Saturday, May 25, 2013

Life is Fragile, Love is Strong

This sermon was inspired by mothers I know who shared with me their pain of losing a child to suicide, and given at a funeral over which I presided recently. Some of the basic structure of the sermon was also inspired from  ponderingpastor.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/funeral-for-suicide-victim.

Who would have thought, just a few days ago, that we would be here tonight?  This has been an especially difficult few days.  

Days like these remind us that life is so very fragile.  One moment all seems well, and the next moment a sudden heart attack strikes. Or a moment of distracted driving and an accident happens. Or an historic tornado blows through town. Or a there’s a bombing or a shooting. Lives are lost in a moment of time. Life is fragile.

For Steven, his life too was fragile, and now, in an instant, he’s gone.

And no one could have predicted just how vulnerable Steven was. 

Perhaps some of you are feeling guilty or questioning what you could have done to help Steven more? The truth is, everyone did the best they could.  Steven didn’t die because you failed.  Steven died because of his illness.  You, his family and friends, did the best you could.  Steven didn’t die because you didn’t do enough.  

Some anger at Steven, should you feel that at some point in time, is appropriate.  This isn’t fair or easy or convenient.  Steven’s death changes everything and makes so many aspects of living that much harder.  Remember, sometimes a fatal illness leaves more questions than answers.  We don’t need to have answers to all of our questions. Some questions will never be answered this side of God’s kingdom.
But there are plenty of things we do know.

We know that Steven was unconditionally loved by his mother and his father. He was love by his brothers and family, and by many friends.

We know that Steven had this unique ability to touch the lives of people in significant ways.  You’ve no doubt been telling and hearing some of these stories over the past several days. You shared stories, even some laughter, at the viewing yesterday. You’ll continue to share stories, even some laughter, through the days ahead, as you remember him. You’ve also shed many tears and there will be more of those, but intermingled, there will always be some laughter. Life is complicated that way, a tumble of emotions as we remember….

That is your job.  In the coming days and weeks and months, remember Steven, and share stories.  Some stories will make you smile in amazement, or bring up feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and even sometimes raucous laughter.  Perhaps you will discover something about yourself and something about Steven as you tell these stories.  When you tell these stories, take a moment, as you are able, to be grateful, especially grateful to God for placing Steven in your life.

This is a good day to give thanks to God for placing Steven in your life.

We know that Steven has played an important part in shaping who you are. This is evident because his death has left a huge aching hole in the center of your being, a hole that will now always be a part of your life. 

And so today we also acknowledge the hurt and pain and the gaping hole, love ripped open.

But today is also a good day to care for one another. It is a good day to honor the fragility of life and hold one another tenderly. Because when we care for one another we are doing God’s work.

This is a good day to allow people to comfort us.

Perhaps you are wondering how you can comfort Pat and Bill and this family? 

Here are a couple of ideas: As time goes on call them just to say you love them. And sometimes, just show up with a cup of coffee.  Listen as they tell stories or share their despair. Just listen. You don’t have to have any answers, there really aren’t any anyway. Say the name of their beloved child out loud. Ask, 
"What have you been remembering?" 
or
 "What's the hardest thing these days?" 
 But most of all, just be present in a loving way. Remember, grief takes the time it takes. It can’t be rushed. Don’t judge, just love them.

Because the Christian hope for life is that we will know God’s love in our lives and share that love with others, graciously and abundantly.  

We come here today to celebrate the life of Steven but to also hold up the Christian understanding of life and death.  

As Christians we believe that death is not the end of a life but a life changed.  I mean this in the most spiritual of realities. Grounded in God we come to understand that in death a person is born into a new life with God. In this new life, all pain and suffering is gone. In this new life, the one we love is transformed from despair into peace.

Today is a good day to remember that Jesus, and God, know the depth of your despair. 

It’s a good day to remember that through Jesus God transforms our despair into peace. 

We know that God made some irrevocable promises to Steven.  Long ago Steven was baptized and became a child of God.  That was a relationship that God promised never to abandon.  I am confident that God kept God’s promise and Steven resides with God today.

On a day like this it is so important to let the words from the Gospel of John take hold of us:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also..” 

The Gospel of John assures us that Jesus waits for us. That Jesus had a place prepared for Steven, greeted him with open arms, and comforts him this day.  That brings us hope.

We know that God loves Steven unconditionally. God accepts Steven into God’s arms, too. God  forgives him all that needs to be forgiven, and assures him that all is well. That brings us peace today.

And so, it is a jumbled up day with all these emotions of despair and grief, hope and love, assurance and peace all mixed together.  Slowly, over time, jumbled up emotions will settle.  God’s peace will take hold of today’s grief and soothe its brittle pieces. The grief will always be there, but through the grace of God and the love of God, God’s peace will prevail and the ragged edges will soften. 

Be not afraid, for Jesus goes before us, and will give us rest. 


May Steven rest well this day and every day in the peace of Christ. May you know Steven’s abiding love in your lives, in your memories, in your stories, in your tears and in your laughter, in and through all the days of your lives, until you meet again in that place where suffering is no more, but love and peace prevail.  

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