I’m not sure I remember the very first time I met Fred and Ann, but my earliest memories at 14 or 15 years old are warm welcomes into their homes, smiles, kindness, good conversation, good senses of humor, and food. Lots of good food. And that’s pretty much the way it always was. Grandma Ann told me many times that I was much too skinny, and in those early days she was right. And so I do think we all owe her a debt of gratitude for at least some of the weight I’ve put on over the years. I mentioned to my church secretary back in Idaho that I was coming to do this memorial this week, and as it turns out she and her husband had actually stayed with Fred and Ann many years ago when Deacon and Amy got married. And the first thing my secretary mentioned was that she had a great scone recipe from Ann.
The first thing that we should say at a memorial service like this is thank you. When we have been recipients of such kindness, such hospitality, such care and provision, everyone knows that they should give thanks. Gratitude is the natural response for goodness and blessing. And as we say thank you, it is good and right to remember as much as we can so that we can be thankful for as much as possible. Remembering all the good things, all the gifts, all the conversations, all the laughter, all the stories is also how we honor them. God commands His people to honor their fathers and mothers, and so we are doing that today by this service. Fred and Ann gave so much to all of us, and so we instinctively and rightly want to mark that, remember that, honor that.
In the Bible the word “honor” literally means “heavy” or “weighty.” Kings and important people in the ancient world were literally weighed down with lots of possessions and riches. When God commands us to honor our parents, He wants us to think highly of them, consider their wisdom and experiences significant and important, remember them, and to pile up memories and thanksgiving for them. Things that don’t matter are easy to forget, but it is good for families and cultures to remember their fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers.
This is all very good and very important, but it also presents a possible problem. At a memorial service, we are remembering and giving thanks for someone, and this case, two someones, and yet that raises the question, who are we thanking? It was good and right to thank Fred and Ann when they were living for all that they did for us. But what about now? Who are we thanking now? Who do we thank for all these gifts and memories today?
Philosophers and atheists sometimes like to argue that there cannot be a God because of the evil in the world. This is called the problem of evil. If God is good and all powerful, and there is evil in the world, they claim that this must mean that God is either not really good or not all powerful since He allows evil in the world, and therefore in either case, no god. While I think there are good answers to that question, I am posing a different question which you might call the problem of goodness and gratitude, and it’s sort of the inverse problem. If there is no god, and there is anything good in the world, where did it come from and who do we thank?
In the Bible in Romans 1 it says that the invisible attributes of God are clearly seen in the creation of the world, in nature, which includes people, human beings like Fred and Ann. The Bible says that it is so clear that there is a God who made all things that everyone is without an excuse. Even the atheists know there is a God, and in the same place it says that people suppress the truth in unrighteousness. People refuse to admit there is a God because then they would be subject to Him.
But everyone is going around all day long assuming and believing in some kind of god. If we return to the so-called problem of evil, we might ask: what exactly is evil? Where did you get that standard of good and evil? Who decides? Whatever that standard is, whoever ultimately decides what is good and evil is your god. And ultimately, we are driven back to the question: where did it all come from? And the only two possible answers are God and nothing. Either it was designed and intentional, or it was an accident and completely random. And this brings us back to the problems we’ve been discussing: if everything is ultimately an accident and random, then there is no such thing really as good or evil and gratitude makes no sense at all. But if there is a good and loving God who created this world and gives good gifts like fathers and mothers, homes and families, good food and joy and love, then He is the One that we must thank. He is the one we must thank for the all the good we received in Fred and Ann and all of their good gifts to us.
I want to say one more thing, and that is that there are no perfect families in this world. And even as we remember all the joy and kindness and love, sometimes memorial services can conjure up mixed feelings, regrets, failures, hurt, and sin. And maybe you’re one of those people who is just really good at stuffing thoughts and feelings like that, but as a minister of the gospel of Jesus, I want to tell you that just stuffing those thoughts and feelings is not honoring to Fred or Ann, and it doesn’t actually fix anything or help anything. And chances are good that those regrets or hurt feelings will grow mold in the back of your heart and mind. It really doesn’t help to leave the moldy cheese in the back of the fridge, as I’m sure Grandma Ann would agree.
So what do you do with those mixed feelings or less happy memories? The natural man says that there’s nothing to be done. They’re gone, and it is what it is. But the Bible says that God sent His only Son Jesus into the world to reconcile all things. Reconciliation is when two things that are at odds are put back together, and made friends. We say that if someone has died there’s no way to put things right, no way to heal any strains or hurts after that. And that is true for us, but it is not true for Jesus who is risen from the dead. How does Jesus reconcile all things? The Bible says that He does this by His blood, by the blood of His cross. Colossians says that Jesus has made peace through the blood of His Cross, so that by Him, God might reconcile all things, things on earth and things in heaven (Col. 1:20).
In the first century there was tons of enmity and animosity that had existed for centuries between Jews and Gentiles, but the same principle is true in every other human relationship where there is tension and enmity and animosity: tension between men and women, spouses, parents and children, siblings, bosses and employees, ethnic tensions, and so on.
How does cross of Jesus reconcile? Just a bit further down, it says that God does this by nailing all of our offenses to the cross of Jesus. When Jesus was crucified, sin was crucified in Him. And the offer of the gospel is that if you look to the cross of Jesus for reconciliation, for healing, for forgiveness, then you can see your sin crucified in Him. Your bitterness, your resentment, as well as the power of any other sins that have been committed against you. You can see it all there, and when you see it there, you look down and it isn’t on you or in you anymore.
So as we remember and honor Fred and Ann today, we do so in the greatest possible way, we do so by thanking God for them, for their lives, for their love, for their gifts, and by thanking the God who made them and gave them, and by thanking that same God for sending Jesus to reconcile all things, to put all things right, and making peace through His blood.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.