************ Funeral Sermon on Genesis 23:4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 13, 2019
"Aliens and Strangers"
Funeral of Dottie Jongsma
Try to imagine that the following obituary was put in the Hebron Gazette upon the death of Sarah:
Sarah was born in the city of Ur in Babylonia. She was the daughter of Terah. We know nothing of her mother or siblings.
Sarah married a local man, Abram of Ur, who was a prosperous farmer, sheepherder, and businessman.
At the age of 65 Sarah and Abram and their family immigrated to Haran. From there the family moved to Canaan.
At the age of 90 God blessed Sarah with the birth of Isaac, her one and only child; it was around then that Abram's name was changed to Abraham.
Sarah was preceded in death by Terah, her father; her niece, Lot's wife. She is survived by her loving husband, Abraham; her son, Isaac; her stepson, Ishmael; and, at least two great-nieces.
Sarah was a stunning beauty. Until she was ninety she was known as Sarai, meaning "my princess." Even kings and rulers took note of her great beauty.
Sarah died old and full of years, at the age of 127.
We heard another biography today -- the biography of Dottie Jongsma. I am sure you have all noticed the similarities and differences between Sarah and Dottie.
The differences: Sarah was 127 and Abraham 137; John and Dottie are kids in comparison. Sarah had one child; Dottie, to paraphrase the psalmist, had a quiver full. Dottie loved to decorate; Sarah lived in a tent -- not much to decorate. Dottie loved to entertain her family; Sarah didn't have much family to entertain. Dottie did all sorts of things on the computer; Sarah would say, "What?!" I don't know if Sarah took cooking lessons but Dottie did. We know music was important to Dottie; we know no such thing about Sarah. Dottie traveled to Holland and enjoyed her time there; Sarah was stuck to the Middle East.
The similarities. We notice that there has been a death -- the death of Sarah, the dear wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac. Scripture does not try to gloss over this death. It doesn't use euphemisms to describe what happened; it doesn't try to surround an ugly thing with pleasant or beautiful words. Sarah "died", says the Bible. She has been called from this life. The place that knew her, knows her no more. She was made of dust and to dust she will now return. In the same way, we don't try to gloss over the death of Dottie -- a dear wife and mother and grandmother and great grandmother. She has died and is no longer with us.
Another similarity is the tears. When his wife died, "Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her" (Gen 23:2). He was 137 years old, and the sight of him mourning and weeping at her side is deeply moving. The combination of the Hebrew words for "mourn" and "weep" mean that Abraham's grief is real. Of course he mourned for her -- after all, she was his wife, his half sister, his lover, his friend; she bore his son; she fought his battles; she knew his struggles. Following the customs of the day, he probably tore his clothes, shaved his head, cut his beard, threw dust into the air, and fasted (cf Job 1:20). Funerals, back then, were emotional and expressive affairs. Abraham would consider our relatively calm and somber funerals as strange.
This is the only place where we see Abraham weeping. We don't see Abraham weeping when his father died or when he left Haran. We do not see Abraham weeping when he parted ways with Lot, nor when he heard of Lot being taken captive in war, nor when he sees the destruction of Sodom. We do not see tears when Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness. Nor are any tears recorded as Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. But with the death of Sarah, we are told that Abraham weeps and cries and mourns. Why are these tears recorded in Scripture? Obviously, Scripture wants us to know that Abraham loved his wife and was deeply grieved at her passing and that it is okay for believers to weep and mourn.
Our Scripture reading doesn't say anything about the grief of Isaac, but we know he was comforted after his mother's death only when he married Rebekah and she became his wife and he loved her (Gen 24:67). So he too missed Sarah and cried about her loss -- after all, she was his mother; she gave birth to him and nursed him and changed his diapers; she kissed him when he skinned his knees and elbows; she prepared his food and mended his clothes and rejoiced in his growth and maturity and development.
Like Abraham and Isaac we, the family and friends of Dottie, mourn and cry over her death.
Another similarity is the funeral arrangements. Scripture tells us about the unpleasant but necessary task of securing a burial place. Like Abraham and Isaac, the Jongsma family also had to make funeral arrangements: a funeral home, a casket, a burial place, a funeral service, a minister and musicians.
What is important to us today is the burial of Sarah. Or, rather, the burial place of Sarah. Notice what Abraham does: in a public business transaction he buys a section of the Promised Land, the field of Machpelah with its trees and cave, as a family burial ground.
Now let me ask: under normal circumstances, where is a loved one buried? Under normal circumstances loved ones are buried in the place they call home. That is why Dottie is being buried near Woodville and the dairy. In the case of Abraham and Sarah the place called home is Haran. After all, that's where their family was living. That's where Abraham's servant goes to find a wife for Isaac (Gen 24). That's where Jacob goes when he flees from his brother Esau; that's where he finds the woman he loves and marries (Gen 29). So you would expect Abraham to have Sarah buried in Haran or, going back even further, in Ur of the Chaldees. But he doesn't. Instead, he makes arrangements for Sarah to be buried in Canaan.
Did you notice the repetition of the phrase "in the land of Canaan" in verse 2 and verse 19? We are told Sarah died in the land of Canaan and Sarah was buried in the land of Canaan. To us this may seem like a redundant fact. We all know Hebron is in the land of Canaan so why include this fact?
Abraham is doing something here. God promised Abraham the land and now Abraham claims the land as home for him and Sarah.
It is the book of Hebrews that explains to us that Abraham was looking beyond the Promised Land to something else. We are told there that Abraham "was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb 11:10). We know this as the New Jerusalem, as the new heaven and new earth. We know this also as the resurrection body, the temple of the Holy Spirit. So when Abraham buried Sarah in Canaan, he was looking forward to the glory of God's presence and life everlasting and the resurrection of the body. And, when Dottie is buried we also look forward to the glory of God's presence and life everlasting and the resurrection of the body.
Did you notice how Abraham describes himself (and Sarah) in our text? He says, "I am an alien and a stranger."
"I am an alien and a stranger." Do you know what this means? This means I am simply passing through. This means I don't really belong here. This means that what I have now is temporary. This means what I have now is not most important to me.
"I am an alien and a stranger." Do you know what this means? This means I am going somewhere else. This means I belong someplace else. This means another place or another country is called home. This means another place is permanent and abiding. This means another place is far more important to me.
I have always loved the story of the renowned Polish rabbi, Hofetz Chaim.
Late last century, an American tourist paid a visit to the rabbi. The tourist was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a cot.Abraham knew this. That's why he said, "I am an alien and a stranger among you." This was his perspective, his outlook, about himself and Sarah and Isaac.
The tourist asked, "Rabbi, where is your furniture?" Hofetz Chaim replied, "Where is yours?"
The puzzled American asked, "Mine? But I'm only a visitor here. I'm only passing through." The rabbi replied, "So am I."
Like Sarah, Dottie was also an alien and a stranger. She was only passing through. Meaning she didn't really belong here. Meaning her life on this earth is temporary. Meaning that what she had here was not most important. Meaning she was on her way to another place. Meaning she was headed home to glory and God's presence.
I need to ask if you can say the words of Abraham and Sarah. Can you say, "I am an alien and a stranger"? You see, my brothers and sisters, either your home is down here or your home is the "city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Either you are passing through this life on the way to glory, or this life is all the glory you will ever have. So I need to ask, are you a pilgrim passing through on the way to eternal glory?
Those on the way to glory, those on the pilgrim road, those who look forward to a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God, those who are simply passing through, all have something in common. They all have faith in Jesus. Jesus makes the difference. Jesus makes the difference between being a pilgrim or a resident. Jesus makes the difference between simply passing through to a better place or calling this earth and this life and this body home. If you believe in Jesus and if you live for Jesus, then home is in another place. If you believe in Jesus and if you live for Jesus, then you know this life and this body and this earth are but temporary.
Do you believe in Jesus? We know Dottie did. So, I end by saying, we thank God for the grace and faith He has given to Dottie. We thank God that one of His pilgrims has now come home -- home to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
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