Monday, March 7, 2016
Homily for the Christian Funeral for Phillip L. Price
John 14:1-6; Romans 8:31-39; Job 19:21-27
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Why does God permit suffering? That is, perhaps, one of the most frequently thought and asked questions people have about faith and religion. However, it’s a question that God actually has answered in His Word, the Bible, in many places, but most strikingly in the story of Job. The Scriptures say that Job was a righteous man. However, Satan accused Job before God claiming that Job only feared and loved God because God blessed him so richly. So, God gave Satan permission to take away Job’s blessings – his wealth, his home, and his children, and, finally, his own health and strength of body, just shy of taking his life. Job suffered immensely. He was angry with God. He questioned God. But, he refused to do what Satan said he would do; he refused to curse God or to deny that the LORD had the right to take all things away from him, even his life. Job famously confessed, “The LORD giveth, and the LORD taketh away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.”
But, why did the LORD permit Satan to afflict Job so? Well, God uses suffering for many reasons – to increase dependence upon the LORD, to strengthen faith, to permit your faith to shine forth and illumine others. But, the reason the LORD offers for Job’s suffering was so that God’s righteousness might be revealed. For, Satan had actually challenged God’s righteousness by saying that Job only feared and loved God because God blessed him so richly. Therefore, God proved His righteousness by showing the strength of God-given, Holy Spirit-created faith, by taking everything from Job so that all he had left was his faith in God and in His Word. And, that was all that Job needed. That was enough. When all had been taken from him, when even his flesh had been turned to ash, Job confessed his faith in the LORD saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”
Beloved wife, Diane, beloved son, Phillip, beloved daughters, Christine, Patricia, Joanne, beloved brother Paul, and beloved grandchildren, John, Hanna, Shannon, and Taylor, family and friends, perhaps you have thought, or have even asked, that question throughout the past six years that Phillip has suffered from cancer and heart disease, as little by little the LORD permitted Phillip’s health, and strength, and life to be taken away. “Why? For what purpose?” Often the only answer we are given is something like what Job received. Therefore, let us have the faith of Job – faith that says, “The LORD giveth, and the LORD taketh away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.” For, what that means is that, while health and wealth and life come and go, the Word of the LORD remains unchanged and true and faithful forever. Job believed and trusted in that Word and Promise so much that he cold confess that, even if his flesh and blood body were destroyed, the LORD would raise him to new life in a new body, and he would see the LORD with his own flesh and blood eyes, not the eyes of another.
St. Paul was also confident of the faithfulness of the LORD, that He would always keep His Word and Promise. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? […] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? […] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You who loved Phillip – trust in these words. Believe in these words. Take comfort in these words. The LORD made a promise to Phillip when he was baptized: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “Nothing can separate you from my love in Jesus Christ.” When Phillip was baptized, the LORD claimed him and named him as his own son, with all the rights, privileges, and benefits of the heir of God: forgiveness, life, and salvation. So, when Phillip’s physical life ended on Friday, his spiritual life, born again in Holy Baptism, did not end, but Phillip’s soul is with Jesus, where there is comfort and peace, no sorrow, no suffering, and no tears, but only joy in the presence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, still, we look forward to that “yet more glorious day” when the Lord returns and Phillip’s body, and all of our bodies, will be raised from death and their graves new and glorious, and will be reunited with our born again souls in heaven. Yes, that is the day Job looked forward to and that comforted him through his sufferings. And that is the day that we look forward to and that comforts us as we mourn and struggle until we see Phillip and all the saints in heaven and see them with our own eyes, hear their voice with our own ears, and hug them with our own arms once again and for all eternity.
That’s what Jesus promises, isn’t it? He said, “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 may be also.” Isn’t that wonderful? You bet it is. I know how important family is to you. That’s what you all told me about Phillip, that he loved being with his family – with you Diane, with you Phillip, Christine, Patricia, and Joanna, with all of you. Phillip worked, not as an end in itself, but so that he could be with you and provide for you and enjoy life with you. Phillip loved life – life with you. He spent his time with you playing cards and dominoes, all the while reminiscing about the past – with you – always with great detail and emphasis upon the little things.
For Phillip, it was the little things that were the important things. The important things in life were not politics, foreign and domestic policy, or even work and career, but they were a game of dominoes with his grandchildren, a little bustin’-yer- chops moment with his son, a family barbeque, watching shows on TV with his wife and partner in life, and so much more. Phillip was always thinking of others, more than himself. He was kind and sweet and never condescending. He supported you in whatever it was you were doing or wanted to do, and he was so very proud of his children and grandchildren, and he told them so. If he didn’t agree, the most you would hear from him was, “Yes dear.” Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.
Phillip’s selfless love and care for you endured to the very end. As his life was slowly slipping away, he wanted to know that you were ok, that you were at peace. Then he’d give you to “OK” sign. Some of his last words were, “It’s snowing,” though it wasn’t, and, oddly, “Mucho gracias.” Odd, funny little sayings that, like Phillip throughout his life, causes you still smile as you remember him. Well, it was snowing that Friday morning when Phillip passed away. And what more appropriate words could have come from his lips to the family he loved so dearly than, “Mucho gracias,” “Thank you.”
Dear family and friends of our departed brother in Christ, Phillip, the LORD has seen fit to call His humble servant to His heavenly pasture where His sheep may safely graze. But, take heart, and do not be afraid; you will see him, and hear him, and hold him again in heaven, where there is no suffering, and no death, and no tears, but only fullness and joy and peace and contentment in the presence our Holy Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Jesus. In His Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would he have told you that he goes to prepare a place for you? And if he goes and prepares a place for you, will he not come again and take you to himself, that where he is you may be also.” Do you know the way? Phillip knew the way. Though he may not have been one to wear his faith on his sleeve, he did live his faith in love and service for you and for others. Moreover, Phillip received it; he was baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, so that they were his own death and resurrection. Phillip was baptized into Jesus who is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” And, Jesus is your way, truth, and life too. Believe in Him. Receive from Him. And live in Him now, and forevermore.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.