We are here today as the people of God to find comfort in the Presence of God and the truth of Scripture, and especially to surround this family with our love, our faith, and our prayers.
If we could summarize the purpose of an occasion like this, I believe we could do it in these few, brief words:
When the wife of the great evangelist Charles Finney died, he grieved deeply. Here are his words describing the experience:
“My wife was gone! I should never hear her speak again, nor see her face! Her children were motherless! What should I do? My brain seemed to reel, as if my mind would swing from its pivot. I rose instantly from by bed exclaiming, “I
shall be deranged if I cannot rest in God!” The Lord soon calmed my mind, for that night; but still, at times, seasons of sorrow would come over me, that were almost overwhelming.
One day I was upon my knees, communing with God upon the subject, and all at once He seemed to say to me, “You loved your wife?” “Yes,” I said. “Well, did you love her for her own sake or for your sake? Did you love her or yourself? If you loved her for her own sake, why do you sorrow that she is with me? Should not her happiness with me, make you rejoice instead of mourn, if you loved her for her own sake?”
“Did you love her,” He seemed to say to me, “for my sake? If you loved her for my sake, surely you would not grieve that she is with me. Why do you think of your loss, and lay so much stress upon that, instead of thinking of her gain? Can you be sorrowful, when she is so joyful and happy? If you loved her for her own sake, would you not rejoice in her joy, and be happy in her happiness?”
I can never describe the feelings that came over me, when I seemed to be thus addressed. It produced an instantaneous change in the whole state of my mind. From that moment, sorrow, on account of my loss, was gone forever. I no longer thought of my wife as dead, but as alive, and in the midst of the glories of heaven.” (Memoirs of Charles G. Finney, p. 382)
The reason I like this story is that it vividly portrays all three of these elements: the hurt, the help, and the hope.
1. The Hurt
No matter how eloquent the words that are spoken today…
No matter how beautiful the music is…
No matter how kind friends are in their expressions of care and concern…
There is still a very genuine and valid sense of sorrow and loss that is experienced when a loved one is no longer with us.
Even when a person has faith, and this family does, there is still a sadness that exists because someone we love is no longer with us – we are no longer able to enjoy their company, their friendship, and their fellowship.
We see within the pages of the Bible a compassionate God who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities.
We see Jesus’ teaching at the Sermon on the Mount where he said:
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
Jesus himself faced great heartache when his own cousin, John the Baptist, was taken from this earth in the prime of his life. When Jesus heard of John’s death, the Bible says:
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13 – NIV)
I believe that Jesus was deeply saddened by this news, and he desired some solitude in which I’m sure he was drawing comfort from his Heavenly Father.
Many times people will hear a story, like the one I read about Charles Finney, and they get the impression that God’s direction to anyone who is grieving is just to “snap out of it” and quit grieving.
But if you listened carefully to the wording, it is evident that there was a season of time involved before the Lord spoke to Finney in the way that he did and it was then that Finney’s emotions were changed.
Just like there is a healing and recovery process that involves time when our body is wounded or injured, so there is a period of time when we suffer loss.
This is why the writer of Ecclesiastes said:
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
The reason we have the ability to grieve, is because we have the ability to give and receive love.
2. The Help
Psalm 46 tells us:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most high. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
God is committed to helping us through the difficult, the turbulent times of life.
A. God helps us by giving us promises that reflect true reality, ultimate reality, and eternal reality. We need to understand that death is a temporal reality.
We have to deal with the temporal issues that are involved, and sometimes those are unpleasant. But they are, nevertheless, temporal.
B. God helps us by His abiding presence and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
C. God helps us through friends who are supportive, who are there for us, who are non-judgmental.
He helps us through friends who don’t put unrealistic standards in front of us, who allow us time to be “human.” Friends who don’t feel obligated to throw out trite clichés to help us “snap out of it.”
The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians described a time in his life when he was “pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that [he] despaired even of life.” He said that his flesh had no rest, but that he was troubled on every side. On the outside were fightings and within were fears.
I want you to notice that Paul’s spirituality and faith did not rule out just how very human he was.
But God did help Paul.
He went on to say:
“But God, who comforts those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”
Another time, in 2 Timothy, Paul was relating a time in prison when he experienced a sense of abandonment and loneliness. He then referred to a friend named Onesiphorus who had sought Paul out, found him, and refreshed him.
Illustration: A little girl was sent to the store on an errand by her mother with specific instructions to go straight to the store and return straight home. The girl did not arrive home at the expected time, and the mother became anxious and concerned. When the girl finally returned, her mother was quite agitated, and the frustration of the mother came out when she questioned where the girl had been and why it had taken so long.
The girl responded that on the way to the store, she stopped to help a friend whose doll had just been broken.
The mother was somewhat sarcastic when she asked what she knew about fixing dolls.
The little girl said, “I don’t know anything about fixing dolls. I just sat down with her for a while and helped her cry.”
3. The Hope
God does understand our hurt — he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
God does help us — in the midst of our humanness and our natural emotions, God helps us with his promises, with his presence, and through friends.
But God goes beyond these first two elements and gives us hope.
When the world says it’s all over.
God says: “I will have the last word.”
To that, we respond: We walk by faith, not by sight.
As Christians, we have something very positive and tangible to look forward to in the future.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
13 But I would not have you to ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Not only does God offer us hope with the promise of the resurrection, but the resurrection offers us the promise of reunion.
Leighton Ford is an evangelist, who, for many years worked as an associate to Billy Graham. His son, Sandy, died an untimely death, and in spite of his strong faith, Leighton struggled with that loss.
Even though he fully understood that he could not literally communicate with his departed son, Leighton kept a journal in which he wrote imaginary “conversations” with his son; it was his way of expressing things that were on the inside of him and bringing proper closure to the relationship.
In one of these imaginary conversations, Leighton wrote:
“Sandy, I sure do miss you. I think about you more now than I did when you were here on earth.”
“I know you do dad, and I hear those thougts.”
“I guess I’m just afraid that as our time goes on here, that I’ll lose the sense of nearness we once had.”
“But why?” Sandy responded, “It’s just like one big long day here, dad, and besides that, you’re not moving away from me, you’re moving toward me. And the wall between us is so thin, you would laugh if you could see it.”
“Thanks son, it’s getting late, I’d better get to bed. Enjoy the stars.”
“It’s day here dad, enjoy the light.”