Reflection begins after the two Bible readings…
John 14;27 [Jesus says] “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Romans 8:35, 37-39 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Cathy and Ralph’s story about how they met is told with multiple variations depending on who you ask. The bottom line is that Ralph’s determination charmed up a phone number from someone who knew how to get a hold of her back in the day of land lines; back in the day when flight attendants were called stewardesses; back in the day when Cathy shelved her teaching degree for the blue sky and adventure of working for United Airlines. Their courtship flew into the adventure of marriage and onto the blue waters of Carter Lake where the occasional flipped sailboat dunked Cathy, the non-swimmer in the life vest, who’d get out of the water and back on the boat. The boats became history once the kids arrived. Greg and Nancy were precious cargo of a different sort via their deliveries into the Nyhus family made possible by adoption through Lutheran Family Services. Pampers and parental duty became the new adventure.
For Cathy, faith ran deeply in her sense of duty – as a doctor’s wife and then mother, she drove her kids all over town as they pursued various sports and activities, she baked extraordinary cakes, she hostessed fabulous dinner parties, and she volunteered her time in the community. As charitable and giving as Cathy was, she struggled with her the fear of her own imperfection – the limits of her humanity. In the language of the Christian tradition, we call it sin. And this is where the testimony of faith is so powerful. She worshiped regularly, even attending worship just a few weeks before she died. While worshiping she heard Jesus’ promise of forgiveness of sin and God’s love for her over and over and over again.
In the Bible verse read by David, Jesus says, “I do not give to you as the world gives; do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.” I suppose that’s easy for Jesus to say. Not so easy for us. We can get lost in the details of Jesus’ words. How does the world give? How is what the world gives different than what Jesus gives? There’s a temptation at funerals to try to look back and prove our worthiness before God. To think that we have to prove our own goodness or the worthiness of the person who died, and position ourselves in right relationship with God with a list of the good. The list becomes a bit like Santa’s naughty and nice tally. But here in the Gospel of John, Jesus is saying he doesn’t give as the world gives. He doesn’t tally. If his death on the cross means anything, it means that God is not in the sin accounting business any-more! Another way to say it is that it’s not about what we’re doing, it is all about what Jesus does for us.
Listen to the promise in Paul’s letter to the Roman that Greg read:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We hear this promise and still we’re tempted to ask “BUT what about WHAT I’M supposed to do?! Have I done enough to make myself right with God?!” It’s hard for us to believe that what Jesus accomplished on the cross is the last word for us.
The Gospel of John emphasizes the power of God in Jesus. Jesus, who is God. God, who is Jesus. Jesus whose life reveals God’s love and care for all people regardless of class, gender, or race. Jesus whose ministry of God’s unconditional love led to his execution on a cross. Jesus’ death on the cross means a lot of things. One thing the cross means is that God knows suffering. More than that, the cross reveals the mystery of God suffering with us when we suffer.
The crosses in our lives can separate us from each other and from God. But God says, “Not so fast…I’ve been there too…I who came in the form of a baby, who lived and walked the earth, who was put to death and who conquered death in rising again…I am God and I have the last word.” God’s last word meets us our sin with forgiveness and meets our grief with hope – the hope that forgiveness and reconciliation with each other are possible; and the hope of all that God is yesterday in a living baby, today in a living Christ and tomorrow in an eternal God.
In self-sacrificing love, Jesus laid his life down and now catches death up into God, drawing Cathy into holy rest. Here, now, we are assured that this is God’s promise for Cathy, just as it was for Ralph. And be assured, that this is God’s promise for you. Thanks be to God!