Bethany Christian Church
23 August 2001
Opening Hymn: Congregation singing "How Great Thou Art"
Scripture Reading: Ben H. Swett, Chairman of Elders, Bethany Christian Church
Old Testament: Psalm 90:1-10 RSV (A prayer of Moses) 1. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God. 3. Thou turnest man back to the dust, and sayest, "Turn back, O children of men!" 4. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. 5. Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning: 6. in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. 7. For we are consumed by thy anger; by thy wrath we are overwhelmed. 8. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. 9. For all our days pass away under thy wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh. 10. The years of our life are three-score and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.
New Testament: John 14:1-6 RSV (A teaching of Jesus) 1. Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. 2. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3. And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4. And you know the way where I am going. 5. Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" 6. Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me."
Prayer of Comfort and Assurance: Ben H. Swett
Dear Father in heaven, we ask to be inspired, and filled, and nourished, and guided, by the spirit of love and truth. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Dear Father, I confess that I find no comfort or assurance in these words of Moses. They would make me afraid of you, and leave me with no hope for myself or others. I find comfort and assurance in the words of Jesus. His words draw me to him, and to you. So, deep in my heart, I believe I know how the old was imperfect, and why the new was necessary, and I thank you for sending Jesus. Amen.
The Life Lived: Ben H. Swett
I’ll talk a little more about God and Moses and Jesus later, but we are here to honor the life of Lillian Geraldine Jackson. Her life is described in the bulletin. As a brief introduction: She was born 19 June 1919 in Baltimore, daughter of Robert Jackson and Florence Lingo. She left school and went to work at an early age. Her parents, her husband, Alonzo Jones, and son Richard Daniel Jackson, all died long ago. For many years, she lived with members of her extended family, and when she became old, they took care of her. She died 16 August 2001 in Greater Southeast Community Hospital, aged 82, after a long illness. And it is the members of her extended family who are gathered and who have asked to present their testimony concerning their aunt and friend. I will ask them to do so now.
Reflections: Family and Friends
Acknowledgments: Claude Harris
Solo: Earnest Johnson singing "Precious Lord"
Obituary (printed in the bulletin): Congregation, silent reading and contemplation
Solo: Sharon Zimmerman singing "Amazing Grace"
Eulogy: Ben H. Swett
In your bulletin, the next item will be entitled Eulogy. Eulogy means "good word." We have heard good words about our friend Lillian. I will speak also some eulogy regarding our faith.
In Psalm 90 Moses said that God turns us back to the dust, sweeps us away like grass, that we are consumed by God’s anger, overwhelmed by God’s wrath. Our lives are short and full of trouble, and then we fly away. Moses didn’t ask or answer the question, "Where do we go when we fly away?" Some people say we don’t fly away. They say we cease to exist, perish, vanish like a blown-out candle-flame. But the New Testament says, "For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only-begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall NOT perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16 RSV) This is the basic New Testament answer, to the Old Testament fear of God, and to those who say there is no resurrection of the dead.
Some people say we sleep in our graves until the mass resurrection at the end of time. They are like Martha, the sister of Lazarus. When Lazarus died, Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." But Jesus contradicted her. He said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" Martha said to him, "Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, he who is coming into the world." (John 11:23-27 RSV)
Another question that is often not asked but thought about on such an occasion is this: What about the judgment? Some people say there isn’t any, and some say we should fear it, but Jesus explained it simply. "This is the judgment." The Greek word used here is crisis. The crisis was the Y -- the point where two roads divide. The crux was the crossroads. Crisis was the Y. So we should read him saying, "This is the crisis, the point where the roads divide, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God." (John 3:19-21 RSV) We can see this happening here in this world around us. Those who know they are doing wrong don’t want to be exposed to the light of truth. Those who know they are doing right seek for and welcome the light of truth, because they have nothing to hide.
But ... what about those who aren’t sure whether they’re doing right or wrong, or enough? They are like the early disciples to whom Jesus said, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:1-3 RSV) This was his answer to many theological complexities. In essence, he said, "Don’t worry about it. I’ll come and get you, and take you home with me."
Some of his disciples weren’t satisfied with that answer. When Jesus added, "And you know where I am going, and the way you know," Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don’t know where you’re going; how can we know the way?" (John 14:4-5 RSV) Good question. Do we know where Jesus was going? Yes. He was going to heaven. Do we know the way he was going? Yes. He was going through the narrow gate called death.
And then Jesus said to Thomas, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6 RSV) This verse of scripture has been badly abused. Some people use it to condemn everyone who doesn’t agree with their doctrine. But we are not authorized to judge souls. That authority was given by God to Jesus and not to us. We are authorized to judge actions, words, deeds, behavior, attitudes. But we are not authorized to judge souls. If we presume to do so, we over-step the limits of our authority. But sometimes we are reminded of how Jesus judges souls, as I was reminded in 1973.
I was called at work by the secretary of our church. One of our members had suffered a massive heart attack and was in the intensive care ward at the hospital that was then called Cafritz. Through his wife, he was asking for the pastor, but our pastor was on vacation. As chairman of elders, it was my job to get it done or do it myself. I made a couple phone calls but couldn’t locate a pastor, so I went to the hospital.
I sat on a little stool at the side of the bed. Bill was in bad shape -- full of tubes and laboring for breath. I held his hand and asked if he wanted me to pray with him. He nodded, so I softly asked for his relief from pain and for healing if possible.
He squeezed my hand, quickly, to stop me. In his labored, gasping breath, he said, "Maybe … don’t … want to get well."
That struck me as a little odd, because it was pretty obvious he was not going to get well, so I asked, "Then … what’s the problem?"
"Afraid … of judgement."
That was above my pay grade. I don’t know what anyone will face in judgement, and I don’t want to know. I had no idea what to say to him, so I silently lifted up my own, one-word prayer: "Help!"
The answer came into my mind immediately; I merely relayed it aloud: "Oh, you remember … Jesus receives mercifully all who come to him humbly."
He squeezed my hand, hard. "Say it … again."
"Jesus is merciful. He accepts every one who comes to him humbly."
"Oh …" he said, "Oh … I forgot that." I felt the tension drain out of him. He relaxed, and I thought he smiled. Twenty minutes later he was gone.
And so, having said all this, about God and Moses and Jesus and my friend Bill, what about Lillian? Both the Old and New Testament tell us she isn’t in the worn-out body we bury today. She left that body. Flew away from it. Where did she go? We’re not authorized to judge her. We have reviewed our memories of her words, and her deeds, and her attitudes, and found them worthy. We are not authorized to judge the soul. But we do know this: Lillian testified to her belief in God and Jesus. The New Testament tells us God loves her, and wants her to have eternal life. Jesus has prepared a place for her. He invites her to come to him. He receives everyone who comes to him humbly. And if she isn’t sure she can go to him, he will come and get her, and take her home with him.
Closing Hymn: Congregation singing "Blessed Assurance"
Benediction: Dr. Lehman D. Bates, Pastor, First Baptist Church of Marshall Heights