Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Joy in the Midst of Sadness

[This was shared during recent funeral services for Helen at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]

Psalm 121
Romans 3:21-27
Psalm 23
John 11:21-26

There is inevitable sadness today. The last thing any of us thought we would be doing  this morning is grieving the loss of Helen. While she and her family knew that she had some health issues with which she was dealing and that her week was to bring medical testing, there was no thought that last week would bring her passing. Nor that it would happen so quickly.

But, for all its sadness, this day isn’t untouched by joy either. Helen has been spared a set of treatments that might have been long and hard. It’s easy to believe that God has intervened and taken her to be with Himself.

The last memory I have of Helen before this past Wednesday night, when she was taken to the hospital ER, was of her standing in the church fellowship hall, talking and sharing a quiet laugh with Margaret, probably as they discussed some detail of the Lutheran World Relief soap drive.

In some ways, that moment, observed from a short distance, encapsulates my experience of Helen: a woman with a servant’s heart who served God and others without calling attention to herself, who enjoyed laughing in the fellowship of friends and family, who lived for God’s purposes, and who, as in the job she held for twenty-five years with Halls, undertook her tasks with intelligence and diligence.

Helen was also a person who loved her family dearly, baking cookies for David and the boys to enjoy during their work days even recently. Matthew once told me that in her later years, she took to giving family members hugs and dispensing laughter more liberally, conveying how much she cared for each one of them.

Helen was just a wonderful person, the epitome of the word, lady.

And anybody who knew her for just a short time also knew that Helen trusted in Jesus Christ.

Because of her faith, I am sure that she’s in the company of the Lord and His people right now. I know that comforts you, Linda and David, and your families, this morning.

Today, I’m also sure that there is one message that Helen would want to share with her family and friends above all others.

We see that message reflected in various ways in all of the Bible lessons we just read. But none better distills them than the words of Jesus, spoken to His friend Martha, who was grieving the loss of her brother, Lazarus. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

We human beings, you know, have two great enemies from the moment of birth. One is sin, that inborn condition of separation from God and the life that only God can give from which we all suffer. King David spoke for us all when he said in Psalm 51, “...I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.”

Because sin separates us from the perfect life God has in mind for us, it introduces our second enemy, death and all the things that go with death--relational discord, physical deterioration. “The wages of sin is death,” the New Testament reminds us. And, in another place (Romans 8), God's Word tells us that the whole creation--including you and me--groans under the burden of our separation from God...and, like a woman in childbirth, in anticipation of the new creation God is bringing into being through Christ.

Helen knew and believed that, despite these enemies, though she might die, yet she would still live. Second Corinthians 5:17 contains a promise which can sustain us even in times like these: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! [And all] this is from God Who reconciled Himself [that is, torn down the wall of separation from Him and the life that He gives] through Christ...”

You who grieve Helen’s loss this morning can know that, because she was “in Christ,” because she trusted in Christ, she is with Him, is part of His new creation.

It’s a creation no longer groaning under the burden of sin and death, no longer groaning in anticipation of what God will do in the future.

Helen is living in that future.

There is no cancer.

No Zenker Diverticulum.

No cardiac issues.

No aging or the deterioration that goes with it.

Today, Helen stands in the presence of the living God, whole and healthy and holy, stronger and more filled with life than you and I can imagine.

These great blessings are nothing that Helen or any other of God’s saints--God’s set apart people--could earn. These blessings are gifts God grants to those who trust in Jesus as their only God and their only hope.

Jesus once told an old man named Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world [including everyone in this sanctuary this morning] that He gave His only Son [Jesus Himself], so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Helen, you can be sure, is with the Lord right now because she believed in Jesus.

But, Jesus is more than an insurance policy for us once we have died.

The Bible teaches that, in Jesus Christ, eternity, God’s grace, and the privilege of being God’s children has invaded this world. Even in the midst of grief, suffering, confusion, and tough decisions, the person made new by the love of Christ, can stand strong in knowing that God stands by them always.

Psalm 121, which we read a moment ago, is from the Old Testament’s book of worship, the Psalms. This particular psalm is part of a group of them known as the song of ascents. They were meant to be sung by God’s people as they traveled by foot, on animals, or in wagons on their way up the mount on which God’s temple stood. It begins:

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills-- From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand.”

You see, the God we know in Jesus Christ isn’t just sitting back in heaven waiting to bless those who trust in Him after they die.

God never sleeps! He never slumbers!

If we dare to stand with Him, He will always stand with us.

And He is standing with you today, comforting you in your grief, offering to you the same hope in Him with which Helen, in her quiet faith, lived each day.

Jesus has promised those who trust in Him, “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”

God’s Word assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God given in Jesus Christ, the Savior Who died, taking the condemnation for sin we deserve, and then rose from the dead to push open the gates of eternity for all who dare to believe in Him.

Helen believed in--she trusted--the God made known in Jesus, “the resurrection and the life.”

It’s that faith that can allow you, even in your grief, to rejoice! Helen is with the Lord in Whom she placed her hope.

And it’s also faith in that same God, a God Who took on our humanity and suffered the worst this world can being, so that He can give you His best--God’s love, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, an eternity of hope, and the promise that He will never leave you nor forsake you if you will trust in Him as your only God--that can sustain you in the days to come.

Cling to Christ today and always.

You will know, as Helen did, that Christ can always be counted on to strengthen you, give you help, and one day, raise you up to live with Him and the company of saints for all eternity.

God bless you.


No comments: