This is the sermon from my son’s funeral. Understated and powerful, just like my friend who spoke these words on Monday.
Over the last seven days or so, many, if not all, of us have been grasping for something to hold on to…grasping with our hearts, grasping with our minds, and indeed often grasping even with our hands for something to steady ourselves with in the midst of disorienting and sometimes even blinding pain.
We have remembered Will here today, in pictures, and in the words of a father. And Will’s memory will go on with us in our hearts and minds and in our tears. Though oh so small, the force of Will’s being has been a defining reality for many here. Mike and Stacy were parents of Will. Mr. and Mrs. Sparks and Mr. and Mrs. Stavlund were grandparents of Will. Mike and Stacy’s brother’s and sisters were uncles and aunts of Will. Others here were expert care-givers of Will. All of us, in some way, were Will’s village…those people who waited and hoped for Will to come to be with Mike and Stacy on this earth, and who waited and hoped and helped so that Will could go home to be with Stacy and Mike and Ella, and who now mourn Will with Mike and Stacy. We were, and are, Will’s people.
Perhaps, then, it is the strength of the reality of who Will made us to be, combined with the reality that Will is now gone, that makes it hard to be oriented, hard to grasp with our hearts and minds and hands. And hard, perhaps, even to know who we are in his absence and who we will be when we walk out of here.
But we are here today, not only because we are Will’s people. We are here today because we are the people of God. It is this fact that will define now more than ever. In the absence of the force of Will’s being, it is the force of God’s being in relation to us, that will allow us to walk out of here and to go on. So it seems appropriate, now, to focus a bit on who we are as God’s people and how that matters. I’d like to do this through the lenses of the passages that have been chosen for today.
The passages chosen by Mike and Stacy are perhaps not unlike the Cliff’s notes for the Bible…for understanding who we are in God. What we have heard in Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Matthew remind of three truths about being the people of God: We are the people of God’s Word. We are the people of God’s Presence. And we are the people of God’s Kingdom.
In Deuteronomy we find God’s people in the midst of a crisis. God had done amazing things for the Israelites—he had rescued them from 100s of years of slavery — yet the journey of their salvation had already been quite long and there was much left to be done. The promised land was still a promise, miles of dessert were still to be crossed, and there were many battles left to fight. Things had not gone as hoped, the future was scary and the Israelites were beginning to wonder if God understood. God’s words to God’s people in Deuteronomy 6:1-9 was simple: “Love me. Cling to my Word.”
Many of us have been blessed by Mike and Stacy’s love Word of God. When Mike and yes, Stacy, preach the Word, it comes alive in new ways. But God recognized many thousands of years ago in the desert that though God’s words can seem alive, there will come a time when they are hard to hold on to. And so he tells us here, bind My Word to yourself so that when you need it, it will be there. And centuries later, when God’s words seemed to hard to access, he sent His only begotten son, The Word, to become flesh so that we might know what it looks like, what it sounds like, and what it feels like. And just before His son was taken from this earth, he left us the practice of the Lord’s Supper to remember who he was and how he lived through his body and blood. And so God’s people were the people of God’s Word thousands of years ago. And so we are the people of God’s Word now. And so we cling.
In the Psalm, we find David, who himself was a person of God’s Word. He tells us this in the end of the Psalm. But in this Psalm we find him too in a scary place. He is surrounded, as he so often was by bloodthirsty men bent on doing evil. What does he do? He reminds himself over and over again that he is a person of God’s presence. He reminds himself of how close God is and how intimately God knows him. Many centuries later, there were few who could claim to feel close to God. And it is in this context, we come back to God’s sending his only begotten son to live on earth and to identify with us – to identify not only with the joys of living, but also with pain and agony of living. And in the death of God’s son on a cross, God became a god who knows intimately what it means to lose an only son. But God did not leave us bereft of his Son. In fact, God’s son himself sent the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to us, promising that he would be with us always, even unto the end of the ages. And so we, like David, are a people of God’s presence.
Finally we come to Matthew 5, the Beatitudes, to be reminded that we are the people of God’s Kingdom. Here we approach the center of who we understand ourselves to be. Over the last seven years that Mike and Stacy and I have know one another, there is no idea we have talked about more than the Kingdom of God…what it looks like, how it works, how it is built, and how we can be more fully in it.
As we approach our passage today, Jesus has begun preaching that the Kingdom of God is at hand. The people of God at that time were hurting…they were oppressed once again, this time by the Romans, and they had little hope for things being better soon. So when Jesus came preaching that the kingdom of God was at hand, they had to be skeptical. And yet the signs of the Kingdom were becoming to hard to overlook…”the News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”
When he has their attention, he begins preaching the beatitudes we heard today. It strikes me that if he hadn’t gotten their attention with unmistakable signs, they would have dismissed him as a lunatic. For he begins presenting a take on reality that must have seemed absurd. He says, “Blessed” or perhaps closer, “deeply happy” are those who are poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are persecuted…and way too close to home for us today, “deeply happy are those who mourn.” How can he say this? Because in each case, he, the only begotten son of God, can point to the future reality of what will be. Those who hunger and thirst will be filled. Those who are poor in spirit and those who are persecuted will receive the Kingdom of God. And those who mourn will be comforted.
God’s people then must have felt just about as stuck as many of us here today feel. We look around this room and the signs of the Kingdom seem as clear as they could be. This, like the signs and wonders Jesus performed, are part of what George Eldon Ladd would call the part of the Kingdom that is “already.” Ella is here. People from all over the country, and indeed the world, are here. The love and the community that are in this room can only be explained by the sending of a son. Yes, the sending of Will to Mike and Stacy, but also God’s sending of God’s son. We are persuaded that the Kingdom is here, at least in part.
But we, like Jesus’ original hearers, long for the future…that part of th
e Kingdom Ladd calls the “not yet.” We long to be shown mercy, to be called children of God, to be filled, to receive the Kingdom. We long to be comforted. We long for the “not yet,” but we seem stuck in the “already,” and the already may not seem like enough right now. Everything in us screams “This is not right!”
So what do we do?
We remember that we are the people of God. We remember that we are people of God’s Word. We remember that we are people of God’s presence. And we remember that we are people of God’s Kingdom…called to live in the ‘already’ that IS enough. And until that Kingdom comes in its fullness, we do what the people of God have always done. We wait. And we hope. And we build.
As I find myself waiting and hoping, I cannot help but think of old words of many previous people of God who waited, and hoped, and built.
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
And Christ will come again.
And when he comes again in the fullness of the Kingdom, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. And then…then we will be able to say the words written for us, the people of God, to say one day: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
And now, as we wait and hope and build, may the peace of our God, which transcends all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.