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Posts Tagged ‘funeral’

Today I had the opportunity to do a funeral for a woman who committed suicide– which wasn’t easy. I went ahead and named the elephant in the room, and here’s what I did. I’d like to hear other thoughts– especially from pastors. I’d love to hear how other people have handled this situation.

Psalm 139:1-16, Romans 8:29-38

If you were to poll folks on what their favorite passages of scripture are, maybe some would tell you the 23rd Psalm. Some might mention passages from Isaiah’s book of comfort. Some might mention passages where Jesus talks about great great love.

No matter how many people you ask, no matter the answers they give, I’d bet you’d find one common element in the passages that people list as their favorite. Almost all of us choose the passages that bring us comfort; the ones that remind us of God’s nearness and care. For we are a people who needs reminding of that fact. We look around at the world, and things that we can’t understand, and we need to be reminded just how much God cares, and is a part of our world, and our very lives.

Today, we come to this place, because we are without one whom so many called beloved. The pain and sadness are real. The feelings of helplessness and hurt won’t be silenced. So we come because we need a word, a word that somehow breathes answers into the questions we don’t dare ask aloud.

We come to this place in confusion—and we want to understand. But we also come because we want to celebrate and give thanks for the life of Cheryl, and to surround ourselves with others that have loved her. The truth of the matter is that while we sit here, we don’t know what to say.

All of us sitting here are aware of the way in which Cheryl died. And many who are sitting here are wondering if one who takes their own life can ever get into God’s good graces. We realize that it’s not God’s will to take one’s life. It is after all, a very permanent solution to a rather temporary problem.

But what words do the scriptures offer us about this?

None. Not one. Nowhere in the scriptures will you find anything that damns one who has taken his or her own life. What the scriptures do offer us is a word of hope and a picture of a God whose love is so big that it draws all people to himself. We find pictures of a God who has such intimate knowledge of each of us that nothing is beyond God’s notice.
This same God who knows us better than we can know ourselves, loves us anyway.

None of us ever walked in Cheryl’s shoes. We cannot know the things she was experiencing or feeling. But we can be sure that God knew. God knows her so well, and God knows what Cheryl was undergoing.

And while she may have felt all alone, I can promise you with all the certainty that is in me that she was never alone. The God who has loved her throughout her life, held her as she died, and holds her even this day.

The God that we serve is a God who draws us close. The scriptures promise us that “Nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Death is not a friend, but is in fact an enemy. But as Paul writes in the scriptures, death is an enemy that has been overcome in Christ’s resurrection.

It’s awfully tempting to wonder if death gets the last word. But death does not. God gets the last word.

And the word is hope. The word is live. And the word is love. The word’s that hang in our ears is not the sound of weeping. It’s the sound of an Alleluia, shouted by Christ’s victory over death. It’s the sound of an Alleluia, whispered by a loving God, who simply can’t say it enough. “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

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“In Good Hands”
Frances Collie Memorial Service

One of the things I remember most clearly about my grandmother was her hands. They were strong, yet delicate. The skin on them seemed to be very thin, yet perhaps the softest thing you’ve ever touched. And they always smelled like roses. I knew they were somehow different from my mom’s and dad’s hands, but I couldn’t quite figure out how or why. I remember her always putting lotion on them as soon as she washed her hands, and I thought that must be the secret. One day, my dad found me with half a bottle of lotion poured out on my hands, and I think, tried nicely to inquire as to what I was doing without laughing at me. I told him that I was trying to make my hands like Nana’s, and as he helped me clean up the mess, he said, “Those hands have loved a lot of people, haven’t they?”

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought a lot about that. Young people never have those sorts of hands– and I’ve realized that maybe those beautiful, soft, gentle hands can only come after years and years of loving people in every way that you can. I’m sure the cosmetics companies would hate for me to say that, but it turns out the secret isn’t the lotion. It’s the love.

I’m sure most of you knew Mrs. Collie for a long time before you ever noticed her hands. You knew about all the great things she did, and the ways that she cared for lots of people. Then maybe one day, she took your hands in hers– a gentle handshake, or maybe as you were cleaning up from something, your hand bumped hers. Maybe you were one of her beloveds, maybe her hand checked your forehead for fever, or maybe hers was the hand you reached for as you crossed a dangerous parking lot.

I suspect most of you never really paid much attention to her hands because you knew what a delight she was, and her hands were just another pair of hands after all. But I fell in love with Mrs. Collie long before I ever met her in person, and maybe mostly because of her hands.

When Sherwood was interviewing me, Duane and Ruthie has us spend the night at their house. They were great hosts, but that’s not really what I remember from that first visit. I remember being shown the guest room, and before I remembered myself, I dropped my things because I saw a beautiful quilt on the bed. I couldn’t help it– I just wanted to go put my hands on it. I wanted to turn it over and see the tiny, delicate stitches, that somehow I knew would be very straight and orderly. Ruthie told me about her mom, and how she had taken up quilting after retirement. Throughout the visit, I got to see several of these quilts, and each one took my breath away. Before I ever knew what I thought about the church or what the church thought about me, I knew somehow that if sleeping under that beautiful, completely handmade quilt was any sort of sign, that I’d be covered in love throughout my time here.

When I finally met Mrs. Collie in person, I made a point of noticing her hands. Sure enough, as I had predicted after seeing all the love in those small stitches, her hands were soft and delicate, yet strong. Those hands must’ve loved a lot of people.

One of those phrases we think about a lot during these weeks leading up to Easter is Jesus words on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit”.

Have you ever thought about what it’s like to put your life in someone else’s hands? Kids do it all the time, and seem to have a very good sense about them as to whose hands are big enough and good enough to hold them. Small children must depend on grown folks for most everything, and they literally have to trust their life into other people’s hands. As they get older, eventually girls start to notice boys and boys start to notice girls, and then there’s a big decision about whose hand to hold. And then maybe they fall in love, and the decision about hand holding is even bigger, because that hand that you join at the altar will be another person to which you will have to trust your life to.

It takes a tremendous amount of trust to allow your life and all the things you love to be in someone else’s hands. Jesus, as he was breathing his last, put his spirit into God’s hands, and as I’ve read back on the stories, I think oddly, that might have been one of the most comfortable moments in the whole story. There’s a lot to be said for knowing that you’re going home. And what place could be more like home than going back to the hands that have loved you and cared for you during your whole life?

Little children are taught to sing “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” And sometimes, we adults need to sing that to ourselves to be reminded that all things are in God’s hands– the things that we know are so small, the things that seem like huge mountains to us. Even the people we love, even the ones that we can’t any longer sit and have dinner with. The promise is that no matter the storms that come our way, all of our days are in God’s hands. The promise of Christ’s resurrection is that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God. When finally we leave this world, we know that the hands that have silently held ours throughout or days will be opened wide ready to receive us.

Allstate insurance has a great slogan–it’s easy to remember and it makes you feel comforted, even though you know it’s just a commercial. There slogan is “In Good Hands.”

Mrs. Collie, yours have been good hands for 93 years. Children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, not to mention lots of other folks, have seen love in action in your hands. Your hands have surely loved many, many folks. But today, Mrs. Collie, you are back in the hands that have loved you and cared for you throughout your life. You’re in good hands.

To God, whom not even death itself can silence, be the glory. Amen.

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