The following is the sermon that I delivered under painful circumstances… The memorial service for Adam Henry, who transitioned himself from this life at the tender age of twenty in April 2017. Suicide is never easy to deal with. It coughs up so many questions. In this message I sought to prayerfully offer some directions in the Bible that may help us work through some of the questions that arise, especially the ones that arise when the person who has committed suicide is one who has had a relationship with Jesus. What do we do and what do we say when a Christian takes his/her life. I share this here in the hope that we can learn some lessons from such experiences. It is my prayer that everyone who reads the sermon notes and or listens to the audio recording will find some answers. That it will lead us on a search of the Bible and a turning to God in the stillness of our hearts for a chat with Him, even if it is one where we hurl question after question at God…so long as we are prepared to pause long enough to listen when God is ready to respond.
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We gather here because the anguish of the grave has come upon us. We are in danger of becoming overcome by troubles and sorrow…but we gather to call on the name of the Lord, oh Lord save us.
There is no amount of preparation that gets us immune to death when it hit close to home. In fact we become dangerously and troublingly un-human, inhumane and dehumanized if and when we get to that point.
We are thus perplexed and vexed and grieved by death’s cold hand because eternity has been wired into our hearts by our maker. Intrinsically we know that we were meant to last forever. Life interrupted, paradise marred, death came into our reality through sin and remains forever the unwelcome guest on our pilgrimage through life.
With that reality comes the unnerving questions. The questions that we may even be afraid to ask out loud but the questions that reverberate in our minds and refuse to let us go. The existential questions that really matter. These questions have been around from time immemorial.
As far back as the time of Job the question of whether the experiences of personal pain and disaster are the punishment for individual sin. And if not the individual then someone close to the individual. Job’s friends were convinced of this…Job himself vacillated being self-condemnation and self- vindication as the stench of his own body vividly reminded him that he was in the throes of suffering. The disciples were convinced that the man born blind was bearing either his own punishment or that of his parents. Surely someone was at fault here.
Then there is the question about the role of or lack thereof of God. “Where is God” in all of this? Surely God can’t be with me and this has happened. Why has God allowed this happen? Is God hidden? Is God silent? Does God care?
I must hasten to indicate that our questions are valid, that God appreciates and understands our questioning. I hear the caution of those who say that we should not question God but I submit to us that God does not need us to defend him on this matter. From Job to Jeremiah, Moses to David, Habakkuk to the rest of the prophets we see lively banter between God and his people as they related to him out of the crucible of life. Indeed there is a case that can be made for our contemporary worship and prayer to take on far more true to life forms than the pious, disconnected disjointed and imported forms they have become.
I stand before you today vividly aware of how difficult a task is mine. I am also acutely aware that I do not have all the answers to the questions you have. What I prayerfully aim to do is to remind us of who does have the answers and some of what He has left for us to guide us through tumultuous times.
- God is with the victim – We think of Hannah, the barren woman, we think of Hagar the used and evicted domestic helper, the Israelites in Egypt, Ruth the widow, the woman with the issue of blood, the son of the widow from Nain, the daughter of the woman from Syrophrencia and countless others in the Bible and we get the clear impression that God is on the side of the victim. The OT prophets carry a consistent theme of God’s care for the widows, the orphans, the foreigners. They wrap up God’s Holiness with God’s care for the victim. Those who were called to be holy as he is holy were likewise charged to demonstrate holy living by taking care of the victims.
It is clear from the therapist’s diagnosis that Adam was a victim. A victim of this broken and fallen world of ours…a world where there are chemical imbalances in the brain, a world where some are born with brain structures that relegate them to a life of debilitating mental illness. A world where they become merely the subject of research and classification in a thick manual called the DSM. A world where terms such as crazy, cuckoo, deranged, possessed and loco are hurled at them. A world where they are feared and misunderstood.
- God does not victimize the victims – Gen. 21: God heard the boy crying, and the Messenger of God called to Hagar from heaven. “What’s the matter, Hagar?” he asked her. “Don’t be afraid! God has heard the boy crying from the bushes. 18 Come on, help the boy up! Take him by the hand, because I’m going to make him into a great nation.” – There are depths and heights and lengths and breadths to the Grace of God that we are not privy to which ought to preclude us from rushing to judgment on those who are victims. There are extremes of the extent of the cross’ reach that our own propensity to be stingy with grace may yet baffle and elude us.
- God is with us when we are with the victims: It stands to reason that if God is with the victims then God is most with us when we are with the victims. Life calamities engender opportunities for to re-humanize us. They drag us back from the wild goose chase of individuality and selfishness. Back to the values of community, solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood. They bring us forcefully back to the place where we recognize that we were designed to journey together. In the space of disaster the flowers of love and care bloom brightest.
- God is with us in our pain- The Bible offers to us the clearest picture of God with us in the person of Jesus. In the place of the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night Jesus epitomizes the reality of the presence of God with humans. Throughout his soujourn he is repeatedly described as being moved with compassion as he encounters persons in the throes of life’s pain. He moves with an intentionality, He crosses the lake to get to deliver the man whose dignity and humanity has been reduced to a cemetery dwelling and self injuring bondage. The Roman occupation has driven him to a mental instability that makes him a prime candidate for both the DSM and the manual of exorcism. He heads upwhill to the little town of Nain to stop the funeral procession of this widow’s son. As he sees her his heart goes out to her. The heart of Jesus goes out to us here today.
The compassion of Jesus for us in this broken and sick world is far greater than we dare to imagine. This is best understood by understanding what exactly he endured on the cross. Every pain we experience, every sense of unfairness, every cry of isolation, every sensation of abandonment, every jilted lover’s forsaken cry, every belly bottom pain of a mother watching her son being buried… Every mind grappling with the questions of God’s silence, God’s distance, God’s rejection… All of this takes shape and new meaning if we grasp the fact that on the cross in those three hours of darkness Jesus experienced it all. His wounding, his piercing, his rejection, his being forsaken by the Father.
Beyond the bloody wounds in his body we must see the emotional pain, the psychological turmoil as he wrestles with the rejection of His Father- because he has not just come among us, he has become just like us… in every way… he has become sin. The rejection is brutal, the silence is deafening, the exchange is unfair… He has been through it and now He is at the exalted place of the right hand of the Father making intercession for us as our high priest. His holy Spirit that he has left us with also takes up our case… when tears and words fail us, making intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered but fully understood by the Father. Feel and sense and know that the blessed Trinity is walking with you through this valley of the shadow of death.
- God invites us into a life that transcends death: By tasting of death and swallowing death in the victory of His resurrection Jesus opens the door for us to accept God’s invitation to a life that transcends death. I have come that you may have life more abundantly. Life to the fullest, life that thrives, life that flourishes. Despite the realities of pain, evil, suffering, victimization. This call reminds us of the value and sanctity of life. The pain of death, the trail of victims it leaves in its wake speak to us about the need to preserve life. To those who may be battling their own mental demons, those here who may be feeling like taking a similar path I wish to echo the words of Paul and Silas to the soldiers who had been assigned to guard them in prison when they thought the prisoners had escaped: Do yourselves no harm we are all here. Jesus is here… He is here with us…He invites us to embrace his life…and we who have thus embraced his life must pledge to see… to perceive… to hear… to discern even those who like those soldiers have drawn their swords towards self harm… To cry out to them “do yourself no harm we are all here” We are here and we hear you… we refuse to label you any longer…we refuse to judge and victimize you any longer…God is with you and God is with us because we are with you.
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