Thursday, May 15, 2014

Funeral Sermon on John 14

Burial of the Dead – Charles Lloyd Dinsmore, Jr.
Lamentations 3:22-26; 31-33; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9; John 14:1-6
16 February 2014

© 2014 Evan D. Garner

When we were young, there was a kid in our grade named Michael. Every school has a Michael. He was the one who sat in the corner during P.E. and put his finger in places where it didn’t belong. (I know, gross.) Then, when you weren’t looking, he’d run up behind you and scare you by putting his hand in your face. Quickly, Michael earned a reputation as the kind of kid no one wanted to be around. We gave him nicknames and other labels that identified him in no uncertain terms as repulsive. And those are the kind of labels that don’t come off very easily. It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen him, and I’m ashamed of this, but it would be hard for me to meet him and not think of what he did in P.E. class so long ago.

The disciple known as “Doubting Thomas” has a similar reputation. When the other disciples came and told him that they had seen the risen Lord, he’s the one who told them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails and place my finger in the mark of the nails and put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” That’s the kind of statement that’s hard to escape. In fact, we read it every year in church on the second Sunday of Easter, continuing to condemn Thomas’ doubts two-thousand years after he first demanded physical proof. So, whenever we hear another story about Thomas—like the gospel lesson we just read—it’s hard to think of him as anything but Doubting Thomas.

But I think we should give Thomas another chance: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” It’s easy to hear that as another example of Thomas’ faithlessness, but I wonder what happens if we allow him to ask that question as a reasonable, hopeful, faithful inquiry that stems from a heartfelt desire to be with Jesus. This comes in the middle of Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples. Jesus had already explained to them that he was going to a place where they could not follow him now. He was leaving them to return to his father—to be in the immediate presence of God, where no human could travel. It was a place they did not know and could not know. And Thomas just wanted to know how they were going to get there.

If we start from a place where Thomas is asking the kind of question any of us would ask, then Jesus words are also transformed from a reprimand into an encouragement: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In this world of political-correctness and inclusion, this verse can sound a little harsh—as if Jesus were excluding from the kingdom anyone who did not go through him. We might be able to reach that conclusion from this one verse of scripture, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said it. He was simply offering Thomas the answer to his question. How will you get to the place where I am going? How is it possible for you to enter the very presence of Almighty God? The answer, Jesus said, is me.

I am. You know me, Thomas. And if you know me, you know the father. Be encouraged, Jesus said. Trust that I am the one to show you the way to the father because I am the one who has shown you what the father is really like. The father is in me, and I am in the father, and that means that everything you see about me is giving you a taste of what God is really like. And that means that God is inviting and welcoming and including—just like Jesus. And it also means that God is loving and peaceful and gentle—like Jesus. And, if there is anything we are supposed to take with us to the end of life and through the grave, it is the confidence of knowing that Jesus has shown us the way to the father through his immeasurable love for us.

I do not know when Charles Dinsmore first became aware of that love. He was a parishioner here a long time ago, and I never met him. But his children told me that the night before he died he said to his caretaker, “I’m ready.” The words startled him, so he asked Charles, “What did you say?” And he replied simply, “I’m ready.” Naturally, he thought he meant “ready for bed,” so they went through their nighttime ritual together, but by morning Charles had died. He was ready—ready for what lay ahead of him. He was at peace. He knew what it meant to be loved by God and to be at peace with whatever lay ahead.

We give thanks to God this day for the life of Charles Dinsmore. We thank God for the peace that he had at the end of his life. And we thank God for the gift of peace that he gives to each one of us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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