Cleo was dying of cancer. She was still strong enough to come to church and go to appointments, but the doctors had told her there was nothing more they could do. The cancer would soon end her life. She was 62 years old and her husband had just retired. They had lots of friends and plenty of money and all kinds of plans. With John now retired, they would finally have time to enjoy life. But the cancer ended all their plans.
It was my first week in that congregation, and Cleo asked me to come over and visit her and John. She said, “I don’t know how much time I have left, and I want to tell you some things for my funeral while I am still able.” I went to their home, and she did indeed have much to tell me. She had put a lot of thought into her funeral, and had a list of all her favorite hymns and Scripture readings. With each hymn and each Bible verse she had a comment or a story on why that was important to her and why she wanted it read or sung at her funeral. Then she said, “I even have a verse picked out for your sermon text, if you think that would be okay.”
“Yes, of course, I would like to have a verse from you for the sermon,” I said. She then turned the pages of her Bible to Joshua 23:14. This verse is near the end of the book of Joshua, and, near the end of Joshua’s life. He is, in fact, giving his final instructions to the people of Israel. The very next chapter tells of his death and burial. Joshua had much to say to them in these final words, and in the verse Cleo requested for her funeral sermon text he said,
Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God have you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.
One might wonder why Cleo picked that verse. There are many other verses in the Bible that would seem to fit her situation better. In the Psalms there are many complaints about the unfairness of life; and no one could have blamed Cleo for thinking it was unfair for her to be dying when all her friends were making plans and doing things and going places. And if she did not feel it was polite to complain to God, there are those other Psalms that simply express the sadness of life in this disappointing world. Or, she could have selected Jesus’ own words as he was dying, quoting Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” She certainly could have felt forsaken by God.
But Cleo did not choose any of those verses. Rather, she chose a verse that expressed her faith and her gratitude and her confidence in God. “All of God’s good promises have been fulfilled for me,” she said, making Joshua’s words her own.
When you think about it, she was right. God never promised her, or any of us, a long life and the time to fulfill all our plans and dreams. God never promised that we would not face disappointment. God did not promise that we would never have to leave our loved ones behind. In fact, none of those things that Cleo would be missing out on were ever promised to her, or any of us, by God.
What God has promised is the strength to meet each day– and Cleo was certainly staying strong. God promised comfort in the midst of even life’s greatest tragedies and suffering– and Cleo certainly was experiencing that comfort even during this, the most terrible time of her life. And things were going to get even worse for Cleo. She would endure much pain and suffering before she died. Yet, she had that ‘peace that passes all understanding’ even unto her dying breathe, and all who saw her were inspired by her faith.
Most of all, Cleo was a firm believer in God’s promises of the life to come in that place where there would be no more cancer, no more disappointment, no more pain, no more tears, and no more death. With that confident belief in that eternal promise, she had no bitterness about missing out on a few more years here. Cleo had thought a lot about what she wanted said at her funeral, and she wanted everyone to know that things aren’t always as they seem. God had not failed her at all. In fact, all of God’s promises for her had been fulfilled; not one failed her; just like Joshua said. As Paul wrote, “Look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (continued…)
Joshua 23:14 — (Joshua said), “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”
Joshua 24:14a…15 — (Joshua said), “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness…. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 — Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge… Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God… Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak… But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands…
–Psalm 31:1a, 5, 9-10, 14-15a