What do you do with a sermon that begins with the words, "How do you go on when you lose someone who meant the world to you? What do you do? How do you handle it?"
What you do is read carefully the words of Joshua 1:1-9, as Chuck did.
I think sometimes we minimize the significance of the words that are said at our weddings, "for as long as you both shall live." You link yourself to your partner without possibly knowing what the future will look like or how your relationship will unfold. Marriage is a decision to have and to hold "till death do us part." That's a lot to commit to in the abstract. Then one day, it's no longer an abstract pledge. That's when you ask, "How do you go on when you lose someone who meant the world to you?"
Almost every day for 37 years, Becky and I prayed together. We worshiped one and the same God. Now she is gone. The house is empty. Your bed is empty. You grieve, and grieve deeply. As Chuck says, the Joshua we meet in Joshua chapter 1, this mighty man of God, was a grieving Joshua. Joshua and Moses were as close as any two people in the world could be. Death changed all that.
But God never changes. "Be strong and courageous, Joshua. Do not be afraid. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you." God says to the widow and the widower, "Don't worry. Don't be afraid. I am with you still." Our God is always with us. Our job is to rest in his arms, basking in his love, filled with thanks and gratitude for memories of a marriage he blessed and sustained all those years.
When I look back now, 8 years after Becky's death, I see grace revealed and experienced, made abundantly real by the presence of Moses's and Joshua's God, and mine. I have found peace in the loneliest times, not only through acceptance of the situation, but through making my widowerhood an offering to God, who knows how to take loss and make it into something for the good of others. Let's not sugarcoat it. The loneliness at times can be overwhelming. When I get scared or lose faith, I always turn to the Light. It is always there, exposing the dark edges. I know it and trust it.
I'm a long way behind Becky and the others who have gone before me and have so brightly shown me the pathway to God. I'm panting to catch up, surrendering to the same God Becky was surrendered to, trusting that the same Lord who went with her will go with me. The tears, the loneliness, the pain are all temporary, all part of the process God is using to draw me to himself. And one day the pain will be exchanged for wholeness.
That's why, like Joshua, we can sing and go forward and fight our battles and claim the promises of God. The heart that has no agenda but God's is a heart whose emptiness is filled with the love of God. Its loneliness can be turned to praise.