Jump Start # 2239
2 Peter 1:5 “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge.”
Did you catch any of the funeral of President George Bush? I missed most of the Washington funeral. That was designed as a formal national funeral. All the living presidents were there. Lots of speeches about his career. The funeral yesterday in Houston had a different tone to it. It was personal, family and spiritual. Granddaughters read Scriptures. A grandson spoke. His preacher talked about the spiritual side of the man. There was a lot of dignity, honor and goodness. The event was classy.
This is where our verse comes in. Peter tells his Christian readers to add moral excellence to their faith. Other translations simply use the word, ‘virtue.’ The last chapter of Proverbs is commonly referred to as “the Virtuous Woman.” Words like decent, goodness, honorable, character flow from the word virtue. The mood surrounding today’s political climate is mean, nasty and selfish. A lot of name calling. A lot of division. A lot of talk and not much doing. Middle Americans are pretty turned off of what we see in politics today. But then we have a national funeral. A good man who gave his life to serving is remembered. The atmosphere seemed to change, at least for that moment. There was a spirit of being good to one another. Virtue has a way of doing that to a person. It tends to rub off on others. It makes others want to be good. How a culture honors and respects their dead says much about the heart of the times.
Here are some thoughts:
First, the length of our funerals has changed in the past few decades. It wasn’t too long ago that a family had two nights of visitation at the funeral home, and then came the funeral. That was shortened to a day of visitation and then the day of the funeral. It is common today to have a few hours of visitation right before the funeral. Everything in one day. That’s just the change in our times and it is more convenient for families. The Bush family have had what seems to be a week of funerals, but that was unique because of who George was and his position in the world of politics.
Second, as our nation continues to turn secular, many families are at a loss about the purpose of a funeral and what is supposed to happen. Less and less are preachers called, because no one in the family knows any preachers because no one in the family worships. So a family member is called upon to tell funny jokes and unbiblical references are made about fishing and having fun in Heaven. The family in the audience has no clue about what Heaven is like and who goes to Heaven. No thought is given to our rapid approach to our own deaths and how we ought to be living. That’s too preachy for a secular audience. The person who died never went to worship nor read the Bible, yet the family is firmly convinced that he is in Heaven, looking down and even once and a while sending messages to them. They do not understand God, the Lord’s wonderful sacrifice or the nature of Heaven. They have no interest in knowing these things. As quickly as the funeral is over, they shift back into the secular, busy mode and life goes on as if nothing every happened. I have seen full cans of beer left on tombstones in cemeteries. I suppose that represents the person’s life and in the mind of the family, they think he’s drinking a beer in Heaven with all his buddies who have passed on. What a contrast to the funeral of a Christian where hope, character, service and goodness are the qualities remembered. Scriptures are read. Prayers are offered. God is spoken throughout with reverence and holiness.
Third, what we leave a cemetery with is the memories of the departed person. This is where character truly impacts a person. This is where virtue makes all the difference. The funeral of a celebrity or a nationally known person draws the curious just because we have heard about this famous person. But for you and I, most of the funerals we attend are family and friends. It’s character, love and hope that makes the difference here. We remember simple things from the past. We remember a grandmother who made us cookies or read to us. We remember an uncle who took us fishing. We remember goodness, kindness and love. We remember someone who gave us a chance when we were starting out. We remember a mentor. We remember a coach, a school teacher, that made a difference. Goodness is remembered. And, that goodness has a way of making us wonder about our own lives. Are we walking in the same steps of helping others? Are we going out of our way for others? Sometimes it’s a funeral that shakes us a bit and makes us think about what’s really important in life. We can get so caught up in keeping up with others and image, that we forget about character. We’ve made sure that the outside image is polished and looking good, but we’ve forgotten about the inside, who we really are. We sit at a funeral and think about this person who didn’t care about giving up a Saturday to help someone. Floods of memories and stories come to your mind. Here is someone who gave a few dollars to help someone out. Here is someone who walked through life with a smile. Maybe his image was plain and simple. Maybe he didn’t care so much about labels and having the latest. Maybe his life seemed to run at a slower pace than ours, but something pulls us to that person. There was a goodness, a virtue about him, that made others seem special. You sit. You think. You reflect. You’re not seeing that at work. It’s cut throat there. You’re not seeing that in the neighborhood. You’re not seeing that even in the family. You wish you could go back to those earlier days. Things seemed less self centered then. People seemed to value people more than stuff. You didn’t have all this crazy insensitive “you can’t say that,” floating through the air. People naturally cared. You think so more. People seem so uptight today. People seem so angry today. People seem so busy today. Everyone is on their cell phone but no one has any real friends. And, you think.
You came to the funeral to show your respect to someone you cared about. However, you leave the funeral, thinking, “I need to change. I am going to do better.” That’s the way virtue works. It’s appealing and it’s contagious. Moral goodness shines especially in the sewer of our times. We see it missing in so many places. Doing the right thing, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Thinking more of the other person than yourself. Giving up of your time to help someone. Virtue. Goodness. Rightness. It’s like the sun peeking out after days and days of dark clouds. Virtue shines so brightly. Virtue makes you want to serve others.
It is the funerals of the virtuous that do us the most good. It makes us wonder what in the world are we doing? It makes us seem so self-centered. It makes us lower our heads in shame and think why am I not that way? What matters, it comes out in funerals. Character. Relationships. Goodness. Love. Virtue.
Peter wants us to add virtue to our character. It’s the first thing that follows faith. Faith and then virtue. Goodness. Character. Service. Heart. Honor. Decency. Respect.
These are the things that are noticed in life. These are the things that we need to live and show others. The dignity of life. It must be lived before it can be talked about at a funeral.