Saturday, 1 April 2006

Heaven and the Far Side of the Sky: a Funeral sermon based on Ecclesiastes 3.1-8, John 14.1-6 and Brad Paisley's song, "When I Get Where I'm Going"—for Shirley Ann Douglas

Links here: Ecclesiastes 3.1-8, John 14.1-6 and Brad Paisley's song, When I Get Where I'm Going.

This is a hard day. It’s one thing to be at ceremonies like this when we’re honouring and remembering someone who has died old and full of years. There’s a rightness about that. It’s sad, but there’s a peace in it, too. It’s another, and very painful thing, to be here to honour and remember someone who has died young, by tragic accident.
So much pain and so much darkness in this world we stumble through. All these questions I can’t answer...
sang Brad Paisley earlier. He’s put his finger on what many of you are going through today—questions we can’t answer about pain and darkness and suffering and death and why Shirley, why now?

The writer of the first Bible passage we heard is struggling with the same real-life stuff—pain, darkness and questions—time to die, kill, tear down, cry, grieve, lose and for war.

But that ancient writer knew that it’s not all pain and darkness and questions. There are also times to be born, to heal, laugh, dance, embrace, mend and love. That was true for Shirley and it’s true for all of us.

We’re glad there was a time for her to be born and for all the good ways in which she touched the lives of those of us who knew and love her—this is a time to laugh together over good memories, to embrace as we comfort one another, to rebuild and strengthen relationships, to keep precious memories and relationships alive, to speak as we share stories and memories. And another good thing—because Shirley was born; Shay, Jody and Milan, Georgia and Ilea are in the world.

We’re here to celebrate all that goodness, despite the pain and the darkness and the questions. That’s life for us—a time for everything, good and bad, joyful and sad, a season for every activity under heaven.

Which brings me back to Brad Paisley’s song.
When I get where I’m going on the far side of the sky.
What he’s singing about is heaven. Is that true? Are we going anywhere, or is this it? Is there such a place or is it merely the stuff of fairy-tales and sentimental country songs? Jesus seems to think so.
1"Don't be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. 2There are many rooms in my Father's home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. 3When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4And you know where I am going and how to get there."
So does Brad Paisley if he means what he sings.
But when I get where I'm going, and I see my maker's face, I'll stand forever in the light of his amazing grace.
So what do we do with that? This is one of those questions. For Shirley, any questions she had about such things have now been answered. Do we who are left behind know where we’re going? In our reading from John’s gospel, Thomas didn’t:
We haven't any idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?
To which Jesus replied:
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
There’s a time for everything. As we honour and remember Shirley, this is time to think about time and when ours will come.

Is there a place, as Brad Paisley sang, on the far side of the sky where we’ll see our Maker’s face and stand forever in the light of his amazing Grace?

It’s interesting that he also sang these words,
I’m gonna land beside a lion and run my fingers through his mane.
Have any of you seen The Chronicles of Narnia? Aslan the Lion represents Jesus in that tale.

Are we all going to land beside a lion—the Lion of Judah—Jesus Christ? And has that Jesus gone ahead, as the passage from John’s gospel suggests, to prepare a place for us there and is he the only one with whom we can make a reservation?

If all of that is the truth, and I believe it is, then I have to tell you it would be time well spent to spend the rest of our time under heaven getting to know Him so we can make that reservation.

Where can He be found on this side of the sky, as Brad sang, in this world we stumble through, so full of questions we can’t answer?

In a Christian church; Oh, I know, they’re full of odd-balls (I'm one of them) and hypocrites (I'm one of them, too), but there’s good folk too, folks with open hearts, honestly dealing with the sins and struggles of real life; and that’s where Jesus has chosen to hang out. He loves you, can be a great help in times like these, and He is the very best way there is for living with those hard questions.