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TEXT: Ecclesiastes 7:1-6
SUBJECT: Parties and Funerals
If you had the choice, would you rather go to a party or a funeral?
The question is rhetorical, of course, because I know the answer: you'd rather go to a party. I feel the same way, and so does everyone else. Parties are fun; they often celebrate happy events, the people you meet there are likely to be in a good mood, and, for a few hours, at least, parties take your mind off the burdens of life. Our Lord Jesus Christ was not too holy or serious to attend a party, and we would do well to follow his example. As the Preacher says a couple of pages back--
There is a time to laugh.
There is a time to dance.
Parties are fine places to laugh and dance and celebrate the good life that God has given us. The next time you're invited to a part, don't be a party pooper--go to the party and enjoy yourself. This is certainly part of your Christian liberty, and probably a part of your Christian duty.
Parties are good.
But there's another kind of 'get together' that is even better. Being the silly, shallow people we are, we may not think so, but the wise know better, including the Preacher who wrote Ecclesiastes.
He makes his point repeatedly in the first six verses of Chapter 7, especially in v.2--
It is better to go the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting.
He doesn't say, 'feasting is bad' (as some Christians, Pharisees, and other bluenoses think), but that 'mourning is better'.
This is hard to square with personal experience, isn't it? I'm a downer kind of person, but even I enjoy parties better than funerals. How can the latter be better than the former?
The answer is simple: the Preacher doesn't say 'funerals are more enjoyable than parties'--because they're not. He says they're better than parties; or you might put it this way, 'Funerals are good for you in a way parties are not'.
Why is this?
We don't have to guess: he tells us in v.2--
It is better to go to the
house of mourning
than to go to the house of
for this is the end of all
and the living will take it to
Funerals are good because they remind of us the solemn fact that we, too, must die. Life is uncertain, but death is sure. It visits everyone in due time, and nobody can know what time is due. Old people die, but so do young people; sick people die, but so do healthy people; people with no healthcare die, but so do people with the best doctors in the world.
Nobody likes to think about death--especially his own! But thinking of death from time to time is sanctifying in its effect.
It teaches us to 'seize the day' as the saying goes: to enjoy life under the sun, because it won't last forever. It also urges us to serve the Lord with enthusiasm and to start now. Our Lord Jesus certainly believed in 'life after death', but before He got to that life, He lived this life to the full--
I must work the work of Him who sent Me,
while it is called day;
The night is coming when
no man can work!
Most of all, the certainty of death teaches us to find peace with God through faith in Christ now! A rich man once thought he had many years to live the good life: he didn't even have many hours. Before the sun rose the next morning he was dead. God called him a--
A fool for thinking he could put off to a more convenient time the business that demands the most urgent attention. Ian Fleming said, 'You only live twice', but that's a lie! You only live once, and, not knowing how long your life will be, the time to 'get right' with God is now--not tomorrow, not even this afternoon, but now, the only time you can be sure of.
You 'get right with God' not by reforming your life, or swearing off bad habits, or making grand promises, but by renouncing every hope of saving yourself, and putting your trust in the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, as St. Paul said, was--
Delivered for our offenses, and
raised again for our justification.
These are not the kind of things you're likely to think about at parties! But funerals force reality on you. And that's why, for all the long faces and puffy eyes--
Sorrow is better than
for by a sad countenance
the heart is made better.
Speaking of sad countenances, that's what I see today on you, and--I suppose--you see on me. I haven't heard any jokes today; nobody's yucking it up, and there's not a smile in the house.
This is good.
When it comes to some things, Americans are the best. But when it comes to grieving for the dead, no people could be worse than we are. We don't know how to grieve, we're ashamed of ourselves when we do it, and when our friends see us grieving, they feel it's their calling to cheer us up!
This is totally out of sync with the whole human race, and not at all consistent with the practice of the saints of old, including our Lord Jesus Christ.
When Job got the bad news of his children's deaths, he didn't celebrate their lives, he--
Tore his clothes and shaved his head and fell on the ground.
When Jacob thought his son, Joseph had died, he didn't seek a quick and easy closure, he--
Tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, mourning for his son for many days. When all his sons rose to comfort him, he refused to be comforted, and said, 'For I shall go down into the grace to my son in mourning'.
The man's grief may have been excessive, but it's far more human--and Christian--than the forced smiles we put on so that people will believe 'we're over it'.
When we come to the New Testament, we find the same response to death. St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, and when he died, nobody said, 'Hooray! He's with the Lord' (though he was). No, the Bible says--
Devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
We might take the grieving rituals of the Bible as nothing more than the customs of people in that part of the world way back when, except for one thing. Our Lord Jesus Christ felt the same way at the funeral of dear friend, Lazarus. When He came to the tomb in Bethany, He was met by the man's heartbroken sisters, women who, no doubt, had cried their eyes out for four days solid. But when bystanders commented on the scene, they didn't say anything about Mary and Martha's grief, but of our Lord's--
Behold, how He loved him!
Jesus Christ, the Man who knew Heaven better than any other, cried His eyes out for a friend who had died and gone there!
Let's be in no hurry to 'get over it'. Let sorrow do its work; we don't grieve as those who have no hope, but we do grieve.
Today, we are bereaved of our dear brother and friend, Dave DePasquale. Some of you have known him for forty years; most of us for ten; and some, even less time than that. But however long we knew him, we loved him from the start--and this is interesting because Dave was not a warm and cuddly figure. He was his own man, opinionated, outspoken, and stubborn as a mule!
Why do we love him? Personally, I love him because of these qualities, not in spite of them. I've always gravitated toward the eccentric rather than the--what's the word--concentric? Oddballs more than conformists. And, say what you will about him: Dave was no conformist!
Some of his oddity was, no doubt, hereditary and the result of his upbringing. But, in saying this, I'm not taking God out of the picture, because, in fact, the Lord of Grace is equally, the Lord of nature. God is in control of all things, including the forming of human personality, both naturally and supernaturally.
I know more about the supernatural than the natural, and here's what I think: I believe Dave was the opinionated and stubborn man he was because he was remarkably secure in Christ. As Ephesians 1 says, he was--
Accepted in the Beloved...
This means, he didn't crave approval; he didn't need to fit in with everyone at church because God had made him a Member of the Body of Christ!
This is why he could be the way he was. A few months ago, I gave a lecture called A Friendly Critique of Dispensationalism. Knowing Dave was keenly interested in the subject, I brought him a copy and asked him to read it tell me what he thought about it the next time I came by.
A couple of days later, I did come by and the first thing I asked him was, 'What'd you think about my Friendly Critique of Dispensationalism?'
Most Christians--especially laymen--would say something like this, 'Oh, pastor, it was wonderful!'. But Dave didn't say that! He said--
Your friendly critique of Dispensationalism is way too friendly!
He was right. Because I wanted to be friendly, I filed down the sharp edges of my critique. I went home and rewrote the whole thing, making it far more jagged. Because Dave was secure enough in Christ to--
Speak the truth in love.
A second example is even more telling. A few days before he died, I asked him if he felt the Abiding Presence of Christ. He answered--
But he also said, it didn't matter what he felt, Christ was near him because He promised to be there. This is a remarkable thing to tell your pastor! We all want to be heroes on our death beds. But Dave admitted he wasn't--and he could live with that--and die with it.
The promises of God are not dependent on our feelings, but on His unchanged and unchanging faithfulness.
And so, what do we do now that Dave DePasuale is with us no longer? Four things:
We sorrow for him, his widow, his children, his best friend, and for all who love him. We grieve deeply and as long as it takes, knowing this pleases God and is good for the soul.
We take special care of his wife, who now needs us more than ever. This means we pray for her, pay attention to her, and do what we can--not to lift her burden--but to bear it with her.
We thank God for his life and all it has contributed to our own happiness and welfare.
Most of all, we remember that our grief, though real and deep and painful, is not permanent. The God who has received Dave's spirit--as He did Stephen's--has also--
Abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.
Ecclesiastes is about life under the sun, and no matter how many joys that life may contain, it never ends well. But life under the sun is not the only life. There's also a life over the sun, a life Dave now has far more of than we do. But even for him, in the Presence of Christ, the best is yet to come!
When Jesus comes again. all who belong to Him will be part of the Resurrection of the just and enjoy what we now can only see out the corner of our eyes--
The Life Everlasting.
In your presence is the fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forever more.
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