Friday, January 31, 2014

Guest Post Of A Funeral Message To Ponder and Remember

Pastor Phil Kniss
For those of you unable to attend the memorable funeral service held at the Park View Mennonite Church Monday, Pastor Phil Kniss gave me his kind permission to post his meditation here. I experienced his words as profound and powerful.

Romans 8:35, 37-39; Philippians 4:4-9; Matthew 11:28-30

Let’s be honest.
    This room is packed to overflowing.
    And there is not a one of us who wants to be here.
        This is the last place we want to be,
            and the last thing we want to be doing.
        I believe we all would have given our right arms, literally,
            if it would have prevented the tragedy
            that brings us here together today.

Chris had once
    been so full of life and love and creativity and energy,
        had accomplished so much good,
        had built friendships that changed people
            and launched institutions,
        had quietly and persistently tried to do his part
            to live out the values of the kingdom of God.
His tragic death has ended all that doing good,
    and the future good he still wanted to do.

But even more,
    his death has plunged a whole community,
    and especially those he loved the most,
        into the deep waters of agony and grief and brokenness,
        where no one should ever have to go. Ever.

At times like this,
    when our own feeble words fail us,
    we people of faith flee to the words of scripture.
We go to the Bible,
    and we look for comfort for our anguish,
    we look for answers to our questions,
    we look for words to make sense of the confusion,
    we look for light to penetrate where it’s too dark to see.

But if we dip into the well of scripture,
    expecting to draw up words explaining this tragedy to our satisfaction
    we will come up dry.
If we go to scripture,
    looking for an answer as to why this happened,
    we won’t find it.
If we go to scripture,
    asking for words to make sense of this for us,
    we will be disappointed.

There will be those who try to do that.
    Who try to quote scripture in a way that makes it sound
        that God had some mysterious reason for this,
        that God directly or indirectly had his fingers
            in these horrible events.
    Family—Lynette and children especially—
        if, and when, well-meaning Christians come to you,
        trying to comfort you by implying that this was somehow
            part of God’s master plan,
            don’t pay them mind.
        You can pity them, you can love them, but don’t pay them mind.
    That is not the kind of God we worship.
    That is not the kind of God that Chris loved,
        and devoted his life to.

There are, and will remain, deep questions on our minds
    that we might wish words of scripture
    could answer clearly, definitively, finally.

But the Bible is not that sort of answer-book.
    It doesn’t so much reveal everything we wish to know.
    It reveals what we need to know.

Life is sometimes a deep and profound mystery.
There is so much we don’t know.
    So much that remains hidden.
And apparently, God is comfortable leaving it that way.
    God does not expect or need us to learn all the intricate answers.
    God seems most interested in knowing
        whether we are willing to receive and return his love.

So these questions are left hovering there without answers.
    Why does such deep human suffering go on and on,
        without God intervening to stop it?
    How is it that a good man’s body, and mind, and spirit,
        can so deeply desire to be whole,
        yet remain so fragile, diminished, and disordered?

There is so much we don’t know today.
    We don’t know exactly how this devastating disease of amyloidosis
        was affecting his body and brain and spirit.
    We do know it changed him, radically,
        sapped his energy,
        robbed him of his creative, life-loving self,
        caused him to disengage and withdraw,
        altered his ways of thinking and being with people,
            even with his own family.
    We wish we knew more,
        because, we reason,
        knowing more might have helped us save his life.
    But we don’t know.
        And our questions may remain unanswered
            for the rest of our days.

    There are many other people in this world
        living with the same sort of questions, day after day.
    There is so much pain and suffering and evil in this world,
        that simply goes unexplained,
        cannot be given meaning or purpose.

But I do not wish to dwell on what we don’t know.
    I am here to remind us of what we do know.
    I am here to proclaim the Gospel.
        The Good News of God’s character and God’s work.

One thing we do know from scripture,
    is that disease and devastation,
        and anything that diminishes or destroys life,
        is neither God’s will, nor God’s doing.
    God is the creator and sustainer of all life.

Another thing we know about God’s character,
    is that God is love.
    That is the core component of God’s character and agenda.
        To love people to himself.
        That love is constant, and persistent.

So I turn to scripture to remind us of what we know.

First of all, I want us all to hear, and remember,
    that God is near to those who suffer.
Psalm 34 says,
    “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
        and saves the crushed in spirit.”
    We worship a God who is not removed from suffering,
        who is not dispassionate, or unfeeling.
        No! When there is suffering, our God moves closer!
        Chris was close to the heart of God.
            Of that we can be certain.
        Right in the middle of his mysterious brokenness,
            when no one else could reach him,
            God moved in.
            God was near, when no one else could be.
        So up to his last moment, Chris remained,
            and ever will be, close to the heart of God.

    The psalmist also proclaims in faith,
        “The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
            none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”
        Chris did take refuge in God.
        Chris was not, and is not, condemned.
        Let no one suggest otherwise.
            No, it was not God’s will for Chris to take his own life.
            But neither is it in God’s will or God’s character,
                to turn his back on anyone who takes refuge in him,
                even when disease and disordered thinking take over
                    and lead someone to terribly wrong
                    life-ending decisions.
        The Lord redeems the life of his servants.
            Chris was a servant of God.
            And today, friends and family,
                Chris’ life is redeemed.
                That is, his life is returned to God, at full value.
                    Redeemed. At full value.

And then there is Romans 8,
    a text that Michaela wanted to be sure that we read today.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
    Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness,
        or peril, or sword?”
    “No! Of course not!” Paul declares.
    “In all these things we are more than conquerors
        through him who loved us.
    For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,
        nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
        nor height, nor depth . . .
            nor amyloidosis, nor depression,
            nor disordered thinking, nor suicide . . .
        nor anything else in all creation,
            will be able to separate us from the love of God
                in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is one scripture that we are allowed to add words to.
    We have permission, right there in the text,
        to add our own words.
    Because Paul assures us that in this list of things
        that will not separate us from God,
        is “anything else in all creation.”
    Nothing can separate us from God’s constant and persistent love.
        Nothing. But nothing.

Then there are Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 11.
    A text that Isaac mentioned yesterday,
        that gave him comfort.
    So we read them this afternoon.

    “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
        and I will give you rest.
        Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;
            for I am gentle and humble in heart,
            and you will find rest for your souls.”
    Chris was carrying a very heavy burden.
        Only he knows how heavy.
        Now, because of his death,
            we must carry this heavy burden.
        Lynette and the children more than anyone,
            but it’s a burden we all share.

    But the invitation from our loving God is,
        “Come to me, weary ones.
            Come to me with your heavy burdens.
            Take my yoke, instead.
                It is bearable.
                For I am gentle.
                You can carry my yoke, and still find rest for your souls.
                Because my yoke is carved from love.”

And there is the passage from Philippians 4,
    which Michaela named,
    because she included it once in a note to her father.
We also read it today, and I repeat, in part . . .
    “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything . . .
        And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
            will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus . . .
        Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
            whatever is just, whatever is pure . . .
            think about these things . . .
            and the God of peace will be with you.”

As I said, none of us want to be here today.
    And there is nothing good, nothing God-directed,
        about the horrific event that brought us here today.
    But there is Good News to be proclaimed.
        God’s love is constant.
        God’s love is persistent.
        God’s love cannot be removed from us.
        God’s heart of love is moved toward
            all who suffer,
            all who carry heavy burdens,
            all who need rest.
    Lynette, Michaela, Sylvia, and Isaac—
        may God’s love wash over you today,
            and tomorrow,
            and every day.
    And know that even if one day
        your heart is filled with God’s love,
        there is still more love to be had.
    For those days to come when your heart seems empty,
        God’s love is never-ending.
        There is more love somewhere.

—Phil Kniss, January 27, 2014

P.S.  Phil's meditation was followed by the song in Sing the Journey, "There is more love somewhere". The music in the service was beautiful beyond belief.

Click here for more posts, or click on "Home".


Clair Hochstetler said...

Extremely moving an sensitive, grace-filled sermon of Phil's, for sure! Thanks for posting this, Harvey. -Chaplain Clair Hochstetler

Diane said...

I just read this and was so moved. Thank you for posting this, Harvey. God is definitely good and loving.