3 Things We Don’t Talk about in Church

There are three things we don’t talk about in church. Or, maybe I should say: there are three things we don’t talk about very often or very well in church.

The first is death. To be fair, we don’t talk about death very well anywhere in our society. It’s easier to avoid death until you can’t avoid it anymore — like when someone you love is very ill, or when you go visit a friend who has lost a loved one. We have gotten so good at dancing around death that there is an entire website devoted to the many, MANY ways we have of talking about death — without ever actually using the word.

The second thing we don’t talk about in church is sex. Again, we have reasons for this, and some of them are good. One, it’s difficult to preach about it when there are people of all ages in the congregation, including teenagers and kids. Two, it can be awkward and personal — kind of like sex itself.

And the third thing we don’t talk about is politics. Now in some churches this isn’t true. They jump into politics very quickly and regularly. (The truth is: some churches also talk about sex and death regularly, too.) But politics can get a preacher into trouble pretty quickly — with good reason.

In other words, some of the more personal and intimate areas of our lives are the ones we are most likely to avoid in church. It is much easier to talk in flowery generalities and abstract theories. It is more challenging to speak about the realities that hit closest to home.

But should it be that way? Should we avoid these things?

For example, what about politics? Should church be a politics-free zone? Well, yes and no. I believe that church is not the place for us to preach in favor of policies and procedures and laws. No one coming to worship should be told that all true Christians vote one way, or support one particular political party. Our goal, especially in worship, is to point people to Jesus, not a flag, or a political figure, or an ideology.

Even so, not preaching politics is not the same as not being political. For the truth is: we are all political. The root of the word, politics, is the Greek word for “citizen,” or “city.” To be alive and human is to be political — to be a part of a community of people seeking the common good. And that we should preach — that we as followers of Jesus are called to be political (small p), while being careful not to be consumed by the Political (capital P). We have a responsibility to be faithful citizens of our communities, state, country, and world — recognizing that we can do this while also holding different Political views.

What about sex? Can we talk about that? Well, if we are going to talk about the life of faith, and how Jesus transforms people from all walks of life, then church must be a place where all of life is discussed. And sex is certainly a part of that. In fact, if the church isn’t talking about sex, then how will our kids learn a healthy view of sexuality? From Instagram? Or Hollywood? Yikes! For that matter, if we don’t speak about sex, how will married people, or single people, or those widowed, or divorced, or with same-sex attractions know how to find God in the midst of their sexuality? If we aren’t honest about sex, how will we point to the hope of healing for those who have had abortions, or struggle with porn, or have been abused?

And then there’s death. As for the question: Should we talk about death in the church?, I would give an unequivocal “yes.” What seems like such a downer, and certainly a conversation-stopper, should, in fact, be something we don’t hesitate to discuss. Because, if you live long enough, you will die. And not talking about it doesn’t make it any less likely to occur, or any less painful, or push it off even one more day.

For, the truth is, we should be talking about all three of these — faithfully, thoughtfully, and honestly.

As for me, though, I’ll start with the easiest. This Sunday I’ll be talking about death. (Which, I guess you could say, is the whole point of this blog: to make preaching on death seem like a walk in the park. And, compared to sex and politics, that’s what it is. A walk in the park — a park with lots of granite.)

Life’s Many Goodbyes

Recently, our family has to had to learn how to say “goodbye” to some people in our lives. My wife’s uncle died this month, at the way-too-young age of 66. And this week, we said goodbye to a nephew who had been living with us for the past six months.

Isn’t it interesting that we even use the word “goodbye” when someone leaves? What’s good about goodbye?

The answer, it seems, is in history, and the history of language. The use of the word “goodbye” goes back to the 16th century — and began as the phrase “God be with ye.” As the phrase was used, it got shortened, and over time “God be with ye” became “Goodbye.”

Which means: what is good about goodbye is not that we let someone go, but that we let them go with God. Goodbye is good in the sense that God is still God, and He is still with the person we love — even when we cannot be. So, when we say goodbye to someone until we see them next week or next year — we do so entrusting them to God’s care. And when we say a bigger goodbye — the biggest goodbye — that comes when death separates us from someone we love, we do so entrusting them to God’s eternal care.

This doesn’t mean we ever get good at saying goodbye. On an episode of the show “CSI: New York,” one of the cops befriends Ruben, a ten-year-old kid from his apartment building. They go do an activity together, and on the way home, the cop notices a thief escaping the scene of the crime. He tells Ruben to go straight home, and then he begins to chase the criminal. Tragically, Ruben gets caught up in the chaos, and is killed.

Two detectives who work with the cop wrestle with how to comfort their friend: “What do I say?” one of them asks. “I’m not good at this kind of thing.”

“Just tell him you’re not good at this kind of thing,” her friend tells her.

I don’t think we ever get good at saying goodbye. And the bigger the goodbye, the harder it is. But because of Jesus — because of Easter — because we have hope, goodbye is not the same as The End. For even in our goodbyes, even in our biggest goodbye, we have a promise — that God really is with us through all our goodbyes.

You see, because of Easter, we can say goodbye. We can say, “God be with ye,” because through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we come to experience God’s presence — the kind that no separation can end. Not even the separation of death.

Five Funerals & A Wedding

Do you remember the movie, “Four Weddings & a Funeral”? Yeah, well neither do I. That’s not completely true; I remembered the name of the movie had something to do with a bunch of weddings and a funeral, but I didn’t remember the exact title, nor have I seen it. So why am I mentioning it? Because the past three weeks has been something like that movie.

On the day before Christmas eve, I helped family and friends say goodbye to Lina, a 93-year-old member of the church where I serve. Then, today, I did it again, and helped those who loved Murrell say goodbye to him — on what would have been his 93rd birthday. That’s two people, 186 years of life, and hundreds of memories.

In between, there were three other funerals, of folks ranging in age from 32 to 82. That’s five funerals in exactly three weeks. And, with a wedding I will be attending this weekend, it has almost felt as if I am living a movie — a difficult motion picture, where I have witnessed and shared more than enough grief and sadness.

Death is hard. Really hard. When you love someone, it’s hard to say goodbye. And sometimes, especially when it comes suddenly or way too soon, it feels downright impossible.

The only way – the Only Way – that we can get our arms around the gaping grief of losing someone we love is by remembering that there is A Set of Hands that are big enough — the Eternal Hands of Our Loving God. And when we hold the hand of God, we do so, not just for a season, or for a lifetime. But for Eternity.

Our hands grow weary, and eventually will go still – but the hands of God never grow tired. They never lose their strength. Not for a moment does Our God lose his ability to hold your hand in his great hands of love & comfort.

And here is why in your most difficult moments you can put your grief, and your life, into the hands of God – because He did not stay removed, withdrawn, isolated, in some heavenly dwelling. No, our God took on skin and bones, feet and hands, and walked among us, and loved among us.

In the person of Jesus, God touched the hurting and the heartbroken, bringing healing and hope. And then those same hands of love and compassion were nailed to a cross – the same hands that gave life to this world, went lifeless and dead.

And he did this, so that our broken, aching, sinful world could be made whole.

But that was not – is not – the end of the story. For on the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead, to life. And in the process, Jesus defeated all the evil and brokenness and sin in this world – including our biggest and greatest enemy; Death itself.

This is why we can trust the hands of God. This is why you can find hope and comfort and compassion in the hands of God; for he came, and he died, and he was raised to life. So that Death does not have the final say.

Our God does.

As I stood before the family and friends of the 32-year-old man who had died suddenly, I could not answer the biggest question that hung over them: Why? But I could point them to Who – the One who is present, even in our deepest and darkest grief and pain; to the One whose hands are big enough: today, tomorrow, and every day. For He is the one at life’s beginning, and He is the one at life’s end. And He is there for us every step in between.