Our Coyner family has been overwhelmed by the number of condolences, prayers and sympathy surrounding the death of my mother. We thank everyone for this outpouring of care and concern. Marsha and I have received literally hundreds of cards at our home and at my office, and my Dad and my two sisters have received a similar abundance. Many of those cards have included memorial gifts in honor of Mother. On behalf our family, “thank you” to each and everyone for your expressions of love and support during our time of grief.
As I read through that large stack of cards on a recent evening, I was touched by how many included special poems, Scriptures, original artwork and photographs, and prayers for God’s comfort to be with us. I kept thinking of Isaiah 40 where God speaks through Isaiah and says, “Comfort my people.” Indeed there is a comforting Presence which comes during such times, and it is no wonder that one of the names for the Holy Spirit is The Comforter.
Oftentimes, that comfort is experienced in and through the Christian community. One of the primary purposes of the church is to provide us with the comfort we need during tough times, and I really wonder how people without a church or a circle of Christian friends can possibly survive such times of grief. Maybe that is why the Apostle Paul says, “We grieve, but not like those who have no hope.” God’s comforting presence – expressed through the people of God – brings us both comfort and hope. The church at its best is a place where that comfort and hope is profoundly present, and that has been true for our Coyner family during these summer weeks.
I am also reminded the purpose of the church is not just to make us comfortable. There is that old saying that a good sermon should “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” Our Christian faith comforts us in times of affliction, but our faith also disturbs our comfort and challenges us to reach beyond ourselves.
It is really quite a balancing act. When we really need the comfort of worship, prayer, familiar music, faithful friends and the support of Christian community, the church is there for us. When we become too satisfied with our own comfort, too concerned with just our own needs, can the church also be there to stretch us, to help us focus beyond ourselves, and to be involved in risk-taking mission and services for others? I believe so. I believe those two aspects actually work together. When we fall deeply into grief and heartache, the best healing comes as we turn from our own pain to be in ministry to others.
I remember a time years ago when one of my parishioners came to me a few weeks after a painful loss in her family. She asked me for ideas about getting more involved in the mission ministries of our church. She said wisely, “I know I will never get over this pain unless I focus upon helping ease the pain of others.” Her own healing came as she shared in ministry to others.
My prayer is this: “O God, thank You for Your comforting presence, especially through the wonderful love and support of the United Methodist people of Indiana. May all of our churches be places of such comfort and care. Comfort us, O Lord, but don’t let us become so comfortable that we overlook the pain of others. I pray in the name of Jesus who comforted and healed, but who also called for repentance and right living. Amen.”
Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church
“Making a Difference in Indiana and around the world”
The church at its best is a place where that comfort and hope is profoundly present.