Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Getting to Yes: a Short Funeral Homily with Reference to Prov 3.5, Ro 8.28-39, 1 Cor 2.7-11, 2 Cor 1.19-22, Phil 3.13-14 and Rev 21.6-11—for Suzanne Shust

Jesus is here. This is his church, his body on earth for now. This Jesus "died for us and was raised to life for us," Elizabeth Murphy read just a few moments ago, "and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us." (Ro 8.34) Jesus died for Suzanne, was raised to life for her and was pleading for her all through her life and illness. Suzanne knew it, even when she was struggling with having to die before she was ready. Suzanne wanted you and I to hear it because she carefully chose the readings for this service. These readings are what amounts to her understanding of what has happened to her and are also her message of hope to us.

First was "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding." (Pr3.5) Suzanne's favourite verse. A good word—it was for Suzanne and it is for us now—as we try to make sense of hard times like this.

Here's something in which we can choose to trust on a day like this, for example, whether we understand what's going on around us or not. From Romans 8. Nothing can ever separate us from Christ's love. Nothing. Not trouble, calamity, persecution, hunger, destitution, danger, cancer—not even death (Ro 8.35). No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ro 8.39).

I'll be honest. That's not always easy to believe. It wasn't easy for Suzanne at times—when she was in pain, when she was having to come to terms with her grief and disappointment over all the things she had hoped for but which were not to be. It's not easy for us who share her disappointment and grief. It just seems so unfair. Even if I'm not separated from the love God that is revealed in Jesus, things can feel pretty awful. And yet, trust in the Lord, Suzanne would say, rather than leaning my own so limited understanding, especially when my efforts to understand are so skewed by how rotten I may be feeling when I'm sick or when I'm grieving at times like this.

Trust in the Lord especially because, as Margo read from the passage Suzanne chose from 1 Corinthians, all God's promises find their Yes in Jesus. If we're trusting in the Lord with as much of our hearts as we can and not leaning too much on our own understanding (or feelings) then those promised Yes's remain and work through cancer, grief and the Romans 8 list—trouble, calamity and danger, and all the rest.

"Well, it sure doesn't seem to work like that in my experience." I might respond."Suzanne's illness and death don't feel very promising to me."

"Trust in the Lord anyway," says Suzanne in the verses she chose for us to hear this afternoon—and I can also hear her tone and see the expression on her face as she says it–you know the look I'm talking about. "I wasn't separated from God's love and promises revealed and fulfilled in Jesus—and nothing can separate you either. So focus on this one thing," she says to us through the verses she chose from Paul's letter to the Philippians (3.13-14), "Forget the past and look forward to what lies ahead. Don't give up, press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling you!"

Jesus was key as far as Suzanne was concerned. Here are some more things about that Jesus in the readings we heard that Suzanne must want you and me to know or remember:

  • Jesus is God's son (Ro 8.24, 2 Cor 1.19)
  • Jesus is our glorious Lord (1 Cor 2.8)
  • Jesus does not waver between Yes and No (2 Cor 1.19)
  • Jesus always does what he says (2 Cor 1.19)
  • The more we love God the more we become like Jesus (Ro 8.29)
  • Overwhelming victory is ours through Jesus, who loved us (Ro 8.37)—victory over what? Sin and death, for a start. Many people also report that faith in Jesus also gave them victories over sickness and addictions. 

Suzanne is now enjoying that ultimate victory. Because she trusted in Jesus she now dwells in one of those promised rooms Jesus went on ahead to prepare for her (John 14.2-3) and that we heard about at the beginning of the service. So we don't have to worry about Suzanne any more.

What about us who are left behind? The trick is not to miss out on the promises or reject them in our grief and anger or because we're letting our failure to explain or understand things that are beyond us drown out any trusting in the Lord. There were times in Suzanne's life when she could easily have given up on God and rejected him, not the least of which was during these last sixteen months. But she didn't. Suzanne really rocked apparently. Not only did she show great strength of character and great faith, she showed that she really did trust in the Lord with as much of her heart as she could manage. Sure she struggled with her own understanding and what to make of her situation and I'm sure she had some pointed words with the Lord over it. But in the end, she trusted in the Lord and she continued saying Yes to Jesus and all the promises he embodies. I believe she chose these readings in the hope that you and I will do the same.

In a moment you and I, too, will have the opportunity to say Yes to Jesus as we pray the Apostle's Creed together. For many of us it will be Yes again, for some of you it may be Yes for the first time in a long time, or the first time ever. Saying such a Yes would be a good way to honour Suzanne's memory, to express your trust in the LORD who made her and her children, was present all through her illness and loves her still. Saying such a Yes and meaning it would also place you safe and sound in all the Yes's God promised in Jesus.