Friday, September 09, 2016

Raising the dead

I stood before the room full of people, knowing only a handful of them personally. They were seated on less than expensive stackable chairs. You would think funeral homes could do better. There was nothing fancy here, save the antique glass-enclosed hearse from the early 1900's on display near the lobby. That was clearly the single most magnificent item in this sad old enterprise.

The people seated on the chairs were grief stricken. I had visited with the core of this family a day earlier and they had surprised me at how cold they seemed. Speaking to them was akin to addressing iron statues. My words had seemed to reverberate back at me, having little effect. Honestly, little effect seemed to be needed. The sadness in the room seemed to come more from my taking up their time than from the purpose for our gathering.

Today was different. The one hundred or so people in the room emitted groans, sobs, and semi-stifled cries. I have long believed that ministers live for the moment of crises. That is when our presence is needed and our words are, perhaps, heard. The crises was palpable today.

I stood before them knowing that all of the songs had been sung, the personal words of eulogy had been shared, the scriptures had been read, and it was now my turn. I stood for fifteen quiet seconds before saying anything.

"On days like this one, pastor's know what to do. We have our speeches that we give. Our stock words that we share. They are all as true as they are predictable. But today I am putting those words away. I am folding up my notes. I can taste your pain. I can hear your agony. Clearly you are hurting because of the loss of your husband ... Your father ... Your grandfather ... Your friend. And you deserve more than the standard speech. The man whose body rests in the casket behind me made a decision in his teenage years. He decided to trust God to be the master of his life. He decided that he would live that decision out to serve God by serving people. He was very imperfect at it. Yet your tears are a testimony that maybe he achieved more than we thought he did in the spiritual realm. He loved you. For real. And you know that. And I want to tell you what happened to him three days ago, after he took his last breath.

And then I gave my best description of what heaven is like as I understand it. I am certain that upon reaching that place myself I will learn that my attempt was woefully under-powered. But I did my best to paint a picture of what life in my Father's house would be like according to the scriptures that we have. They kept crying but every eye was focused on me. They were not only listening ... They were hearing.

Do you know just how rare that is? Pastor's are used to speaking without anyone really hearing. We know when you are zoned out in your seat, counting the minutes until lunch. We are not blind. But we speak anyway and whether or not you pay attention is between you and God. On this day ... They heard.

And then I heard. I heard a voice that was not my own. It was really a whisper. A gentle nudge. Nothing actually audible. Just an interior impression. I have heard that whisper-nudge-impression before. The Holy Spirit of God was giving me instructions.

"At the end of your words, ask them if anybody wants to know Jesus. Ask if any of them are willing to acknowledge it here and live it out, serving God by serving others."


Really. At a funeral. Attended by hard nosed sinners. Hard nosed sinners in jeans and vests and Harley Davidson T-shirts. Here. God wanted me to do it here.

Or maybe I can just invite them to church. Maybe I can give them my business card and ask them to call me if they want to talk. You know ... Don't get too preachy on them. That might scare them off. Just nudge the door open for them.

And then I could hear my own voice closing out the service. I was out of time. I had to make a decision. NOW.

"Do me a favor, guys? I want to pray for you. I know you hurt. I want to talk to God about that. Would you mind just looking at your lap and closing your eyes while I do?" Heads went down. "Guys, you've heard about heaven. And you know this body in front of us is empty because its long-time occupant deserted it in favor of a better place. And that happened because of a decision he made about Jesus. Would YOU like to make that decision today? Just like he did? If you would ... Would you mind looking up at me for just a second? Right now?"

As I scanned the room I briefly locked eyes with seven faces. I smiled. I nodded. I told them they could close their eyes and look down. And I prayed for seven souls that decided to come to Jesus at a funeral. Later we served a meal for everybody at our church. I put brand new bibles on an empty table with my business card placed at Mark 1: 1. I got their attention over the chicken-chomping that was going on. I told the crowd, "Those of you who acknowledged a desire to know Jesus will find a bible on this table. It is for you. My phone numb
er is in it. You can learn more about Jesus by starting to read at the spot where my business card acts as a bookmark. I'm here if you need me."

As I sit and reflect on that moment today I realize I kind of thought ... Or at least acted ... Like God is out of the miracle business. I could not have been more wrong. Jesus still raises the dead at funeral services. He doesn't do it so much to the body in the casket any more. Now He does it to the bodies in the chairs.

And I'll never get tired of listening to Him and going on the adventure of doing what He says to do.  Occasionally ... just occasionally ... the benefits are eternal.