Summary: A funeral message
March 24, 2006
There are great moments in human life; moments when new chapters open up, new avenues are taken, and new experiences met. These rites of passage are important moments when we are all changed. Think about the changes that happen in our lives. Think of how we change from childhood into adolescence. Think of how we change from adolescence into adulthood. Think of the changes that occur with the coming of retirement.
These are all times that bring with them a certain sense of the unknown. We may have some vague idea of what waits, but really don’t know until we get there. The greatest rite of passage, the greatest change, the greatest unknown, comes at death.
Now, for those of us who are Christian, we find that the unknown of death is not that big of a deal because death has lost its fear. Death is not fearful because, through our faith, we have come to know what waits. We remember the Scripture in the fourteenth chapter of John, in which Jesus promises that he is preparing a place for all of us. When that place is prepared, he will receive us into our new home.
You know, people are not supposed to die when they are fifty-one years old. People are not supposed to die when they are in the midst of wonderful careers of teaching and reaching children. People are not supposed to die when they have great plans for their church. Friends shouldn’t have to bury friends. Siblings shouldn’t have to bury siblings. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children.
Yet, it is death that brings us all here together today. We come here to witness to our faith, and to the faith of Beth Lake. We come here to praise God and proclaim the reality of resurrection. We come here to proclaim that death is not the final answer, death will not win, and death will not silence our witness.
Just a short time before our oldest son was born, my grandmother died. I left my very pregnant wife in Denver and flew back to Fort Wayne for the funeral. Dr. William Dean was, at that time, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church. To this day, I remember the sermon he preached at her funeral. In fact, I not only remember it, but I use it.
He was talking about the 23rd Psalm. He told us what a wonderful psalm it was and how it has provided so much comfort through the ages to countless generations of God’s people. It is a psalm of confidence and trust. It is a psalm of hope. It is a psalm of peace, love, gentleness, and security.
It is a psalm of David. King David knew trouble. He knew heartache. He knew trials and temptations. He knew fear. He knew the depths of his sins. But he also knew the Lord, his Shepherd. The Shepherd, the One who protected the sheep under his care, the One who could be trusted, the One who could be called upon in times of trouble, the One who would never forsake those who loved him.
Bill Dean told us about the most important word in the psalm. That word is through. ”Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Death is just that…a valley through which we all must walk. We can’t escape it, run from it, or hide from it. We may try to deny its power, but that only lasts for so long. Death eventually catches up with all of us. Death is the price of life.
But death is different for those of us who have religious faith, because we know that the valley of death is not never-ending. We rest in the assurance that we will emerge from that valley into the light of God’s eternity. Those who place their faith and trust in God are never left alone, never.
I was in the hospital on Monday afternoon. The respirator had been turned off. The family was all gathered around Beth. I witnessed something very profound.
I have been in full-time Christian ministry for a lot of years now, but I have never been in the presence of someone at the moment of his or her death. My wife told me that she can’t believe that I have escaped that experience until now.
But we were all gathered there together around her bed when her breathing got progressively shallower and she slowly and peacefully slipped into God’s presence. Two weeks before this she had been fine. It was hard to believe that she had passed from our presence. But at that very intense moment, we witnessed her death and her rebirth at the same time, as she passed from her earthly life to life triumphant and immortal.