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Summary: Funeral message for Mr. Wadell Wilkins, who had been comatose for years, following an apparent reaction to an anesthetic administered for orthopedic surgery

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A LONG NIGHT’S JOURNEY INTO DAY Numbers 9:15-23

When our children were small, our family would take trips back home to Kentucky. We discovered that a six hundred mile journey was better if we traveled at night. We would pack our bags, make a big thermos of coffee for me, and set out in the evening, not long after dinner. There were several advantages – not so many eighteen-wheelers to battle; cooler temperatures; and, best of all, the children would soon get too sleepy to argue and fight! Despite the fatigue of driving all night, we found that the nighttime journey worked best for us.

But the best part of the nighttime journey would come somewhere in the green hills and blue grass of central Kentucky. The sun would begin to rise, the mares and their foals on the horse farms would be visible through the mist. We knew that as the morning was coming, we were getting close to home. Our spirits would soar: for morning was breaking, the day was dawning, and we were close to home. Always the best part of a long night’s journey is the gift of a new day at home.

More than thirty centuries ago, the people of Israel set out on a long journey. With Moses as their leader, they fled the bondage of Egypt and went out into the desert. It was not long before their journey became very, very difficult. Night came, and there was no place to sleep except under the stars. Morning came, and there was no breakfast except for tasteless slabs of unleavened bread. Night and day, evening and morning, day after day, week after relentless week, the journey seemed an endless torture, with no future and no possibilities. They murmured and complained, “Why did we come out into the wilderness to die? It would have been better to have stayed in Egypt and to have suffered bondage; at least we were fed. At least we were housed. At least we had our necessities.”

But Moses prayed and God provided. Moses prayed and God gave meat and manna, water and shelter. God gave the necessities for the journey. And God gave something else as well. God gave His presence. God gave His blessed assuring presence.

And what an astounding form that presence took – a cloud by day and a fire by night. Day and night, the presence of God, visible, almost touchable. Different at night than in the daylight, but there, just the same. And the most remarkable thing of all – that this presence, this hovering, sheltering presence, directed the movements of the people toward their promised home. The Scripture tells us that when the cloud remained, as often it would, the people stayed in their camp, obedient. It might be two days, or a month, or a longer time. If the cloud of the presence did not move, then Israel did not move. But when the cloud lifted and moved, Israel knew that God was taking them forward, another step on the way into the land of promise. It was a long journey, with many starts and stops. But the people of God found that the presence never left, whether they were encamped or whether they were traveling. The presence never left, from evening until morning. The presence of God led them on a journey into the day, a journey toward home.

As we sang a few moments ago, “Great is Thy faithfulness .. Thy own dear presence to cheer and guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, and ten thousand beside.”

When the cloud lifted, Israel’s spirits would soar: for morning was breaking, the day was dawning, and they were closer to home. Always, the best part of a long night’s journey is the gift of a new day at home.

For Wadell Wilkins, the long night’s journey began on a stormy January evening. Several of us in this room remember it well. Andre and Diana were part of our church’s marriage enrichment program for young couples. That group was meeting, despite a snowstorm beginning and treacherous roads. We got word from Andre that something serious was happening with his father at the hospital, and so, as soon as we could wrap up the meeting and let everyone get safely home, I made my way to Sibley, there to find this family gathered. We were afraid that that stormy night would be Wadell’s last night. But it was not. It was the beginning of a journey – a long nighttime journey. And as the hours stretched into days, the days into months, and the months into years, it seemed as though the long night’s journey would never end.

But you kept faith. You believed. You saw the hovering presence of the Lord through all those months. Where some must have said that it was all over, you believed that God was not yet finished with Wadell. You believed that God had a purpose to accomplish in him. And so you waited; though surely your patience was tried, though certainly there were many trying moments for you, you waited. You believed that the cloud that hung over his bed was not a storm cloud, but the cloud of the presence of the Lord. And you waited.

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