Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Am I an Ox, an Ass, or a Floozy

Today I officiated at a very strange funeral.
It was not a church funeral, no one from the church I serve as pastor. Just a pick-up that I do frankly for extra cash, as a service to families that have no church affiliation.

Without really getting too much into details, the fact that I was proclaiming the warm welcome of Gof for a faithful servant, for someone who apparently wasn't really bothered me. the family freely admitted that neither the deceased, nor they, her family had any association with any church or faith.

For the first time in my nine years of ministry, the theological point of the funeral liturgy that i use came home to me. the funeral service is a celebration of a life of faithful witness on the part of the deceased, a daily taking up of one's cross, as did christ, that allows the person to share in the blessed hope of christ's resurrection.

But (and I a do hate to feel judgmental) this family and particularly the deceased, made no effort to take up the cross. There was no faithful witness. I am not condemning the woman to eternal torment (that is not my job).

Here is the question you see. I am not claiming that God does not love or care for this person, BUT, she (according to family) had little to no relationship to Christ, so how can I stand and celebrate the reward of faithful witness to Christ, when there was none (that I am aware of anyway)?

I began to imagine the funerals I will someday perform (with sadness) for the blessed saints of my church who do daily take up their cross and who have over a life-time done so. I will say the same words for them and to their families. Aren't those words somehow cheapened by also proclaiming them for people who made no effort in faith and through grace, to be Christ-followers?

while Christ did preach the love and mercy of God, there were many, many instances of 'gnashing teeth' and eternal darkness for those who simply did not choose the Kingdom or make any effort to live as God expected.

In other words, am I not proclaiming a cheap grace in the these funerals. Am I not misrepresenting what God is all about if, through proclaiming eternal reward for those who never sought that reward. Live however you want and in the end god will still love you is not quite the story Jesus told. god loves you madly and wants to know you and be close to you and guide you. but if you will not be lead by God, how can I say that you still get the reward?

Is salvation universal I guess is the question.
I once read that an ancient church father once said, 'he who does not believe in universal salvation is an ox, but he who preaches it is an ass.'
I used to like the idea of universal salvation. I'm not so sure anymore.
It seemed a good idea so as to preserve the love and mercy of God, but it denies the choices of humanity, our freedom, I think. My mother loves me unconditionally, but if I ignore her, and miss out on that love, that does not make her cruel.

I feel like a gospel floozy (not exactly the word I wanted to use, but I didn't want to offend my millions of readers) selling a picture of a really tepid loving God who makes no demands of us 'His' creation and who therefore really creates little to no justice by simply loving us no matter what. Just pass me a check and I will make you feel better.

so should I stop doing funerals for the unchurched?
A very wise friend suggested that funeral for the unchurched is a good opportunity to reach out to the family. I appreciated those thoughts.
But that is not quite the point.
In the liturgy at the commendation I say... accept now we pray a sheep of your fold, a lamb of your flock, a son/daughter of your own redeeming. But what if they really aren't. They are created by God and so generally a child of God, but they have not chosen to be a part of the redeemed fold and flock. I can't say that with any integrity.

Do i create a different liturgy for such folk. one that doesn't promise the reward of the faithful, but does focus on God's love and mercy for all humanity? Is that still cheapening grace?

Just some thougths that I hope the one or two faithful will respond to so as to help me figure this all out.


VanceH said...

Hi Darin,
I'm sure that it is no surprise to you that I don't believe in universal salvation--although, I have to admit that my head hurts if I think about the whole atonement thing for too long. While we can't know this women's true spiritual condition, it sounds like her family was not expecting statements assuring heavenly bliss. It seems to me that in similar situations you could use an alternate approach that feels to you (and me) as a more honest reflection of reality. Given your feelings on the matter I don't see how God could begrudge a slightly less expansive grace..

darin said...

I DO think they wanted to hear the 'heavenly bliss' stuff vance. They specifically requested a pastor and shelled out an extra $200.00 bucks to get me.
That is the problem, you see. It's not so much the womans true spiritual condition, I have no way of knowing that. Although Jesus did say that by their fruits you shall know them, (at least I think that was Jesus).
I think it is more about my ordination. am I called to be a resource to community in their time of need whether they are a sheep of the flock or not? It sounds pretty cruel to say NO. But in saying YES, I am here for the community, whether faithful or not, should there be limits?
And wouldn't one of those limits be mis-representing the faith by acting as if God is rewarding a faithfulness that never was?
thanks for your thoughts vance. I do appreciate you helping me think through this. And my head hurts when I think too much on atonement.