Sunday, August 22, 2010

Homily for the Christian Funeral of Frances Parkhurst


John 14:1-6; Romans 5:1-11; Isaiah 61:1-3, 10

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Listen again to the comforting words of our Lord Jesus: Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. 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, that where I am you be also. And you know the way to where I am going.

Aren’t those wonderful words? Do they not speak warmth and comfort? Do they not evoke in us a confidence that the Lord is in charge and that there is nothing to worry about or to fear? Yet, what is Thomas’ response to Jesus’ words of comfort? Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” <PAUSE> “Whaddaya talkin’ ‘bout Lord?” “We don’t understand what you mean!”

Perhaps a little context will put Thomas’ confusion in perspective. Just before offering these words of comfort to His disciples, Jesus had knelt down and washed their feet in humility. He had foretold of His imminent arrest, crucifixion, suffering, and death. He had celebrated the Passover meal with them in which He proclaimed the bread and wine they were eating and drinking to be His body and blood. Then He foretold that one of them whose feet He had just washed and who had just ate and drank with Him would betray Him that very night. Suffice it to say, the disciples’ heads were spinning. They were overcome with emotion, confusion, and dismay – not unlike many of you this day.

Indeed, you may rightly feel a little like Thomas: Whaddaya talkin’ ‘bout Lord? We don’t understand what you mean! Why did my mother have to die like this, so suddenly? How are we going to get through this? I played bingo with her earlier that day; how could this happen? What does it all mean?

It is to hurting and confused disciples like you that our Lord Jesus speaks His comfort and peace: Let not your hearts be troubled. Jesus speaks comfort and peace that is real, that is certain, and true even if you don’t feel that peace right now. After all, our feelings and emotions are fickle things and are easily confused and deceived. Have you ever been angry at someone, only to find out later that they had not done or said the thing that incited your anger? Nevertheless, your anger was all too real and it felt all-consuming at the time; but it was wrong and falsely directed.

What I mean to speak to you is that, though your grief, sorrow, mourning, and yes, even anger is real and true, though your confusion and dismay are real and true, you can even now find comfort and peace in something else that is real and true, that, in fact is more real and true – that Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, your God, has set you free from all that. He has died for all that. Jesus died for all your suffering. Jesus died for all your sorrow. Jesus died for all your pain, all your fear, all your anxiety, all your anger. Jesus died for sin and Jesus died for the wages of your sin – Jesus died your death. And, in exchange for all that, He gives you His life – and that is peace, peace as the world cannot give, peace with God, peace that no one can take from you.

You can trust that the peace that Jesus gives is real and true because it comes from outside of you. That which comes from inside of you is subject to your emotional highs and lows and to the perceptions of your senses, but the peace that Jesus brings is not dependent upon these, it is always real and always true and always certain no matter what. And, it comes to you as a free and perfect gift. You did not earn it, you did not deserve it, you cannot buy it or take it, but God gives it to you because He loves you in His Son Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

And, somewhere’s about 85 years ago, God gave that gift of peace in Jesus to Frances when her parents, out of faith and love, brought her to Jesus that He might lay His hand upon her, touch her with His gift of forgiveness, and speak to her His true and lasting peace in Holy Baptism. That day she was named and claimed a child of God in Christ Jesus and God promised her that nothing in heaven or on earth, not even death, could separate her from His love in Christ Jesus her Lord. Throughout Frances’ life God kept that promise to her. Yes, to be sure, there were dark and difficult times when her perceptions would have her believe that God had broken His promise, times when she was filled with confusion, sorrow, suffering, and dismay, but in truth God did not, will not, and cannot break His promise. And, deep down, Frances knew that. I know that, and you know that too, because Frances displayed that belief, that faith, in her life. No, she didn’t go to church every Sunday. Yes, she could be blunt and frank in her dealings with people. But, Frances was kind and gracious, merciful and loving; she had an innate sense of what was just and fair and she defended those who were being marginalized or taken advantage of. The heart of Christ was alive in Frances, and anyone who knew her could see this.

And, that’s really what the Christian faith is all about – letting the light of Christ shine through you for others to see. The Christian faith is not about being a good person or doing good works; the Christian faith is about faith in Christ, trusting in Him even when the going gets tough, even when our perceptions and emotions are overcome with confusion, fear, and anxiety. In the end, it’s not about big faith or small faith, strong faith, weak faith, or struggling faith – it’s about faith, faith in Christ to the glory of God the Father. Faith is not a choice that you make or a decision to accept Jesus into your heart, faith is a gift of God’s grace, it comes from outside of you, and thus it is unchanging even though your emotions and perceptions wax and wane and are in flux from day to day.

Frances had the gift of faith. She was, and is, a child of God purchased in the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of her sins and eternal life. Her faith was displayed continually throughout her earthly life as she remained strong for her family through trial and tribulation. She displayed her faith as she continually downsized her homes and possessions, shedding material attachments and utilizing what she had shrewdly and conservatively. She displayed her faith by caring more about others than herself, desiring not to burden others with her financial concerns or other causes of worry. You may be thinking that these are insignificant things and not necessarily the fruits of faith, but they are not. We all have faith in something; we all have our gods. Your God, the object of your faith, is whatever or whoever you fear, love, and trust above all others. Frances feared, loved, and trusted the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who created, redeemed, and sustained her throughout her earthly life and who now has graced her with true and eternal life in Jesus, a life that is so full, rich, and complete that we, in comparison, are the ones who are dead.

For, the peace that Jesus gives is that during our lives, which we live in this valley of the shadow of death, surrounded by perilous enemies, He walks with us and never leaves us. He leads us by cool and refreshing streams when we are parched and beat down and He lovingly guides us with His rod and staff. He provides us rich sustenance, even in the presence of our enemies. And, when the time comes, He leads us out of this valley of death into His Father’s house where there is no death, but only life forevermore.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, and believe in His Son Jesus. He has kept His promise to Frances and she is alive in His Father’s house. Cry your tears and release your grief, you have experienced great loss. But your loss is Frances’ gain. She is not dead, but she lives. And she would have you follow her in the way that she has gone. Do you not know the way? I am the way, says Jesus, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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