Monday, August 09, 2021

Facing Crucibles

[This message was shared during the funeral for Jo, a member of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, this past Friday, August 6.]

1 Peter 1:3-9
Today, I want to talk with you about hope in the midst of grief, joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the midst of chaos, and, most importantly, life beyond the cross.

Jo was a remarkable person. She deeply loved and was deeply loved by her family. She was one of the most cheerful people I ever knew, quick with a smile and a friendly comment. (She was one of the few people I knew who always smiled when she received Holy Communion, signaling her understanding of the joyful things we receive with Christ’s body and blood: His presence, His forgiveness, His life!) Jo also loved having a good time. She would have been very much at home had she been with Jesus at the wedding at Cana. Jo was also tough. Even after she had gone on oxygen, she would drive to worship on Sunday mornings because, she told me, she could go without oxygen for an hour in order to worship God.

Of course, all of these qualities--love, cheerfulness, toughness, and faith in Jesus Christ were seen in what was undoubtedly the most difficult period of her life, after the death of her husband in 1974. She went to work as a teller at a bank, provided for her family, and, in short order, became chief loan officer. Imagine the pluck and fortitude that required: a grief-stricken widow with some of her family still under her roof, not only getting a job, but working herself into a demanding position that required not just a cheerful attitude, but a mind for details and the willingness to sometimes tell movers-and-shakers, “No.”

Where did all these qualities come from? How did Jo emerge so whole and, honestly, remarkable after undergoing the ordeals she faced?

We talk, you know, about people enduring crucibles. A crucible, in the first place, was a metal or ceramic container in which things like metals are subjected to intense heat or melted, purged of impurities, and formed into something new. It’s related to the Latin word for a cross, crucis, from which we get our words crucify and crucifixion.

 That’s why a second meaning of the word crucible, according to the
Oxford Dictionary, is “a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.”

As Christians, we believe that Jesus bore the cross for us to make us new. After all, Jesus was sinless and had no impurities of which He needed to be purged. But Jesus stepped up to the cross so that He could purge us--you and me--of our impurity--our sin--and make us fit for eternal life with God. “While we were still sinners,” Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “Christ died for us.”

The fact is that we all go through crucibles of one kind or another. We’re all subject to the sudden changes and cataclysms that life in this fallen world can bring. And, as some have heard me say before, the ratio of births to deaths for human beings is still 1:1.(1) But while some people melt under the heat of life’s crucibles, others emerge stronger, renewed, full of new life.

There’s a reason for that. In our second lesson for this morning, the apostle Peter, a man who knew something about life’s crucibles, wrote to encourage the Christians in first-century Asia Minor who were enduring some crucibles of their own. Today, many scholars think that Peter wanted  to encourage Christians who, either because of the dismissiveness of their unbelieving communities or the simple challenges of remaining faithful to Christ in this world, were teetering on giving up on following Christ. Peter encourages them to shift their focus from what they were going through and instead, focus on the One they were going to. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he says, because in “his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you…” In the meantime, as believers in Jesus go through their own crucibles, even death, and look ahead to the resurrection life God gives to all who believe in Christ, they can be assured that they “are shielded [guarded] by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, Jo knew that she was guarded by God’s power until the day she saw Jesus face to face. Because of Jesus, Jo knew that she had hope in the midst of grief, joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the midst of chaos, and life beyond the cross. Jesus is why she didn’t melt or crumble under her crucible. Through Christ, the same can be said of you.

Later in our lesson, Peter talks about what happens when people endure the crucibles of this life clinging to the crucified and risen Jesus. He says that because of Christ, we can rejoice, even if in this life, we may have to suffer various trials. And then: “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

When you reflect on the widow found by her son on her knees in her room praying as she faced her crucible, don’t you see where all Jo’s joy, peace, toughness, and love came from? It came from the same place you can go this morning for the strength and peace she had. You can go to the God Who told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Today, as you continue to process a grief that will be with you in some ways your whole life, turn to Jesus Christ. He underwent the crucible of bearing our sin, shame, and death, so that, as we turn to Him daily in repentance and with faith in Him, we, like Jo, will be given the power to live each day in hope and to one day face God covered in Christ’s righteousness, fit for eternity with God, and hear Jesus say as I’m sure He is saying of Jo, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” God bless you all. Amen (1) According to Scripture, two human beings did not die but were simply taken up to heaven at the ends of their lives: Enoch and Elijah.

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