I attended a funeral for my Brother in Law, John, yesterday, and while it was an opportunity to enjoy reunion, fellowship and good conversation about someone who played a large part in my life, I am convicted that I did not ask to give a eulogy about John at the service…so I am doing that now.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Ecclesiastes 7:2-4(NKJV) – “Better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
And here is why. As much as we may try to ignore it…we will all die. And so we should really concentrate on that event and work backwards to maximize our life on earth. Sometimes, in John’s case…it is too late, but the key is that all deaths and funerals are a time to stop and pause and ask, “what just happened?” Well in John’s case, he died “in Christ” and for that reason…he is ALIVE, and Christ told us in Luke 16:25 that he is being comforted at this time. The apostle Paul said that, absent with the body, present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). How do I know for sure? Because I talked with John a lot about dying, I made sure that he had accepted the promise of Jesus Christ, and we prayed and read scripture as many times as I could with him. So that means the bible’s promises to John are “what just happened.” I have to admit…I really don’t quite understand all of it, and I have been studying the bible for years…but I know that it is true! Because if it weren’t true…and this is all there is…then death would be very sad indeed. I am off of my sermon now…
So when I look at the “dash” of John’s life…that line between the dates on his tombstone, I would say that John did pretty good. Here is why. John was a humble man really, he didn’t ask for much….but he offered a lot. He showed up in my life in Preston, Maryland and was my sixth grade teacher. We were his first class, and I thought he was a spectacular teacher…because some of the things that he taught, I still remember! I can’t say that for a lot of classes. And I remember seeing him occasionally, year after year, and even though I was a worldly “7th and 8th grader…(which means that I was a real pain)”, he was still very kind to me, and I held him in high regard. By the way, I neglected to mention that when “I” was in school, it was a practice in our house to invite teachers over for dinner so my parents could meet who was instructing their kids. Actually, I kind of enjoyed those evenings because you got to see the teachers outside of the classroom. Well John was the first person that I saw put something on baked potatoes besides butter. To this day, I eat baked potatoes with sour cream or ranch dressing on them…because of John.
So then, he starts dating my sister, and then I got to know John as a man. He was a good guy, and fun to hang around. He actually let me hang out at his house, and watch Saturday Night live, or Sunday football (with a beer or three), and ride his motorcycle. He was a regular guy….and I thought he was a good guy. It was in those times that I got to meet his family…and they were fun as well. It was through those times that I found out that John was a good brother and a good son. So he did pretty good in that avenue as well.
When he and my sister got married, it was a good thing for our family. John fit right in! We had a blast spending time together, and when my parents were out of town…John and my sister were my house sitters to make sure that I didn’t get in to too much trouble. Well now I was a worldly “Senior” in High School…which meant I was even more of a pain, and let’s just say I was a “little out of control.” I wasn’t listening to a whole lot of direction from my house-sitters, and John pulled me aside and said, “hey buddy, you better get your act together, and change your attitude…because she might be your sister, but that is MY wife.” I never forgot that discussion, and have used that line myself frequently.
And John loved his wife! He told me that often. And like all good couples, they drove each other crazy sometimes…but loved each other much more than they didn’t. They were an active part of the church and the community. For a long time, they were the glue that held our family together. They lived right down the road from mom and dad which made them the recipient of family matters that some of us more distant siblings didn’t have to deal with. Whew…and thank you! Despite all of the coaching that John would get from our family (we are not very quiet)….John took it all in stride, and kept his frustrations to himself, and knew that family peace was much more important than his personal agenda. So John did pretty good at being a husband too.
I brought up that personally embarrassing story about me, to remind everyone that that is what “teachers” do…they teach! And I think John did that well. So when you think about teachers, just like John taught me in school and in life, he did that to all of the thousand students that he had….so every one of them is going to use some of the things that John taught them to live their lives differently…because John planted those seeds. You see a teacher is supposed to do that, plant seeds…and other teachers will nourish those seeds and form and shape people into productive citizens and that is how our country continues to be great…because of Teachers like John. So John did pretty good with that as well.
So then John becomes a dad, and has three beautiful, fun, and energetic daughters. Notice I didn’t mention any boys there. But John took time away from his wife and daughters to coach little league…because John enjoyed coaching. He loved sports, and loved teaching others how to play the games that he loved. That is how “others” become athletes, and coaches, and teachers….by someone taking the time to do that for them. Time is a precious commodity, and he offered it freely when it was needed. Oh that we would have thousands of men who would do that so freely as John…this world would be much richer for it! So John did pretty good as a coach too!
So back to those lovely young ladies who are now grown women, and starting to forge their own lives….John was a great dad. He loved his girls more than anything. And he gladly would have sacrificed his own life for them if that was what was required. Any man with kids knows how tough the “dad” job is, and John learned the three most important words that any man should know….and that is, “ask your mother.” That can make your life so much easier….especially when it comes to things like fashion, which we all agree…was not John’s strong point. So those three girls with different temperaments, and different personalities, were John’s pride, joy…and meaning for his life. And as they grew and matured, he worked hard to meet them where they needed him, and to show them the love and guidance that each one of them needed. He took the time to coach them in sports, to drive them to events, to cheer them on when they needed encouragement, and to give them a shoulder to cry on when things weren’t going so well. And in all of those days…he was intensely proud of his girls. And through their lives….how they act…how they teach others…coach…and how they live…John will continue to live through them. And often in life, they will take the time to say, “my dad taught me that.” And if God blesses them with children like John was blessed…then they can tell their kids about their grandfather that they didn’t get to meet. And those will be great stories filled with fun and laughter. So in that respect and so many others, John was a great Dad as well!
Just a pause here to go back to that dark passage in Ecclesiastes… ”Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance, your heart is made to feel better.” When you reflect on John’s life…you can’t help but laugh, because he laughed. You can’t help but remember the good times…because that is what he would have wanted you to. So unless you think about death in that way…it does seem so final. But look at it this way, John really went through some tough trials in the end of his life. And he got a chance to face his mortality…and when people visited, he made them happy that they did. He let his girls pamper him and take care of him in the hospital…because they wanted to take care of their dad…because as a dad he did that for them. He got to hang out with the guys in the hospital and watch football, and he just appreciated the fact that he could enjoy that. He got to know his son-in-law and his future son-in-law a lot better in that time frame, and he was very confident that his girls would be taken care of…because they had a good frame of reference for men that they should pick…because John was a good role model as a dad, and as a man. So as a father-in-law, and as a role model for his daughters….he did pretty good in that part of life as well.
But in all honesty…tears, mourning, and sadness when someone dies is not only expected, and acceptable, but is required as well, because we have said goodbye to a husband, a dad, and a friend. But just like Ecclesiastes says, that is the end of all men. So if we are hanging on to someone, it is really because we are a little selfish….and that is okay as well. I’m getting back on the pulpit again for a second, because we are pretty lousy about talking about death…because it scares us. Jesus gave the apostle John a view of heaven in the book of revelation…and if you don’t realize that book is a book of great hope, you will think it is weird and scary. But death for a Christian is described in Revelation 21:4 – and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” That sounds much better than a hospital room to me.
See we think eternity starts when we die. That is not true. Eternity starts when we are conceived…all of our days are given to us to train us for what God has in store for those who trust in Him when He calls them home. For those who have accepted Jesus Christ, God has prepared many more things for us to do when we get to Heaven. I can’t quite get my mind around that honestly, but then again, I can’t figure out how a larvae wraps itself in a cocoon and comes out as a butterfly! And honestly, nobody else can either. Okay…I am back off of the pulpit.
The last thing that is important to me is this. John has died…we have not. The body that was buried the other day was simply the suit of clothes that God allowed John to wear when he was on earth. Because John is now being comforted…and that sounds much better than a hospital to me as well. And, John got to hear some very amazing words from THE ONE who paid the price of John’s sins so that he may enter into heaven. Those words told to us in Matthew 25:23 – “His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
But as for us, we need to live in the house of mourning. We need to understand that our time is finite, and that we need to run the race well…so someone somewhere will write the same things about us when we die. We have work to do to make sure we continue to pass on the teaching, the spirit of service and the role model….of a man who gave much more to this world than he took from it. That is how John will continue to live on this earth….through our lives.
There is a reason that I love the book of Ecclesiastes. That was the first book that I read in the bible…and I thought it was dark, until I realized that the book was Solomon looking back at life. You see, Solomon had all the world had to offer….money, power, prestige, wine, women and song. But he had turned away from God, and he realized all of these “worldly” things were “vanity” and “chasing the wind”….worthless. But he sums it up in Eccl 12:13-14 – The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
So to sum up John’s time here on earth….he was a good husband, a good dad, a good son, a good brother, a good friend. He was genuinely happy when others did well. He wasn’t jealous, or bitter. He didn’t judge or hold grudges, but he spoke up when things were not as they should be. He made friends and kept them. He loved family and loved to laugh. He loved his wife and loved his daughters. He was there when you needed him, spoke up when we needed encouragement, and remained quiet when we needed him to listen. John, you did good…and I am a better man, and we all are richer because God allowed us to know you and love you. Well done good and faithful servant!