Thursday, January 14, 2016

Hope Beyond the Sorrow

[This was shared earlier this evening during a funeral in honor of Clem, a member of Living Water Lutheran Church, a World War Two veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor.]

Last night, I was told, “You know, it’s quite an honor for you to be able to do Clem’s funeral.” It is. The members of the greatest generation are quickly leaving us. This is the third funeral for a veteran of World War Two over which I’ve presided in the past year. There have been others through the years.

In spite of the unique attributes of a generation to whom we owe so much, people who weathered the Great Depression and endured the greatest war in human history, every member of that generation is unique, each with their own special life stories, their own achievements beyond the horrors of the war, loved ones and friends who, after they have passed, miss them for who they were after the war was over.

Although Clem was in worship every Sunday, I never got to know him very well in the two-plus years I’ve been his pastor. (I do cherish the particular Sunday when he, moving beyond the usual good morning greetings, thumped me on the back and said, “You’re doing a great job!”) Clem’s age and circumstances by the time I arrived though, made really getting to know him difficult. But from other people who knew and loved Clem, I got to know some things about him. When Carol and I met on Tuesday, I learned even more.

To me, one of the most remarkable things I’ve gleaned from Clem’s life and from that of his wife, Joanne, is just how resilient they were. Even beyond World War Two, they both had tough lives. And yet, by all accounts, they emerged in adulthood as productive, caring, loving people who raised their family, started a successful business, enjoyed the company of friends, worshiped God, and, in the case of Clem, avidly golfed and fished.

There are people who don’t understand what it’s like to grieve the loss of a father, grandfather, and friend who’s lived 94 years. They think that somehow there’s less grief or sadness. They don't understand that while loved ones and friends may be grateful that someone like Clem lived a long life and was blessed with a peaceful passing, there is still sadness and grief at the loss of one who loved and was loved well, who was such a presence in the life of his family and circle of friends. Let no one make you feel guilty because you grieve at Clem’s passing. It would be strange for you not to grieve.

But there is hope!

And that hope which comes from Jesus Christ, the Lord in whom Clem believed, means that even in the midst of grief, you can have hope and joy. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 in the New Testament: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

There is a different quality to the grieving of those who grieve for one who has trusted in Jesus Christ.

Clem is today, at this moment, experiencing life with God. He’s fully alive and in the presence of God, along with all the saints who have gone before us, including Joanne. He’s no longer afflicted by the ravages of time nor of dementia. He is restored fully in an eternity in which Christ, the Lord Who has died as the perfect sacrifice for our sins and risen so that all who turn from sin and surrender their lives to Him have life with God, “will wipe every tear from their eyes. [And with whom] There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Clem is experiencing Christ’s new creation in its fullness.

But this hope isn’t just for those who have died. The Bible teaches that “...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!”

The new life of Christ, a life filled with God’s guidance, wisdom, and the power
to live this life with love, resilience, compassion, and toughness, lives in all who turn from sin and believe in Christ.

We don’t have to earn eternal life, only receive Christ and let Him reign as God and King over our lives.

We don’t have to be good enough, only trust in Christ Who has been more than good enough and will share His goodness with us.

I wish that I had known Clem well and I’m a bit jealous of all of you who did know him.

But I know this: God wants to give all of us an eternity to get to know special people like Clem, to live and love, work and worship side by side with them, as God fills us with His ever new and ever-renewing life.

Today, you grieve your loss.

But in the midst of your grief, I also commend to you the only One Who can give you life, hope, salvation, and joy in the midst of grief and beyond, Jesus Christ. Amen

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