Comments shared at a remembrance service for the Cancer Support Community of Dallas
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. Those are the familiar words from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Even if you have not read them in the Bible you've probably heard them on the radio- the classic song TURN,TURN,TURN by The Byrds was a smash hit in 1965, and, apart from the last line, is based entirely on this text. According to Wikipedia, it easily holds the record for the #1 song with the oldest lyrics! Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote the classic WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, called Ecclesiastes "the most dangerous book of the Bible." If you read the book, you'll quickly see why. It's written by a philosopher/teacher who has reached middle age. Or maybe even on the other side of the middle. He looks upon his own life, as well as those around him in his community and world, and seeks to find meaning there. It's very difficult. Most of the book is filled with negative thoughts of folly, waste, and bitterness. It is a brutally honest book- no rose colored glasses on this guy- which is why Kushner affectionately called it "dangerous." I agree. It's one of my favorites. It's a real honor to be amongst you today. Hearing these stories of grief and love has been a real privilege. I am thankful for the work of this organization and will continue to pray for each family as I have since Daniel Blackburn first invited me to speak some time ago. I am especially mindful of two families in our church I prayed with just yesterday who are facing the same days of grief as many of you have endured. Death is a reality of life we all must confront. There are many ways to do that, some are positive, and some are not. I recently read a book by Rev John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California. It's called WHEN THE GAME IS OVER IT ALL GOES BACK IN THE BOX. It's about playing the game of life with grace, forgiveness, and joy. And knowing for certain that death is a reality we all must face. Thinking of an uncle who recovered from a serious illness, Ortberg says this: "One thing is certain to everyone: that life is a gift, that every day is an unpurchased miracle, every second is overtime. I do not know why life works the way it does. I do not know why some people recover and others die. I do not know why some prayers are answered and others (seem to) go unheeded. But I do know life is a gift. I know this is not something we earn, create, control, or sustain. I know that one truth about us we forget is that we are going to die. The other truth is that we are alive." Ecclesiastes never loses his "dangerous" outlook on life, but he did realize one truth: loneliness is the last thing any of us needs. In times of grief and despair, joy and hope, life is always best lived with others: "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to the one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold chord is not quickly broken." It's interesting that the metaphor Ecclesiastes uses for our life together is a three-fold chord, rather than two-fold, when all the examples he gave involved two persons. The third chord must be God. So may we cling to our loved ones- and each other- in our time of grief, as well as embracing the future with hope. And may we find God in whatever season we face: birth and death; planting and plucking up; killing and healing; breaking down and building up; weeping and laughing; mourning and dancing; throwing away and gathering; embracing or not; seeking and losing; keeping and throwing away; tearing and sewing; keeping silence or speaking; loving or hating; making war or peace. Wherever you are today, however you are confronting your grief and the reality of life and death, may you find joy and companionship there, and the strength faith provides. In our remaining days, however many there are, may we live with hope, expecting to find God in every season.