Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sermon for the Funeral of Doug Balam (August 25, 2011)

Wordle: Untitled

“A Slight Momentary Affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:13-16)

This is one of those occasions when I can’t say much about the deceased. I did not know Doug all that well. My connection to Doug was through his brother Gerry who is a member of my congregation here in Marysville. I did visit with Doug a handful of times, but not enough to stand here and pretend that I knew what kind of person he was. I’ll leave that to you, as you share your memories later, immediately after the service, later at the reception, and as you reminisce about him in the days and years ahead.

My task in times like these is to give comfort and hope to those who are still living. My tool, if you will, is the Word of God as given to us in the Bible. The Word of God that I want to reflect on today is from the pen of the Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth in the first century AD. You heard it read a few moments ago. Allow me to read it one more time: [2 Corinthians 4:13-18]

Paul calls our life “this slight momentary affliction.” Sure, we get to enjoy many things. The love of family. The joy of friendship. The beauty of creation. At the same time, life is not always “a bed of roses.” It can be quite thorny and prickly. Life is not always “peaches and cream.” Sometimes it is downright rotten and sour.

Nor do our afflictions seem slight or momentary. Doug knew this. I’m sure many of you do, too. Pain, suffering, illness, and disease can drag on for years. Disappointment, sadness, and grief can linger for days on end.

Creation is broken. Our bodies are broken. “Our outer nature is wasting away,” St. Paul says.

It was never meant to be that way in the beginning. Suffering and death are the consequence of mankind disobeying God. A perfect world became corrupted. Man became a sinner. Each of us have inherited a sinful nature from that day forward. All of us are under a death sentence because of sin.

God is a just God. He has to punish sin. But he is also gracious and merciful. And so he was determined to save us from our sinful predicament. He promised to one day send a Savior. That Savior is his Son Jesus, true God and true Man, who bore the punishment we deserved for our sins at the cross. The Innocent Son of God suffered as our substitute. He took our sins upon himself and he gives us his righteousness. All the ways in which we have offended the holy God are forgiven. By trusting in Jesus’ finished work at the cross, we are declared innocent, holy, righteous in God’s sight.

This is all a free gift. Nothing we can do will ever be good enough to earn it or deserve it. It’s all by grace, God’s undeserved favor towards us in Christ Jesus.

One of the thieves who was crucified beside Jesus recognized this. The other thief was mocking Jesus. His criminal colleague turned to him and said, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

This man had no opportunity whatsoever to do anything good to try to earn back God’s favor. He was being executed for his crimes. His hands and feet were nailed to two beams of wood. It was impossible for him to do any acts of penance, to somehow make restitution for his sin. He simply turned to Jesus and in repentant trust said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And the Savior replied, “Today, you will with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

Paul writes that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” All of this world’s suffering will fade in comparison to the glory of eternity. There will be no more pain. No more sorrow. No more tears. No more death. Only joy and bliss and life in God’s presence … forever. And this present life with all its suffering and sadness and death will seem like just a blip on the radar, a passing click of the second hand on the clock, a snap of the finger.

Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning, proving his power over sin and death for us. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man [that is, Adam] came death, by a man [that is, Jesus Christ] has come also the resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order, Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and every power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15:20-26) All who die trusting in what Jesus did for them at the cross will also rise to life again, just as Jesus has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. And in the reading we heard read earlier, Paul declares that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” (2 Cor. 4:14) In death, the soul returns to God who made it. The body returns to the dust. But when Jesus returns as he promised, all who trust in Christ will bodily rise to eternal life and live in his glorious presence forever.

In the meantime, we “look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.” When people looked at Jesus on the cross, what did they see? Just a man, beaten, bloodied, suffering, dying. But what was unseen there? This was God in the flesh, humbling himself to save us from our sins and to rescue us from the brokenness of this fallen world.

And what do you see when you look at this fallen world? Suffering, disease, death. “Our outer nature is wasting away.” But what is unseen here? God is at work behind the scenes, supporting us, lifting us up, carrying us through our difficult times, teaching us, leading us, guiding us through his Word in the Bible, forgiving us, saving us, giving faith in the hearts of people even when it may not seem so apparent. “Our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

I visited Doug on a couple of different occasions, when it seemed as if he didn’t have much time left. He actually did, but we didn’t know that at the time, did we? There’s another example of “the things are unseen,” right? None of us knows for sure how much time we have left in this life. When I visited Doug, I asked him if he believed that Jesus is his Savior. Did he believe that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross to forgive him of all his sins, and rose to life again to give him the gift of eternal life? Doug said he did. He confessed faith in Jesus. So I’m going to take Doug at his word. If he died believing and confessing that Jesus is his Savior, then, like that thief on the cross, Doug’s Lord said to him on August 15, 2011 “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”


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