This sermon was delivered on All Saints Sunday, a day to remember those who have died during the past year. This is the Bible passage from which I got inspiration, begin drawn to the strong image of God addressing our tears. It led me to tackle the very subject of God and death.
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
21:5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
21:6a Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
At times of unexpected death, or when there is any type of a death, we say things, think things, or have things said to us that are meant to give comfort or that try to explain why the death occurred. Some of those statements, without our knowing it, are very wrong in terms of our Christian faith. Others are very right. I’d like to try to address some of those things today and have entitled this sermon:
Unhelpful thing number one: In 1993 a young woman named Susan Smith killed her two sons, ages three and one, by letting them drown when her car rolled into a lake. She, a troubled person, said she had intended to die as well. It certainly was a terrible tragedy and Susan is in prison for the rest of her life because of it.
At the funeral for those toddlers, the pastor said something like
this, “God wanted those boys with him in heaven where they now enjoy eternity with Jesus.” I remember standing before the congregation I served at the time, on the Sunday following that funeral, and saying with great disgust, “That is absolute bunk!”
Not the part about their being with Jesus, but the part about God wanting them in heaven. Why is it bunk? Because it sets God up as a murderer. (A close second to dumb thing number one is: God needed your mommy more than you did, which I once heard said to a child when his mother died.). It tells us that God caused those boys to die with the motive of getting them to heaven as quickly as possible. How do you love a God like that, who would rob of us our loved ones?
Now, no doubt, God did allow them to die, because God had given their mother free will, and she chose to exercise it in such a way that she killed her children. When God gave humanity the precious gift of free will, that meant God put Godself into a very difficult position—needing to watch people sin and make very wrong choices, without usually intervening. So it was the day those children drowned. God watched, wanting desperately to stop it from happening, perhaps even trying, for all we know, by talking to their mother and getting her to change her mind. When those boys died, God wept. How do I know this?
Smart thing number one: God is love. I John 4:16. And since God is love, God loved those little boys very much. To have them die alone and afraid, to have them die so young, broke God’s heart.
Unhelpful thing number two: It must have been his time to go. We hear this one a lot, so much so that many of us here have probably said it, because if it is said often enough it must be true. Why is it a dumb thing, you might ask? It makes sense, when your number is up, your number is up and that’s all there is to it.
It’s wrong because once again it denies that God is love. As Christians we believe that God is intimately involved in our lives. There is a give and take between God and us. It’s a dynamic relationship that can grow and delight both God and us. Where’s the give and take if God has already decided when we will die? How do we love a God who may be plotting our demise tomorrow or next month, because of some prior decision made by God for some unknown reason? Was the number up for the 3000 people who died on September 11? Was the number up for those who died this week in the bombing in Pakistan? If so then it must not have been up for the many who were saved or escaped? Such fatalistic thinking does not make sense.
To think of God as prearranging our time to die is to see God as capricious, which means tending to change abruptly or without apparent reason—to be flighty.
Smart thing number two is this: The Lord is my rock and my fortress, and my deliverer. Psalm 18:2. Does that sound flighty and changeable to you? No, God is solidly unchangeable in God’s love for us. God would never deliberately rob a person of life based on some predestined plan.
One reason people tend to think in terms of “It was her time to go.” is that following a death, things change, people are different, often for the better as they adjust to the loss. Therefore, folks think that God predestined that the person die so that those good things could come about.
The answer to that comes to us from Romans 8:28. We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him.
In other words, God can bring good out of bad situations. That’s what
we call experiencing resurrection in this life–new life from situations of
death and heartache. But, do realize that we get ourselves in enough
trouble without God needing to cause more so God can teach us. The brokenness of our world, which shows itself in disease and accident, will occur. God surely does not need to orchestrate disasters to help teach us or bring some good things to us. God can use the troubles and suffering that already will happen to bring about good, if we allow God to. God does not cause it.
Such reasoning helps us dispute unhelpful thing number three: It must have happened for a reason. Once again that sets God up as a deliberate killer for the “reason” of teaching us or bringing about some greater good. But God says to us in the commandments, You shall not kill. Surely that tells us that God values human life, not wanting us to treat it lightly. God is our heavenly parent. What good parent kills one of his/her children in order to teach a lesson to the other kids? I think you see my point. God does not kill. God is love.
Now lets move on to the smart things a Christian can say when someone dies.
We’ve already heard several of them:
- God is love.
- God does not kill.
- God does not need to orchestrate trouble in order to teach us a lesson or to bring about a great good.
- God weeps with you in your grief because God is your friend, even more so God is your mother, your father.
Here’s another :Ezekiel 18:22 God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone.
But the number one most important smart thing to say and remember when faced with death is this: Death is God’s enemy.
So we are told in I Corinthians 15:26. God’s enemy. With all of the preceding things said about death and God we can see that God would never kill anyone. Killing someone would be consorting with the enemy-death.
Death shows itself in the awful way humans can treat each other.
It shows itself in our decaying bodies and the ravages of age.
It shows itself in the imperfection of creation.
But God is diametrically opposed to death. Death is not part of God’s plan for creation. Death came about because of sin, best defined here as
self-centeredness rather than God centeredness.
Death is the very reason that God came to us as Jesus—to fight the enemy, death and to win.
I Corinthians 15 is St, Paul’s wonderful attempt to explain a lot of things about death and resurrection. I encourage you to read it sometime today. I Corinthians 15.
Verses 54 and following read: The bodies we now have are weak
and can die. But they will be changed into bodies that are eternal. Then the
scriptures will come true, Death has lost the battle! Where is its victory?
Where is its sting?” . . . But thank God for letting our Lord Jesus Christ give us the victory ( over death.)
When Jesus died on the cross it looked as if the enemy had triumphed over God. But God had another plan—resurrection. Hence, Jesus’ death and resurrection are God’s way of beating down death forever. The power of death has been killed on the cross. Forever.
Therefore, when faced with a sudden death,
when faced with death because of disease,
when faced with death due to old age,
when faced with death due to an accident–know this:
God has faced that awful enemy and won. When we die, our bodies, our souls and our spirits all die. There is nothing left to live on after us. Nothing floats away. That’s what the enemy does to us. There is nothing left.
But God brings us back to life. That’s resurrection. That is the feast Isaiah tells us about– the heavenly party. God brings us back to life. That’s the victory. That is God wiping away our tears. That is God laughing in the face of the enemy.
That victory is our hope. And that hope is ours. God gives new life, now, to you when you find yourself dead in grief, or despair. God resurrects the depressed, the lonely and the hopeless. This is our hope and our Christian faith.