Yesterday I had the privileged of assisting and preaching at the funeral of a 25-year-old young man. His name was Josh and I have known him since he was around 9 years old. He was a young man with a quick wit, loving heart and a smile that revealed everything it should.
If I have learned nothing over the years of being in ministry, particularly in dealing with death and dying I have learned one thing; no have learned three things. First is that grief demands to know why. The second is that grief also drives one to think of “what if.” Finally, we as a people somehow have not fully accepted the reality of Jesus death and salvation.
There is no answer to the question why. It is life and because of the sin of Adam we are doomed to die. The concept of what if will drive one to imagine how they or their love one could have changed the outcome. When a young person dies that same “what if” will haunt one at each stage of life when friends graduate from college, marry, have children, get promotions or recognitions. This will be with their parents for every stage of Josh’s relatives, and friend’s lives.
The third is for me something that makes me as a minister feel like a failure. Let me use a well-known passage to illustrate. John 3:16 says, God so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that those who believe man not perish but have eternal life.” It could not be clearer belief in Jesus is the one thing required for eternal life. Now our belief does demand a response that shows up in everything we do, everything we say and it will be visible to anyone who sees us. They will know we are Christians by our words and actions.
But during my ministry to the terminally ill, I have prayed with them, spoke to them of the truth of belief and the words of scripture. But in response 99.9% of the time the response I get back from them is “I hope.” Hope is the best we can seem to accept. Hope that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus mean exactly what God said it was all about. Hope that God is telling the truth when he says “your sins I forgive and your guilt I remember no more.” Why is it we still carry the burden of sins we have committed for the entirety of our lives when God says he has forgotten.
As a member of the clergy, I accept the failure as ours for failing to do as Paul who “preached Christ and him crucified.” We as church spend the majority of our time teaching our community doctrine and dogma. But if today’s gospel does not show us anything it shows us the key to overcome doubt. It shows us how to change “I hope” to “I believe.”
Jesus knew when he appeared to the disciples that Thomas would not be there. He knew that the questions of Thomas would be the questions of thousands of us. He also knew that to believe with that same kind of understanding would only come from a personal encounter with him. The story of Thomas was given to us to show us that doubts without seeking to satisfy those doubts is in itself a barrier to believing what Christ death means for us.
So in the end that upper room experience led those to know that there needs to be an experience of Jesus for each of us personally. That is a critical step for us to make at some point in our spiritual journey. The only question is can we find our way to an upper room and wait in prayer for the presence of Christ and the in filling of the Holy Spirit? One key to find a way to that experience is the community of believers who want to share their experience with you as the disciples did with Thomas. Thomas, we have seen the Lord! The key is the Holy Spirit whom Christ in that upper room the night before he died said “he will teach you and remind you of all I ever said and did.” The key is can you shed doubt and step out of your comfort zone to step on water and walk toward Jesus. Doubt is overcome by moving toward Jesus.
One last thought all the above is about us. Thinking of Josh got me there. Josh died of an overdose and his parents were brave enough not to hide that fact. Josh died because he listened to a lie told to him that the way to happiness was to find it in a liquid. Jesus embraced Josh at the moment of his death because God saw the glory he created and Josh’s failure he remembered on more. We should in all things focus on the love and mercy of Jesus