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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Life is Good, Life Goes On - Part of a Christmas Funeral Sermon

During the few days of vacation that I was able to take with my family after the conclusion of all of our varied frenzied Salvation Army Christmas fundraising and programming, I was called upon to officiate (I hate that word! There must be a better one...) at the funeral of a friend of a friend.

The family wasn't particularly religious (I was told) and what religious ideas were present were varied (Unitarian and New Agey...)

I had very little time to prepare, what I share is the first page and a half of my notes....


As a minister I am often called upon to speak words of comfort.  I have had the opportunity to speak at many funerals over the years and every one of them is different; every one of them is special, and every one of them is awkward.

Awkward because, I have very few words of comfort.  I’ve heard all of the standards: “he’s in a better place now,” or “it must have been his time” or “God must have needed another angel in heaven,” You’ve heard them, I’m sure.  And I’m sure you’ve felt, as I have when they’ve been spoken to me, that they’re just not comforting at all.  In fact, they are sometimes downright infuriating.  I’ve learned that it’s almost better to not say anything at all.  To just let the silence be. 

But as I said, as a minister, specially trained for such occasions, I’m expected to have some special insight into these occasions.  But I don’t. None of us ministers do, really.  People expect that we do, and many of us, feeling the weight of that expectation, try to say something profound and meaningful, and, above all, comforting… but the truth of the matter is, we all fumble through these times.

Those infuriatingly glib and vacuous clichés may be little or cold comfort but they are fumbling attempts to make sense of the mysteries of life and death and life after life.  My words here this afternoon, may be more polished than some, may be spoken from the place of authority or respect… but they are no less fumbling and awkward. 

The grief is just too big right now for any word to soothe.  The hole in your lives created by A.’s absence is too big for words to fill.  But funerals are for the living, and we will, each one, go on living today, tomorrow, and the next day, trying to make sense of all these things.

As a minister I come to these questions through the doorway of faith, and though I realize that we may not all agree on every issue and doctrine, there are several things that I believe we can agree upon:

I believe that life is good.  No matter how difficult and awkward, no matter how painful at times, I believe that, ultimately, life is good.  Life is mysterious and wonderful.  The spark that fires our DNA, holds our memories, and forms our personalities is precious and wonderful.  It is a treasure beyond calculable value.  That is why it hurts so much when someone we love dies. The life in us is wounded by the extinguishing of life in others.  Life is good. 

If we you to honor and treasure A.'s life then do good. Find the value and goodness in each day’s living and in each person around you.  Share yourself with others.  Forgive the offenses given to you.  Make peace.  Help those who need your help.  Life is good – and we must do what we can to find, and honor, treasure that goodness.  And sometimes we even have to create that goodness in situations where it is hard to see. 

In the pages of the gospels we find Jesus speaking to his followers about the Kingdom of God – not as something far removed into the future – but something present in the here and now, breaking into our daily lives.  This is a powerful thing: to live in the joy and wonder and splendor of each day’s goodness and to share that joy and wonder and splendor with someone else.

If life is good, and I believe that it is, then we cannot squander it in feuds, and in hurting each other.  We cannot horde it, but we must share it – giving away of ourselves, sharing our love and our joy with others.  This is where we find the kingdom of God, among us, within us – as we share and forgive and love. 

I also believe that, as good as this life is; that this life is not all there is.  I believe that there is something more – that life goes on.  I don’t usually speak of life after death, preferring instead to speak of life after life. Looking out into the vast expanse of space and seeing the brilliant burnings of billions and billions of distant stars, I find it impossible to believe that the few fleeting years that we have here, spent scrabbling and squabbling with family and neighbors, is all there is. 

But Saint Gregory of Nyssa wrote, "Why marvel at the stars, when you are eternal? They were not made in the image and likeness of God. You were."

We value and treasure the life that we live in the here and now.  We celebrate the goodness that we find in one another because we recognize that goodness as the spark of divinity that gives fire to each one of our lives.  And in that life after life can take some measure of comfort and hope.

I know that comes awfully close to one of those clichés “we’ll see him again in heaven…”  And I try to avoid those clichés, but I do believe that while this life is good, and that there is much to treasure and celebrate in this life here and now, I also believe that there is more.

So we can live each day in joy and wonder because life is good.


There was more that I said, but this is all I have written out...

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