Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A Funeral Sermon with Reference to 1 Corinthians 15: for Gertie Fisher

Gertie loved this church and woe betide anyone who suggested making any changes to the furniture. She also loved the prayer book. Although the language is beautiful, it can be hard to get our 21st century, headset and cell phone irradiated ears around it, especially when it was translated from a language and a culture even older. But Gertie loved it and that’s why we’re using it today.

So, what can this seemingly dense passage from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians rendered in Shakespearian English possibly mean for Gertie and for us?

For example, at the top of page 596: “in Christ shall all be made to live. But every one in his/her own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s, at his coming.”

Who are “they that are Christ’s”? Those who have chosen to believe in him with their hearts and souls and minds, to follow him with their feet and hands and by the way they live their lives, and to worship him in his church. Gertie is one of them that are Christ’s. How do I know? Because a few weeks before she died, I asked her and she told me.

A few weeks before she died, Gertie also told me she was feeling worn out and was looking forward to seeing what it will all be like. Where is she now? The Bible says she is in paradise with Jesus awaiting the time of the mystery we heard about at the top of p597 when “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead (including Gertie) shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.”

But, some will say (look at the beginning of the second paragraph on page 596)”How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” And Paul replies, Gertie, and all of us who remain, are like kernels of grain, which only come to life when they are sown and die.
(To the third paragraph on page 596) “So also is the resurrection of the dead.” The dry kernel of grain which is our natural, earthy life in this world with its corruption, sin and weakness is planted in death to germinate and be raised in incorruption, glory and power as a spiritual body in the next.

In other words, Paul writes, at the bottom of page 596, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” We either have to die or be alive on earth when the last trump mystery happens and death is swallowed up in victory.

Truth or fairy tale? That’s the sixty four thousand dollar question for us all: did Jesus rise from the dead or not?

Timothy Keller, influential Presbyterian pastor in Manhattan, writes this in The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Scepticism (Dutton, 2008)—a book that’s in our library here at St Barnabas, by the way:
Sometimes people approach me and say, “I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching [the resurrection]. I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part.” I usually respond: “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.” This is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection. They knew that if it was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want. It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything. p202
Gertie decided to believe it is true. The great 19th century evangelist, Dwight Moody, believed it, too. Shortly before his death at age 62, he wrote:
Some day you will read in the papers that Moody is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.
Gertie Fisher is more alive now than she ever was and she is in the presence of the loving, risen, glorified Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Saviour of the World for, as we shall say shortly, “blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.” Gertie is one of those so blessed. Therefore, although we grieve because we miss her, we don’t have to worry about Gertie any more.

What about we who are left? What might Gertie say to us and especially her children and their children?

I think she might draw our attention to the phrase a quarter of the way down page 597: “Death is swallowed up in victory,” and she might say, “if you want your death to be swallowed up in victory, too, then you must get connected with Jesus because he is the one (the only one, the Bible tells us) through whom God gives that victory over death.

Then she might say, here’s how you claim that victory. Get connected with Jesus and his church. And that she would say, not to make you feel guilty, but because she loves you and very much wants each one of you, one day, to join her in being even more alive than you are now.