As a minister, especially one who tends to preach 51 out of 52 weeks a year, you don’t get many chances to hear the preaching of others. An occasional recorded piece. Every now and then a quick check at what the TV preachers are doing, until you feel like you need a shower. But live, rarely. That one week you actually go out of town…if parson’s wife hasn’t scheduled “fun” for Sunday morning. And the occasional funeral that you are not presiding at.
If there is one place that everybody should be able to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ it is at a funeral. You’ve got a body, or some ashes, or even just a picture of a dead man there. People die every day. Death would seem to be the definition of natural. Yet, everyone gathered there knows in the pit of there stomach that THIS IS WRONG. Something has gone terribly wrong. Now they might not know why they feel that way. They might have been trained out of that feeling by grief counseling, by repeating evolutionary dogma, or by just despair. But that wrongness won’t go away.
Any preacher worth the name should be able to say simply – that feeling you all have, it’s right, this is wrong, something has gone terribly wrong. Sin entered the world and the wages of sin are death. The common readings support it, like 2 Cor 4:16 – “the outer self is wasting away”…but it continues “but the inner self is being renewed day by day”. How can we say that? Stop blathering about inner and outer self. There is only one self, and he’s dead. But we can say it, because “while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened– not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life (2Co 5:4).” We don’t want to put off this flesh, but the promise, the gospel is greater. This sin burdened flesh has been put off, but we put it off in the hope of Jesus Christ. Just as he was raised from the dead, so will we be. All this wrong, that scream in your gut, Christ is setting it right. We live by the Spirit of Christ now, and then we will be clothed in the perfect tent, the resurrection body. Because Christ has defeated death. This momentary affliction is nothing compared to the weighty glory of that real body. And how do we know this, isn’t that just some fairy tale? No! The tomb was empty. Jesus appeared to Mary and the disciples. And now sits at the right hand of the Father. That man on the cross who shared, who took our death, is our case. In Christ shall all be made alive. Now we live through the indwelling of the Spirit, the downpayment. Then we just live…through Jesus.
Everybody was a great person at their funeral. You know what? St. Francis died. All the good works in the world are meaningless. Where is my hope? Preacher, tell me where my strength comes from! It comes from Jesus. Everybody loves mom and dad at the funeral. Although maybe being around at the end would have been a greater testament. You know who was there? Jesus…all the way to the bloody end. Probably in the form of a nurse. Please stop the narcissistic navel gazing. Don’t encourage me to grab the cup of life with my best life now. Please don’t tell me about the Lord of the dance. I don’t want to hear about the Lord of the Dance. I need the LORD of the universe who has transcended death and the grave and opened the gates of heaven for all believers. Who is that? Jesus.
I need the Gospel. The Good News of Jesus Christ. If it has been a while, and the Bible is boring, listen to the liturgy. The only place I heard Jesus today was in those strong words. I don’t need the anonymous God. I’ve got plenty of him. He’s got nothing. I need Jesus.