Monday, December 14, 2015
Though now for a little while. . .
There is that great scene from the movie Field of Dreams. Ray built the baseball diamond but found no comfort for himself among all the things he saw. Then he recognized his father. O my God, it’s my father... My God! I'd only seen him years later when he was worn down by life. Look at him. He's got his whole life in front of him...
I could say the same for Rodney. I never knew him except as a man wearing the scars of too many afflictions and battles with heart, cancer, and tumors. I never saw him walk. He was tethered to a scooter chair. I saw him not at the beginning of his life but in the final chapter when the suffering, weakness, and diseases had taken their toll upon his body. But not his soul.
This was a man who had been to Viet Nam as a Navy corpsman, who had suffered a stroke, multiple bouts with a mitral valve problem, brain tumors removed and returned, and then struggled at the last to become strong enough simply to go home one more time. Through it all the unmistakable costs of suffering had left him with difficulty speaking and mobility issues. But they could not tame his spirit.
You see that is how it is for all of us. Sure, Linda has known him longer than anyone but even then she did not seem him run as a child toward hopes and dreams that no one could diminish. We each see glimpses of one another, snapshots of a whole life that is seen and know fully only by God Himself. And this is our comfort. God knows. He knew the twists and turns of Rodney’s life and His promise endured through it all. He knew the sufferings and struggles no one would know until they came and when they did, God was there. He knew the weakness of flesh and blood that wear out, that don’t work like we want, and that leave us a shadow of our former selves, but God is hidden in our weakness with the fullness of His strength. He sees us all, from beginning to the end. He loves us through the beginning and at the end He gives to us eternal life.
God has hidden in our weakness His strength, His peace, and His mercy. Though now for a little while we suffer, for eternity we shall be free from suffering. Though now we sin much and we come in repentance seeking His forgiveness, for eternity we shall not know sin or any evil but live as the perfect, perfectly covered by Christ’s holiness and righteousness forevermore. Though now we grieve for the loss of what was, for the promise of what might have been, for eternity we shall know perfect peace, without regret, without disappointment, and without any more weariness to weigh us down. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. We were baptized into His grace and born anew to a lively hope that no one and nothing can steal. Through the journey of this mortal life we have this promise held for us, an inheritance we cannot fully possess until the things of this life and this moment are fully left behind. But they are no less ours when we hold onto them by faith than when we see, now like Rodney, the Lord and His mercy face to face.
What is important to us is that the tests of life that come, and they surely will, refine us and the hope that is within us, purifying our faith and proving that faith genuine. For Rodney, those tests are complete; he has fought the good fight, and now he is given the gift of rest to the resurrection of all flesh and the new and glorious body no longer subject to any limitation.
For now this is our hope. We hold onto it as those who grieve but who do not grieve without hope in the promise and Word of Christ. We cling to it when it seems all there is for us is disappointment, suffering, and trials. We rejoice in it when there is nothing left of life to rejoice in. And when the moment comes and this flesh and blood surrender themselves to death, we will be raised with Christ to new and everlasting life where death, darkness, disease, and doubt no longer can diminish our joy or test our faith any longer.
I never knew Rodney before the ravages of too many ills had stolen his mobility and slowed his speech. But God knew him from the beginning of his life to the last breath. And the Lord loved him with the everlasting love that death cannot overcome and illness can no longer touch. We had him for a while – that is as long as we have anyone in this mortal life – but the Lord has marked him in baptism for eternity. This is our comfort in sorrow and our hope – for the resurrection of the dead, for our own joyful reunion with those whom we love, and for the recreation of our mortal bodies into the glorious flesh Christ already wears. This is the promise of Christ’s death and the hope of His resurrection. Our sins died, death died, and we live. Imagine that!
Rodney loved the hills of Montana and next year his remains will be laid to rest there. But the life he lives, he lives to God and the strength of the hills is now his forever. It was never in the earth or the stone but in the Lord who made those hills. That is our comfort today. Rodney’s strength was never in his body but in the Lord who made him for eternity. Whatever life tried to steal from him, God has given back a hundred fold. Eye has not seen, mind has not imagined, nor heart desired what God has prepared for those who love the Lord. This is our hope and Rodney’s possession.
Now to you comes the same promise that sustained Rodney through all the struggles of his life. When life steals your energy, when it tests your mettle, when it disappoints you, and when it wounds you, you belong to the Lord and not to the afflictions and scars of this mortal life. These things you have now for a little while but Christ you have for eternity and in Him is everlasting life and light, hope and peace. So in your grief, do not lament what you did not know or did not see or did not share with Rodney in his life. Rejoice that in weakness and in strength, the Lord was with him, carrying him through the troubles and delivering him from the idea that this present moment is all we have – for good or for ill. Rejoice in the expectation of eternal life, the blest reunion with those who have before, and blessed gift of everlasting life that death cannot touch, not now, now anymore. For this is our comfort and our hope.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.