This morning we held the funeral of a sweet, remarkable, vital woman whose life story is the kind you would not have guessed from a quick glance. This is my message from the service.
There are times when I feel at a loss for words, and rising to stand in the pulpit today is one of those times.
I am not the kind of person who can give simple answers. I have heard them. I have heard people say them to one another. I have heard them say them to me. “She’s with God now.” And this is true. This is profoundly true. It is the heart of what we come together to do on this day – to symbolically entrust Kerstin into the arms of God. But it is not simple. It doesn’t take away the pain. It does not take away the loss. It does not fill the hole that exists in our hearts.
And maybe there is no word that is able to fill that hole. Maybe there is nothing to say that can take away the pain. And perhaps that is what I hate about simple answers – we try to make them do something they cannot do. Our loved one may be with God, but that message doesn’t silence the ache in my heart. It doesn’t take away the regrets. It doesn’t dispel the fear of my own mortality.
I don’t want the church to be the place of cheap answers. I want the church to be a place where we wrestle with the questions. I want the church to be a place where we wrestle with God like Jacob at the River Jabbok.
I love the scriptures because I don’t find this to be a book of cheap and simple answers. I find this to be a book filled with all the struggles and questions, joy and sorrows of life. In this book is the story of Abraham who is asked by God to leave home with nothing but a promise to sustain him. It is the story of Moses who survives the murderous plans of pharaoh only to find his own hands stained with blood as he flees into the desert. Yet there in the desert, after many years, he encounters God in the form of a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames.
It is the story of the people of Israel, asked to trust God in the wilderness for daily bread that appears each morning like frost on the ground.
It is the story of those same people, who have seen great wonders and promised to worship God alone, yet building a golden calf in the desert as soon as Moses turns his back.
It is the story of David standing before Goliath with nothing but a sling and a conviction that those who mock God will fall.
It is the story of Ruth who will not leave her mother-in-law though Naomi’s husband and sons have all perished and she is without any security or hope.
It is the story of Peter who is called to leave his nets and follow this Jesus of Nazareth.
It is the story of Paul who participates in the murder of Stephen and breathes threats and murder against the followers of Jesus, when he is met by the blinding light of the risen Christ.
These are all complicated stories. We turn them into sweet little children’s books for Sunday School, but in these stories are all the questions and struggles, hopes and sorrows of human life.
And we keep coming back to these stories because we find in them a voice, an eternal voice, a voice from the heart of all existence, that speaks to us about grace and life, that speaks of a future when we can see no future, that speaks of a goodness that brings healing to the world, that speaks of an imperishable love at the heart of all things, that speaks of an empty grave and a risen Lord who breathes out upon us his Spirit and calls us into his life.
As a Christian community we say that everything eternity has to say to us is made present to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It tells us that we are created in the heart of God and destined for the heart of God. It tells us that the heart of all existence is compassion and faithfulness and a love that lays down its life for us. It tells us that the destiny of the world is not chaos and destruction but a holy city where tears are no more. The human story is from life into life, not from chance into nothingness.
That story is why we gather here in this place to remember Kerstin. That story is why we gather here in our grief. That story is why we gather here week after week, to hear again the promise that we are all welcomed into the arms of the eternal as Jesus embraces the infants of our reading today. So we trust Kerstin into those arms. And we trust ourselves into those arms.