Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Christian Funeral for Billy Glachan
Matthew 18:1-5, 10; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Psalm 139:1-14
Isobel, devoted mother; Carol, beloved sister; dearly beloved family, friends, parishioners, and caregivers of our departed brother in Christ Billy; grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is risen from the dead. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
We are gathered here this day, just weeks after the celebration of Jesus’ victory over death and the grave on Easter Sunday to remember and give thanks to God for Jesus’ victory and to find comfort in it that Jesus’ victory is also Billy’s victory and our victory too even as we make our way through the Valley of the Shadow of death and, one day, pass through its doors to wait in peace for the appearance of our victorious Lord who will raise our bodies from the grave to be like unto His glorious body on the Last Day when He comes again in power, and glory, and great might.
That’s what Easter is all about! Though we must all taste death, the rightful wages for our sin, both original and actual, death is not the end of our story! Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, took our sin upon Himself, He became our sin, and He died our death, the death that we deserve, upon the cross. And because of His sinless love and obedience, God the Father raised Him from the dead, the first fruits of those who put their trust in Him. Because of Jesus’ death, death is like sleep for those who trust in Him – sleep from which they can expect to awake. And, because of Jesus’ resurrection, we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; the dead will be raised imperishable. Death will be swallowed up in victory. Thus, even now the faithful confess, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
But, it doesn’t always feel like victory, does it? This life, in this world, I mean. And, when we consider Billy’s life, many of us have likely wondered, “Why would God allow this to happen?” Billy lived fifty-seven years with the effects of PKU, a birth defect that causes too much of a particular amino acid to build up resulting in mental retardation and a host of other symptoms. Because of this condition, Billy was not able to do many of the things that we take for granted or consider to make life good and worth living. He didn’t have the typical childhood playing sports, learning to drive, and graduating high school. He didn’t get to go on a first date, get married, and have children. While Billy did learn many things and gained some independence, he depended upon the care and help of others for even the most basic of his personal needs each and every day. And, all this aside, PKU is a treatable condition when it is detected early, which in Billy’s case it was not. “Why would God allow this to happen?” Indeed.
The question is a fair one, when asked in faith. For, God has indeed allowed it, and for His own purposes which are good. While all disease and sickness, suffering, and death is ultimately the result of sin, it is wrong to conclude that anyone’s specific sin caused Billy’s condition and death. For example, in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples asked Him about a man who had been born blind saying, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered them saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Now, whether or not you consider that a satisfactory answer, Jesus did say unequivocally that the cause was not the blind man’s sin, his parent’s, or anyone else’s sin. The reason that Jesus gives for the man’s blindness is that “the works of God might be displayed in him.”
I ask you, what works of God were displayed in Billy the result of his condition? I suggest to you, many indeed! First of all, Billy was not a mistake or an afterthought, but a precious child of God purchased, just like you, in the blood of Jesus Christ. God knew Billy when He formed him in his inward parts and knitted him together in his mother’s womb. And, Billy was baptized when he was an infant child wherein his sins were forgiven and the Holy Spirit created faith in his heart and sealed him n Christ. And, throughout his life, Billy exhibited the childlike faith that Jesus upholds and praises saying, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” and “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Billy remained childlike throughout his adult life, and that is not a bad thing. As Isobel confided in me, it is hard to imagine that Billy knew how to sin. Sure, it’s likely safe to assume that, had Billy been given a choice and the wherewithal to make it, he would have chosen to not suffer from PKU. However, is Billy truly that different from St. Paul who was afflicted by some mysterious thorn in his flesh? Three times St. Paul pleaded with the Lord about this, but the Lord answered him saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
We saw in Billy what we see in little children: simplicity, humility, kindness, gentleness, unencumbered by cares, anxieties, and worries for material and worldly pursuits and pleasures. Isobel told me about the joy it would bring her when she looked in the rear view mirror and would see Billy smiling back ear to ear. What was Billy concerned about? What did Billy love? Bowling, hot dogs, Mommy, Carol, school, parades, and beer. The first time I met Billy, the one word he said to me was “Bah!” Isobel told me he was saying “Beer.” He wanted his one beer that he would get Saturday night. O that I could be satisfied with just one. But, more than the beer, likely more than anything else, Billy loved parades. And Billy’s favorite kind of parade was a fire department parade. Isobel took Billy all over Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties, and to Danbury and other towns in Connecticut to watch as many firemen’s parades as they possibly could. Isobel said that she has been to more firemen’s parades than the firemen!
Simple pleasures. Simple joys. Simple thoughts. Just like a child. Billy couldn’t contribute much in the way of help around the house. He couldn’t help buy groceries or put gas in the car. He couldn’t even say more than a handful of words. But, Billy wasn’t weak, for the Lord was his strength. God’s power was made perfect in Billy’s weakness. How is that? Well, when you can do it all yourself, when you can provide for yourself, you’re a lot less focused upon what you truly need and what only God can give you. That wasn’t a problem for Billy – just as it isn’t a problem for little children – and that’s why Jesus says that little ones, like Billy, are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Those who confess they have nothing are in a position to receive everything from the Lord. Their cup is empty, but the Lord is ready and willing to fill it to overflowing. The Good Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus, has shepherded His precious lamb Billy through the valley of the shadow of death into the Father’s house forevermore. And, we are better for having known Billy, for, in receiving this little one who believed in Jesus, we received Jesus Himself.
We take comfort that Jesus has received Billy to Himself, where sheep may safely graze. However, we look forward that yet more glorious day when the saints, triumphant, will rise in bright array. For then, we will stand with Billy in our own flesh and blood bodies and see the Lord with our own eyes, not the eyes of another, and worship God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forever in His kingdom in endless day. For, it is still Easter, and Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.