a funeral sermon

For Daniel John Banda  22Apr1957 + 16Oct2014

Is25:6-9; Ps23; from Rom7-8; Mt5:4

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Life doesn’t go how we want it to. That’s an obvious statement right now, certainly true in this tragic shock of Dan’s death, which we can only call untimely and unfortunate. It should not have happened. We can’t give any good reasons or explanations for why it did happen. And there’s really nothing we can do to change it.

This week, we’ve also been reminded that the end of life is not how we’d want it to be. This moment should not have come now, when Dan was happy and settling in to new rhythms of life in Platteville. It shouldn’t have come when Maren was so far away. It shouldn’t have come as a knock on Josh’s door, just as he was actually looking forward to a visit on parents’ weekend, activities planned, details worked out, even a shirt picked out for him. It is untimely and tragic.

It highlights the fracture of loss, taking one so vibrant away from us, and also it magnifies what was unresolved, the other moments in Dan’s life, for your shared lives with him, and for each of us. There’s plenty that doesn’t go how we want, how we wish it would, and we seem largely powerless to change it.

A month ago Dan wrote to me with that type of thought, reflecting that he’d worn out several mirrors looking for the cracks, as he said, in his thoughts and actions, feeling he couldn’t really understand a bunch of the “whys” in life, that it just remained a mystery.

One of our verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans captures this sort of sentiment, seeming so true to our realities: “I do not do the good I want, but what I do not want is what I do.” In some of the most central roles in his life, that has to summarize Dan’s reaction. He tried to be a good spouse and partner. He really, really wanted to be a good dad. In his mind he always wanted to be a father first and foremost. But those relationships nevertheless had difficulty. They didn’t always go the way he wanted, or the way you wanted.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot Dan did very well, that did go how he wanted. His passions and creativity and his inquisitiveness could be inspiring to be around. His teaching was an especially energizing and enlivening spot for him, the recent time in Platteville being one of the strong examples of it. In that letter last month, after excitement for Josh, Dan told of how very happy he was, being busy with the diverse course load. He was back in his element.

And, of course, in his filmmaking he was extraordinary and so talented. Yet notably there, too, he tended to find themes and topics that were not easy, talking to veterans or entering war zones, places of disputes and conflicts, prejudices, oppressions, and inequalities. That again shows how life so often is not what it should be.

There are some who view all this with a negative summary. For that they may be called pessimists, or realists. They see struggle and disappointments and tragedies, and summarize it with something like, “Life’s a bitch, and then you die.” It could even square with our verse from Romans; if I try to do the right thing, but somehow just can never get it right, that’s a pretty dismal outlook overall.

Yet that is not the theme of our faith, finally, and that is not the refrain Dan voiced. Much truer and more faithful is Dan’s motto, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” It’s one he used a lot. It’s a phrase I heard from him at low moments. He used it to describe places like Mexico and the Congo and our fear of the other that would break apart human relationships on large scales.

And, indeed, it could be used in Romans to describe our place. As much as we fail and fall short, as much as things won’t go right and with sudden finality of death, still that’s not it, it’s not over, not the end, no period. That is not all. It’s among the most amazing transitions possible, from Romans 7 looking at our bleak brokenness, going on to say that it’s not just us, that all creation groans in travail, and yet turning in Romans 8 to a breathtaking word hope. It says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” It points toward the promise of life through the love of Jesus. And nothing can ever separate us from that. This is the core of our faith, then, that even at the lowest point, we cling to hope of something better. Even in the face of death, we hold the expectation of more, of resurrection, of new life in Jesus.

That’s what can give us confidence to keep working on relationships that seem to be at dead ends. It’s what allows us to confront places of deep despair, whether in the news of our world or in our own existence. Even now, the bad is merely a comma.

The Isaiah reading that Maren selected for us was written during a time of terrible oppression by a foreign army. Yet it allowed God’s people not to yearn for or gloat in their own triumphalism, but to hope for reconciliation with those enemies, when all would be brought to celebrate together at a rich banquet, when shrouds and graves and weeping and death would be no more. It’s in Jesus’ words of blessing from the Sermon on the Mount, that even in the midst of our sorrow you are blessed, for you will be comforted.

It’s always in the assurance that no matter how far we’ve gone astray, how badly we’ve blown it, how brutal a rupture death is, how much we live in the frustrating struggles of Romans 7, still there is Romans 8 to come. Nothing can separate you, there is no way you can be taken from, you will always be kept in the arms of God’s mercy, in the heart of this Father, in the love of Jesus our Lord, for this life and more to come.

That’s a promise Dan cherished through the commas of his life, and it persists for him now. It remains a promise for you, too. And for Christ’s sake it will be forever. Period.

Romans 7 & 8

7:15 I do not understand my own actions. 17b I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 8:2 [and] the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Let us pray.

God of all creation, we praise you for the vastness of your blessings, for friends and colleagues that stretch across the globe and through different languages, for arts and all knowledge, for the tenacity of love and the gift of memories. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

As we gather this evening in shared grief and loss, give us grace to know that you hold onto us still through tragedy and sorrow. We pray for the healing of brokenness in our relationships and across the globe. Continue your work of reconciliation and peace in our lives. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

Give courage and faith to all who mourn, and a sure and certain hope in your loving care, that, casting all their sorrow on you, they may have strength for the days ahead, remembering especially Josh and Maren. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

Grant to us who walk as yet by faith, that, where this world groans in grief and pain, your Holy Spirit may lead us to bear witness to your light and life. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

Amid things that end too soon, sustain us in the promise of a grand banquet to come, with cups overflowing at the table of your eternal feast. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

Help us in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting. God of mercy, hear our prayer.

God of all grace, we give you thanks because by his death our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed the power of death and by his resurrection he opened the kingdom of heaven to all. Make us certain that because he lives we shall live also, and that neither death nor life, nor things present nor things to come, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen