Reginald Wilburn


Ben H. Swett
Bethany Christian Church
5 July 1978

In one of the great hymns of the church, we sing, "Blest be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above." Those are the blessed ties that draw us together here this afternoon.

We come with mixed emotions. We respect the skill and dedication of doctors and nurses. We rejoice that medical science has progressed so far, even in our own lifetimes. But we regret--and resent--the fact that the present state of medical science was unable to help Reginald Wilburn.

We are shocked at the suddenness of his death, but relieved that he did not have to suffer long. We find our sorrow at parting is mixed with glowing memories of our time together. We want to cry, but we do not want to display our grief.

These mixed emotions are natural. They are not wrong, and we do not need be ashamed of our honest tears. Even Jesus wept when his friend died.

We come with deep questions. Why did Reginald die? We know the mechanics of his death, but that does not answer the deep questions. Was it an accident that his heart proved defective or was it predetermined? Did God take him, or receive him?

Men have asked those questions in all ages and all societies. There are many answers, many theories, many attempts to explain--but perhaps the simplest came in the words of Jesus, when he said, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him."

For all live to him. Perhaps, from God's point of view they are all alive--those we consider to be alive and those we think are dead. Perhaps our deep questions about when and why we leave these bodies are not as important as we think they are. Perhaps they arise from our own narrow perspective, our own inability to see beyond this little slice of creation.

We would like to believe that. Yet we wonder if it is really so. Like the man who asked Jesus to heal his son, we cry out, "I believe! Help thou my unbelief!" And he does help us--although not always in just the way we expect him to. He helps us believe in things we cannot see or hear, just as modern science helps us believe in atoms and electrons and pulsating stars. He asks us to take his word for things that he has seen but we have not.

And he does more than that. He not only taught us that men live beyond the grave, he demonstrated it with his own body. When he was coming down from the mount of transfiguration, he said, "I have power to lay down my life, and to take it up again; this charge I have from my Father." And when he stood before Pontius Pilate, he said, "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world: to bear witness to the truth." The truth about life after death was a major part of his mission--a major lesson in his message to mankind.

So his early disciples knew, because they had seen, what even they could not believe without evidence. Remember, it was not only Thomas who doubted. They all did, until he came and stood among them. Then they knew, and no one ever confused them on that subject again.

But that was a long time ago. In order for us to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead--that he actually demonstrated life after death--we have to trust a long list of people: the disciples who saw him, those who reported their testimony, and a hundred generations of translators and interpreters. That is the source of much of our doubt, but even that is not insurmountable.

Today, the Spirit of Truth is leading men to investigate these things. Little by little, we are rediscovering truths that Jesus revealed, and being reminded of things he said. There is a growing collection of modern testimony, such as we find in Dr. Moody's book, "Life After Life," which tends to support what we have been taught to take on faith.

Perhaps, as faith and facts continue to converge, we will come to understand what we believe, and to know because we have seen. And perhaps it will only be then--when we have both facts and faith--that we will fully understand what Jesus meant when he said to Thomas, "Do you believe because you have seen me? More blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe."

Amen.