Grace to you and peace from God the Father and from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
About a month, when Sharon was first admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in College Station to have fluid drained off her lung, I went to see her. She had just discovered she had cancer, and we had one of those amazing conversations between a pastor and a congregation member.
She laid it on the line, ""I'm not afraid to die, Pastor," she told me. "I'm just not ready to do it yet." She went on to explain that as a person of faith she knew where she was going. She knew what it was supposed to be like in heaven. She didn’t fear dying. There were just things she wanted to do before having to walk through that valley. I understand such sentiments as a pastor because I believe the same way.
She continued, "Pastor, I have never grieved for anyone at their funeral when I knew where they were going." She even went as far as to say that she had been to funerals for people who were taken far too early in their earthly lives; who had died from illness or car wreck. She said as hard as they were, I didn’t grieve because I knew where they were going. "I've wanted to shake my fist at God wondering why such things happened," she said. "But I didn’t grieve for them. I guess I’ve just got that child-like faith that Jesus talks about. I really try to hold onto that strongly."
Indeed, Sharon needed that child-like faith in her life. She had many, many struggles. There were things that really drug her down at times. There were moments of depression and sadness as she wrestled with her suffering, but time and again, she came back to her faith–a faith that inspired hope.
St. Paul talks about such hope in our first lesson from the book of Romans. He reflects upon what it means to be saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul writes, "3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."
Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Yes, I can tell you this afternoon that Sharon indeed had that hope.
Marcy shared this story with me, and I think it illustrates that hope beautifully:
Mmmm. Hang on a second. This is quite interesting and coincidental. My phone is buzzing. It’s the message buzz. That’s weird. Wonder if I should check it? Hang on.
Definitely don’t recognize the number or area code. Never seen it before.
Whoa! Holy Cow! You’re not going to believe this. I’m just going to have to read it to you.
Pastor, I know where you are and what you are doing. I also know who’s there, and I just couldn’t let you be the only one to say something. Tell Marcy I would have sent her a text a few days ago, but they only let you send texts to those who need a miracle to strengthen their faith. (Now, wait a second here.) Gotcha on that one, Pastor.
I just want everyone to know, I’m doing great. I can breathe deeply again without pain. In fact, I’ve never experienced breathing quite like this before. It’s as if with every breath you are breathing in the coolness of the first cold front mixed with the freshness of the air after every rain. It fills your lungs and brings about joy. It’s hard to put it into words that you can understand.
I always believed heaven would be wonderful, but it even exceeds my expectations. I’ve been spending time catching up with everyone, and they send their regards to you too. I’ve gotten a chance to sit with the Man as well. It was rather painful at first to go through the judgment, but when Jesus spoke my name all guilt and frustration vanished, and I am free. Oh how I wish you could experience what I am experiencing now. But you will have to wait. All I can say is, remember when I told you about having the faith of a child–keep having it. Don’t get too frustrated and upset. Just have faith. One day, you will understand.
I know you probably have a million questions. You might even be wondering why I had to go so quickly and suddenly. Unfortunately, one of those other rules up here is I can’t tell you the answers yet. I can tell you that it’s O.K. to ask plenty of questions, and I can also say that seeing things from God’s perspective really clears a lot up. Keep the child like faith. It really helps.
I wish I could explain to you all that I have come to see in my short time here, but Pastor Haug is already going to freak when he gets the text bill from this one. Yes, in heaven, we do have a sense of humor.
Yet, before I finish, I do want to convey a few things. Take care Ed. I’ll see you again one day. Tell my kids and my grandkids that I love them all. I’ve always loved them even when we were separated by whatever distance came between us, but now I love them even more as I love them with the same kind of love that God has for them. Tell them Fro Mama loves them. And to everyone else, remember to laugh and love. Don’t let despair get you down. Cling to hope. It will not disappoint you. Trust me. I know. I’ll see everyone again one day! Keep the faith.
Perhaps there is nothing more to say at this point other than Amen.