Summary: A short talk given at our annual Memorial Service where we invite family members to come and give thanks for the life of a loved one who has died recently.
Throughout my life I have been encouraged by the faith and by the actions of some very unlikely people. During the summer I spent some time talking to people with a variety of disabilities and impairments and I have to say I found myself both inspired and uplifted. Watching the Paralympics was inspirational; and I read some very moving stories of people who have either discovered, or clung on to faith in God in the midst of tough, difficult circumstances.
We’re here this afternoon with a common purpose – to remember our loved ones in the presence of God; and this year I will be remembering so many friends and family members who have died just in the last few months. There have been days when I have found myself experiencing just what the author of our Bible reading experienced: ‘My tears have been my food day and night, while [people] say to me …, “Where is your God”’ (42:3).
The writer’s mind is filled with good memories of days gone by (42:4) but perhaps like some of us he finds himself deeply troubled; and his anguish is affecting him physically. He says, ‘My bones suffer mortal agony’ (42:10); and twice during this poem the Bible writer asks himself a question: ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me’ (42:5 and 11)? He is suffering in his body, in his mind and in his spirit, but he is not avoiding or ignoring his problems. He is addressing the issue that is causing him grief and he is reminding himself of the ultimate medicine for his anguish.
Both times the writer follows his question by reminding himself of the solution: ‘Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my saviour and my God’ (42: 5 and 11).
Some of you will know Jonathan Aitken. He was a war correspondent in Viet Nam, Chief-Executive of TV-AM, and for 23 years an MP including time as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and a Defence Minister.
Jonathan Aitken’s life fell apart after he was caught telling a lie under oath in court. He lost his job and his reputation. He lost his wife and his freedom – disgraced and bankrupt, and sentenced to 18 months in prison for perjury. Aitken hit rock bottom.
However, on his journey through the dark, dark days of prison, Jonathan Aitken became committed to a deep spiritual faith; and it was during that time, and after his release that he read, studied and responded to our Bible reading from Psalm 42. He could relate to the author and the author’s spiritual search: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God’ (42:2); and after Aitken’s trust in God was awakened he put himself in the shoes of the author and wrote, ‘By courageously questioning himself and appealing to God, he was taking the first steps of the spiritual journey towards recovery. That journey, open to all who feel the pangs of divine thirst, leads to the living water that refreshes every need. It is a gift of Grace from the loving God who heals …[the] pains of the heart and soul.”
With a vivid reality our Bible reading started like this: ‘As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God’ (42:1). It conjures up images of David Attenborough watching a thirsty deer, desperate for water, panting with the need to quench its thirst; and I know for myself that there came a time when I realised I was deeply thirsty for God.
Being in a relationship with Jesus satisfies my overwhelming thirst for truth, meaning, and peace of mind. No wonder Jesus once pointed to a well filled with fresh water and said this: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
During my summer of reading and spending time with people who are overcoming incredible difficulties I came across a book by a man called Nick Vujicic called, ‘Life without limits’. Nick was born without arms and without legs.
As a child he went through traumatic ups and downs of emotions, grieving for the arms and legs he could never have; but there came a day when Nick realised that God had a plan and a purpose for his life – and Nick then began to approach life differently. Remember, Nick has no arms and no legs. He can swim. Nick is able to scuba-dive. He is a sky-diver. He regularly rides a skateboard, and he is a surfer. He released his first single as a singer recently called ‘Something More’ and he also got married. Life has knocked him back severely, but Nick has found purpose in a relationship with God through Jesus.