Sermon delivered at the funeral of longtime Ascension parishioner Beverly Lewis
We do not lose heart.
That is what Saint Paul said to the Corinthians. In moments of pain, in times of suffering, when we groan under our burdens, when the world presses us down, when we are afflicted, when our bodies fail us and we struggle for every breath…we do not lose heart.
We do not lose heart, because as Christians we know that God has planted something within our hearts that cannot be destroyed. There is something within us that is not completely at home here in the world. There is something within us that is more powerful than death. We do not lose heart because God’s love is within our hearts and God’s love never fails; God’s love is never broken. God’s love never gets tired.
Paul goes on to say in his letter that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” To be in Christ, to invite Christ into your heart and to unite yourself to his body, is to be eternally new; reborn with a life that belongs to God; redeemed with a heart that is restless, as Saint Augustine says, until it rests in him.
We do not lose heart, even when we must say goodbye to someone we love so dearly, but our hearts do ache. Even when we know and have faith that we are only saying goodbye for a season; even when we are confident that this person has been made new in Christ and is going from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in God’s heavenly kingdom…our hearts still ache.
It is on days like today when I am reminded of how important hymns are to our life of faith. Beverly was a great lover of music and I think she would have understood how music can speak to our souls in ways that the spoken word just can’t. In particular the hymns of our faith, many of which I would argue are divinely inspired, they can give us the words to express the hope and the sorrow that we feel on days like today. Sometimes they give us an image, a glimpse into heaven, where we can imagine the glory that awaits us there.
In a few minutes you are going to be asked to open your hymnals and sing one such hymn: at the offertory we will stand to sing hymn number 657, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. It is one of the triumphs of Charles Wesley first published in 1747. But I want you to really hear the words that you will be singing. I want you to see the image that Charles Wesley is painting.
First he begins by asking that love of God which comes from heaven; that love which was incarnate in Jesus Christ to enter into our hearts:
Love Divine, all love excelling,
Joy of heav’n, to earth come down;
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion;
Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.
Then Charles invites us to look up and to long for that day when Christ will return, when he will raise the dead to life, set the world right, and where we will join the heavenly host in a life of unending praise:
Come, Almighty, to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.
But it is the last verse in this hymn that really gets me. It asks God to finish the new creation that he began when he first entered our hearts:
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.
What an image. Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place. Where we will cast our crowns down at the feet of God; where our earthly riches and accomplishments will mean nothing to us, compared to an eternity of basking in wonder, love and praise. As family and friends and loved ones, we mourn today for Beverly, but our faith reminds us that Christ has placed a new life within us, a life that death cannot conquer, and that someday we too can join Beverly in that heavenly choir, lost in wonder, love and praise.
Such a wonderful hymn, but there is an extra verse that isn’t in our hymnal. I discovered it this past week as I was reviewing this hymn and I instantly thought: “ah! That’s Beverly!”
You see, on my last few visits with Beverly, she struggled to breathe. Her illness made her short of breath and dependent on oxygen, but still even with the struggle she had such a light within her. She always had that wonderful smile. In the time that I have known Beverly, even through her struggles to care for Rodger, she always had this spirit within her. Looking at some of her old pictures, I still see that spirit, that light in her smile. And then I think of what obstacles she must have encountered in her life. How much did she have to overcome? How far did she come and bring her family with her? Where did she find that strength? Now I should add that if you followed Beverly on Facebook then you know that she wasn’t always upbeat about politics, but still she had strength and determination. When I read this missing verse, I thought “yes, this is a prayer for Beverly,” maybe it is a prayer for all of us.
Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast;
Let us all in Thee inherit,
Let us find the promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.