Friday, February 17, 2012

For God and Goldie

What appears below is a written version of the homily I delivered at Memorial Service for Goldie Reeves on February 16, 2012, at McIlwain Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Florida. I wish you could have heard the eloquent and moving words spoken by her son, the Rev. John K. Reeves as a testimony to God's work in and through her life which he spoke prior to the homily. She was a mother in Israel and a remarkable woman. The opportunity to preach for her service of one of the great privileges given me during soon to be 40 years of ministry. 

Gripped, Guided, Glorified
Goldie Reeves
The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 73 almost lost his faith. He almost came to the conclusion that there was no use in living a life of faith and seeking to please God. The reason he got to this place is that he had a hard life. He suffered; yet, when he looked at people who highhandedly ignored God and did as they pleased, he could not make any sense out of the reality that the wicked prospered while he, a man of faith, experienced painful trials. When he looked back at this period in his life, he said, “When my soul became embittered, when I was pricked in my heart, I was brutish and ignorant. I was like a beast toward you” (vs. 21, 22).

I think Mrs. Reeves could have come to the place of doubt and bitterness to which the Psalmist came. Some of the things that happened to her as a child and young adult could have taken her there. But that did not happen. Why?

I believe it is because she never really doubted what the Psalmist came to see when God brought him to his senses. Let me read for you what he came to see that Goldie apparently never doubted. This is the Word of God.

Psalm 73: 23 – 28
                          Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
                              you hold my right hand.
                         You guide me with your counsel,
                              and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
                    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides
                         My flesh and my heart may fail,
                               but God is the strength of my heart and
                                   my portion forever.
    For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
 you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful
                                          to you.
                        But for me it is good to be near God;
                             I have made the Lord God my refuge,
                             that I may tell of all your works.

I want to ask you to think with me about three truths from verses 23 and 24. I think they summarize Goldie’s life, but, though we may not be so conscious of these things as she, they are true for every Christian believer: We are gripped by God. We are guided by God. We will be glorified by God.

Gripped. “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.”

The Psalmist knew that, though it seemed that God was absent from his life or ignoring him, and though he had almost given up on God, he had always been with God. Not just the bare presence of God, which in itself could be threatening, but the comforting presence of a good God.

But how was it that the Psalmist was always with God? It was because God gripped him, held his right hand. God had taken hold of him, and God would not let go; hence, he was always with God, even when he did not feel it.

I remember as a little boy going to Quietwater Beach. I would be ready to get out of the water onto the dock, and my daddy would be standing on the dock. He would reach down, and I would reach up, and he would wrap what seemed to me to be a giant hand around my little hand and lift me up on the dock. What mattered was not my grip on my daddy’s hand, but his firm grip on mine.

It’s that way with God. God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world, to take on the guilt of our sin and to suffer its condemnation for us, because God wanted to take hold of us in blessing forever. We take hold of God’s salvation by faith. In that sense we reach up to God to take hold of God, but even the strength and the will to take hold of God in faith comes from God, and when he wraps his almighty hand around the weak hand of our faith he will never release his grip.

Jesus explained it this way: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10: 27-29) The saving hand of Jesus Christ the Son of God grips Christian believers, and, as if that were not enough, the omnipotent hand of the Father is wrapped around the omnipotent hand of the Son.

Knowing something of the story of Goldie’s life, I don’t think you can understand her life and the way she lived it without seeing that she believed that from the beginning God gripped her by the hand and never let go, so that she was always with God no matter what. And her highest wish for all of us would be that we might be gripped by God as she was.

 Guided. ”You guide me with your counsel…”

Goldie also had a clear sense of direction and believed her life made sense because God was guiding her life with his counsel.

There are two senses in which believers are guided by God’s counsel:

There is the guidance of his providence. What we see too often is chaos, or even, as the Psalmist thought true for awhile, the triumph of evil. It seems no one is in charge or that the one in charge is evil or does not know what he is doing. But the truth is that God is good, and God is wise, and God is in control. He controls everything, as the Proverb says, even down to the roll of the dice.

For the believer this is a great comfort because the believer knows that “for those who love God, all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). There is not a single thing that happens in our lives that God will not use for good – not just his good but ours. Even when people with malice in their hearts seem to have us under their control and do bad things to us, we can say as Joseph said to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50: 20).

I think one of the reasons Goldie was so cheerful and so remarkably free of resentment, despite bad things that were done to her, was that she believed God had a plan for her, and was working that plan, and that plan was good. God was guiding her life by the counsel of his will.

But Goldie would have never known that, nor can we, except for the counsel of God’s Word. The counsel of God’s Word gives us the perspective to make sense of the counsel of his providence. Without God’s Word we would not know that God is working all things for our good.

But the counsel of God’s Word, or the Bible, also gives us the direction to live our lives according to God’s will in order to please him. The believer says to God, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119: 105).  The commandments to love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves gives us two great guiding principles of life. The two commandments are explained in concrete life situations by the Ten Commandments that tell us how to love God and our neighbor.

It goes almost without saying that Goldie believed in the Bible. She received with faith that it was God’s direction for how she should live as one gripped by God in Christ. She exemplified, “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing will make them stumble” (Psalm 119: 165). And, I know she would counsel us that we, too, receive the Bible as the place we get counsel to direct us how God wants us to live.

Glorified. “And afterward you will receive me to glory.”

The Psalmist saw, despite all his previous internal conflict and doubt that having God in his life was the best thing about life. But he believed there was better, indeed the best, to come. He knew his heart and flesh would fail, his physical and mental powers would decline, and he would die.  But he could look beyond to the time when he would die and say, “Afterward you will receive me to glory.”

Moses longed to see the glory of God. God let him have just a little glimpse – as it were, just a passing glimpse of God’s back as God passed by. What the Lord showed Moses when he showed his glory was the Lord’s goodness. And, as God passed by, he proclaimed his glorious name: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34: 3, 4).

The glorious goodness of God is manifested fully in heaven where God is, where there is no sin or evil of any kind. There is only mercy, only grace, only love and faithfulness and that is all those who enter God’s glory experience there. That is what Goldie is now experiencing in the presence of God and her Savior Jesus Christ. She has now entered into the glorious presence of Jesus, who, in order to enter his glory and take us into it, first had to suffer for our sins.

Now Goldie experiences fully what she sang:

And when this heart and flesh shall fail,
                                  and mortal life shall cease,
                                  I shall possess within the veil
                                  a life of joy and peace.

And as, Goldie enjoys glory, she awaits the breaking of “a yet more glorious day”, when “the saints triumphant rise in bright array” and their “King of glory passes on his way.” That is the day when Christ will come again, when believers shall be raised to life everlasting, and shall share in the glory of soul and body united, which Christ entered at his resurrection.

Our Catechism tells us what to expect about glory:“The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection. At the resurrection, believers, being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the Day of Judgment, and make perfectly blessed to the enjoying of God to all eternity” (WSC, Q’s 37, 38).

Goldie was a hospitable person. From glory, and anticipating the glory yet to come, I know she would say to us, “Y’all come. Y’all come share the glory with me.”

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