Summary: In the face of death, there is hope. David knows it. Do we?
Edith Rockefeller McCormick, the daughter of John D. Rockefeller, maintained a large household staff. She applied one rule to every servant without exception: They were not permitted to speak to her. The rule was broken only once, when word arrived at the family’s country retreat that their young son had died of scarlet fever. The McCormick’s were hosting a dinner party, but following a discussion in the servants’ quarters it was decided that Mrs. McCormick needed to know right away. When the tragic news was whispered to her, she merely nodded her head and the party continued without interruption.
Is this strange? I’m guessing most of you think so. It’s not your typical reaction to a death in the family. It’s certainly not the reaction that David had either. The subtitle to this psalm tells us that it was written when the prophet Nathan confronted David with the sin of his adultery with the wife of Uriah and with the death of the son she was carrying in her womb. 2 Samuel 12 tells of the anxious pleading David made before the Lord in the face of impending grief. It tells how David fasted. He spent night after night in tears upon the ground over imminent death of this child, pleading before God. Psalm 51 is but a small sampling of his prayers. It’s quite clear that in the face of death, joyous celebration is the furthest thing from his mind.
Nevertheless, it’s not to be missed that David knew that a cause for joy could yet be found. And that joy was not in memories. The child was hardly even born. There was no time for memories, no time for the child to accomplish anything memorable or to cherish. No, the joy wasn’t found in the memories, or the child or in anything David could find in this world. “O Lord, you open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.” The Lord, is the one in whom he found cause to rejoice – the Lord who had called him, the Lord who had forgiven him and the Lord in whom he found hope, even in the face of his sin and the death of his son.
It had to come from there. It had to come from the Lord because David saw his human flesh and life for what it was worth in the eyes of God – nothing. He had nothing to offer before God in himself that could bring him hope – not his works, not his wealth (though he had plenty), nothing.
Unfortunately, too many never figure this out until it’s too late. Our Lord does “not delight in sacrifice;” he does “not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” Our hope is not in the reputations or glory that we attain in the sight of others, for as Paul states in Romans 3, “we all fall short of the glory of God and are held accountable before Him.” Our hope in the face of death is not the things we do. As Isaiah points out in ch. 64, “even the righteous things we do are like filthy rags in the sight of God.” Our hope is not in the personal sacrifices we made, nor is our hope today in the sacrifices that (Name of Individual) made throughout her life, sacrifices that we might well remember today.
And we should. We should remember her sacrifices of time and energy that she gave in service to her community at Paullina Care. We should remember her devotion and fidelity which she showed towards you, her family and friends, while she was able. We recall her sacrifices of love which she gave as she fed and clothed and nursed and sat by your side when you were ill, just as you did for her these last few months. We should remember these things. We should rejoice in the blessings that God has brought to our lives through (Name), and well we do.
Nevertheless, “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” We recall with joy all of our memories of (Name) today, but our hope for tomorrow is found in our God and savior. The joy that cuts through all our grief is that in contrite faith (Name)looked to Jesus. Just 5 days ago I shared the word of God, we talked, and she confessed her sins, heard the gracious news of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ, anticipated the gracious feast of eternity in our Lord’s Supper and placed her life into his hands as we turned to Him in prayer. (Name) didn’t live a perfect life. None of us do. But our Lord did and he offered it on Calvary’s cross to blot out her iniquity, to cleanse her and make as white as snow, to create in her a clean heart and to renew a steadfast spirit, to keep her in His presence where today she is truly restored, truly healed. She’s restored to health. She’s healed of the physical struggles she’s endured these past few months. She’s been redeemed from the sin and death that brought these pains in this life. She’s healed as she basks in the joy of God’s salvation, a God who would not despise those who look to him with repentant faith, a God who would not despise you either.