For a Teenager Killed in a Car Accident - Is It True? Romans 8:31-39
I hate this. This is out of order. We all hate it. That's why so many people came by the funeral home yesterday - to let the family know that we know how out of order this is. Now we're in church on a [Tuesday] afternoon - also out of order. The theologian Karl Barth once wrote that people come to church on Sunday with only one question in their minds: Is it true?
The providence of God, the saving power of Jesus Christ, the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead - is it all true? When we attend a funeral service for a 14-year-old girl on a [Tuesday] afternoon, the question is even more compelling. Emily has died much too soon. She was a delightful young lady, a fine student, a trusted friend, and the proud distributor of one of the best hugs I've ever had. All that is true.
But now she's gone, and we're left with grief, trying to recall lessons we learned in Sunday school about death and resurrection. We want to affirm, "Yes, it's true ... because God is true." [Read text.] I don't know about you, but I felt separated from God's love Saturday night. When I heard what happened, I didn't feel love. I didn't feel anything. I was numb. When I began to feel again, I felt anger, hurt, pain and grief.
This is awful and shouldn't have happened. We grieve for Emily and her family. We're saddened by the tragedy but also perhaps angry at God for allowing it to happen. Where was God on [Saturday night], and why couldn't he have protected Emily? I'd love to be able to tell you why this happened, but I can't. I can't answer why bad things happen to good people. I can't say why God allows them to occur. But I can say this: God was there on [Saturday night].
As the Psalmist said so long ago, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me." God never promised to keep us from trouble, only to be with us in trouble. There was trouble [Saturday night]. God was there. God was there at the roadside, just as he was there the next morning with our youth group as we cried together. God is here with us and is with Emily right now, too. As I said, Emily was a hugger.
In third grade, she made a magnet that reads: HUGS There is no such thing as a bad hug; there are only good hugs and great hugs. Hug someone at least once a day and twice on a rainy day. Hug with a smile; closed eyes are optional. A snuggle is a longish hug. Bedtime hugs help chase away bad dreams. Never hug someone tomorrow you could hug today. That was Emily. The sequoia trees of California tower as much as 300 feet above the ground. Strangely, these giants have unusually shallow root systems that reach out in all directions to capture the greatest amount of surface moisture. Seldom will you see a redwood standing alone because high winds would quickly uproot it.
That's why these trees grow in clusters. Their intertwining roots provide support for one another against storms. Emily realized we're all like those giant sequoias. We need the intertwining - the hugging - for mutual support. I mentioned Karl Barth earlier. Near the end of his career, a reporter asked Barth, "What, after all these years of study and reflection, stands out as the most important thing you've learned?" After only a moment, Barth replied, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." That was Emily's faith. That is our faith.
Once again, we ask: "Is it true?" Absolutely, life doesn't end with death. Jesus said: "In my Father's house there are many dwelling-places ... And if I go and prepare a place for you [for Emily], I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also." That's why we're here this afternoon. Not simply to remember Emily but to remind ourselves that death doesn't have the final word. One day, Jesus will wipe away all our tears.
One day, when we die, Emily will be waiting for us with arms outstretched, and we'll be ready for our hugs.