On Monday of this week, a sixteen year old boy in our church was killed in an automobile accident in which he was the lone occupant of the vehicle. What follows is the text of the sermon I preached at his funeral. As I prepared it, I was thinking of his family, of course, but also of all of those teenagers who would be in attendance. I am posting it here hoping for feedback. Are these words helpful? What could I have said better? I want to know in case I ever have to do this again, which I hope with all my heart I do not. I have removed references to the young man’s name.
On June 25, 1990, a baby boy was born. That boy would have turned seventeen next month. Instead, though, on the morning of May 21, he left us and went home to be with his Lord and with his loved ones who have gone to heaven before him.
There is mystery in this and we need to confess the mystery. Oh, it’s not all mystery. We know that motor vehicles are powerful machines and we know that human beings are fallible and we know that accidents happen and we know that sometimes when accidents happen lives are lost. Still, there is mystery. It is a mystery why some live to a ripe old age and why some are stillborn. It is a mystery why an evil person might live to be eighty when a good person might die at sixteen. It is a mystery why some die suddenly while others die long painful deaths. There is mystery in life and there is mystery in death. That mystery just needs to be acknowledged.
At a time like this logic fails us and that’s all right because logic is not what we need anyway. What we need is trust. What we need is the willingness to settle for the peek behind the curtain that the Lord in his grace allows us to have so that we can keep living this life.
When we are allowed to peek behind the curtain, though, we still see things that are mysteries to us. Paul said as much when he talked about his vision of heaven. He admitted to the glimpse but he also admitted to not being able to describe what he had seen. John admitted as much with his abundant use of symbolism in the Revelation; he had a glimpse but when it came to setting down on paper what he had seen he had to speak in metaphors. There was just no other way to talk about it.
We are not left speechless in the face of the awesomeness of God and of the sometimes awfulness of the world, but we are left with a limited vocabulary. What we are left with is trust. What we are left with is belief. What we are left with is the stubborn clinging to that which we know we have caught a glimpse of and to that which we grasp for words to describe. We know it’s real. It has to be real. There’s nothing for it to be but real.
In the movie Contact, Jodie Foster plays a scientist whose skepticism and practicality leave no room in her world for the transcendent. When she was a girl, her father died of a heart attack. When a minister tries to comfort her with talk of the will of God, she just says, “I should have kept the medicine close by.” As an adult, she is chosen to be the passenger in a strange craft that is going to take her who knows where. After a journey through a worm hole takes her vehicle somewhere deep into space, the machine comes to a sudden stop. She beholds a wonderful sight, a sight that any scientist would long to see. The words she says are surprising. Does she offer a scientific explanation for what she sees? No. Does she apply her keen logic to the wondrous sight before her? No. She says, “They should have sent a poet.” They should have sent a poet, because only the poets have the kind of insight and the kind of vocabulary needed to come anywhere near describing the indescribable.
Fortunately, our Bibles were written by inspired poets. Those poets will, if we will let them, draw us into their world and that’s where we want to be because it is after the world that God has revealed to them for our sake. So let us be drawn into that world today.
In that world we meet a man named Enoch. Enoch lived to be 365 years old. Hear his story:
When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; then we was no more, because God took him. (Genesis 5:21-24)
Three hundred sixty-five years sounds like a long time to us. But in the context of Genesis five it was not. Jared, Enoch’s father, lived to be 962. Methuselah, Enoch’s son, lived to be 969. Enoch lived a much shorter earthly life than anyone else named in Genesis 5 but he lived the best life of all. Why? Because he is the only one of whom it is said that “he walked with God” and he is the only one of whom it is said that “God took him.” Our friend’s life was short as we reckon time. Yet during his time here he walked with God. And while we cannot and must not say that God caused the accident, we can surely say that God took him home because only God can take us home. Only God can take us to where took Enoch and to where he has taken the rest of his children.
Let us be drawn into the world of the poets of the Bible. In that world we will meet Job. Job lost everything. He lost his material possessions, then he lost all of his children, and then he lost his health. But he didn’t lose his integrity and he didn’t lose his tenacity. He struggled with God over what had happened to him. He had questions and he asked them. He didn’t understand and he said so. Bumper sticker theology and pious platitudes didn’t work for Job and he said so. Job never got clear cut answers to many of his questions; we’re back to mystery again. What he did get, though, was the assurance that God was with him. Toward the end of the book Job says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5). Perhaps there are some of us here for whom God has to this point been a rumor or a conjecture or a possibility or a problem. Perhaps this day will be made worthwhile if some of us can leave here today knowing for a fact that God is with us.
Let us be drawn into the world of the poets of the Bible. In that world we will meet Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s ultimate statement of his presence with us both in this world and in the world to come. Jesus shows us everything that we need to know about God. In his life he shows us that God longs to be with us and to have us be with him. In his death he shows us that God suffers for us but also with us. In his resurrection he shows us that God redeems our suffering and our dying and turns it into the victory of everlasting life. When we trust in Christ as Savior, we are drawn into his way of living, his way of dying, and his way of rising. Listen to the way Paul puts it.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words…. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:14-18, 26, 28)
The events of our lives, be they good or the bad events, mean something very important, then, when they are caught up in the grace and in the purposes of God. He does redeem. He does transform. He does resurrect.
Our brother was here with us for just a little while. But his story was a part of Enoch’s story. While he was here he walked with God and now God has taken him home. His story was a part of Job’s story. He and his family suffered losses along the way. But he had and we can have a personal relationship with God that lasts for all eternity. His story was and is a part of Jesus’ story. He had accepted Jesus as his Savior; he suffered along with Jesus and Jesus suffered along with him. Now, he knows the reward of having loved and having been loved by Jesus and one day he will know the glory of his own resurrection like Jesus knows the glory of his.
We need to be caught up in that story, too. The poets of the Bible have made it possible for us, but it is really God himself in his grace and love who has made it possible. This young man believed and hoped; now he doesn’t have to believe and hope anymore because he knows. We still have to live in faith. For his sake, for our own sake, and for God’s sake—let’s live with the mystery, let’s live in wonder, and let’s live in faith.