Mark,” she said, “there’s a racket going on outside.” I reluctantly decided that I had to do my duty to protect my wife and kids. So, I quickly pulled on some trousers and went downstairs to the front door. There were Betty and Virgil, along with Kae and Kenny, and Larry and Cheryl, singing “Happy Birthday”…almost on key.

Several years later, when we were living in Cincinnati, we were bowling with friends, when we suddenly became aware of two people who were rooting for us. We’d never had fans before. We turned around and there, laughing, were Betty and Virgil.

I will always remember Betty’s laugh. So far as I can remember, she never laughed at anyone. She just enjoyed herself, whether she was rooting on her kids and grandkids or spending time with Virgil and friends at events like wedding receptions. And I know she enjoyed that hole-in-one.

Today, we can be certain that Betty is enjoying herself in the presence of God!

In another place, Paul writes that we who believe in Jesus Christ grieve, but we do not grieve as those without hope. God lets all who follow Christ in on the most wonderful punch line in history. For Betty and for all who believe, death has lost its sting. You can derive joy from that even today…and I know that you do!

Finally, in her selection of Bible lessons for today, Betty also showed that she clearly wanted to share the hope that comes to us from Christ. Our Gospel lesson is part of a long stretch of teaching Jesus shared before His arrest and crucifixion. The disciples sense that things aren’t going to go as they’d previously hoped. Jesus wouldn’t supplant the Romans and establish a government in Jerusalem. He was intent on being exactly what John the Baptist had described Him as being one day at the Jordan River: “the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus addresses their fears and apprehensions. “I’m going to prepare a place for you,” He tells them, “so that where I am, there you may also be.” Just a few verses beyond our lesson, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

The condition of sin and the reality of death represent threats to every human being. But all who turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ are reconciled to God for all eternity. Jesus is readying places for us now, even as He readied a place for Betty. In Christ, there is infinite hope and that is cause for celebration!

Another Paul (McCartney) sings words that could well speak to all of us about the comfort and the promise of a place in eternity that Jesus Christ gives to those who follow Him:
You lead me to places, that I've never been
Uncovering secrets, that I've never seen
I can rely on you, to guide me through, any situation.
You hold up a sign that reads, follow me… 
Today, in the words Betty has chosen for us, Jesus Christ is saying...
"Do not be troubled.

"Believe in Me.

"Follow Me.

"Be comforted.

"Be filled with joy and hope, even as you face the realities of life.

"And know that, one day, all who have trusted in Me will be together again for eternity. And we will laugh.” 
And to that, all of God’s people can say, “Amen!”

1 comment:

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