Service for Jack Kemp Dr. Robert Norris
Perhaps the oldest book in the Old Testament asks the oldest question in human history. And there isn’t one of us that hasn’t asked that question one way or another—some with hope, some in suspense, and some with fear—because every one of us know that we will ultimately die and we know that those closest, nearest, and most beloved will also die.
Today we are faced with the reality of that truth in one of a man, who has loved life most, enjoyed it most, contributed most, has died. Because Jack was, of all men, the most alive. He thought, he lived, he argued. Always he showed life, and you heard his family speak of the deep commitment that he had to them. Commitment that issued forth in deep love, in true care, the investment of his time in the lives of children and grandchildren, life he lived and loved with Joanne. You’ve heard he was a patriot and we know it. He loved his country, he served his nation not for human reward, but was committed to those ideals that we have heard repeated: truth, freedom, dignity for all. Yet for all of his many achievements, for all the multitude of honors that are poured upon Jack Kemp, like every one of us, he was human. And he never hid his humanity whether it was drinking coffee in the balcony of the church under the sign that said “No Beverages Here” or rather privately confessing at the depth of his own soul, his own faults, his needs, his sins, and the demons that he battled with as we battle with them.
Jack was larger than life, but he was mortal. And mortal means that today Jack is dead. We gather to remind ourselves of all that he has done, to mourn the passing of a grand man. And our eyes can’t penetrate beyond the veil that death has brought. As a consequence the question that comes quickly to our lips is the question that was asked by Job in that oldest of old books, which lies deep in the nature of our own humanity: If a man die shall he live again?
It’s not just an ancient question written by a philosopher and thinker; it’s a question that occupies every one of our minds, that touches our hearts at some time or another because death seems so final. It is a reality, it mocks our hopes, it is a terror that has no rival in human history, it is the enemy of everything fought for and it is probably the greatest of all conquerors and it is what it feels like. It is a judgment the Old and New Testaments alike confirm that it is the judgment of God against the pride, the arrogance, and the rebellion of man. It is a judgment and it feels like it. And it’s a universal experience, its power demonstrated long centuries ago in that it closed the eyes and it stilled the heart and it silenced the voice, even Jesus the Christ, the unique son of God. And the question that comes from the lips of Job, the question that was prompted because he experienced his own trial, he faced his own mortality, for he believed the disease that had touched his body was mortal and would bring him to the grave. And it prompted that heart-searching question that each of us asks: Is death all that there is for us?
Job finds his faith in God, gives him a hope so that death is not the final outlook. He expressed it in the prayer that follows his questions, “Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, remember me.” As that hope grows, as the awareness of a future that lies beyond the grave touches his heart and his mind and as Job contemplates the character of God, he expresses the hope that was beginning to burn within him. “I know that my redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh shall I see God whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold and I, not another.”
And Job saw that his hope lay only in God in his mercy and in his provision. Oh, he saw dimly, but he saw that he must rely upon another to bring him from death to life. Christians also believe that there is life beyond the grave. We believe in the resurrection to eternal life because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus died. Three days later he rose from the dead and the reality of his resurrection was witnessed by many in his own generation and is recorded as a simple fact of history. However the resurrection of Jesus is not simply one more fact of history that is to be learned and is something outside of our self, guaranteeing in some mysterious way that we will transcend death, that we will live again in some remote future. It is a present power in the life of every believer for it is the promise, sure and certain, of the resurrection. Because the reality is that the same Jesus who died, who rose from the dead, said also to those who are united by faith in him that they will inherit the same reality. Resurrection embodies, simply stated, because he lives, we live also. The apostle Paul stated it as he argued, “Christ lives in me, the risen Christ, the conqueror of death ,and because of that I am assured of the life that he has promised and by his own person guarantees.” It is the great idea of the New Testament and it is expressed beneath every page. For it is Christ in us, the hope of glory.
Sometimes it’s reflected and connected with a possession and in the dwelling of a holy spirit, for the apostle writes, “If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells also in you, then he will give to your mortal bodies life also.” That’s Job’s hope, caught up in the New Testament, brought with new vigor and fuller understanding, but it is the same hope, the same foundation. It is built upon the same promise of the only one who has ever mastered death, the only one whose victory has conquered the greatest enemy of humankind, and only one kind of life can win it. And it was the life of Jesus Christ, the son of God incarnate, and it is that divine life shared with those who are united to him that Jack Kemp trusted in. For Jesus made a simple promise, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And he who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Just as union with God guaranteed to Job the life that was his and would never end, so union with the risen Savior guarantees to the apostles and to all who shared in that shame like faith, united to that same unique Christ, a resurrection that triumphs over death.
That was the faith that Jack Kemp shared. It is a faith that brings infinite power to console in the face of loss. And to have walked with the Kemp family in the reality of watching Jack pass into the presence of God—and he passed peacefully as we prayed and sang and read to him—he passed into the presence of the Lord and his eyes were closed to things on earth and opened to the sight of the divine. It consoles Joanne, the family, who know that they rest secured that though absent from them, Jack lives in the presence of God with a sure promise of a resurrection to a life that is real and eternal. That faith is not only a consolation, it is a promise that brings hope for every one of us, mighty and not mighty, will travel the same journey to the presence of the same God. When our sin is forgiven because its punishment is laid upon another, as Jesus has received the just judgment of God against the sin of mankind, then when we identify with this Christ by faith then we find the decaying garments of this present life replaced by the pure and stainless clothes of Christ’s righteousness, in which we travel to the home and to the presence of the living God, the place that is prepared for us.
Job asks, we ask, “If a man die, shall he live again?” And Jesus answers, “Because I live, you shall live also.” We may weep because death is dark as Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus though he knew he would be raised from the dead. Tears reflect the pain of parting as they demonstrate the depth of love, even as they show the power of sin to separate, and touch and destroy, but ours are not the tears of hopelessness, they are the tears of parting, knowing that one day we will see him clothed now, forever in eternal God. Jack Kemp, at peace with God, with himself, we will join him. He’s at home and he awaits us.
Let us pray: O Lord of all grace, you who sent your son Jesus Christ to be Savior, to bring life and immortality to light, we bring to you our thanks that by his death he destroyed the power of death and by his glorious resurrection he has opened the kingdom of heaven to all who believe. We thank you that since it was your will to call to yourself Jack Kemp that for him all sickness, sorrow, and struggle are ended; even death itself is past. Grant to us that we may know with full assurance that because Jesus Christ lives, we shall live also and that we may know that neither death nor life nor things present nor things to come can ever separate us from your love, revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.