Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Value of a Diminished Life

This is a funeral homily that I gave at the funeral of my aunt. I have been asked to put it in writing and post it.

The Value of a Diminished Life

We are gathered here today to pay our last respects to our sister, aunt, cousin, Rosa Belle. Rosa Belle was born in a small, now almost non-existent town in North Florida in 1924. She was the oldest child of Faire Belle and Cephas.

We are all well aware that Rosa Belle was significantly handicapped. A part of this handicap was mental and may have been congenital. But at about the age of five years, as my father has told me, she was severely injured in an accident. She was pushing my father around in a wooden crate in the little house where they lived. Her mother had a gallon can of water boiling on the stove. Somehow Rosa Belle pulled the can of water over on her and the boiling water poured down the right side of her neck, right arm and down the right side of her body. She was badly burned. There was little medical help and less money to get it. So the burns healed into disfiguring and disabling scars.

Because of these disabilities, Rosa Belle was limited in her education. She had to be taken out of school early. She was unable to live away from her parents for the rest of their lives. She was limited in her associations to immediate family and had few friends. She had no independent life, yet she was mentally aware enough to know how here disabilities diminished her life.

After both her parents died, she moved into an assisted living facility. There she discovered the world of coloring. She loved to color. How much less the grinding boredom of most of her life would have been if we had known this. We could have kept her in coloring books and crayons.

As we think about this life of suffering today, we must address an obvious question: What was the purpose of this diminished life in God's plan? What value can we understand to attach to such a life? And what lessons can we learn from it?

1. In Romans eleven, the last few verses, St. Paul teaches that God's ways are so wise and His purposes so high that they are past finding out.
The "why" of God in allowing things like this, as the Psalmist says, is "too high for us; we cannot attain to it."

2. In Daniel four, the LORD God taught a world dictator an important lesson in the only way he would learn it and like only God can teach it. In reciting the lesson back, Nebuchadnezzar said, "I praised the most High . . . . He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. And none can stay His hand, or say to Him, "What doest thou?"
God does as He wills. He is not caught off guard. He is not and cannot be frustrated in His purposes. His will cannot be thwarted. He accomplishes all that He sets out to do.

3. In Exodus chapters three and four and in John chapter nine, we are instructed that handicapped and diminished lives are created as such by the Lord in order that He might be glorified through them. This is a hard lesson.
The Lord uses the harsh effects of sin in a fallen, broken world to bring glory to Himself.

4. In Matthew chapter twenty-five we see that the Lord Jesus appears in disguise in the world, masquerading as "the least of these" to test how we might treat Him.
Jesus often appears in our world in the costume of a diminished life.

So, we ask again, what is the value of a diminished life?
Its value is that God uses it to accomplish His purpose for good in a fallen, broken world in such a way that, in the end, His creation will glorify Him.

And what lessons may we learn from such a life?
1. The fear of the Lord: These weighty disabilities and their sequelae should remind us that the Lord is to be feared for what he could do to each of us.

2. Gratitude: Those whom God has permitted or caused to suffer so should make us give thanks to God that He gives us better and more than we deserve. He is kind to the wicked and the unthankful. That is us.

3. Compassion: We, as recipients of God's abundant and undeserved kindness through Christ in our day to day lives, have an obligation to show compassion to the suffering as indirectly repaying kindnesses to Christ Himself.

4. Hope: As the diminished life reminds us that we live in a fallen world, so it awakes in us the intuition that God must set things right. Thus we are made keen and receptive to the doctrine of a future life and the restitution of all things, which are the results of God's ultimate act of kindness, the forgiveness of our sins through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son.

Moses, in Psalm ninety reminds us of our mortality:

Lord, thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made, thou are God from everlasting, and world without end.
Thou turnest man to destruction; again thou sayest Come again, ye children of men.
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
The days of our age are threescore and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is their strength then but labor and sorrow; so soon passeth it away, and we are gone.
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

St. Paul tells us in I Corinthians fifteen of the promise of a resurrection to immortality for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ:

Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall al be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, Where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

And Jesus teaches us in John fourteen that He is the way to the Father and to eternal life:
I go to prepare a place for you. And I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, ye may be also. I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Let us pray:
O merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life; in Whom whosoever believeth, shall live, though he die; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Him, shall not die eternally, who also hath taught us by his holy Apostle Saint Paul, not to be sorry, as men without hope, for those who sleep in Him; We humbly beseech thee, O Father, to raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness; that, when we shall depart this life, may rest in Him; and that, at the general Resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in Thy sight; and receive that blessing, which Thy well-beloved Son shall then pronounce to all who love and fear Thee, saying, Come, ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. Grant this, we beseech thee, O merciful Father, through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer. Amen

Unto Almighty God we commend our departed loved one and we commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ; at Whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in Him shall be changed, and make like unto His own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself.

Thus ends the service.

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