This is a shorter version of the sermon I preached at the funeral of my Dad, Rev. James P. Sider.
Just five days before Dad died, as I was driving from Windsor to Cambridge to see my Dad for the last time, this set of thoughts rippled through my mind. Yes, Dad was a wonderful man and he blessed thousands of people through his ministry. But he was just one of over six billion people living on a tiny fragile planet in a small solar system in one little corner of the Milky Way which is just one vast galaxy with billions of stars in an almost incomprehensibly huge universe. Dad’s ninety years of life was just a momentary flicker of time in this vast system that has been changing and growing for billions of years. And that flicker of time—those ninety years of good life that appeared for an instant and then disappeared again—in that flicker of time, Dad did not significantly change politics, science or even the church. Dad appeared for an instant or two and then was gone again.
So what meaning does his life have now? I know what Dad’s answer would be. And I agree completely.
Dad knew that this vast, complex universe which scientists are increasingly beginning to understand—this whole vast universe came from the loving hand of an all-wise God. This personal God gently shaped our gorgeous, almost infinitely intricate world, and then made human beings in God’s very own image and called them to be God’s stewards to trace God’s stupendous design in every corner of the world. God even invited them to join the Almighty Creator as little creators developing fruitful farms, nurturing loving families. and shaping complex civilizations.
Tragically, God’s human stewards messed everything up.
But Dad knew that God refused to abandon the world God loved, even when we stubbornly rejected God and ravaged our neighbors. God began to speak in a special way to an Iraqi named Abram and his children.
Finally, Dad knew, the Creator of 120 billion spinning galaxies decided to come himself to this little planet to show us the way and offer a path out of our tragedy and brokenness.
For most of his life, Jesus was an obedient son, learning from Joseph how to be a gifted carpenter. Visibly, this young man cutting and sanding tables and chairs was just another Galilean craftsman. But in truth he was also the Creator of the galaxies, teaching us by his physical labor the goodness and beauty of the material world, of everyday work and ordinary family life.
At about thirty, this young carpenter became a strange kind of wandering preacher and successful teacher. He healed the sick, cared especially about the poor, and welcomed dispossessed, marginalized folk like women and lepers. And he began to challenge the status quo in all kinds of ways—its attitude toward the poor, the sick, women, war and violence.
He also claimed to be the long expected Jewish Messiah, even to be the very Son of God. So the Jewish and Roman authorities collaborated to kill him as a dangerous social radical and a heretical blasphemer. They crucified him assuming that would squelch his threatening ideas forever.
But three days later, Jesus burst from the tomb and appeared to his astonished disciples demonstrating by his bodily resurrection that death had been conquered for all who would believe. And he taught them that his death on the cross offered total, unconditional divine forgiveness for all who would humbly recognize their sin and ask God to wipe it away. And the Risen Lord promised to return some day to complete his victory over every evil, brokenness, sin and injustice, and complete the restoration of the entire creation to wholeness.
This true, utterly astounding, story—that the Creator of the universe actually lived on this earth once, died for our sins once for all and rose bodily from the dead to offer life forever with God to all who believe and promised to return to earth some day to fully renew the whole creation—this story spread like wildfire. Within three short centuries, it conquered the most powerful pagan empire of human history. Century after century, more and more broken people, no matter how messed up their lives, found liberating forgiveness and new, transformed life in this wondrous story so that by the time Dad ended his ministry as a preacher of this glorious story, over two billion people in every country on earth were followers of this amazing carpenter.
Dad knew that his life had meaning—wonderful, powerful meaning —because he was a part, even though just a small part, of this glorious story. Dad knew that in every act of kindness to friend and neighbor, he was responding obediently to the way the Creator made the world and was joining the Creator’s grand design for the universe. In all Dad’s activity as a faithful farmer—growing good crops of corn, wheat, oats and red clover, developing a great herd of registered Holstein cows—Dad was fulfilling the Creator’s mandate to care for the creation and create new things. In all Dad’s activity as a loving husband—delighting in and ever learning more about serving his darling wife of 59 years—Dad gave his children and the world an attractive picture of the wondrous goodness and joy of faithful marriage. In all Dad’s activity as a wonderful father—loving each child uniquely, setting clear, firm family rules, slowly allowing each maturing child to make their own decisions even when he and Mom disagreed with their decisions, continuing to love and support us even when we stumbled and fell—Dad and Mom offered a tremendous model of excellent parenting. In all Dad’s activity as a church leader—teaching biblical truth, preaching revival services, inviting people to personal faith in the Savior, counselling and encouraging struggling church members—Dad was playing his small part in nurturing that ever growing circle of two billion plus disciples of Christ his Lord.
In every part of Dad’s life—his farming, his family, his ministry—Dad’s seemingly insignificant daily activities were a part of God’s glorious divine plan of creating a stupendously beautiful, complex world and restoring everything in that world to the wholeness the Creator placed here at the beginning. In joining and playing his part in that grand design, Dad found strong meaning and powerful joy that lasted for a lifetime.
I know that if Dad were alive and with us this afternoon, there is just one thing he would want to add. And that is the amazing truth that the loving Creator of the universe continues to gently invite every person here, indeed every person on planet earth, to join God’s grand plan and find meaning, healing and joy in this glorious story.
We don’t have to be famous to play an important role in God’s grand design. Every single one of us, as we are good children, faithful parents and loving grandparents—as we change diapers, kiss away children’s tears, work faithfully to provide for our family—in those acts, every one of us brings joy to the Creator.
Every single one of us as we are faithful to our calling—as electricians, secretaries, artists, teachers, scientists, philosophers, plumbers, farmers, pastors, tour guides—in all these acts we serve our neighbors and make our small contribution to the kind of wholesome civilization that the Creator intends.
Every single one of us as we are active in Christian ministry, whether in the local congregation or beyond – – as faithful church attendee, Sunday school teacher, bookkeeper, usher, pastor, national board member, missionary, evangelist, mentor of youth—in all these activities we play our own crucial part in God’s grand design, helping more and more persons find their place in Jesus’ wondrous story.
In the last few years. as Dad’s weakness and longing to go home grew ever stronger, I prayed with him many times that God would take him soon. And I promised him as I promised Mother, that I would, by God’s good grace, meet them on the other shore. They stand together now on the other side with arms outstretched, inviting each one of us here today to promise the same: Dad, Grandpa, friend, pastor, I’ll meet you on the other side.
You can read the full sermon in my new book, PREACHING THE GOSPEL, available at Amazon or www.wipfandstock.com.
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