Thursday, November 10, 2005

Two Hope-Filled Promises

[I was honored to conduct the funeral of Laura, grandmother of a member of my current congregation in the Cincinnati area who grew up in the northwestern Ohio parish I served from 1984 to 1990. This is the message I presented there. The funeral took place earlier today in northwestern Ohio.]

First Corinthians 15:12-26
Psalm 27

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” That’s what Paul says in one of our Bible readings.

It’s important for us to remember this today because if the message that all who believe in Jesus Christ are given new and everlasting lives isn’t true today, as you face the loss of your mother, grandmother, and friend, then it isn’t true at all.

No one here today needs to be reminded of how tough and painful life can sometimes be. And the pain doesn’t get any worse than when someone who loved us so much and who was so loved in return suddenly dies. Paul was saying that if Jesus is nothing more than a good luck charm to get us through a few scrapes in life, then we’re as lost as those who have turned their backs on Him.

That’s why I so love what Paul goes on to say in First Corinthians. I imagine him almost shouting it as he dictated it to the secretary taking down his words:
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”
As you face the loss of “Grandma R,” you, as followers of Jesus Christ, have two strong promises on which you can lean, two great hopes.

First: You have the hope of knowing that the God of the universe is right beside you. It was this hope that David was talking about in another of our readings, Psalm 27:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
After his wife died of cancer, C.S. Lewis wrote a book called, A Grief Observed. He begins by saying, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I’m not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness...”

You’ve probably experienced that fear-like grief already in these past few days.

Love will bring that sensation back again, sometimes in almost unbearable ways and sometimes, fleetingly, almost without your fully realizing it’s there.

It will come when you eat Thanksgiving dinner without Laura’s goose.

Or, when at a reception, you stand up to do a polka.

Or, when you’re at an auction, snooping--as she loved to do--through other people’s old stuff.

The memories will come and that fear-like dread of life without her will come back. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that it’s wrong to grieve. Death was never part of the original plan for the human race. It violates what we somehow know, deep inside of us, life was meant to be. Adam and Eve were made to live with God forever and so are we. And so we grieve.

But the God we know through Jesus promises to be with us, even in our grief. “...[H]e will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent; He will set me on a high rock,” Psalm 27 says. That expresses the hope we have for this life from Jesus.

But we have a second, bigger, and more wonderful promise through Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to write First Corinthians:
“...since death came through a human being, a resurrection of the dead also came through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus told the disciples, whose lives were about to be rocked by grief with His death on a cross. “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 will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be.”

I believe that all who follow Jesus, all who have persevered in believing His good news through all the bad (and good) news that meets us in this life, will immediately be welcomed into the presence of the One Who has prepared a place for all His people.

Laura is there now, with Jesus and with all who have believed in Him. She’s seeing the fulfillment of her lifelong faith in the God we meet in Christ. It’s the faith that David wrote about in Psalm 27:
“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Today, I commend two kinds of hope to all of you: The hope that comes from knowing that the risen Christ is with you now and the hope that one day, as believers in Jesus, we will see Him and all who have followed Him, in eternity.



Ty said...

Can God microwave a burrito so hot that He Himself cannot eat it?

Mark Daniels said...

That's funny. It's a variant on the old "parable of the stone" argument. It held that if there is a God, He could do anything, including creating a stone so large that He couldn't lift it. If God couldn't lift the stone, then God couldn't do everything. Therefore, there is no God.

The problem with such arguments, of course, is that they are both logically valid and silly in their real-life application. One could as easily create arguments "proving" that human beings don't exist or that Neil Armstrong didn't go to the Moon.

Of course, the ultimate proof of God's existence for me is that He showed up in the person of Jesus. He's the One Who convinced me back in the days when I was an atheist.

Thank you for dropping by.