Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Funeral Sermon

This is a time when we need to hear from God. This is a time when He wants to speak with us. He has much to tell us that can help in a situation like this.

Listen to something from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

That may sound odd, maybe a little jarring. But it really is helpful. What God is saying is that it’s good for us to be here in this place of mourning. It’s good because it’s a reminder. It’s a reminder that one day each of us will find ourselves being prepared for burial. One day our lives will come to an end. Taking that seriously can be troubling. It raises some hard questions, questions like these. Why death? Why was a good man like Dave taken? Why will it be me who will one day be taken? Is there anything to be done about that?

Those are good questions to ask. But it’s better if we can get some answers. God speaks to those questions and gives good answers. But to understand His answers we need to start with His description of our situation. His description is actually pretty dark. And that’s because it’s honest.

Listen to what God has to say about our situation.

Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. He comes out like a flower and withers. Job 14:1-2

What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is grief and frustration. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is futility. Ecclesiastes 2:22-23

Some have recognized the truth of this description. Here is the response of one person written in the Psalms.

O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Psalms 39:4-5

Most of the time, we don’t think about such things. We keep it all at a distance. Our lives are filled with things to do so that there is no time for these hard thoughts to bother us. Except, sometimes, at a funeral. That can be a time when reality hits us.

Now, some respond by wondering why it is like this. ‘This isn’t what life is supposed to be like, is it?’ God answers that too. It all goes back to a choice He offered to the first man.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

What is this? Does God have a thing about people eating a certain kind of fruit? Is He just being picky? No. This is about a choice. This is what God was saying. ‘I will show you the way to life, to real life. No sorrow, no frustration, no death. But you’re going to have to trust Me. Trust Me on this and you will enjoy life, real life, like you can’t imagine. Refuse to trust Me and there will be death. If you choose poorly it will result in sorrow and grief and frustration. Your choice.’

As you may know that first man, along with his wife, chose not to trust God. They rejected His wisdom. Instead, they decided to trust their own wisdom, their own ability to find real life. They chose poorly.

Every day, each of us is offered the same choice. And every day we also choose poorly, thinking that we can find the way to experience real life all on our own.

And the result? Sorrow and grief and frustration. Again, we hide from seeing that, but there are times when reality breaks through our defenses. When that happens it’s not pretty.

So, is that it? Is it just a matter of trying to do the best that we can with a lousy situation until we become the reason for a funeral? God has a better idea. And for that idea to work, He came in Jesus. Jesus is all about leading people who have made some very poor choices out of sorrow and grief and frustration and into real life.

He talks about this at a funeral He attended.

It was the funeral of a dear friend by the name of Lazarus. And here, Jesus responded to another life being swallowed up by death.

Listen to what happened.

Now when Lazarus’ sister Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” … Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping …  And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. John 11:32-35

Jesus wasn’t a stoic. He did not act like some emotionless men do. He, like the others there, responded with grief. He cried. And doesn’t that make sense? His friend had died. How else could He have responded? Death causes grief. Tears make sense.

But that isn’t all that there was to Jesus’ response. There’s more. Listen.

When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was angry in His spirit and deeply moved. John 11:33

Jesus also got angry. And that also makes sense. A great evil had occurred. Death had taken another life. And that’s just wrong! It’s not the way it’s supposed to be! It’s evil. So, Jesus got angry. And we should also get angry, angry at the ugly work that death performs.

But Jesus is still not done. There’s one more way in which He responded at that funeral. He offered a choice. Listen to what He said to Lazarus’ other sister, Martha.

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. Do you believe this? John 11:25-26

Jesus offered a way out of an existence of sorrow and grief and frustration. A way into life, real life. He claimed that He could undo death so that those who have died could live again. He’s claiming that there can be life after death, real life. That means life in a new body that is unaffected by things like cancer or any other sickness. That also means life in a new place where there is no sorrow or grief or frustration. Jesus offered resurrection.

But it’s still a matter of a choice. Did you notice that last thing He said to Lazarus’ sister? ‘Do you believe this?’ There is a choice to be made. Do we try to make life work by our own ability? Or do we take Jesus at His word and trust Him to do what we cannot? We must choose.

Dave made that choice. He chose to set aside confidence in his own wisdom to find life. He chose, instead, to trust Jesus. So, there is life after death for Dave. And the day will come when he will be resurrected to enjoy a new body, a perfect body, in a new place without any sorrow or grief or frustration. And all who make the same choice will be reunited with him and all the others who have chosen similarly. These will enjoy real life – forever.

Making this choice doesn’t only affect later. It also affects now. Those who choose to trust Jesus’ claim are able to deal with this life differently. The troubles of life are still there. But those who have chosen to believe that Jesus can come through on His promise are able to respond well to those troubles. In the midst of the frustration and all the rest, these can be comforted. These can find hope. And that’s because Jesus gives them the ability say these words, knowing that they are true for them:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalms 23:1-6

Jesus has come. And those who have chosen to set aside their own efforts at making life work and, instead, trust Him to do that, gain a taste of real life now and will enjoy the full experience later, a new and perfect body in a new and perfect place. This is the Gospel, God’s answer to all of our questions.

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