Everybody Needs Somebody with a Skin-Face

Annunciation_scene_detail_-_webAs appeared in the Farmville Enterprise

Annunciation—it’s the big word to describe the call of God on a person’s life.  It is when ordinary lives are caught up in the extraordinary purposes of God.

The Bible is full of such stories. Someone is minding his or her own business, and then, out of nowhere, comes this call. And usually the person being called is startled and even afraid to be called by God. This is why Gabriel says to Mary, “Do not be afraid.”  And then the person being called usually has a lot of questions.  Mary asks, “How can this be?”

And who could blame her for asking?  She is but a virgin engaged to be married to Joseph.  She was far too young for such an annunciation.

That’s the way it is with most all annunciations. Do you remember the annunciation of Abraham?  When God called Abraham in the middle of the night, he was too dumbfounded to speak—probably because he thought he was too old for such an annunciation.  Do you remember the annunciation of his wife Sarah?  When she was called, she laughed out loud!

We learn throughout the Bible, that this is simply the way God works. God is in the annunciation business. Ordinary people are called throughout scripture to become caught up in the extraordinary purposes of God. And guess what? God is still calling ordinary people today.

A little girl was having trouble going to sleep during a thunderstorm one night.  Her father went into her room where she lay frightened in her bed.  She said, “I’m scared daddy, I don’t want to sleep by myself. Can I sleep with you and Mommy?”

He said, “Darling, you are not by yourself, God is here with you. So you don’t need to be scared. Just know that God is here watching over you and go to sleep.”  She said, “I know that Daddy, but tonight, I think I need to sleep with someone who has a skin face!”

This is why God is in the annunciation business. This is what Christmas is all about!  This is why the Word became flesh. This is why God came to earth…with a skin face! The truth is: everybody needs somebody with a skin face. God realizes that, and God calls people like you and me with skin faces every day for God’s purposes.

This holiday season, I hope that you will say “yes” to that call!

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Reigning from the Cross

world_in_handsLuke 23:33-43 NRSV

Today is the last Sunday of the Christian Year.  It is called “Christ the King Sunday” or “The Reign of Christ Sunday.”  It signifies that at the end of it all, Jesus Christ has the last and final word.  And in this world of so much suffering and pain, oh how we need a day like today!  Oh how we need to be reminded that when it all boils down, when it all pans out, Jesus Christ is our ruler and our king. When it is all said and done, Jesus the Christ is ultimately in charge. Today is the day that we reassure ourselves that no matter how bad life gets, no matter how distressed, fragmented and chaotic life becomes, Christ is always in complete control.  “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” as we all like to sing.

Now, in this world of heart ache and heart break, the truth that Christ is the king and ruler of it all is always supposed to bring us great assurance and peace.  However; although none of us good God-fearing, church-going folks like to admit it, this truth of God’s complete reign over this world usually brings us the exact opposite.

Think about those times you were reminded by someone, albeit with good intentions, that “God is in control.”  When Lori and I lost our first child two months before the due date, people came up to us and said, “Don’t let this get you down.  Just remember that God doesn’t make any mistakes.”

After the doctor gave you the news that the tumor was malignant, people came up to you and said, “Don’t worry, God knows what God is doing.”

When people learned that you were going to lose your job, they reminded you, “It is going to be alright, for God is in control.”

At the graveside of a loved one, your friends and family lined up between you and the casket and whispered: “God has a reason for this.”

And very politely, we nodded. We even thanked them for their words with a hug or a handshake.  But then, a short time later, after we dried our tears, after we came to our senses, while we were sitting quietly at home or while we were out on a long drive, or maybe sitting in church, we began to reflect and to ponder those well-intended words. We began to think to ourselves: “If God is really sitting on some providential throne in complete control of this fragmented fiasco called life, this disastrous debacle called the world, then what type of ruler is this God? What type of king sits back and allows so much evil to occur in their kingdom?

Christ the King—what is supposed to bring us great strength, peace and comfort, instead brings us frustration, anger and doubt.  Christ the King—what is supposed to bring us assurance and hope brings us utter misery and despair.  And we are very much tempted to join all those who laughed and ridiculed Jesus: “Umphh!  King of the Jews! Some King!”

I have said it before, and I do not mind saying it again—If  God is the one who willed our first baby’s death, causes tumors to be malignant, gets us fired from our jobs, and takes our loved ones from us, then I really do not believe I want anything to do with a god like that!  I think I would rather join the millions of people who have chosen not to be in church on this Sunday before Thanksgiving.

The good news is that I am here. And I am here to thank God that God is not the type of King who decrees the death of babies, pronounces malignancies, commands layoffs and orders our loved ones to be suddenly taken from us. There is no doubt about it, Christ is King.  But thank God, Christ does not reign the way the kings of this world reign.

The reason I believe we allow ourselves to be tempted to give up on God in the face of evil is because we often forget that our God reigns not from some heavenly throne in some blissful castle in the sky. Our God reigns from an old rugged cross, on a hill outside of Jerusalem, between sinners like you and me. I believe we oftentimes become despairing and cynical about God, because we forget that our God does not rule like the rulers of this world.

The rulers of this world rule with violence and coercion and force.  Earthly rulers rule with an iron fist: militarily and legislatively and with executive orders. The kings of the world rule with raw power: controlling, dominating, taking, and imposing.

But Christ is a King who rules through suffering, self-giving, self-expending, sacrificial love.  Christ the King rules, not from a distance at the capital city, not from the halls of power and prestige, but in little, insignificant, out-of-the-way places like Bethlehem and Nazareth, and Fountain and Farmville.

Christ the King doesn’t rule with an iron fist, but rules instead with outstretched arms. Christ the King doesn’t cause human suffering from a far, but is right here beside us sharing in our suffering.

God possess what the late theologian Arthur McGill called a “peculiar” kind of power.

God’s power is not a power that takes, but is a power that gives.

God’s power is not a power that rules, but is a power that serves.

God’s power is not a power that imposes, but is a power that loves.

God’s power is not a power that dominates, but a power that dies.

And as Arthur McGill has written, this is the reason that it is “no accident that Jesus undertakes his mission to the poor and to the weak and not to the strong, to the dying and not to those full of life.  For with these vessels of need God most decisively vindicates his peculiar kind of power, [a] power of service whereby the poor are fed, the sinful are forgiven, the weak are strengthened, and the dying are made alive.”[i]

Christ the King did not take our first child.  The day our baby died, God cried with us in that hospital room.

God did not cause the tumor. The day the doctor said the word “cancer” was a day of anguish for God as it was for us.

God did not create the layoff.  The day you were told that your job was ending, God stayed up with you and worried with you all night long.

And God did not take your loved one.  When they died, something inside of God died too.

What we all need to learn are very different definitions of “king,” “rule,” “reign” and “power”—very different because they define the ways of the only true and living God rather than defining our false gods and their ways.

So when life gets us down (and if we live any length of time at all in this world, it most certainly will), we need to remember the great truth of this day—Christ is the King. And this King is reigning, suffering, sacrificing and giving all that God has to give from the cross.

crown of thornsGod does not make mistakes.  God knows what God is doing.  God is in control.  But God’s throne is not made of silver and gold. God’s throne is made of wood and nails. God wears not a crown of jewels but a crown of thorns.

This past week I visited a lovely lady in the hospital who is dying with cancer. Doctors have given her about three months to live. With great faith and assurance and peace, she told me that everything was going to be all right. No, she is not delusional. Her mind is not clouded with morphine. She is at peace because her King reigns from a cross. Her King is not far away from her sitting a throne removed from her agony. Her King is at her side suffering with her. Her King is not above her pain.  Her King is experiencing her every pain. Her King is not slowly taking her life away from her. Her King is giving the King’s very life to her, pouring out the King’s very self into her, and promises her every minute of every day to see her through.

Because of this, she told me that she has never known a time in her life when she more close to her Lord. All of her despair has been transformed into hope. And she is absolutely convinced that her death will be transformed into life everlasting.

After she described the intensified intimacy she now shares with her Lord, she then said something miraculous. With a hopeful joy in her smile and eternity in her eyes, she told me that she is really looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving this year.  Think about that for a moment.

A woman, dying with cancer, told me that she has a lot for which to be thankful.

Don’t we all?


[i] Arthur McGill, Suffering: A Test of Theological Method, 61-63.

Crown of Thorns

crown of thornsExcerpt from Reigning from the Cross. A sermon for First Christian Church Nov. 24, 2013.

Luke 23:33-43 NRSV

When life gets us down (and if we live any length of time at all in this world, it most certainly will), we need to remember the great truth of this day—Christ the King Sunday: This King is reigning, suffering, sacrificing and giving all that God has to give from the cross.

God does not make mistakes.  God knows what God is doing.  God is in control.  But God’s throne is not made of silver and gold. God’s throne is made of wood and nails.  God wears not a crown of jewels but a crown of thorns.

Heaven Can Wait

END IS NEARLuke 21:5-19 NRSV

One of the great things about living in southern Louisiana were the countless stories about two infamous Cajuns named Boudreaux and Thibodeaux.

Reverend Boudreaux was the part-time pastor of a small, rural Baptist church and Pastor Thibodeaux was the minister of a Pentecostal church directly across the road. One day, they were both standing out by the road in front of their churches, each pounding a sign into the ground as fast as they could. The sign read:

Da End is Near
Turn Yo Sef ‘Roun Now
Afore It Be Too Late!

As soon as the signs got into the ground, a car passed by.  Without slowing down, the driver leaned out his window and yelled as loud as he could: “You bunch of religious nuts!”

Then, from the curve in the road you could hear tires screeching and a big splash.

The Reverend Boudreaux yells at Pastor Thibodeaux across the road and asks:

“Do ya tink maybe da sign should jus say ‘Bridge Out’?”

The last couple of Sundays the Christian calendar and the lectionary has led us to ponder the tough subjects of death, the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. And today’s gospel lectionary is on a similar topic: the end of the world.

Now, I have to be honest here, after the last two Sundays, I am really ready to focus on something else!  Besides, all this apocalyptic gloom and doom talk is really not for us mainstream, progressive, educated church types here on Main Street.

But this is just how the Church calendar works I guess. We are approaching the end of the calendar as next Sunday concludes the church year with Christ the King Sunday, emphasizing that when it is all said and done, in the end, Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. So, I guess it makes sense that here, on this next to last Sunday of the church year, even we downtown Main Street church folks are asked to listen to sermon about the final judgment.

And, although we don’t like it, maybe we need to hear it. After all, in the last couple of years, chatter about the end of days seems to have spiked a bit with all of the Mayan doomsday predictions, super storms like last year’s Sandy and last week’s killer typhoon in the Philippians, numerous earthquakes and tsunamis, the global recession, nuclear tensions with North Korea and Iran, the constant threat of terrorism, and with the attention given by cable TV to doomsday preppers.

In September of this year, a poll by the Barna group found 4 in 10 Americans – and 77 percent of evangelical Christians – believe the “world is now living in the biblical end times.”[i]

So, in spite of what you may think about this subject, perhaps we need to hear what Jesus has to say.

About the destruction of it all, in verse 7, we read where they ask Jesus: “When will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”

In verse 8 we read Jesus’ answer: “Beware that you are not led astray.”

Then Jesus specifically warns us to stay away from those who claim to be Christian and say, “The time is near.” Jesus says, “Do not go after them.” Do not follow them. Do not listen to them. Don’t pay them any attention!

Well, glory halleluiah!  Because after two Sundays preaching on death and the resurrection of the dead, I really don’t want to talk about the end of days! So, Amen Jesus! Preach it! Let’s move on to some more pleasant things! Enough of all this gloom and doom!

Ok, now let’s listen to what Jesus has to say next! Hopefully it is something more uplifting than death!

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you.”  “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; you will be hated by all because of my name; and they will put some of you to death.” “But “this will give you an opportunity to testify.”

Man! And we thought we were off the hook this week!

But if we have been reading and listening to Luke, we should not be that surprised. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Do not worry so much about the tribulations to come with the end of the world, because if you are truly following me, if you are faithfully living as my disciple, if you have fully committed yourself to carrying a cross, if you are really speaking truth to power, if you are serving those I call you to serve, if you are standing up for my justice and my wholeness in this fragmented world, then you have will enough trouble for today!

If you are truly living for me and loving this broken and suffering world as much as I love this world, you will sacrifice much. You may even lose your friends and family! Matthew remembers Jesus saying on another occasion: ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:34).

Jesus seems to be saying here: “Don’t focus so much on the end days, don’t’ dwell on the impending doom and demise of it all but instead, focus on the opportunities that you have today in this hurting world ‘to testify,’ to selflessly and sacrificially serve me by serving and suffering for others.”

Jesus is saying: “It is perfectly is to think and dream about going to Heaven one day. It is fine to have the hope that someday, somehow, some way there’s not going to be anything more to fear or dread. It is wonderful to know a time is coming when there is going to be no more crying, no more pain, and no more death. It is great to sing those old hymns of faith, such as “When We All Get to Heaven,”  “Shall We Gather at the River,” and “I Can Only Imagine,” but if Heaven is the only place your hearts are, if going to Heaven and avoiding Hell is the only reason you are Christians, then you have missed the whole point of who I am and who you are called to be as my disciples.”

I believe Jesus is saying to us: “So don’t come to church looking to avoid a suffering world! Come to church and bear the sufferings of this world! Don’t come to church looking for some fire insurance. Come to church and let me lead you into the fire!”

This is exactly why I believe so many Christians are tempted “go after” those who love to preach about the end of days, especially those who say that it is coming in our lifetimes. For it is far easier to believe that God has already given up on this world. It is much easier to look at the destruction in the Philippines and believe that it is all a part of God’s plan, a preview of things to come! It is far easier to believe that earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes and poverty and wars are all part of God’s apocalyptic will than it is to believe that God calls us to selflessly and sacrificially suffer alongside those who are suffering.

It would be far easier to believe that Christianity is only about getting a ticket to heaven to escape this world than it is to believe that it is about selfless, sacrificial service.

British scholar Lesslie Newbigin comments: “In an age of impending ecological crises,” with the “threat of nuclear war and a biological holocaust” many Christians have retreated into a “privatized eschatology.”  That means, that the only hope that they possess, in the words of Newbigin, is “their vision of personal blessedness for the soul after death.”[i]

Christians everywhere, in the words of Newbigin, have “sounded the trumpet of retreat.” They have thrown their hands in the air and have given up on the world. Their faith in Jesus has become solely and merely a private matter. Faith is only something they possess, something they hold on to, that they can someday use as their ticket out here. In the meantime, they withdraw into safe sanctuaries and look forward to that day “the roll is called up yonder.”  And they listen to angry sermons by angry preachers condemning the world to Hell in a hand basket.

And giving up on the world is really nothing new.  At the turn of the first century, Jews called Gnostics had a similar view of the world.  Everything worldly, even the human body itself, was regarded as evil.  And maybe, they too, had some pretty good reasons to believe that way, because regardless of what some may believe, the world did not start going bad in our lifetimes. The truth is: it has been bad ever since that serpent showed up in the garden.

At the turn of the first century, Jews were a conquered, depressed people, occupied the Romans.  And they were terrorized daily by a ruthless, pro-Roman King named Herod—a king who would murder innocent children to have his way.  The Gnostics looked at the world and their situation and came to the conclusion that they were divine souls trapped in evil bodies living in a very dark, God-forsaken, God-despised world.

As I have mentioned, Next Sunday marks the end of the Christian calendar. The next Sunday begins the season of Advent, the very beginning of the church.

It is the season that we remember that it was into a very dark, and seemingly God-forsaken, God-despised world that something mysterious happened that we call Christmas. A light shone in that darkness proving in the most incredible and inexplicable way that this world is anything but God-forsaken or God-despised!

God loves this world so much that God emptied God’s self and poured God’s self into the world. God came and affirmed, even our fleshly existence as God, God’s self, became flesh. And God came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save the world. For so God loved the world that God came into the world and died for the world.

Thus, the message that we all need to hear today and hear often is not that the end is near as God believes the world is worth destroying, but it is that God believes this world is worth saving. God believes the world is still worth fighting for. God still believes that this world is worth dying for.

As the body of Christ in this world, we as the church are not called to retreat or withdraw from the world and its troubles, but are called to love this world, to do battle for this world, to even die for this world.  We are called to be a selfless community of faith in this broken world. And, no matter the cost, we are called to share this good news of Christmas all year long!


[i] Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2013/10/billy-graham-sounds-alarm-for-2nd-coming/#Y8RpIeMpqqHd8uRF.99

[ii] Leslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, 113.

We Cannot Imagine

HeavenLuke 20:27-38 NRSV

One day in the sweet by and by, when we all get to heaven, in the resurrection of the dead, Jesus says we will “neither marry nor be given in marriage.” And today, some of us on this earth who are married, or have been married, sing or shout with a loud voice: “What a day of rejoicing that will be!”

Yes, for some of us with bad marriages, or have Exes that we don’t even want to talk about, this is some very good news! However, for those of us who love our spouses, and cannot imagine life without them, this news is rather disconcerting.

I am thinking specifically about those couples where you never see one without the other. I am thinking about those who have lived together so long that they not only begin to act alike and talk alike, but they actually begin to look alike. Couples who have been married 50, 60 or even 70 years. And when one passes away, the other usually follows very soon after—sometimes just months later; sometimes just days. And none of us are surprised! Not only could they not imagine life without one another, neither could we.

But there lies our real problem! We simply cannot imagine any life beyond this life. A few years ago, the group called Mercy Me, sang a very popular song about heaven entitled I Can Only Imagine. However, the truth is, that when it comes to the resurrection, when it comes to eternity, there is no way we can imagine. Even that popular song that says that we can has more questions in it than answers.

One of the reasons that we cannot imagine it is that eternal life is not something that happens because there is something intrinsic in our nature that makes it happen. It happens only because there something intrinsic in God’s nature that makes it happen. We cannot imagine it, because it is not of us. It is of God.

Some of the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, but many in the religious community did believe in the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. There was widespread belief that there is something within every human being that is eternal. When we die, our soul simply leaves our body and continues living in another realm. Heaven then is understood as a continuance of our present existence. So if we marry in this life, and our first spouse dies and we remarry, it makes sense to question who our spouse will be when we get to heaven. And if we remarry and our second spouse dies, and we remarry again, and that spouse also dies, and then we marry again, well, we’re going to have a real problem in the hereafter! You think you have problems now?

However, Jesus never talked about the immortality of the soul. Jesus talked about mortality and death and about the resurrection of the dead. As I said last week, when we face our deaths, because it is not God’s will for anyone to perish, it is in the very nature of God to resurrect and transform our deaths into a brand new life. It is just what God does.  It is who God is.

Therefore, in Revelation 21 we these hopeful words:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’

And with our finite, mortal minds, we cannot imagine it.

The biblical revelation is clear:  Newness, a brand new beginning, a fresh start, a new life can come, but it comes only as a gift from the God of life, the God of the living, the creator of all that is. It cannot and does not come from those who cannot even begin to imagine it.

A very literal translation of the first line of Genesis is “In the beginning God began creating…”  William Willimon puts it this way: “Creation is not something that God did once and for all, but rather something that God continues to do in this world. God keeps making all things new. Day in and day out, God is actively involved with creation, intervening, interfering, renewing and doing battle the primordial chaos that threatens to undo creation. Creation continues as God keeps making something out of nothing.”[i]  This is just who our God is.

The key for us as people of faith in this ever-creating God is to come to understand that much of the pain and brokenness that we experience in this life is not the end, but only the beginning—the beginning of something wonderful that we cannot even imagine it.

We say we cannot imagine spending eternity without our spouses, without our children, without our friends. No we can’t. No more than a small child can imagine some of the pleasures of adulthood.[ii]

Try to explain to a child the immense joy that you receive sitting in front of your fireplace on cold mornings sipping a hot cup of coffee, listening only to sounds of sound of a soft blaze.  Try to explain to a youngster that has boundless energy the sheer gratification you experience rocking in a chair on your front porch at dusk, watching fireflies dance in your backyard.

“But mama, but grandma, but Nana, let’s go out there and try to catch some of them, put them in a jar.”

Think about the look you receive when you say, “No, honey, let’s just sit right here on this porch and quietly rock, breathe in the fresh air and just watch.”

No, just as a child cannot imagine what is pure heaven for adults, neither can we imagine the heaven God has prepared for us. The Apostle Paul put it this way,

But when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Cor 13).

But right now, we cannot imagine.  We can only trust that the God whose nature is to create and recreate and restore and resurrect will be faithful to God’s very nature.

And although I do not believe there is any way that we can fully imagine eternity, I do believe that we are privy here in our finiteness to glimpses of it. And I am not just talking about fireflies, coffee and fireplaces.

As a pastor, I have seen these glimpses, and though those glimpses might be like looking through a mirror, dimly, I have seen these glimpses often.  Someone loses a job.  They are overcome by depression and despair.  They think their world is coming to an end. They believe that life for them is over.  And I, as a pastor, try to minister to them the best way that I can.  I tell them that God will help them make something out of this mess.  God will make something good come from it.  They will be able to move on.  Things will get better.  And they, of course, cannot even imagine.

Then I check back with them in a few months, after they have landed a new job. And I hear them say things like: “Getting fired from that old job was the best thing that ever happened to me. I absolutely love my new job, and I have never been more happy!”

Someone else comes to me saying that their marriage was suddenly ending. They are completely devastated. They tell me that they feel like their life is over. Their marriage was the most important thing in the world to them, and now it was ending. They have no more reason to get up in the morning, no more reason to try to do a decent day’s work. They’re in utter despair.  Again, I try to reassure them. God will somehow, someway, work it out, help you get through this difficult time. God will work and wring whatever good can be wrung out of this horrible situation!”

“Preacher,” they say, “I cannot imagine.”

And then, a couple of years later, they fall in love again and remarry.  And I hear them say something like, “What I thought was the end of my life was only the beginning. And though I may never be able to go back to the good old days, I realize now that I have plenty of good new days ahead!”

Another comes to me and shares their doctor’s grim diagnosis. They use words like “terminal,” “inoperable,” and “untreatable.”  They say that life is over. Death is the only thing in their future. However, a short time later, as I visit them in the Hospice House, they let me know in a miraculous way that being fully alive and fully whole have absolutely nothing to do with physical well-being.

Who would have imagined?

A child dies. Then God steps in and miraculously begins working and creating and recreating and resurrecting. And untold dollars are raised in that child’s memory to fight a dreadful disease. And countless other children are saved.

Who could have imagined?

And the good news is that one day, when we face our final hours, with faith in the God of the living, the God of resurrection and restoration, that there is nothing final at all about them!


[i] Willimon, William. A quote found in some of my old sermon notes. Source uncertain.

[ii] Culpepper, Alan. Luke. The New Interpreters Bible, Volume 9 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 390.

Faith in the God of the Living

obx_sunriseExcerpt from We Cannot Imagine

Luke 20:27-38 NRSV

What does having faith in the God of the living mean for you?

When he lost his job, he thought it was the end of the world. But a year later, working a new job, he now knows that losing that job was the very best thing that could have happened to him.

When her marriage fell apart, she thought that her life was over. But a few months later, she is beginning realize that although she cannot go back to the good old days, she has plenty of good new days ahead.

When the doctor gave him the grim diagnosis, he thought he had received a death sentence. But a short time later, he is beginning to understand that being alive and whole has very little to do with physical well-being.

And one day, when you face your final hours, you will become aware that, with faith in the God of the living, there is nothing “final” at all about them.

How God Always Responds to Death

Sermon Excerpt from Death at a Funeral

Luke 7:11-15

840-casket-before-burial

This is how I believe our God always responds to death: God does not will death. God does not ordain death. God is not sitting on a throne pushing buttons calling people home. Luke teaches us that when someone dies, God is moved very deeply.  It is a visceral reaction.  God is flooded with compassion for both the deceased and the living. God does not ignore death or accept death as a natural part of life, but on the contrary, God confronts death, recognizes the harsh reality of it, the sheer evil of it, and God is moved from the very depths of who God is.

Therefore, it is very inaccurate to ever say that in death: “God takes people home.” I have said many times that God is a giver not a taker. It is the very nature of who our loving God is. It is far more accurate to say that when any death occurs, no matter the age, no matter the circumstance, God confronts it. God is moved with compassion. And God doesn’t take, but gives God’s self completely, fully and finally to the one who dies and his or her grieving family.

God does not ignore death, or demean death, or simplify death saying, “This is all part of my purpose driven plan.”  Through Jesus, God does not let any death at a funeral simply pass by like it is somehow meant to be.  Through Christ, God is moved with compassion and sees death as a force contrary to God’s will and acts to overcome it. God always acts to transform death at a funeral into life at a funeral.