This sermon was offered at the Memorial Service held for John Millar Buick, a long-time participant in the St. George's and Comox Valley Communities. A copy of the service bulletin can be dowloaded by clicking here.
April 25th, 2015
St. George's United Church
"Help from the Outside"
Rev. Ryan Slifka
Being a minister is a strange thing. Because you’re often asked to say something about a person who you either don’t know or don’t know very well. And this is the case with John. I only ever met John once. And it was a week or so before he died. So, truth be told, when it comes to words about John, you are all far better authorities than me.
But services like this aren't for the dead. They are for us--the living. And certainly, memorial services are not occasions of joy. But they are, in our tradition, services that proclaim hope in the midst of our sorrows. And that's what I'm here to do.
One of the most meaningful things for me comes out of not knowing someone very well. It’s that you get to meet that person through the people that they love. I’ve been able to listen to you tell me about John. Your feelings, your experiences, and your stories about his life. And that is a unique gift.When Ruth and I were planning this service together, she told me all about John’s life. About how he was born in the southern interior, and how much he loved it there—why would you vacation anywhere else? And how much he loved the Valley when they moved here. And about how he especially loved walking from one side of town to the next. “I lift up my eyes to the hills,” says the Psalm. When you live in a place like this, or the Southern Interior of B.C., when you lift your eyes, they’ll eventually find some majestic hills (or the mountains). Every single day. What a gift. One I’m sure that John relished.
In this Psalm whoever is saying these words as they look up at the hills is less impressed, or awestruck than he (or she) is scared or desperate. “I lift up my eyes to the hills,” they say. “From where will my help come?” We don’t exactly know what the problem is. But for this person there is little hope. Hemmed in by hills on each side, there doesn’t seem to be much of a way out of the valley of despair. So she (or he) looks off on the horizon beyond the mountains. Beyond the immediate troubles. And hopes against hope that this isn’t the way it has to be. Even if the evidence says otherwise. There’s got to be a way out.
When Ruth suggested this Psalm for John’s service, I couldn’t really see the connection at first. But now I do. By the time I met John it had been a long, steady decline. There’d been chronic pain. He had trouble remembering who anyone was. He had little control over his body. And no way of caring or doing anything for himself. “I look up to the hills, from where will my help come?” We’ve all felt the same. Insert your trouble in here. We long, rightly to escape from them. We long to be free. To get out of the messes we find ourselves in and move on. But, as in John’s case sometimes there is no obvious way out.
But perhaps it isn’t about finding a way out. “My help,” it says, “comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Rescue comes not as an escape from trouble. “God will not let your foot be moved;” it says. “God will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper, your shade that shades you from the scorching sun, and the icy cold of the moon at night.” Here God comes not as the ejector seat. Rescue comes not as a way out. But a divine way in.
The promise of this story is not an escape from the struggle or hurt of daily life. The promise is that there is a love that is so deep, so vast, so wide, and powerful that no matter who we are, or where life takes us, it can never let us go. Whether we are the ones in the hospital bed. Or standing beside a hospital bed. Whether we are the ones in the grave or the ones at the graveside. The promise from this text, is that for John, and for you, and for me, is that we can live not in fear, but live life with courage. Even if there is no way out. Because God is always making a way in.
Friends—brothers and sisters. Today is a challenging day. It is a day of heartache and sadness. It’s a day of grief. There is no way out of our own fears. And, yet, we can somehow say the words “hallelujah” and mean them. Because “our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” May God keep your going out and your coming in from this time on. And for evermore. Because in life, in death, and in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.