I Do Not Fear, for I Know Who He Is (click to view/download originally published version)
Funeral sermon for Margie Schmidt
Acts 17:22-31 (NIV)
22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
24“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
I’m not afraid of the question that is on most of our minds here this morning. I’m not afraid of the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?” And I want to tell you why I’m not afraid of that question.
It’s certainly not because I know the specifics of the answer. I don’t. I freely admit it. I don’t know the specific reasons God had in mind any more than you do. Lloyd and I actually sat down on Thursday and went over possible reasons, but none of them made for good sermon material. Sermons aren’t guesswork—at least, good and faithful sermons aren’t.
So, if I don’t know God’s reasons for allowing Margie’s accident, how can I say that I am not afraid of the question? Well, I’ll tell you. I Do Not Fear Because I Know Who He Is. I do not fear that question because I know exactly who God is. And based on what I know about who God is, I can say that I know more than enough to fully entrust him with my life, with your lives, and with Margie’s life. And I have no fear that he will betray that trust with any evil whatsoever.
You see, fear and distrust of God come from not knowing exactly who God truly is. Tragically, however, not knowing exactly who God is has become the main religion of Americans. I came to understand that as the source of our fear and distrust not only from growing up in America myself, but also from reading about ancient Athens in the New Testament book of Acts.
Ancient Athens had the same approach to religion that America has. Citizens of Athens, like Americans, didn’t mind if you offered your personal theories about God, about many gods, or even about there being no god at all, so long as you were also willing to listen to others argue for their ideas and theories, as well. In fact, the book of Acts says that “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”
That sounds very open, very enlightened. But it also leaves you with a whole lot of reasons to fear. How do you know who’s right? How do you know you are right? How do you cover your bases if you’re wrong?
The Apostle Paul visited Athens, and he recognized this fear. He himself knew exactly who God was, and, because he knew exactly who God was, it was easy for him to contrast his faith in Christ our Savior with the shaky, doubtful approach to God that defined the grasping religion of the Athenians. So he stood up at one of their meetings and said, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.”
The fear that comes from not knowing God had led them to explore many gods. Therefore, they had many, many altars. They were “covering their bases.” But had they covered them all? This fear would always haunt them so long as they did not know the one, true God. So they erected an altar “To an Unknown God.”
“Now what you worship as something unknown,” Paul said, “I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”
You see, there’s a big part of the problem. Because we are sinful and are always looking out for what we want and need, we think of everyone else as being that way—looking out for their own interests even when they try to be selfless. Eventually, we even come to think of God that way!
Therefore we think of religion as satisfying the demands of a needy god who greedily commands our compliance from the heavens. But God needs nothing from us. “He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything.” To the contrary, he himself is the source of all our blessings, all we need for our body and life—“he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” Remember that about the one, true God!
Paul continues, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” And why did God set these particular times and places for us? This is the important part that relates to our grieving today: “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”
“Therefore,” Paul concludes, “since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silsver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past, God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
I do not fear the tough questions in life because I know this God. I know that he is not an invention of man, as every other god and every other religion is. Adam and Eve’s sin and the heart of the temptation they fell to was to distrust God. Satan wanted them to think that God was withholding something good from them, something that would make them like God and threaten his power and position.
But it was a lie. God needs nothing from us in order to maintain his power and position, and he himself is the source of everything good that we need for our bodies and life. The simple solution from his point of view then was just to throw our entire race out, to let us see if our own ingenuity or any of the gods we make up because we prefer them can help us.
But he didn’t. This is the very heart and core of true faith in God. Trust in the one, true God comes from realizing that he didn’t just throw out the human race. Immediately after Adam and Eve’s sin, he showed up not to destroy but to promise a Savior who would be born from Eve’s line. This Savior would crush the one who tempts us to distrust God by emptying him of any ammunition he might have, any power of any kind, to take us from our loving God. He would crush Satan’s lying, accusing tongue by suffering in our place as the one whom God threw out, the one God abandoned and left to suffer without any of his life-giving blessings. When he died on the cross, that wasn’t just the result of religious persecution. It was the result of God’s love, a love that desires for us to receive his forgiveness and salvation that he himself would pay the debt for our rebellion. That was God showing us his very heart, that we might be forgiven our sins, relieved of the fear of distrust and know the one, true God through and through.
I don’t know all the reasons God had for allowing Margie’s fatal accident, but I know my God, who became mortal for the sole purpose of suffering the abandonment that you and I truly deserve from God—suffered it so that we would never have to. I know that the accident brought Lloyd to my doorstep, where we comforted one another with the truth of Christ. I know that it reminded Lloyd of the blessings with which God showered Margie in her baptism, as well as in her training at Emanuel’s elementary school, in Sunday School and in confirmation classes. I know that it made him confess with joy how proud he was to see her knowledge of Scripture in action.
I don’t know all the specific reasons God had. He hasn’t revealed them to me. But he has revealed his love and mercy, and his desire to save us through the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ, who died to pay the full debt of our sins. I know that Margie’s accident brought me here to reveal this forgiveness and salvation to you. I know that he desires for you the baptism of forgiveness and life everlasting in the name of Christ our Savior. I don’t know much, but I know that we need not fear death, for all who trust in Jesus will rise to eternal life. Amen.
Funeral for Margie Schmidt I Do Not Fear Because I Know Who He Is August 8, 2009
Pastor Aaron C. Frey Acts 17:22-31