Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What denomination?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”
Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.
Thomas Long, writing in his book Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral, imagines a funeral for a wife and mother named Annette. The funeral he imagines is, like so many others, “sweet and nostalgic”, featuring readings of Psalm 23 and Proverbs 31, and celebrating that she “was a good woman, a good Christian”. He continues:
“we go to the grave where Annette now lies next to her husband and her parents in the family plot in the cemetery, and it will forever be this way. ‘We will always remember her,’ we say.
But of course it’s a white lie; we won’t remember her always. All of the pieces of Annette’s funeral were fine as far as they went, but the fact is, they were built on the illusion that this land is our permanent home. We get a completely new set of people every 100 years, and it will not be too many generations before no one living much remembers Annette at all. If history rolls on long enough, her church will disappear, the building will disintegrate, the congregation will be scattered, and the cemetery will be covered by the dust, the tombstones long disintegrated.
This is exactly the perspective on life and mortality that is so common in Scripture, and so uncommon today. Rather humbling, in fact, and sobering. And a perspective that even at a funeral is hard to get people to face. But that is precisely why a Christian funeral should not be simply nostalgic and sweet, but built on a more clear-eyed view not only of the reality of death, but also a firm proclamation of Christian hope. For:
“if Annette will be forgotten to history, she will be remembered by God, and she worships now in a building not made with hands. The funeral, then, should honor this land – the person Annette has been, the things she has done, the relationships she formed – but the funeral should not be consumed with nostalgia for Annette’s past nor ours, because our hope does not lie in this land alone, but in the city whose architect and builder is God.”
“Then Peter said, Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Acts 3:6
F. F. Bruce: “According to Cornelius a Lapide, Thomas Aquinas once called on Pope Innocent II when the latter was counting out a large sum of money.
“‘You see, Thomas,’ said the Pope, ‘the church can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.'”
“‘True, holy father,’ was the reply; ‘neither can she now say, ‘Rise and walk.'”
From The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke:
“‘And remember, my son,’ said he, fixing his deep-set eyes upon the face of Artaban, ‘the King whom you are seeking is not to be found in a palace, nor among the rich and powerful. If the light of the world and the glory of Israel had been appointed to come with the greatness of earthly splendor, it must have appeared long ago. For no son of Abraham will ever again rival the power which Joseph had in the palaces of Egypt, or the magnificence of Solomon throned between the lions in Jerusalem. But the light for which the world is waiting is a new light, the glory that shall rise out of patient and triumphant suffering. And the kingdom which is to be established forever is a new kingdom, the royalty of perfect and unconquerable love.
“‘I do not know how this shall come to pass, nor how the turbulent kings and peoples of earth shall be brought to acknowledge the Messiah and pay homage to Him. But this I know. Those who seek Him will do well to look among the poor and the lowly, the sorrowful and the oppressed.'”
“The Church should be the place for prodigal sons and rejected stones, at least as much as it’s the place for elder brothers and other respectable types. The early Church promised that those who gave up family or marriage to follow Jesus would find a new family, a new home, with fellow Christians as their brothers and sisters. Is that what happens to lay people who strive to live celibately today?From what I’ve seen, we’re mostly left alone. If you’re straight or people think you are, and you’re not yet married, you may get urged to spend time with the young adults’ ministry or the singles’ ministry or one of the other (necessary!) meet markets of the Church. I like these ministries and I like that they matchmaker. I don’t think they’re the catchall solution for unmarried lay people, though, regardless of sexual orientation. And so, people who genuinely want to serve the Church come away feeling exhausted or confused. They’re pretty sure God doesn’t want them to lead loveless, barren and miserable lives, and yet they have little sense of where they might give and receive lasting, sustaining love outside of marriage. The people who are already serving often feel unwanted or excluded; the people who aren’t already embedded in an ecclesial community have no idea where to start. This is an immense waste of love.”
In many cases, we may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves. If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities be much greater than our own, and we see that he is not like to be otherwise relieved, we should be willing to suffer with him, and to take part of his burden on ourselves; else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we be never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burden at all?
This is a vivid illustration. A poor man is a man walking with a burden – a burden of discomfort, inconvenience. So when a Christian says, ‘I can’t afford to help the poor,’ he is really saying, ‘If I help, it will cut into my style of living.’ In other words, some of the poor man’s burden would slide over onto the helper. The helper would not be able to take the vacation he wants or buy the car he wants. ‘Well,’ Edwards is arguing, ‘isn’t that exactly what the Bible demands? If your giving to the needy does not burden you or cut into your lifestyle in any way, you must give more!'”
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in this lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No sermon says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”
Often attributed to Oscar Romero, these are the words of Ken Untener