Two popular posts on this site have been for comments about funerals and scripture texts for funerals where there has been a suicide. Not long ago, I conducted a memorial service for a popular man in town who died as a result of his illness of depression. This is the sermon from that memorial service. Many who attended the service found it helpful. It is by far the one sermon I’ve preached that received the most positive comments. Most who commented lingered long enough to talk more about what they heard. It is slightly edited to protect the identity of the families.
A week ago, no one could have predicted that you would be here this morning. That means this has been an especially hard week. Know this: life is so very fragile. When you stop and pay attention, it can seem as though everything around us makes life dangerous. Sometimes the things that endanger us the most are sneaky and unimaginable.
Think about it. A sudden heart attack from lingering heart disease catches us off guard. A moment of inattention while driving can cause disaster. For Jim, it was the sometimes fatal illness of depression. This illness caused ups and downs and unpredictability for Jim. It also caused those same ups and downs and unpredictability for those who knew and loved him best.
I’m not going to dwell on this entirely this morning, but there are some important things that need to be said, and it is my responsibility to say them.
It is impossible to know the kind of darkness Jim lived with. He hid much of it from the people who were closest to him. Because we look for explanations and for his death to make sense, we grab at any reasonable logic to figure it all out. There is a big problem with that. This sometimes fatal illness of depression changes how we think and turns rational logical problem solving upside down. That means that there are going to be no real answers to our biggest questions about Jim’s death. We either have to live with that or we have to make things up.
Yes, you heard me right. Our choice in coming to grips with Jim’s sudden death is to either live with the reality that we will never have some real answers or make things up. Without realizing it, each of us here have been making some things up.
Some of that gets to be pretty blatant. Maybe you’ve heard some of the rumors that are circulating these days. When we don’t know details, we tend to make assumptions and fill in the blanks. When you hear this kind of speculation, remind yourself that sometimes we have to accept that we don’t have the answers. When you find yourself filling in the blanks, remind yourself that we don’t have the answers.
If you’ve been feeling guilty or questioning what you could have done to help Jim more, that’s quite normal. The problem is that you either have to accept that you will never have any real answers or you will make things up and have the guilt. You did the best you could. Jim didn’t die because you failed. Jim died because of this sometimes fatal illness of depression. Please hear me. You did the best you could. Jim didn’t die because you didn’t do enough. Any guilt you have is the result of you making things up and changing the truth. Please don’t do that.
Some anger at Jim is appropriate. This isn’t fair or easy or convenient. Jim’s death changes so much and makes so many things that much harder. Some of the anger however comes from trying to fill in the blanks and deciding that you know what Jim was thinking and what he wasn’t thinking about. Remind yourself that you don’t have the answers.
Look, I don’t want to dwell on this all morning. There are other, even more important things that need to be said. This sometimes fatal illness leaves more questions than answers. It is good for us to accept that many of our questions will never be answered.
But there are plenty of things we do know.
We know that Jim loved (his wife and children are named).
We know that Jim loved and cared about his larger family.
We know that Jim had this unique ability to touch the lives of people in significant ways. You’ve no doubt been telling and hearing some of these stories over the past several days. He used his love of baseball to encourage people in ways that literally changed their lives. Someone yesterday said that even meeting Jim only one time set them on a different course in their life, and that it was good and productive and they were grateful for that important gift Jim gave them.
As much as anything, that is why so many people came to the funeral home yesterday, and so many people are here today. Jim had this ability to let you know that you mattered. Jim had this ability to let you know that there was opportunity ahead in your life. Jim had the unwavering ability to encourage others and help them see their value.
Over and over again this week I’ve heard this story repeated. There is far too little encouragement in this world. Jim was one of those rare people with that gift of encouragement.
But, as important as this is, it is only a piece of who Jim has been to you. You heard the words of (his brother) earlier as he attempted to summarize who Jim has been to him. Multiply that by hundreds and you will just be scratching the surface. It is easy to say that knowing and loving Jim has helped to shape who you are. That is by far the more lasting impact of Jim’s life. I’m not going to even attempt to summarize who Jim has been to you. That is your job. In the coming days and weeks and months, share those stories. Those are the stories that begin with, “Remember when …” and lead to big grins, amazement, sadness, nostalgia, and sometimes raucous laughter. I dare say, you will discover something about yourself and something about Jim as you tell these stories. When you tell these stories, it is natural to be grateful, especially grateful to God for placing Jim in your life.
This is a good day to give thanks to God for placing Jim in your life.
We know that because Jim has played an important part in shaping who we are, his death last week leaves a hole that is huge. It hurts. It leaves us reeling. It leaves some of us feeling overwhelmed.
This is a good day to acknowledge that hurt and pain.
We know that just like God gave Jim the gift of encouragement, God gives gifts to people so that the work of God might be accomplished. When we care for one another we are doing God’s work.
This is a good day to allow people to comfort us.
We know that God has made some irrevocable promises to Jim. Long ago Jim was baptized and became a child of God. That was a relationship that God promised never to abandon. On a day like this it is so important to let those words in the second reading take hold of us. I paraphrase. “What can separate us from God’s love? Nothing, nada, zip, zilch, not the stupid things we do, not the little mistakes we make, not the big blunders that hurt others, not anything at all.” God’s love in Christ Jesus is for all time, and it is for Jim.
We know that God made the promise to Jim to love him, to be with him in thick and thin, and to forgive him. God promised to forgive Jim. That brings me peace today.
We know that God promised Jim everlasting life. Jesus goes ahead to prepare a place for Jim. That brings me hope.
It is a jumbled up day with all this mixed together. Bittersweet describes it best. It is as should be. Ultimately, we know that God is the source of healing; bringing promise, forgiveness, and most importantly … hope.
May you experience that healing.