Memorial Service – Joanne Vredenburg Friedman, 1959 – 2004

Why Does God Kill?

Jackson Snyder, May 15, 2004

 

{This woman lost her life in an early morning traffic accident.}

 

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THE WORD OF GRACE

Jesus said, I am the resurrection and I am life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. I died and behold I am alive for evermore, and I hold the keys of hell and death. Because I live, you shall live also.

 

GREETING

Friends, we have gathered here to praise God and witness to our faith as we celebrate the life of Joanne Vredenburg Friedman.  We come together in grief, acknowledging our human loss.  May God grant us grace, that in pain we may find comfort, in sorrow hope, in death resurrection.  {Thanks & Condolences}

 

PRAYER

Eternal Father, we praise you for the great company of those who have finished their course in faith and now rest from their labors. We praise you for those dear to us whom we name in our hearts before you. Especially we praise you for Joanne, whom you have graciously received into your presence. To all of these, grant your peace. Let perpetual light shine upon them; and help us so to believe where we have not seen, that your presence may lead us through our years, and bring us at last with them into the joy of your home not made with hands but eternal in the heavens; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

PSALMS 130

From the depths I call to you, Yahweh: Lord, hear my cry. Listen attentively to the sound of my pleading!  If you kept a record of our sins, Lord, who could stand their ground?  But with you is forgiveness, that you may be revered.  I rely, my whole being relies, O Yahweh, on your promise.  My whole being hopes in the Lord, more than watchmen for daybreak; more than watchmen for daybreak.  Let Israel hope in Yahweh.  For with Him is faithful love, with Him generous ransom; and he will ransom Israel from all its sins. (NJB)

 

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HYMN OR SONG

 

1 Thessalonians 1:2-7.  We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, but with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers.

 

Isaiah 63:7-9.  I will recount the steadfast love of Yahweh, according to all that He has granted us, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.  For he said, Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely; and he became their Savior.  In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. 

 

Matthew 5:11,12.  “Blessed are you when they revile, persecute and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account.   12.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” 

 

Luke 13:1-5.  About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had slaughtered some Jews from Galilee as they were sacrificing at the Temple in Jerusalem.  “Do you think they were worse sinners than other men from Galilee?” he asked. “Is that why they suffered?  Not at all! And don't you realize that you also will perish unless you leave your evil ways and turn to God?  And what about the eighteen men who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem?  Not at all! And you, too, will perish unless you repent.”

 

Prayer: Holy Spirit, bless the word that goes forth in affliction that joy might burst through.  Amen.

 

SERMON PART 1

   In this short Gospel text (Luke 13:1-5), we imagine that Jesus is being questioned about why bad things happen to good people – why the innocent suffer – why, when G-d is purported to be a loving Father, does he send calamities upon those who don’t deserve suffering much less cruel death. 

   Jesus is told that some fellows were worshiping in the temple when the governor had them slaughtered.  The question Jesus asks is: ¿Who sinned so grievously so as to cause G-d to send for murderers?  A tower collapses and eighteen are killed.  Again the question is, Who made the Almighty mad enough to crash the tower upon them?  (Even today we call such catastrophes “Acts of God.”)

   It’s only natural to question G-d when someone who’s innocent suffers or dies.  If we’re close to that somebody, we feel anger at the injustice of it all.  Anger turns to fear – ¿what will we do now – how can we get along without our loved one?  Or blame – ¿who caused this – to whom may I direct my anger?   To some degree, we blame G-d, no matter whether we think we do or not.  “O G-d,” we invariably pray; and sometimes, “What did I do to deserve this?  And what did they do to deserve this?” 

   The very circumstances that should bring us closer to Him and to one another often turn us away as we seek the answer to, “Why?”  We seek a scapegoat: G-d did it – someone else caused it – somebody should pay.  Sometimes we blame the victims of suffering: “Oh, they had it coming!” or “If they hadn’t been doing thus and so!” or “They should have known better!”

   Here Jesus addresses these attitudes.  As for those who were killed while worshiping, he implies that the men’s sin didn’t cause G-d to act.  It was a brutal dictator, Pilate, who decided for death.  Pilate did it of his own volition.  The heavenly Father had nothing to do with it, though Pilate was certainly repaid. 

   As for those crushed by the tower, G-d wasn’t taking revenge on sinners – this was simply a terrible accident.  We can’t blame G-d for the malicious acts of others or for accidents that cause suffering and death.  No, sin finds its own punishment in this life and in the next.  If you do the crime, it’s just natural law that, someday, somewhere, in some way, you’ll do the time.  G-d has nothing at all to do with it.  It’s just the way things are.  We live, we die – sometimes we die tragically.  Death is not the fault of our heavenly Father.

   But there’s another way of blaming Him that seems innocent and religious – that G-d needs certain ones in heaven so much that that He steals them away.  We see ads in newspapers placed by grieving loved ones reminding the readership that G-d took their child or spouse or mother to fulfill a heavenly vacancy.  This idea may ease our emotional turmoil for a few moments, but it makes our loving heavenly Father into the murderer, the malicious ruiner, the kidnapper, the causer of collapsing towers and auto accidents.  Our Father is the safety net of our rescue, not the weapon of our destruction.

 

   If the Almighty has no part in it, ¿why do bad things happen to good people, to young people, to mothers and fathers and family people – to church people who love G-d?   Why do they die prematurely – in the prime of life – especially when those left behind so desperately need them?  The Bible tells us – and we observe clearly – that bad things happen because evil is integral to our existence on earth, and the danger of being the victim or the casualty or the statistic are risks we take in order to participate in the privilege of life.    

   Our world is a dangerous place, more so today than ever before.  A casual look at any day’s newspaper convinces us that we’ve teamed up with the devil to destroy the world.  Most people march somberly to the beat of his drum because he has been given temporary power to deceive anyone he can.  This is why Jesus tells us that it would profit every single one of us to stop blaming G-d, renounce the evil one and his ways, refuse to take part in his deception, repent of our sins, and get ourselves prepared NOW for the unavoidable eventuality of our own demise, for

It is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). 

   Jesus tells us very plainly, “Don't you realize that you also will perish unless you leave your evil ways and turn to G-d?  Yes, you.  You will perish unless you repent.”  My friend, you’re right.  You can’t make it on your own anymore.  No wonder you’re afraid.  And you can’t postpone your date with the altar rail any longer – you must find peace for your soul.  Jesus has that peace for you.  Repent, believe the Glad Tiding, and be born anew in the image of the only one who can help you, Jesus the Christ.  Why don’t we take the opportunity to pray the confession right now? 

 

CONFESSION

   Let us pray: Merciful Father, before you our hearts are open, and from you no secrets are hidden. We bring to you now our shame and sorrow for our sins. We have forgotten that our life is from you and unto you. We have neither sought nor done your will. We have not been truthful in our hearts, in our speech, in our lives. We have not loved as we ought to love. Help us and heal us, raising us from our sins into a better life, that we may end our days in peace, trusting in your kindness unto the end.  Birth us anew and in your likeness.  Baptize us in your Spirit and give us boldness to face life and live it as our Savior showed us.  It’s through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, that we pray.  Amen.

 

PARDON

   Who is in a position to condemn?  Hear the good news!  Only Christ, Christ who died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us.  God heals the brokenness in our lives and in all creation and gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  {†}In Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven!  Amen.

 

SERMON PART 2  

   I don’t know if you noticed it or not, but the texts I read before the message all have a kind of contradiction.  Paul says in

1 Thessalonians 1:6: You received the word in much affliction, but with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.

This is a great challenge – the WORD was received in great pain (affliction), yet at the same time, joy is the outcome affliction and joy simultaneously at the hearing of the Word of G-d.  How is that possible save by a miracle of his grace? 

   Isaiah expresses a similar idea regarding G-d and our affliction.  He says of the heavenly Father,

Isaiah 63:9 In all our affliction, he is afflicted, but his presence saves us.

Dark affliction, but salvation in his presence!  Did you ever think that the Father could be just as hurt as we are over the passing of our loved one?  Yes, the heavenly Father isn’t gratified in fatal accidents.  When we hurt, he hurts worse.  He died for us.  Yet doesn’t Isaiah tells us that

Isaiah 63:9b In his love and pity he brings us back, bares us and carries us all our days?

   The Father deeply feels our sorrow because he loves us and wants to redeem us from the affliction of death by carrying us onward – like the painting of Jesus as the good shepherd with the lamb upon his shoulders.  That lamb is us.  In fact, from the specter of death, it’s Father’s hope not only to carry us, but to save us entirely and, in the end, banish death completely.  That’s why he sent his son, Jesus – that the whole world might be saved through his love, his own tragic death – and his miraculous resurrection.

   Jesus tells us, “Consider your suffering as something to be glad about: for, if you’re suffering for my sake, your reward will be great.”  Jesus promises that if we’ll receive him as our Master, we may suffer, but there’ll be joy in our suffering.  Yes, we will suffer – but we’ll never taste death.  

 

   Raye Bedgood told me a little story that I checked into.  I want to share it with you.  Nearly a decade ago, a boy named Logan Mitchell was becoming a part of the family.  Joanne came to know this boy and love him as her own.  But then Logan lost his life in a tragic car crash on Back Beach Road. 

   The death of this child brought great grief to the whole family.  But through it, the heavenly Father began to speak to Joanne in a quiet voice.  Logan’s life and death a prophetic wake-up call for her.  In her hurt, Joanne began to reach out for the joy promised in Scripture – the joy that pierces affliction.  She found Faith Christian Family Church and became very active in the service of the Savior for three years.  Her church friend told me that, during this time, Joanne not only heard the words of life, but responded; she came to know her Savior and follow him – she was born anew. 

   On May 5, 2004, Joanne herself was only eight years old in Jesus – just a little child of G-d – just as Logan had been.  My friends, this is a tremendous testimony of the Father’s love, pity and foreknowledge.  He took one family’s temporary tragedy and turned it into the eternal salvation of another.  Joy from affliction.  Salvation from suffering.  Gladness from distress.

   Another great joy that pierces our darkness is that Joanne’s sister Phyllis is with us today.  The accident could’ve also taken her, but she received a reprieve so she might seek out the one who brings joy through suffering and salvation.  Phyllis, through the pain of your soul and body, may the Holy Spirit guide you into full healing and paths of righteousness for Jesus’ name’s sake.  If you will all heed this certain call, you’ll “Be not dismayed whate’er betide – g-d will take care of you.”

   Yet another joy that we celebrate is that Joshua and Breanna were at home when the accident occurred, safe and sound.  Both of these children are at the age of great resilience, and as long as they live they will remember their mother through child-like eyes.  This is a great blessing.  Yet they’ll need a strong support base from now on.  Church school is essential for them to acclimate to life without mother but with the Lord Jesus who bid your children to come unto him. 

   Another bright spot is that Stephan, a young man, has enjoyed two decades of what he described as love, closeness and protection with his mother.  He may now call on his memory of these many good years with her – to help set his life on course – to accept his high calling in Christ. 

   Finally, I want to mention that Phyllis described her sister as an “angel that got her wings.”  I heard from several of the family members that Joanne was a very loving and helpful person – an angel of mercy – who would do anything she could for anyone.  Joanne was an affectionate person – “a hugger” someone said – a woman who in many ways emulated the loving traits of her Savior. 

   I’m thinking maybe Joanne’s temperament is the greatest symbol of that Christ-likeness she possessed – the most telling sign of her salvation – a symbol and a sign for us here today, that we must take care to seek out the root source of her joy.  May the memory of her loveliness help all of you who cared for her to also remember the loveliness of her Savior.  And just as Logan Mitchell’s death prompted Joanne to eventually open the door of her heart to the Savior, may she, through her memory, encourage you to seek the eternal life with her.  Amen.

 

WITNESS  (Others may briefly voice their thankfulness to God for the grace they have received in the life of the deceased.)

 

HYMN OR SONG

 

PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
All-loving and caring Parent of us all, you know our grief in our loss, for you too suffered the death of your child. Give us strength to go forward from this day, trusting, where we do not understand, that your love never ends. When all else fails, you still are God. We thank you for the life and hope that you give through the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ. We pray to you for one another in our need, and for all, anywhere, who mourn with us this day. To those who doubt, give light; to those who are weak, strength; to all who have sinned, mercy; to all who sorrow, your peace. Keep true in us the love with which we hold one another. And to you, with your Church on earth and in heaven, we offer honor and praise, now and forever.  {At the coffin or urn:} Receive Joanne into the arms of your mercy.  Raise Name up with all your people.  Receive us also, and raise us into a new life.  Help us so to love and serve you in this world that we may enter into your joy in the world to come. Amen.

 

THE LORD’S PRAYER

“As our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say…”

Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

DISMISSAL WITH BLESSING

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)