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PHILIPPIANS 4:13 PSALM 23| A CLOSER WALK |

July 16, 2018
Posted by Office Staff

 

 

 

 

A CLOSER WALK

PSALM 23

PHILIPPIANS 4:13

JULY 15, 2018

 

THIRTY SOMETHING YEARS AGO, EARLY IN MY FIRST PASTORATE, I PREACHED A SERMON ENTITLED: “WHY WE DO FUNERALS BACKWARDS.”

 

MY CONTENTION THEN, AS NOW, IS THAT THE TRADITIONAL AMERICAN FUNERAL SHOULD BE REVERSED.

 

INSTEAD OF HAVING A SERVICE IN THE CHURCH, OR FUNERAL HOME, WHERE WE READ COMFORTING AND INSPIRING SCRIPTURES; SING SONGS AFFIRMING OUR FAITH IN GOD, AND IN THE LIFE EVERLASTING;

 

WHERE WE PRAISE GOD FOR THE PERSON’S LIFE, AND REMEMBER ALL THAT WAS GOOD AND GENEROUS AND KIND ABOUT THEM; EVEN, PERHAPS, HAVING A LAUGH OR TWO TOGETHER WHILE REMEMBERING;

 

A CELEBRATION OF LIFE; A WITNESS TO THE RESURRECTION; WE CALL IT;

 

AND THEN, GOING WITH THE FAMILY AND A FEW FRIENDS TO THE CEMETERY, WHERE WE MUST NOW BURY OR INTER THE INDIVIDUAL, WITH SOLEMN WORDS OF COMMITTAL, AND TEARS OF LOSS, AND GRIEF, AND GOODBYE;

 

IT WAS MY SUGGESTION THEN, AND NOW, THAT WE REVERSE THE ORDER OF THE WAY WE DO THINGS.

 

THAT WE GO TO THE CEMETERY FIRST.  THAT WE CRY OUR TEARS OF SORROW, GRIEF, AND GOODBYE FIRST; THAT WE FIRST BURY OR INTER THE INDIVIDUAL IN THEIR FINAL RESTING SPOT;

 

AND THEN, GO, AND CELEBRATE THEIR LIFE, THEIR FAITH, OUR FAITH, AND THE PROMISES OF GOD FOR ETERNAL LIFE.

 

IT JUST SEEMS LIKE COMMON SENSE, TO ME.  IT SEEMS… MORE NATURAL.

 

IT’S BETTER THEOLOGICALLY: AFFIRMING WHAT WE BELIEVE – THAT WE DIE, AND IN DYING, ARE BORN AGAIN INTO ETERNAL LIFE.

 

FOR FAMILY, FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES, THE GRIEF, AND LOSS, AND TEARS THEY ARE ALREADY FEELING, COULD THEN BE LEFT AT THE CEMETERY;

 

AND BE FOLLOWED, AT CHURCH, BY THE JOY AND CELEBRATION OF THE PERSON’S LIFE; AND OF LIFE ETERNAL, FOR THEM, AND FOR US.

 

IT JUST MAKES MORE SENSE TO ME, THIS WAY.

 

(BY THE WAY, A NUMBER OF THOSE IN THAT FIRST PARISH OF MINE, TOOK ME UP ON MY SUGGESTION, AND WE DID THEIR FUNERALS IN REVERSE ORDER!)

 

WHILE THE NEW ORLEANS’ JAZZ FUNERAL WITH WHICH YOU MAY BE FAMILIAR IS STILL IN THE TRADITIONAL ORDER OF THINGS – FIRST CHURCH OR FUNERAL HOME – THEN CEMETERY;

 

THE MARCH FROM THE CHURCH TO THE CEMETERY, AND THE MUSIC OF A TRADITIONAL NEW ORLEANS’ JAZZ FUNERAL DOES GET AT WHAT I’M SAYING ABOUT REVERSING THE ORDER OF HOW WE DO FUNERALS.

 

SOME OF US WERE PRIVILEGED ENOUGH TO PARTICIPATE IN THE FUNERAL OF DR. TOM KIRSCHBAUM, ANN REYNOLD’S HUSBAND, A FEW YEARS AGO.

 

(ANN TELLS ME THEIR FIRST DATE WAS AT THE PRESERVATION JAZZ HALL IN NEW ORLEANS.)

 

AFTER TOM’S SERVICE WAS HELD AT DEAN-LOPEZ FUNERAL HOME, ANN ARRANGED FOR A NEW ORLEANS’ STYLE JAZZ BAND TO LEAD US FROM THE FUNERAL HOME TO KEY WEST CEMETERY.

 

AS IS THE TRADITION WITH SUCH FUNERAL PROCESSIONS, THE MUSIC STARTS OUT SLOW, SOMBER, SOULFUL.

 

SONGS SUCH AS JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE; JUST AS I AM; NEARER MY GOD TO THEE; AND AMAZING GRACE ARE PLAYED.

 

THE WORSHIPPERS SLOWLY PROCESS, FOLLOWING THE BAND, AS WELL AS THE TONE OF THE BAND, IN A RATHER SOLEMN PROCESSION; AT LEAST IN THE BEGINNING.

 

HOWEVER, AS THE PROCESSION GETS NEARER AND NEARER TO THE CEMETERY THE SOMBER SONGS OF SADNESS GIVE WAY TO SONGS OF JOY AND CELEBRATION:

 

WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS; WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN; AND DIDN’T HE RAMBLE…

 

IT IS THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS.  IT IS THE THEOLOGY WE BELIEVE, AND HOLD TO: DEATH AND RESURRECTION!

 

IT IS THE 23RD PSALM: “SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE, AND I SHALL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOREVER.”

FIRST, THIS LIFE; THEN DEATH; THEN THE LIFE TO COME.

 

THERE IS AN ANCIENT PROVERB, ATTRIBUTED TO NATIVE AMERICANS FROM THE CHEROKEE NATION.  IT SAYS THIS:

 

WHEN YOU WERE BORN, YOU CRIED,

AND THE WORLD REJOICED.

LIVE YOUR LIFE

SO THAT WHEN YOU DIE,

THE WORLD CRIES AND YOU REJOICE.

 

THERE’S NOTHING PARTICULARLY CHRISTIAN ABOUT THAT PROVERB, EXCEPT, THAT IT’S EXACTLY WHAT WE BELIEVE, AND SAY, AND HOPEFULLY, DO.

 

LIVING OUR LIVES IN SUCH A WAY, THAT WE WILL BE MISSED BY OTHERS; WHILE AT THE SAME TIME, IN A WAY IN WHICH WE CAN REJOICE;

 

NOW, AND FOREVERMORE.

 

FOR US, AS BELIEVERS, A BIG PART OF HOW THAT HAPPENS IS CAPTURED IN OUR TWO PASSAGES FOR THIS MORNING.

 

SUCCINCTLY, IN PHILIPPIANS 4:13 – “I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH HIM WHO STRENGTHENS ME.”

 

IT IS WITH GOD, IN GOD, AND GOD IN US, THAT WE ARE ABLE TO DO ALL THINGS…

 

THE GOOD THINGS, THE POSITIVE THINGS, THE PRODUCTIVE THINGS…

 

THE JUST THINGS, THE RIGHTEOUS THINGS, THE RIGHT THINGS…

 

THE SURVIVING OF THINGS, THE MAKING IT THROUGH THINGS, THE OVERCOMING THINGS…

 

NOT DOING THE THINGS WE SHOULDN’T; AND DOING THE THINGS WE SHOULD.

 

THINGS FOR OURSELVES, AND FOR OTHERS, AND FOR THOSE WHO ARE STRANGERS;

 

AND IN SOME CASES, FOR THOSE WE’VE NEVER MET, NOR ARE LIKELY TO, IN THE WAY OF AID AND ASSISTANCE…

 

THIS IS SOMETHING WE ARE LIKELY TO HEAR A LOT ABOUT NEXT SUNDAY, WHEN OUR MISSIONARIES, DAN AND ELIZABETH TURK ARE HERE TO SHARE WHAT WE ARE HELPING THEM TO DO IN MADAGASCAR THROUGH OUR PRAYERS AND SUPPORT.

 

THE TWENTY-THIRD PSALM GETS INTO MORE DETAILS, AND WITHOUT READING OR RECITING IT AGAIN; OR GOING THROUGH IT LINE BY LINE, I THINK WE KNOW ITS TRUTHS IN OUR CORE BEING.

 

GOD IS OUR SHEPHERD; WE ARE GOD’S SHEEP.

 

LYING DOWN, OR ON THE MOVE, GOD IS WITH US.

 

(BY THE WAY, THAT’S ONE OF THE BEST THINGS ABOUT THIS PSALM AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED: IT’S ALL ABOUT OUR BEING ON THE MOVE, WHICH IS WHAT LIFE’S REALLY LIKE; KNOWING THAT GOD GOES WITH US.)

 

BESIDE STILL WATERS; WHEN WALKING ON PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS;

 

BUT ALSO, IN DARK VALLEYS, IN THE SHADOWY PLACES OF DEATH; WHEN FEAR AND EVIL ARE ALL AROUND US, (EVEN WITHIN US);

 

WHEN OUR ENEMIES SURROUND US; WHEN WE ARE HUNGRY AND THIRSTY; WHEN WE ARE TIRED AND DEPRESSED;

 

WE NEED NOT FEAR; GOD IS WITH; AND GOD WILL COMFORT US.

 

IN THIS LIFE – “ALL OUR DAYS;” AND IN THE NEXT LIFE – “DWELLING IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOREVER.”

 

THE NEW ORLEANS JAZZ FUNERAL BAND, NOT TO MENTION, MOST OF BLUES MUSIC, AND EVEN SOME COUNTRY SONGS, GET IT RIGHT:

 

TIMES MAY BE BAD, LIFE CAN BE HARD, WE MAY BE SAD, BUT BETTER TIMES ARE ALWAYS, POSSIBLY, JUST AROUND THE CORNER.

 

FOR US, AS BELIEVERS, WE HAVE THE CONFIDENCE, IN IT ALL, THAT GOD IS WITH US.

 

IT IS THE WORDS OF THE SECOND VERSE OF JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

 

THROUGH THIS WORLD OF TOILS AND SNARES,

IF I FALTER, LORD WHO CARES?

WHO WITH ME MY BURDEN SHARES?

NONE BUT THEE, DEAR LORD, NONE BUT THEE.

 

JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE,

GRANT IT, JESUS IS MY PLEA,

DAILY, WALKING CLOSE TO THEE,

LET IT BE, DEAR LORD, LET IT BE.

 

DAILY WALKING…

 

NOT TO “BEAT A DEAD HORSE,” BUT THAT’S WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT:

 

DAILY… AND FOREVER… GOD WALKS WITH THEE.  WITH ME.  WITH US.

 

“I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH HIM WHO STRENGTHENS ME.”

 

IF YOU’VE ATTENDED MANY FUNERALS IN YOUR LIFE, YOU ARE MORE THAN LIKELY FAMILIAR WITH THE FAMOUS PRAYER OF CARDINAL NEWMAN:

 

O LORD SUPPORT US ALL THE DAY LONG OF THIS TROUBLOUS LIFE,

UNTIL THE SHADOWS LENGTHEN, AND THE EVENING COMES,

AND THE BUSY WORLD IS HUSHED,

AND THE FEVER OF LIFE IS OVER, AND OUR WORK IS DONE.

THEN, IN YOUR MERCY, GRANT US A SAFE LODGING

AND A HOLY REST AND PEACE AT LAST.  AMEN.

 

THOMAS LYNCH IS A POET, A PRIZE-WINNING ESSAYIST, AND STRANGELY ENOUGH, A FUNERAL DIRECTOR.

 

HIS LITERARY GIFTS ARE HIS OWN, BUT THE MORTICIAN’S CRAFT HE LEARNED FROM HIS FATHER, A FUNERAL DIRECTOR BEFORE HIM.

 

THOMAS HAS SAID THAT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT MOST IMPRESSED HIM ABOUT HIS FATHER WAS THAT WHEN HE WOULD PREPARE THE DEAD FOR BURIAL, HE WOULD TALK TO THEM.

 

BEFORE HE CLOSED THE CASKET, HE WOULD TAKE ONE LAST LOOK AND SAY THINGS LIKE:

 

“NORMAN, MY GOOD FRIEND, YOU DID A GOOD JOB.”

 

WHEN HIS OWN WIFE DIED, HE CLOSED THE CASKET AND SAID, WITH DEEP SADNESS. “ROSIE, ROSIE, HOW CAN I LIVE WITHOUT YOU?”

 

WHEN HE HIMSELF DIED, THOMAS AND HIS BROTHERS CLOSED THE CASKET SAYING: “YOU WERE THE BEST, THE BEST.”

 

ON SUCH OCCASIONS, FOR THOSE WHOM WE HAVE LOVED, WITH WHOM WE HAVE LIVED AND WORKED AND PRAYED AND SERVED, WE, OURSELVES, OFTEN SAY, WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS:

 

“WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT.”

 

THAT IS OFTEN THE CASE, AND IN PART, THEIR STORY; AND HOPEFULLY, OUR OWN.

 

BUT THERE’S ANOTHER PART TO THE STORY; A PART SUGGESTED TO US IN THE STORY OF A MAN BY THE NAME OF ANGELO RONCALLI, AN ITALIAN PEASANT.

 

I DOUBT MANY OF US WOULD RECOGNIZE HIM BY NAME, BUT WE MIGHT KNOW HIM BY HIS OTHER NAME.

 

YOU SEE, ITALIAN PEASANT ANGELO RONCALLI, ROSE TO BECOME POPE JOHN XXIII, ONE OF THE MOST BELOVED FIGURES IN CHRISTIAN HISTORY.

 

DURING HIS SERVICE AS POPE, THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH UNDERWENT A MAJOR UPHEAVAL KNOWN AS VATICAN II, A TUMULTUOUS AND CONTROVERSIAL TIME OF REFORM AND CHANGE.

 

IT IS SAID THAT IN THE MIDST OF THIS VOLATILE TIME, POPE JOHN WOULD READ HIS BEDTIME DEVOTIONS, SAY HIS PRIVATE PRAYERS, AND THEN JUST BEFORE TURNING OUT THE LIGHT, SAY TO HIMSELF:

 

“BUT WHO GOVERNS THE CHURCH?  YOU OR THE HOLY SPIRIT?  VERY WELL, THEN.  GO TO SLEEP, ANGELO, GO TO SLEEP.”

 

HERE IS THE TESTIMONY: WE ARE ALL FLOATING IN A SEA OF MERCY AND GRACE AND PROVIDENCE.

 

SO, GO TO SLEEP.  IN CONFIDENCE AND TRUST, GO TO SLEEP.

 

LET US LIVE OUR LIVES SO THAT WHEN WE DIE, THE WORLD CRIES, AND WE REJOICE.

 

FOR “I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH HIM WHO STRENGTHENS ME.”

 

AND…

 

“SURELY GOODNESS AND MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE, AND I WILL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOREVER.”

 

 

 

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