My Help Comes From the Lord

Today, we said farewell to J’s father. I had the privilege of sharing a meditation at the service. What follows is the script of the message. Bill was a special man to many, a husband, father, opa, and great grand father. He will be sorely missed.

The texts chosen were Psalm 121 and Ephesians 3:14-21

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photostudio_1455803000581It seems more than a little unreal to be here today, celebrating a life, saying farewell. So many have said in the past days that they just can’t believe that Bill is gone.  It seems like death crept up on us, surprised us,  took us from the hope of the new lease on life that surgery promised, to the shock, and despair, of watching a beloved husband, father, opa, and great grandfather slip away from us. Death shocked us with its finality, as we watched last breaths, and final stillness, come over a once vitally active man.

We are left in deep sorrow, holding on to our memories, holding on to the legacy of love and faith Bill leaves behind.

It’s in this sorrow, this shock, that we turn this morning to scripture for a word of comfort, a bit of hope, some light to carry us through the coming days.

The Psalms are often referred to as the songbook of life. Every emotion, every human condition finds description in the words of the psalms.

Psalm 121, which we just read, was a psalm describing the journey of the people to the temple in Jerusalem, a journey that would take them, on foot, through rough country, through dangerous territory, through mountains in which robbers and ruffians, and wild animals could hide.

When the psalmist says I lift up my eyes to the mountains he is not looking at the mountains as a source of hope, as the place where God is keeping watch, as the place where God lives, has some sort of fortress, but rather as a place of fear, a place where trouble might come from, an unknown and wild place, a frightening place. As he looks at those mountains with fear, he asks the question: with all this wildness and uncertainty around me, all of the potential for a bad outcome, all of the opportunity for harm, who can I count on to save and protect me, who is out there who will watch over me in this journey, this journey to God’s house.

Over the past months, Bill’s life has lead him, and Grace, and the rest of his family, into a mountainous place. He had been in the mountains before, he had learned from experience the answer to the question posed by the psalmist. He knew his help came from the most powerful source imaginable, the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, the creator of all, the sovereign God

As he learned the diagnosis of clogged arteries, as he made the decision to submit to surgery to gain some of his old strength back, and even as he faced the final, insurmountable mountains of cardiac arrest and multiple strokes, Bill knew where his help came from, he knew that the Lord was walking through those mountains with him, that the Lord would not let his foot slip, that even as we slept, and he slept, the Lord was watching, protecting, watching over his life, his coming and his going, watching not just now, not just then, but forever more.

He knew that the Lord was walking right beside him and that whatever the outcome of his surgery, frightening though it was, he could go forward, though these mountains, through the darkest valleys, knowing he was safely in God’s hands. Knowing God was right beside him, protecting him.

Today we can take the same comfort. The past weeks have bought us unexpected mountains, we knew there would be uncertainty in surgery, but took hope as Bill began to walk the hospital halls, began to work with physiotherapists, and even though the future was still unclear, it appeared that we were coming out of the mountains, that we were looking forward to a somewhat more safe time in our journey. When suddenly, the earth shifted, Psalm 46 talks about such shifts, and a whole new crop of mountains lifted their heads, and we looked up and ahead, afraid for the future, afraid for our journey.

With the psalmist, and with Bill, we can say that no matter how ominous the mountains may appear, our hope comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Possibly the one of the last scriptures Bill heard, and responded to, was Ephesians 3:14-21. It’s the scripture that Pastor Ray left when he visited Bill in the hospital just after his initial surgery. Bill slept through Ray’s visit that day, but Henrietta, finding the note Ray left behind, read the text to her father later. She said, after she had finished reading, that Bill, who was that day, discouraged by the pain and the slowness of recovery, let out a sigh, relaxed into his pillow. It felt like he was at peace, she said. Scripture had done it’s work of comforting, of restoring hope.

This piece of Ephesians 3 fits really well with Psalm 121, extends it actually, building on to the picture of a protector, painted by the psalmist, It points us to the glorious riches offered by God from which we can gain strength. It points us to a God who is a protector, not because there is some responsibility to protect in the way perhaps that a paid baby sitter might care for your children, No Paul points us to Gods love for us through Jesus Christ, a love that he prays we would try to measure , to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and by trying to measure it to find out, to know, this love surpasses all knowledge. It is just too big, to huge, for us to be able to comprehend

It is this sort of love that accompanied Bill on his journey through his mountains, this sort of love that will carry us through the mountains that we face ahead of us as we journey on. This sort of love that Grace can rely on in the coming days, that Bill’s children, grandchildren and friends can put their hope in.

But Paul doesn’t stop there, he goes on to describe Christ as the one who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

And what do we have to do for all of this assurance. What was it that Bill did to be able to trust in God to take him through the mountains?

These passages would suggest we really don’t need to do anything more than believe.

The psalmist, in Psalm 121 does a wonderful thing with words. You’ll notice that there are no demands made at all by the Lord, the Psalmist never says because I did this thing or that thing, or made a big donation, or sacrificed a whole lot of lambs, the Lord is now my helper, my protector. All of the verbs, the working words, in the Psalm belong to the Lord. All of the watching, the keeping, the shading, the wakefulness, all of the work is done by the Lord. The Psalmist asks nothing of those who are seeking protection. It is a free gift.

 

Paul in Ephesians only asks that his readers have the power to grasp how great God is, not to earn favor, just to stand amazed.

 

Because that is the way God works isn’t it. God, in our lives does all of the heavy lifting. God gives us more than we can ask or imagine just because of love. We don’t always feel very comfortable with that, because we think that we should likely do something to earn our way into God’s favor, to earn our salvation. We feel uncomfortable when we get things for free, when we can’t pay our own way.

 

The Heidelberg catechism though tells us that instead of being uncomfortable in God’s graciousness we should find deep comfort in it when it asks: What is your only comfort, the only thing you can count on, the anchor in your storm, in both life and in death? If there is one piece of the catechism many of us can recite it is this answer, this statement of faith.

 

That I am not my own,1
but belong—

body and soul,
in life and in death—2

to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5
He also watches over me in such a way6
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;7
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life9
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.10

 

Do you see how the catechism echoes the psalm and the epistle. God does all the work, all the bleeding and paying and setting free, all the watching and assuring, in fact, even the living for God we do is inspired, and motivated, through Christ’s Holy Spirit.

 

What a freeing experience! The experience of finding ourselves in God’s love, under God’s protection, living in a way where the only responsibility in front of us, the only work to be done, is trying to measure God’s love for us and praising God when we find we can’t, when we find ourselves overwhelmed again by the height and depth and width of that love. Assured that even in the mountainous places of our lives God can and will do more than we ask or imagine.

 

It’s with this assurance that we can face death with hope, where we can face an uncertain future with a sense of calm, where we can say, around a bed in the Caridac Intensive Care Unit

“My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.”

And he can, and will do more than we can ask or imagine.

 

The battle over sin and death has been won not by our strength or our work but by the work of our great God. In Jesus Christ, our future, Bill’s future is secure.

 

He would want you to know that today. He knew it and if there was one gift he would yet want to give, one thing he would like to pass on to his children, his grand children, and his great grand children it would be the great sense of peace and security that comes from belonging to a faithful savior, protector, Jesus Christ.

 

We give thanks today for Bill, for his place in our lives, we also give thanks to God, the God who sustained Bill in this life and continues to sustain him, now and forevermore,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching and Waiting

Darkness surrounds us,

Darkness and grief,

Darkness and loss,

Darkness and shadow

Darkness and uncertainty.

We are in the darkest valley.

And yet we hope,

We hope for  rising on the wings of eagles

We hope for walking and not fainting

We hope for running and not being weary

We hope for more than we could ask or imagine

In the midst of our valley,

We hope.

Entering a Season Reluctantly

11217677_730617237070690_4552454273693892669_nYesterday we attended another funeral. My aunt, my father’s oldest surviving sister, passed away on Tuesday. It was only seven weeks ago that she attended my mother’s funeral, frail and old, but still very lucid and aware. Now, she too is gone, taken by death, unexpectedly, even though in many ways, it was expected.

I haven’t written very much about the grief experienced this past summer. It’s likely because my words just couldn’t do it justice, couldn’t accurately describe the emotions, the loss. How does one properly describe the feelings that flood in when the phone call to come home, quickly, is received; the intimacy of family gathered as a last breath is quietly drawn, holding our own breaths waiting for the chest to rise again; the touch of the still warm forehead under my hand of blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you….”?

How does one describe the feelings of support from friends and family in the midst of trying to properly accompany, and honour, a loved one from death bed to a final resting place under towering maple trees?

How does one describe the reluctance felt as we appear to be entering into a season of funerals, a season of grief wrapped in the clothes of celebration, as both of my parent’s siblings age, each sorrowful gathering already anticipating the next.

Yesterday’s funeral tugged at the scab that has formed over my grief, exposed some of those bits not yet healed over, maybe never to be fully healed. While this experience was different it spawned memories of the same.

It is indescribable, really. Words typed on a screen can’t do more than describe the edges, always falling short of fully articulating the experience, failing to honour the subtle nuances of the time, the place, the person, the experience. It needs further wrestling, further work, so much so, that when you ask how we are doing we’re most likely to answer with an “I’m fine”, not because we necessarily are, but because we don’t know how to describe, in a way that you would really understand, how we really are.

We know we are not without hope, but even with hope, loss is is still keenly felt.

Feeling at Loose Ends

Maybe it’s the weather, rainy, cool, and gloomy. Maybe it’s because summer has come to an end, the days shorter, the promise of snow in our futures. Maybe it’s because, for the first time in five years, I’m not back in school. Whatever it is, its causing a feeling of melancholy.

It’s likely a combination of all of those things and more. I am really missing the first days of school though. The syllabuses to read, the anticipation of learning new things, the calendar to organize, the new books (oh, the new books!!!) to buy and peruse, all added a feeling of newness and excitement to life. The people, teachers and students alike opened windows to worlds I could only imagine in an atmosphere that somehow encouraged openness and sharing, the rapid building of friendships.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have exciting things going on in my life, things that would be quite impossible to maintain if school were part of life’s mix. There is travelling to do, especially since our Edmonton family moved to Ottawa. There is time to spend with those I love without the need to rush off to another class an hour and a half away. There are tandem bike rides through the countryside. There are lots of things to do here at home, things to build, to fix, to prepare for. There are books to read and conversations to have. There are sermons to write, a congregation to love, classes to teach, meeting to attend, the trouble of a burnt church to weave through. There are rations to run, farmers looking for advice, a training session to speak at.

I even went and joined a choir just so I could sing the Messiah this Christmas.

Life is full.

But still, with all the fullness, there is a little hole looking to be filled.