Monday, September 7, 2009

God Is Love - A Lesson from a Funeral

It is the most basic of Christian ideas. It is what we have heard so often that many of us are no longer moved by it. God is Love.

I have heard more than one churchgoer say something along the lines of "I hope this sermon tells us something deeper than just God is love."

I don't think there is anything deeper than that.

I was a part of an event - a funeral, of all things - several years ago that has left images indelibly imprinted on my mind. I have told the story often, and I want to tell it here.

One of my very favorite verses comes from the little book of Zephaniah. “The Lord your God is with you; He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing.” That does not say that God rejoices when we do things well, when we sing just the right notes. He rejoices over us, period. We are His.

This point was brought home to me a few years ago at that funeral. Grant Cunningham was my age. We met the first day of Welcome Week at Baylor. You could not miss his absurdly curly red hair or his infectious grin. Seven years later, we found ourselves, both married by now, as members of the same church in Nashville. I had gone to Nashville to practice law. Grant had gone there, like so many others, to write music.

Unlike so many others, Grant was good at it. He was real good. He won Dove Awards. You may know Point of Grace's song called “The Great Divide.” Grant wrote that one.

And then, at the age of 38, with twin two year old boys, in a recreational soccer game of all things, Grant died in a freak accident.

I will never, ever forget Grant’s funeral. The music scene in Nashville can produce much in the way of cynicism and me-first oneupsmanship, but there was none of that to be seen that day, as an outpouring of love and respect could not be contained. The biggest names in contemporary Christian music were there; some, like Michael W. Smith and Nicole Nordeman, sang in the service because Kristen asked them to. Others were simply crying and worshiping in a memorial for their friend.

But then something happened that I had never seen before in a funeral service. After Pastor Scotty Smith finished preaching a powerful, evangelistic message that Grant would have “Amen”ed, Scotty moved to the side, the lights dimmed, and a screen descended from the ceiling. The projector came on, and we saw Grant’s face. It was a videotape of Grant singing – apparently at a writer’s night showcasing some new material – the song that turned out to be his last #1 hit. You may know the song “Blue Skies.”

I know it sounds hokey, but you will have to trust me when I tell you that it was heart-rending to see Grant’s face and hear his voice sing his words from a screen suspended over his closed casket.

When the song was over and the screen went dark, the room sat in hushed reverence. Then, without a script or a prompting, I saw Grant’s father stand up on the front row and begin to clap. Just standing there, back to the thousand or so people in the room, looking at … what: – the casket?, the blank screen?, his own tears?, I am not sure – and standing alone and clapping. I was devastated – it was a father’s applause for the life’s work of his son. We in the room were transfixed, for this was not an ovation for a great singing job – I promise you that Point of Grace sings “Blue Skies” far better than Grant could ever have hoped to sing it. Instead, we were witnessing a father watching his son’s last performance and showing his unashamed approval.

Don’t miss the message. God is rejoicing over us. When we come to the end and the tape of our life’s accomplishments is played, it will not matter how well we sang. What matters is that we are His. God will review the tape and stand and applaud and hand us our crown of glory and honor.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are. He is everlasting God, and we are His.

And God is love.


Robert Smith said...

"How Deep the Father's Love for Us" is the name of the rather new hymn tune whose arrangement I will be playing at B'way next Sunday for an offertory. It's a beautiful tune, "contemproary praise song" in nature, but both tune and text rise above the usual ordinariness of those kinds of modern day songs. So if you will just preach the sermon you've started here, I'll support you with this tune! I'm sure Dr. Beasley won't mind a'tall!!

Frances said...

Lyn, Thank you for this!

Anonymous said...

I was going through an old photo album this afternoon and I found a photo that I took in 2002. It was of Grant performing Blue Skies at the GMA's writer's showcase during Gospel Music Week. Little could I have known that, at the time, I was witnessing Grant's last performance, and words cannot express the thankfulness I feel to have had the honor to be there and share that wonderful moment with him... even if only from the back of the auditorium. - Joe Cook in Vineland, NJ

Patrick Stayton said...

Lyn, truth lives on in what you wrote about Grant and his father and about us and our Father. I knew Grant also at Baylor, but lost track of him through the years following our graduation. I knew of his successes in Nashville and I remember hearing of his passing. But I hadn't thought of him in years before today. An internet search led me to your story. Just wanted to say thank you for sharing. It was a message I needed to hear today. Deep and unchanging truth.