A Gospel Homily for a Memorial Service for Jerry Bob Snow

Posted on Jan 28, 2007 - 01:58 PM

[Preached in Wagoner, Oklahoma on December 20, 2003. Posted here 1/5/03]

Romans 8.18-35, 37-39

We have indeed celebrated the wonderful gift that Jerry Bob’s life was to each of us. And we have candidly grieved his absence. We have done this before a graceful God. Hopefully this homily will help all of us to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ as good news to us—precisely as good news to us amidst that self-examination that death and memorial services inevitably provoke within us.

The passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome is so rich that we could hardly exhaust its meaning in this brief homily. But it does address us with a realism and hopefulness that is rare and seldom found on our tongues and in our hearts.

Paul reminds us that we are creatures in relation to a whole cosmos of other creatures and that we and the cosmos are inclined from time to time to groan under the burdens of our finitude. We are creatures who have been granted the gift of living among other creatures, but such living is for a limited time. We are bodily creatures, and our bodies are so vulnerable to disease, to decline, to the sufferings of our own destructive living, and to the afflictions of harm from other creatures.

All of us here this day will surely die, and that fact weighs upon us like a heavy burden. It has been said more than once by Christian saints over the centuries that our fear of death is at the root of all our other fears and anxieties and our proneness to violence. And it is not only the fear of our own death but of the deaths of those others who are important to us.

Paul sees us as creatures living in time under the summons of God to be obedient to God’s commands and to live in peace and love with our neighbors and with our enemies. But Paul also sees us humans—most of the times of our lives—tumbling along pulled this way and that by our disordered desires, invariably self-centered, prone to the neglect of others we think we love, filled with self-deceptions, and fearful not only of dying but of the truth about ourselves.

Our lives seem so entangled with good intentions unrealized, with hearts full of bitterness and regret, with a suffocating guilt and a haunting despair that our lives do not seem to add up to much. We are prone to brood over past wrongs done to us and wrongs we have done to others.

In short, we face the daily future full of fear and confusion, and a gnawing hopelessness. Whence cometh hope for those of us so mired in sin, in pride, and in guilt?

In this and in other passages from Paul, we humans, living out our lives in a limited time and space, find it difficult to consistently will obedience to God’s coming kingdom. We seem more inclined to serve the kingdoms of the world than the kingdom of God.

But, of course, Paul goes on to say that just for such people as we seem to be, there is a Gospel that is more powerful and truthful than all of our lies, sins, fears, and regrets. It is the truthfulness of God’s forgiving grace in Jesus Christ that comes to us through the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit. The God who is our Creator and who knows our hearts better than we do, who in truth knows our shortcomings, is also the God who comes in search of us with a grace that will not let us go nor leave us to our own devices and just deserts.

To be forgiven by God does not mean that we have led a reasonably good life; rather it means that we have much for which to be forgiven insofar as we have been enmeshed in sin, both as doers of sin and as ones sinned against by others. But the forgiveness of God is a gracious declaration that God does not count our sinful lives against us, does not keep tally on us, but invites us to live as persons constantly being given new lives and new hearts.

People who come to accept that new heart given by the grace of God, are people who are can speak truthfully the words of Paul:

“ If God is for us, who is against us? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

People who speak and live this way with holy passion know that they do not face death nor the deaths of their loved ones trusting in their own righteousness. Rather they trust in the forgiving grace of God, which does, of course, call them to repent and live graciously as well. Those who know themselves forgiven by God, know as well that they are called to forgive much and to forgive without ceasing.

People who speak as Paul speaks are people who have had the fear of death and the fear of suffering cast out of their lives. They are a people launched on the great kingdom venture of living with a joy and hopefulness that no possible future, come what may, will be able to separate them from the love of God in Christ. Such people also have the freedom and passion to dance with the Spirit and to be generously open to the lives of others. They take delight in having family and friends to love, and they are compassionately open to the strangers and the enemies who also live in their world.

Those who will be resurrected are not resurrected because of their moral perfection, but because of the powerful grace of God manifested in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is in the Spirit of Jesus that we trust in the resurrection of Jerry Bob; he has not died unto annihilation, nor has he died unto a condemning wrath of God. Rather, he has died unto the sheer merciful love and beauty of God. God did not let Jerry Bob go mercilessly into the night of death, and neither will God let us go without mercy.

So, let us all hear the words of God’s forgiving grace as words of life for us. Let us repent of our lives lived in fear, lived in alienation from family and from friends and from enemies, and lived in the silent despair that we can never really be forgiven and that death will surely have the last word about us. Let us gladly and humbly embrace that grace of God that will meet us in death and will beckon us lovingly into life beyond death.

Let us rejoice that God’s gifts are many and that Jerry Bob has been a precious gift to us. And let us praise God that God’s love is that ultimate and almighty power and Word that is the final Word about Jerry Bob and about each of us.

All this, dear friends, I have dared to proclaim in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God, and Mother of us all. Amen.


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