Memorial Service – James Blackwell
Worthington Funeral Home
10 January 2016
Good afternoon. My name is Justin DuBose and I have the privilege of being the pastor to some of the Blackwell family at Missionary Alliance Church in Whiteville. It is my honor, today, on behalf of the family to be here with you as we celebrate the life of Mr. James Blackwell.
We are all here today because, in some way we knew James, and we are brought together by his death. Death, more than anything else in life, highlights for us the limits of our humanity. It is an irrefutable demonstration that we are temporal beings and that we have certain limitations. Among those limits are not just our own mortality, but even language itself. Never do words and vocabulary, no matter how choicely chosen, have the potential to mean so little as in a time of loss. I want to make sure and acknowledge that fact this afternoon before I begin to fill the air with my own words. Human emotion is on full display, and in times like these we experience the complete spectrum of our emotions and with such intensity that it is often physically painful. So, I want to begin by seeking The Lord in prayer, first and foremost, and ask Him to minister to us as we are gathered in His house today.
Please pray with me:
"Our Father in heaven, may Your name be honored as holy. May Your kingdom come. May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Minister to us now, Lord, as we are gathered here today before You, empty and broken. In the name of your Son, our advocate and redeemer, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen."
We are all here this afternoon to remember James - so, before I begin with my message, I'd like to share a particular memory of James that came up quite frequently in my conversations with the family.
When I asked the question to different people about some specific memory of James that really stands out to them and highlights his personality, one common item was referenced: his COMB! The man had combs in toolboxes, in vehicles, in glove boxes, and always in his back pocket. He had one comb that was his favorite, and, apparently, that one comb got the job done like no other. Every time before he would walk into a restaurant, out came the comb because the hair had to look just so. And, his hair always did look just so. For those of you who know about VeggieTales, you’ll understand this reference: but, I don’t think I can ever listen to the song, “Oh, where is my hairbrush?” without thinking of James from now on.
We all knew James in different ways. Some knew him as “father”, some as “brother”, and “uncle”, and many simply as “friend”. But, The Lord knew James better than any of us. He was created very uniquely, and it was God who knit him together and fashioned him in his mothers’ womb. It was the Lord who created him, in HIS image, and gave him the very life that we all got to experience and love. He was formed by Him, given his personality by Him, and today, like us, God our Father is grieving his loss.
The better you know someone, the more significant their loss is to you, and that is why I want to tell you this afternoon that James’ death effects none of us more deeply than our Heavenly Father. In fact, every single human death grieves the Father more than we can imagine. We sit here today heartbroken, and so does The Lord. I want to encourage you today with this: look up to the Father in the midst of your grief and you will see that He too grieves with you. When you cry – and, for many of us, the tears will come steadily and likely often - look up to the Father and you will see that He too is crying, only His tears are larger than your own. While He is wiping away your tears with one hand, He is wiping His own with the other.
Grief is an awfully terrible experience; it is very much like smoke. Oftentimes in a fire it is not the flame itself that cripples us, it is the smoke. Every time you breathe it fills up your being. Every time you open your eyes, they seem to burn. Every time you try to look around all you see is the smoke, and it can be crippling because it is everywhere. It is inescapable. Grief is very much the same way. It doesn't seem to matter how you respond to it, it just seems to be all-encompassing and it will not go away. When C.S. Lewis lost his wife he said, “It doesn't really matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist's chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on.”
The drill drills on. Grief persists. Sorrow remains. Jesus actually promised each of us that this would be the case. After His resurrection from the dead, He told His disciples in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble." This is a guarantee, a promise, you can take it to the bank. Jesus Himself experienced sorrow and loss in this world, and He told His disciples that they could expect the same. It is the nature of the fallen world in which we live. Just a few verses later, as He was praying for His disciples, in John 17:15, He also prayed, after just telling them that they would experience trouble in this world, that rather than being taken out of this world, that the Father would protect them in the midst of this troubled world. Jesus, knowing that this world would be full of trouble, pain, sorrow, and loss, doesn't pray that we would escape that, but rather that we would be protected in the midst of it.
Why would He pray in such a way? If God can do anything He wants - and we know that He can because He is all-powerful - and if by His nature He is love - which the apostle John repeatedly assures us that He is - then why wouldn't He spare us of all of this turmoil? That seems to be the much more loving thing to do, does it not? Let me use a story to help illustrate my point.
I was moved recently when I read of a newlywed couple who, just weeks after being married, experienced a horrific tragedy. The husband, a very young and healthy fellow, was in an accident which very severely crippled Him. He could do nothing on His own, in fact He could not even talk, and his young wife bore the burden of his care. What was so moving about this story was not primarily the depth of the tragedy on the part of the husband, but the depth of the love on the part of the wife. The husband knew cognitively of the love of his wife before his accident, but it wasn't until after the accident - when the trouble and sorrow set in - that He knew experientially of her love for Him. The principle is this: the greater the tragedy, the deeper and more evident the love.
This is why The Lord does not pray for us to be taken out of this world, where He assures us that we will experience trouble, sorrow, and loss, but rather that we will know, experientially, of the Father's great and unmatched love and protection for us in the midst of the sorrow that we experience. What an unparalleled manifestation of His love and grace toward us, that we as humans would be comforted, loved, and protected by the God who created, not only our physical bodies, but the very Heavens and the Earth.
Those of you who know me know that my wife, Alanna, and I have four young children at home. Every time we walk through a parking lot or cross the street, we force each one of them to hold our hand, and, without fail, they never appreciate our love and protection for them until they need it – which, for them, is the point at which they are almost hit by a car. It is very much the same way with our Heavenly Father and His children. His hand is ever-present on our own hand as we walk through this world. His fingers are so consistently interlaced with our own that we often even forget that He is still there, still holding on, still protecting us. Often times it is not until we are dangling precariously off the edge of a cliff that we look up and are reminded that the only thing keeping us safe is the hand of our Father, gripping our own, and pulling us out. The grip of His hand holding you is not fully valued and appreciated until it is the only thing you have to clasp on to, the only place of refuge.
Jesus promised us that we will have sorrow in this world, and to that we could all echo a hearty "AMEN!" today and in the days to come. But – and please listen to and remember this truth – He also promised us the love and protection of our ever-loving, ever-present Father. One of the most precious promises of Scripture to the believer is found in the book of Hebrews, chapter 13 and verse 5, where He tells us, "I will never leave you and I will never forsake you." Like the previous promise of sorrow and trouble in this world, you can take this guarantee to the bank as well. His love and protection is always with His children; it is simply so consistent that it is often forgotten until it is needed. Well, today it is needed, and today we need to look up and see that The Lord is there still, as He always has been and always will be, holding us tightly and weeping with us.
I'd like to close today by reading you what, to me, are the most comforting words in all of Scripture from Psalm 139, and I'd like to speak specifically to Brooks & Anthony and the rest of the family that are present here today, though it certainly is applicable to each of us who belong to The Lord Jesus Christ.
"LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, LORD. You have encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it. Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me."
We are all gathered together here today to comfort one another. But, very soon, we will all disperse and the routines of life will employ us and occupy our time with its various necessities. There will be times when you will lay in bed at night, or ride silently in a vehicle, or even for seemingly no reason at all feel all alone and the grief of this moment will come back like a runaway freight train. That sensation of grief feeling like smoke will return to you, and you will feel as though you can't even breathe without inhaling it, open your eyes without it stinging, or even look around. This is normal and all part of the grieving process. But, like the promise of sorrow in this world, I want to plead with you, to beg you, to hold tightly to these promises of Scripture. God is ever-present as only He can be. He has not left and He will never leave or forsake His children. His hand is always holding yours, and He will never leave you.
You are not alone and you will never be alone as a son or daughter of God. As a Christian - as one who belongs to Jesus Christ, you cannot and will not be alone. Hold on to that.
Let’s pray together.
“Lord, we thank you for the gift of life. We know, because we are created in your image, that each moment of each life is immeasurably valuable to You. We thank you that you formed James, and made him, and blessed him with life and allowed us to share in that life.
As we have committed his spirit to you, we know from Scripture that you are a righteous God, and that you will do what is right. And now, in this moment, I pray that we would each commit our own spirit to you as we also have your gift of life within us. You, oh Lord, are the Prince of Peace, and you promise to comfort those who seek you in their hour of need. So, Lord, in this hour of need, and in the many hours to come, I ask that you give us the boldness to approach your throne of grace and rely on your comfort to carry us through these times of sorrow and adjustment. We need you every hour, oh Lord, but in this hour remind us of our need for You and the comfort that comes from a relationship with You.
We rest our hearts, now, in fresh confidence upon the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
Just a man trying to save his thoughts and correspondence