Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Barbara Bell Funeral

“Barbara Bell Funeral”

[John 11:17-27]

April 11, 2015 Bradley & Smith, Springfield

          Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

            We just celebrated the holiday, Easter – when we remember that Jesus – God Incarnate – physically rose from the dead.  On the third day, Jesus stood up in His physical body – after having been dead – and He exited the tomb, having merited righteousness – the perfect keeping of God’s Law and having paid the debt for all of the sins of all of those who would ever believe in Him.

            And now we gather to mourn the death of Barbara Bell.  We are shocked by the suddenness of it.  The question keeps arising – what are we going to do without Barbara?

            I met Barbara when I came to the church as a parishioner about twenty years ago, and she sat on the Consistory when I was called to be the pastor of Second Reformed Church almost seventeen years ago.  Over these past seventeen years we became friends – working together in the church and caring for each other as people.

            Most of you will know of Barbara’s cancer operations and her heart issues, and many of you know I have chronic health problems.  Barbara and I checked in with each other regularly and discussed our doctor’s reports – encouraging each other as we struggled with our bodies.

            And that included the size of our bodies – as we both struggled with our weight.  On more than one occasion Barbara said, “Don’t pass out on the floor, because no one in the church is strong enough to lift you up.”  Still, she would bake pumpkin pie or brownies and share them with me.

            Barbara was tremendously supportive of me and the ministry at Second Reformed Church – and not just because her family founded the church!  She didn’t make a big deal about that, even though there is a plackard on the front door that simply says, “Bell.”  Early on in my ministry, there was a question about whether I was spending too much money – and Barbara defended me, explaining that I worked hard not to spend money – the church’s – or my own.

            Barbara recently said, “I’ve decided I’m not going to call you cheap, anymore – I’m going to call you frugal.”

            A few weeks ago, Barbara gave me one of the greatest compliments I have ever received – indirectly – she was speaking to someone else and I overheard her say, “Peter really believes what he preaches.”  I will never forget her saying that.

            Barbara worked on the finances, cleaned the church, decorated the church, headed up the Woman’s Association, the flea markets – in the past – and more recently, the Women’s Association sale table.  She took part in most everything that took place in the church.

            She did get frustrated with the church at times, and about her health and weight – her knees most recently – were a trial to her.  And she was tough on herself in many ways – but she could be tough, too – keeping people in line in church and telling me to “cut the sermon shorter” – though she insisted that she wasn’t a boss and didn’t want to be in charge.  Nevertheless, when something needed to be done – and if someone was in need – she was there.

            She loved the times we have had babies as part of the congregation – graciously caring for them and enjoying them.  And she loved her babies – most recently, Annie.

            Which is another thing we had in common and connected on – as two single people each with a companion pet.  We talked about our pets, their health and lives – as only people devoted to their pets can understand.  And we mourned with each other when our pets died and encouraged each other to get new furry friends in time.  Barbara counselled me – as I am currently looking for a new cat – that I “would be less grumpy once I got a new cat.”

            Barbara was someone who cared deeply about the church and me.  She was someone I could go to for church and personal help – I just had to wait for her to put her “eyebrows on and walk Annie.”

            In the Scripture, we’re told about the death of one of Jesus’ good friends, Lazarus – and I’d like to look at one piece of that history – we read:

            “Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’”

            Jesus was known as a teacher – He had healed many people of diseases – and Martha told Jesus that she believed that if He had gotten there while Lazarus was alive, He could have healed him.  Nevertheless, even though he was four days dead, she believed that God would answer Jesus if He called on God to do something even then.

            Jesus responded by telling her that Lazarus will rise from the dead.  And Martha confessed what Christians confess in The Apostle’s Creed – something Barbara confessed all of her life – “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”  Christians believe that at the end of the age – when Jesus returns – all those who have died will be raised in their physical bodies – to be received into God’s Kingdom – or to be cast away into eternal torment.

            Barbara asked me if she would be thin in her resurrected body, and I told her that our bodies would be perfect and healthy, so, sure – she’d be thin.

            But Jesus was talking about more than that – He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead that day.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’”

Understand, Jesus did not say she was wrong – there will be a physical resurrection at the end of the age – but there was something more important that she needed to hear and believe:

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection.”  Jesus is the resurrection in human form.  Resurrection to life in God’s Kingdom after death only comes through Jesus.

Jesus said, “I am the life.”  Jesus is the life in human form.  Life without end with Jesus, saved from the eternal death that we deserve for our sins, only comes through Jesus.

Salvation is only through Jesus Alone, and we are called to confess it – as Martha understood and confessed, “Yes. I believe that You are the Savior that God promised.  Yes, I believe that You are God Who has come to earth in the flesh.”  And, yes, Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for all we who believe.

We live in a culture that tends to say, we live, we die, and that’s it.  But doesn’t the majesty and the wonder of the creation speak to something more?  And doesn’t the testimony of the Scripture make sense?

            Barbara and I were the last to leave church on Sunday, and Barbara was enthusiastically telling me about how much she enjoyed Easter dinner with her family on Saturday, and then Easter dinner with friends on Saturday, and how she was going to a Kosher deli with a friend Sunday afternoon.  And she said, “You know, I could really go for a nap now.”  And I said, “I was thinking the same thing – maybe we should run away and get a hotel room, so no one knows where we are, and take a nap.”  And she said, “That’s tempting, but I better keep going.”

            And now Barbara is dead – and yet she lives.  And on the last day her body will be raised and all we who believe in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life – God the Savior – will be received into His Kingdom forever and ever.

            I believe in the resurrection of the body.

            Let us pray:


            Almighty God, we thank You for the gift of the life of Barbara Bell and all that she has meant to so many people.  We thank You for her love and caring and dedication to Your Church.  May Barbara’s life cause us to seek to love our neighbors and to seek out the Love You gave us in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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