Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Funeral Sermon

I did not preach today. But I had a funeral on Thursday for a member of our church. Here is the manuscript of the sermon for that day.

It is important that we are here. And while it’s good and right to honor Mario in this way, our being here is not just for Mario’s sake. It’s for your sake, too.

It is important that you are here so that you can mourn your loss and do that in a way that will bring some healing to you and in a way that will give you hope. I am here to help you do that.

If we are going to succeed at this, I will need to speak clearly and honestly. Most of what people say to you at a time like this is well-intentioned, but it is not all that helpful. If something is going to be helpful at a time like this it needs to be real. Pious sayings aren’t real. They don’t help. But I want to help you. I want to get past the empty phrases. Please consider what I have to say.

Let’s begin with this. How we should understand what has happened? Too many call it ‘passing away’ or something peaceful like that and they say that it’s just a part of life. If that’s the case, why does it hurt so? Why are there tears? If we’re going to be honest, if we’re going to be able to come to a place of real hope, I think we need to label this accurately. We need to say that something evil has happened. Death has struck, once again, and done its ugly work. Death has taken away someone whom we loved.

I really enjoyed knowing Mario. He and Mary and I would get together on Tuesdays for what supposed to be lunch. There was always so much food that it was more like dinner. I would tell Mario that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches would be fine by me. And he would look at me as if I had insulted him. We usually had steak. We ate and had good conversations. And after eating too much we’d have a little Bible study. And Mario would have his questions as he tried to understand the Gospel a little better. And it was so good when I saw that he was getting it. I looked forward to Tuesdays at the Gatti household. But there are no more Tuesday lunches with Mario and Mary. I won’t hear Mario’s laugh or get to answer any more of his questions. All of that is over and done with. A friendship has been ruptured. I have experienced a loss. And if that is true of me, how much more do you, his family, feel it. Do you see why I say that something evil has happened?

There are those who try to soften the pain of this loss by saying something that they think will comfort. One that is popular is, ‘Well, at least he’s not suffering any more.’ And that is true of Mario. His last years were difficult as his health got worse and worse and worse. If it wasn’t a trip to the ER for one of his nosebleeds or something else, then it was a doctor’s appointment to deal with one of his many ailments. Each day he took so many pills. And did you see his legs? So, it’s true that he isn’t suffering from all of that any more. But doesn’t that miss the point? The illnesses were a part of the evil. They were the beginnings of his experience of death. There was a time when his body worked so much better. Is the solution for the evil of his many illnesses the greater evil of his death? And does saying that he’s not suffering anymore help you as you have to deal with missing him?

Another popular attempt at comfort is saying, ‘Well, he’s in a better place now.’ Mario is in a better place. Mario is in heaven where there is no suffering at all. But it’s important to understand why we can say that so that we can say this with confidence. And again, this is important so that you can deal with your grief, so that you can have hope. Mario is in heaven, but it’s not because he impressed God with how well he did during his 85 years. There were those areas of life where Mario did well. But, if we are going to be honest, we’ll have to admit that there were some areas where Mario didn’t do a very good job of it. Trying to cover over his weaknesses will not help you to get through your grieving well. We need to be honest.

I knew Mario for something like ten or so years. Though I didn’t know him in his younger years, I did get some hints about what his life was like. Putting those things together with what I know about people in general, I’m going to guess that there were some choices he made that weren’t very wise. And his choices affected you. In this he is no different from the rest of us. We all, too often, choose poorly and it affects the people around us, especially family. So, if we are going to be honest, we’re going to need to say that Mario was not a perfect person. As I say that I am sure that those of you who are family have some particular memories of what that means.

And yet, I am still convinced that he is with God now. How did he do that? Some will say that the he made up for all of the mistakes of his younger days in his last years. He got quite religious. He read his Bible, prayed and went to church. The popular opinion is that doing this sort of thing makes up for past mistakes. But does it? If someone steals a million dollars and gets caught, does paying back $50 make up for that crime? Can God be bought off like that? Mario did become religious, but that didn’t make up for his earlier bad choices. Mario is now in heaven not because he was able to be good enough. No one is good enough.

There is only one possible reason why Mario is in heaven now: Jesus. Mario’s debt to God, just like the debt that we each have, was huge. Paying it back is impossible, for him and for us. But Jesus offered to pay Mario’s debt, all of it, just like that, and Mario took Him up on His offer. At that moment, Mario’s debt was paid, completely paid, balance: zero. And that’s why he was welcomed into heaven. Here’s one way to picture that welcome. Last Saturday afternoon, Mario stood before God and heard this question. ‘Why should I let you into My heaven?’ Mario heard the question but said nothing. What could he say? But Jesus spoke up and told the Father, ‘I have paid his debt.’ At that point, Mario was ushered into heaven to enjoy its beauty and peace. Mario is there because of Jesus. So, you can know that Mario is doing well right now and that can be such a help in dealing with your grief.

Evil has happened. Mario has died. But Jesus has turned this evil into something that is really very good. Mario will live forever happier than he could have imagined.

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