I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
(Psalm 119:102-104 ESV)
I did my first funeral last week for a friend’s father. Despite the weight of grief that surrounded that day, it was an amazing opportunity to preach and proclaim the Gospel to a room of people who were listening. That’s the thing about funerals, as opposed to a morning at church or an afternoon at a wedding– you have to listen. You’re compelled. On Sundays, there are a million distractions that can keep your mind floating around and away from focusing on what’s being taught and preached. At a wedding, there’s almost so much excitement (for the bride and groom, or for your own opportunity to be bride and groom) that focus becomes impossible. But not with a funeral. The pain of the moment and the tragic reality of death looms over everyone in that room and for those 15 minutes I got to share, people were actually waiting for an answer to their grief.
So I shared. I did the best I could to keep us all in that bitter moment of reality that leaned up against our impending deaths. To affirm the weight of grief and desire for life, and then unpacking how God responds by sending his son so that we don’t have to experience these tears forever, but be reconciled back to him and redeemed to life as new creations. It went well.
But a peculiar thing happened afterward that I’ve been thinking about the last few days. A woman approached me and looked me straight in the eyes as she said, “Thank you for sharing something that we all already know.” There was a sting to her words, as if she were trying to establish where she was spiritually and wanted me to know that what was preached was already understood by here. I didn’t know how else to respond but to say, “I’m glad you know the Gospel.” But her words grieved me, even as I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt.
It made me think that there are two ways we can interact with something we already know. One is like sitting in a classroom and hearing factual knowledge that we’ve already gone over. You can sense the dullness and even aggravated pride as someone raises their hand to tell the teacher, “You’ve already covered this material.”
But then there’s another way we interact with things we already know, and you see it best when recounting sweet memories. At every rehearsal dinner for a wedding I’ve been to, there’s always time that the floor is opened up and people get to share about the bride/groom-to-be. People rack their brains for funny or touching stories that showcase how God made these two people and sometimes the “classic” stories come to light. Ones everyone has heard but bears repeating because of how perfect they are in illustrating a person. For every one of these times, I’ve never heard someone raise their hand to say, “UM, EXCUSE ME. WE’VE ALREADY HEARD THIS ONE.”
When recounting memories, there’s an aspect of celebration. The stories never get old, and the method of telling them only gets better and more refined with each telling. So the question I had for myself, and for this lady, is which one of these does the Gospel fit in? As we hear the basic Gospel message that God heroically saves us from Satan, sin and death through the cross and redeems us as we are in stark rebellion to his cause and invites us to be a part of his eternal family, how do we respond? The Psalmist above writes that the Words of God, the very message of the Gospel that we pull from scripture, are sweet like honey and delicious to the lips.
As we continue to walk in the Lord and battle for God, the Gospel should exist in our hearts like a sweet memory and epic story. If the telling of the Gospel doesn’t fire you up, I’d be willing to bet it hasn’t landed on the heart. It might have gone in an ear and nestled into the brain as a piece of head knowledge. But when the reality of the Gospel sinks deep into the soul, each telling gets sweeter as we remember what God has done in our lives. Someone affected like this wouldn’t raise their hand to dismiss the already-covered material, but wait in eager expectation as the story unfolds. And as the story wraps up, I’d imagine they’d approach the speaker or revisit the scriptures and ask, like an excited child before bed, “Please. Tell me that story again!”