On Friday 24 November 2006 at Jesmond Parish Church the Funeral Service was conducted for Yemi, Funke (Liz), Abigail and Steven (four members of the Sobo family) who were tragically murdered in their home on 14 November 2006. The following is the address given at the service. The Bible readings were Job 1.13-22 and parts of 1 Corinthians 15. The chief mourner was Mrs Omotunde Sobo (Tunde), the mother of Yemi and Liz and grandmother of Abigail and Steven. She is very happy for others to see this transcript. May we continue to pray for the remaining members of the family in their grief.
The tragic experience of Job - the death of all his children
Why does God allow terrible things to happen? And when they do happen is there any hope? At this sad time these are questions people are asking. They are not, however, new questions.
More than 3000 years ago Job, an ancient sage, asked those same questions. As you heard in the first Bible reading, he lost his livestock and his servants were murdered. Then, his sons and daughters were partying at the oldest brother's house when a great desert storm flattened the house - and all his own children were killed. Then, later on, Job himself suffered a dreadful skin disease. No wonder he was in dark depression and saying, "my days ... are without hope" (chapter 7.4). His friends and their advice made things worse.
A new vision of God
Healing began for Job, however, with a new vision of God (chapters 38-41). He now saw God as the almighty creator of this amazing universe of space and time. Yet he was not just a cold, mechanical deity, but a loving God who cared intimately for Job in all his troubles. Jesus said, he is a God who knows about, and cares even for, the sparrows. So he knew all about Job's children and he knows all about Yemi, Liz, Abigail and Steven. And, of course, he knows all about Tunde (their mother and grandmother) along with other close members of the Sobo family.
No! God did not immediately solve all Job's problems. And Job needed to learn another lesson. He needed to learn that evil in the world is more than the sum total of individual misdeeds. And this "extra" evil, the Bible says, is to be thought of as an intelligent "he" - a being - rather than an impersonal "it" or force. Indeed, Job chapter 1 speaks of Satan. And in Job's vision there were mythical creatures that suggest chaos and Satan (or the devil). But Job learnt that the evil one does not have the last word. God does. He is still in control. As the New Testament says so clearly, Christ's own death on the Cross "destroy[s] him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil" (Heb 2.14). Yes, there was still mystery. But Job was restored.
The hope of life after death
So there is hope. And Tunde and the family can have hope as they trust in God, amid all the despair. Tunde has asked me to say something on her behalf about what she believes. For she with her family believe in Jesus Christ, who, as you heard in that second Bible reading, "has indeed been raised from the dead". That is the real source of hope. She believes the Resurrection of Jesus Christ gives you hope for life after death if you trust him. "In Christ all will be made alive" for "Death has been swallowed up in victory". She is confident, therefore, as all believers can be, that Christ goes through death with them (John 14.3) and gives them rest and peace.
First, therefore, Christ gives hope of life after death.
The hope of sins forgiven
Secondly, Christ gives hope for the forgiveness of sins. "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin" (as we heard).
Death can be terrible. The deepest problem, however, is sin - "the sting of death." But Christ's own terrible death, dying on the cross in your place and mine bearing our sin, means forgiveness. You say, "For any sinner? What about those who commit murder?" The answer is, "yes, if there is repentance." No sin is too bad to be forgiven and no one too good to be forgiven. The great ancestor of Jesus Christ - King David, a hero of the faith, according to the Bible - was both an adulterer and a murderer and he suffered for his sin. But he confessed and was forgiven. Read Psalm 51.
So Christ gives hope of life after death. Then Christ forgives sins.
The hope of good out of evil
Thirdly, he gives hope for a new beginning by his Holy Spirit. Tunde not only prays that other parents do not have to go through what she had been through, but believes good can come out of evil. For there can be love and peace instead of hatred and anger.
A woman I have been privileged to meet, in 1967 dived into a shallow lake and her life was changed forever. A spinal cord fracture left her paralyzed from the neck down, and without the use of her hands or legs. First she asked friends to assist her in suicide - to slit her wrists or give her pills to end her misery. Like Job she asked, "how could this demonstrate the love of God or his power?" But then another friend pointed her to Christ. She now says:
"I believe God's purpose in my accident was to turn a stubborn girl into a woman who would reflect patience, endurance and a lively, optimistic hope of heaven."
Since then she has had a world-wide ministry of encouraging others to see that God can bring good out of evil. And good can come right away out of this tragic and terrible event. We, too, can trust Christ and then work for good in God's world.
The challenge for today
A funeral service is an occasion for thanking God as we remember all the joy and fun and love in the lives of those who have departed. As Tunde says, these memories give hope and strength.
But a service like this is also a challenge to us who remain. It is a challenge to face the realities of death and eternity and the judgment seat of Christ. It is a challenge to our faith.
What do we believe? Do we believe in the Resurrection? When St Paul was writing to the Corinthians, plenty did not believe in such a resurrection.
We may find it hard to believe, but as we come to know Jesus Christ personally, so we can know and understand. We can see that his resurrection, so clearly evidenced in the Bible, is a foretaste of ours.
A Funeral Service, therefore, is a challenge to us. And as we respond to that challenge, good can come.