This offers the exact opposite point of view from the article referenced in my last post. It is the sermon preached for one of my members, who suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis for most of her 62 years. And yet, even though she suffered, she never once complained. No one, not even her children or her husband, ever heard her do so. She never asked why God burdened her with this. She never got angry at him. She never let her faith or trust in jesus Christ waver. She is one of the true heroes of the faith to me. I was privileged to know and be allowed to minster to her. And it was a singular honor to preach her funeral, offering her family the following words of comfort. (After the jump)
Things look different to God. We heard the famous words from Job this morning, “I know that my redeemer lives.” We sang those words. They were some of Jennifer’s favorite. Job was a wealthy and prosperous man. But He had been brought low by Satan. When God says, “have you seen my servant Job. Look at how faithful he is,” Satan says, “He is only faithful because of how much you give him in this world. Take his wealth away, and he will sing a different tune.” So, God lets Satan take everything away that Job loves – his wealth, his home, his children. And yet, Job still praises God. So Satan comes back to God and says, “If you let me hurt Job himself, then he will curse you.” So God says, “Fine, you can afflict him, but spare his life.” Now, to the world it doesn’t look at all like this. It looks like Job must have done something to deserve all this. He must have offended God in some way. Why else would these things have happened to him? He has three friends that come to him, and tell him to repent of whatever sin he has committed, so that God will stop punishing him. Job protests his innocence. And in one of these protests, he says those famous words, “I know that my redeemer lives.” Things are not what they seem. Job was not cursed by God, he was blessed by God. And he was a blessing to his friends. Job remained faithful.
Things just look different to God. Don’t be fooled by what you see. Jennifer was a quiet and gentle woman. As the years went by she was increasingly feeble. She struggled, she needed a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair. She went from her house to the nursing home. Eventually she was almost totally immobilized. It would be easy to think that perhaps God had abandoned her. But that was far from the case. It would be easy to think that she was frail and weak. And her body may have been. But things look different to God. When Satan said, “If she loses mobility, then she will curse you” and God said, “Fine, but only that and no more”, her response was to trust even more in Jesus her savior.
When Satan said, “If she loses even her ability to feed herself, she will curse you” and God said, “Fine but spare her life” her response was to trust even more in Jesus her savior. When Satan said, “If she loses her health, and is facing death, then she will curse you” and God said, “Do what you will” her response was to trust even more in Jesus her savior.
And finally God said, enough Satan. You have had your chance. But her faith in Jesus is stronger than your ability to test and tempt her. Now, leave her. It is time for her to be taken out of that vale of tears. You see Satan, she does not fear death. She knows that, because of Jesus sacrifice on her behalf, death in this sinful world is really the path to life for her. She does not see with earthly eyes. She sees with the eyes of faith. And because she is my child, things look different to her than they do to you.” And so, God ended her suffering.
Things look different to God. We don’t see that with our eyes. But We hear about it in God’s word. Our eyes tell us that we saw a frail woman who was taken before her time, after a lifetime of struggle. But God sees a brave and triumphant warrior. God sees someone whose faith could not be shaken. She trusted in Jesus to save her from sin death and the devil. She knew that he suffered the pains of the cross for her, and that he himself went into death for her. Jennifer would not be turned aside from the truth that Jesus loved her and held her in his hand. It is what gave her strength to face those difficult days, as she slowly succumbed to the decline that her body suffered. But she knew that the suffering she endured was only an in-this-world sort of thing. She knew that Jesus was right with her, through all the doctors and hospitals and the nursing home, and even through her final illness. She knew that he would not let her go from his hand.
And that unshakable faith she had was seen in how she faced the difficulties of her life. She was not overcome. She was not bitter and resentful. She was upbeat, she was patient and loving and kind. She knew who and whose she was, and so her life reflected the love she had been shown by God, as she showed love to those around her.
She was a beloved child of God who trusted in Jesus every day of her life, and was finally taken to be with him, and she now waits in glory for the resurrection of the flesh when her body and her soul are reunited. But not the frail body she had in this world. She will be given a new and glorified body by the one who went into death and came out alive on the other side – her savior Jesus Christ.
It is not easy losing her like this. It shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t have to say goodbye to someone we love so much.
Things look different to God. As Jesus said in the Gospel reading, “Do not fear, only believe.” The little girl in the Gospel reading had died. There was no breath, no life left in her. Everyone in the house, friends, extended family, even mother and father, saw that it was hopeless. And it was hopeless. Until Jesus showed up. He announces that she is only sleeping. An idea so ridiculous that crying and wailing turns to laughter. But of course, Everything those people knew to be true was wrong. From our perspective, the girl was definitely dead. To Jesus, she was only asleep. To us, there was nothing to be done. To Jesus, all it took was a word. Talitha Cumi. Little girl, I say to you, arise. And it was so. The little girl got up and started walking.
Today with our eyes, we see Jennifer’s earthly remains laid to rest in the dust from which they were taken. That’s all Satan wants us to see. He doesn’t want us to see things the way God does. He doesn’t want us to know that Jennifer is only sleeping. That when our lord returns and says the word, “Little girl, I say to you arise” then Jennifer will get up, and she will begin walking. She will be raised, just as the girl in our Gospel reading was. Jennifer knew that Jesus sacrifice for her was enough to take her sins away. Enough to give her new life in him. A life that doesn’t end when life in this world ends.
Jesus is where she placed her trust. In her savior who gave his body and blood for her. She tasted that body and blood, given and shed for her for the remission of her sins. And she knew that the body and blood of Christ would strengthen and preserve her steadfast in the true faith, unto life everlasting. She had the promise of Jesus himself . And nothing could shake her faith in that.
May God grant to each of us, such trust, such saving faith, in our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.