Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hope and Comfort

[This was shared during the funeral of the father, father-in-law, grandfather, and great-grandfather of friends from Cincinnati earlier today.]

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
John 11:21-27

There’s a passage of Scripture I mentioned as we began today’s service. It comes from the first chapter of the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians and says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…

I know something of how important Lee was to people, especially to his family. He was a strong presence in the life of that family, a man who loved his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And he was a vital presence in their lives almost to the end, as the video Dave shared on Facebook the other day, showing Lee teeing up on the golf course at the age of 90, demonstrates. All of you have been blessed to have Lee in your lives and you know it.

But now what?

People who haven’t been blessed as you have, strangers to Lee or to all of you, might not understand that it’s possible to grieve just as much, sometimes more, for an older person who has left this life as it is to grieve for someone younger. When someone has been the patriarch of a family for so long, it leaves a hole in many lives.

So, the first thing that I would say this morning is that you shouldn’t let anyone tell you that it’s time to snap out of it, time to stop feeling your loss.

As I read God’s Word, the Bible, it becomes clear to me that death was never meant to be part of the human experience. We were created in the “image of God,” Genesis says, and the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes tells us that God “has put eternity into [humanity’s] heart…” We have every right to feel offended by death, to resent its removal of loved ones from our lives. We weren’t made for death. It’s offensive and hurtful to us.

Listen: It’s offensive to God and hurts God too. He loves us. He wants more for us than death and grief. He wants to give us life and hope and peace.

That’s exactly why He took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, Who took the death sentence for sin each of us inherits at birth and then rose from the dead so that all who turn from their own sin and trust in Him have a life with God that cannot be taken from them.

When a friend of Jesus, a man named Lazarus, died, Jesus took His apostles with Him to the little village of Bethany. Some regarded this as a risky trip because, by that time, the forces of government and religion had decided that Jesus needed to be killed and Bethany was close to Jerusalem, where temple police or Roman soldiers could easily get their hands on Him. But Jesus went anyway.

Lazarus had two sisters, who also lived in Bethany. Martha was the first of them to see Jesus when He got to Bethany and she was none too pleased with Him. She and her sister had sent urgent pleas to Jesus to come and help their brother. They were sure that Jesus, Who already had a track record of miracle-working, could come and heal Lazarus. But, by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was dead four days.

And so, when Jesus arrives, Martha is reproachful. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother he would not have died,” she tells Him. “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” They exchange a few more words, then Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus was offering to Martha at that moment the same thing that He offers you today: hope. Hope that when we dare to follow Christ, dare to turn away from sin, and turn to Him in trust, we have life with God. It’s a hope that God will be with us always and a hope that death need not have the last word over the lives of those who trust in Jesus.

To all people, Christ offers universally and unreservedly the chance to receive what, deep in our souls, we all know we were made for, eternal life with God. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus says elsewhere. “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.” As we turn to Jesus each day, He brings God’s hope to us, even when we grieve.

But this same God can give something else to you today. I pray that you’ll take it as He offers it to you. It’s mentioned in that passage from 2 Corinthians I spoke of a few moments ago: Comfort. The passage calls God “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.”

If you seek God, the God made plain in Jesus, He can bring you comfort.

I remember being at a funeral visitation. One of the friends who stopped by to visit the grieving family was a man I’d met several times previously. We fell into conversation. He talked about how it had been when he lost his wife of fifty some years. They had been inseparable and he was devastated. He talked about how often at night he would fall to his knees in his bedroom and cry out, “God have mercy on me.” God’s Word, the Bible, promises that all who call on God will be saved. This man, as he called on God for help, was saved from facing His grief alone. “I don’t know how I would have survived without God’s help,” he told me.

And speaking personally, when I had a heart attack seven years ago and needed to be hospitalized, my son spent the night with me. As I lay in bed, I asked him to read some Scripture to me. I'll never forget the comfort I felt amid the noise in my soul when he read the words of Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God."

The God Who has experienced death and grief Himself, wants to offer that same comfort to you today.

He wants you to know that you’re right to be hurt by the loss of your father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend.

He wants you to know that, for all who dare to trust in Christ, there is a hope for life with God in this world and a perfect life with God in the world to come, and there is comfort for those who run into the strong, compassionate arms of the God Who made you, loves you, died for you, rose for you.

Take the comfort and hope that only the God we meet in Jesus can offer.

And know that a lot of people, including Ann and me and our family, love you. God bless all of you. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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