MAY 11, 2018
I'm Not Sure
One of my favorite things to do as a pastor is officiate a funeral. I know it sounds somewhat morbid, but I would much rather officiate a funeral than a wedding. At a wedding, most of the people there are just looking forward to getting to the cocktail hour at the reception. But at a funeral, people’s souls are yearning for hope. They are seeking comfort and peace they know they cannot find within themselves. They are searching for meaning, for purpose and for some assurance that there is some reality after this life. In short, people want to hear the Good News at a funeral. And a funeral is perhaps the best place to share the Good News with those who are far from faith.
I had the privilege of preaching the funeral for a ninety-four-year-old named John this past week. I never met him. John was the father of a daughter who married a son of the church who now lives in Chesterton, IN and attends a church out there. Got all that? He lived in South Holland, IL for over sixty-one years. His wife Liz died a few years back. John wasn’t a church-going guy, so when he passed away I was the closest connection to a pastor the family had. I had a nice meeting with the family. They read for me portions of an interview that a grandchild had done on John as a project in college. I saw some pictures. We talked about scripture passages and songs. And then one of the daughters said to me in a very sweet voice, “my Dad wasn’t a very spiritual person. He wasn’t a church-going type and really didn’t talk about his faith. I just wanted you to know that.”
I smiled, nodded and thanked her for sharing. During the funeral I recited Psalm 23. I talked about how the Lord is our shepherd and the Lord was John’s shepherd, even if he didn’t know or realize it. I talked about how characteristics of service and care and protecting were evidence of shepherding qualities in John, just like in Jesus. And I talked about how goodness and mercy followed him all the days of his life.
I never feel comfortable drawing the line in the sand and saying who is in and who is out when it comes to heaven. I’m thankful that’s not my job. I know that for men of John’s generation, talking about things of faith or spirituality wasn’t something you did. You walked the walk. You didn’t need to talk the talk. You helped your neighbor, served your country, and worked hard to provide for a family. You loved your family, but often didn’t tell them you loved them. These were the characteristics of faithfulness and service. I know that church attendance doesn’t equate to salvation. And I know that the smallest belief or the quietest decision for Jesus is something that can bring eternal graces.
As I preached that funeral sermon, I couldn’t help but think about John’s kids. I wondered what they thought about where their father was. I wondered if this memorial service was something of great comfort or more uncertainty. I wondered what they thought about the words I was saying. As Christians, if we believe what we say we believe, then death has lost its sting and has no victory. If we believe what we say we believe then eternal union with our Savior is what awaits us. And if we believe what we say we believe then the tears we cry are tears of missing a loved one, not selfish tears, but tears that are more for us, not the one who is with the Lord. I don’t know if John is with the Lord. I hope he is. I hope he accepted Jesus. I sometimes wonder, even if someone had serious doubts, thought the whole Christian faith thing seemed far-fetched, in the end – what do you have to lose? Wouldn’t you want it to be true? I’m thankful that even our doubts, sins, fears and failures can’t separate us from the love of God.
Grace & Peace,