Tuesday, 8 April 2008

A Funeral Sermon: based on Psalm 139 and John 14 - for Eric Turner

NB: the translation used for this was the Good News Bible, also known as Today's English Version.

As bad as we may be feeling just now, there is a being, as the Psalmist wrote, a perfect Father, a God who knows us, understands us, sees us and is all around us on every side and who protects us with His power.

What about our Eric, we might ask? How was he protected?

The Psalmist continues: Your knowledge, of Eric and each one of us, is too deep. It is beyond understanding. Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.

Eric is in God's presence. He is still, and now completely, unassailably, protected with God's power. He is out of harm's way.

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ created every part of Eric, put him together (rather well, as far as Joan is concerned, I suspect), saw him before he was born, knew him, understood him, watched him all through his life, surrounded him (as he does all of us) on every side, protecting him (as he does us, if we wish it) with His power.

That's all good. But it had to end. There was cancer and suffering and death.

O God, how difficult we find your thoughts. How many of the them there are. We don't understand all of them. We don't agree with many of them. And we have to suffer losses like this. We have to see loved ones and friends in pain and we can't fix them or make it go away. It hurts and we wish we could escape, run away, "beyond the east" cries the Psalmist, or to "the farthest place in the west." We'd like to just go to sleep or take something so we can skip all the pain and anguish. But even if we could do that, the Psalmist says, when we awake, and wherever we try and hide, we are still with You.

Think of it: Eric went to sleep a sick, tired, weakened man and when he awoke, an instant after, he was still, and even more wonderfully so, with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with angels and all the host of heaven.

But still it hurts.

"Don't be worried and upset," says Jesus in our Gospel passage. "Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father's house, and I am going to prepare a place for Eric and for every one of you (if you want one). I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am."

Jesus met Eric and took him to Himself so Eric is where Jesus is.

How can we know this? Because Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me." Eric believed in God and in Jesus, and in so doing, made and confirmed his reservation.

Eric is fine. He has a room that Jesus picked out and prepared for him in his Father's house. Eric is with Jesus in paradise. All Eric's problems and solved and all his questions answered.

What about us who remain? How do we honour Eric's memory? We're upset and in pain. Things are feeling dark today.

First, know that the darkest darkness is not dark for God. All He does, as the Psalmist wrote, is strange and wonderful. Despite the darkness of our loss, having Eric in our lives for a time was wonderful. We can be thankful and enjoy that. God has not abandoned us.

Second, Jesus puts it quite simply: "Believe in God and believe also in me." Believe what? That Jesus is the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and who rose from the dead, thereby securing one of those rooms He went on ahead to prepare for Eric and those of us who would like to join him there.

Third, since the rooms are not an automatic entitlement, we must confirm the reservation. How? Well, to believe in Jesus is to follow Him—to do our best to live our lives the way He lived His and taught us to live ours. What's the best environment in which to do that? As a member of His body of believers, the Church. That involves this book, the Bible, prayer, worship, sharing our money, serving others—it can be messy—the church of Jesus is not perfect yet—but it contains people like Eric and Joan. Loveable people. Kind people. Good dancers, who laugh and enjoy life and with whom you can hang out and with whom you can go out to dinner from time to time.

For us who remain, deciding to believe in Jesus and acting on it is not only the best way to get through our grief, but I suggest it is also the best way to honour our husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, brother, uncle, friend, Eric. He would like that.