I rarely post sermons on this blog site, but, what can I say, I kind of liked this funeral sermon. I tried to use the life of the deceased, as a remembrance as well as a springboard for the Gospel. Hopefully, I succeeded.
Jim McLane was, perhaps, as the commercials say, “the most interesting man in the world.” He darn near did it all. From mastering the complexities of moving the world’s most important natural resource, to climbing into holes in the ground to explore the inner workings of Earth, to being the lead proposer to colonizing Mars with a single person willing to die on her surface, Jim knew a lot about a lot. His interests were wide and his expertise was as well. He was clearly a man who loved to learn and to explore, and he had a mind capable of keeping up with his curiosity. As his pastor, I’m glad I’m learning about some of this after he died or I might have been more intimidated by him while he sat in the pews or at the table during Sunday School.
And yet, no matter our intellect, no matter our knowledge, no matter our virtue, death comes to us all. We cannot outsmart it and we cannot outrun it. From the time of Adam on, sin, death and the devil have been our enemies, and while ultimately defeated by and in Christ, we still struggle against them while we live. We gather here today to recognize the truth that death will claim us all, and yet the even greater truth that in Christ death itself has been defeated. Of all the knowledge that Jim possessed, it was this bit that was the most important.
Now, as I said, Jim did lead an interesting life. I’ve learned of his work as an engineer in installing the Alaskan pipeline in the 1980s. As I understand it, this was a famously difficult task as the pipeline had to go underneath the permafrost. As he would later at NASA and in other pursuits, Jim had to maximize his engineering mind to find a solution to this vexing problem. His knowledge of the crude, of the machinery, of the terrain, all had to come together expertly for the pipeline to work. Jim had to rely on science and its inescapable – and even harsh – truths to allow that oil to flow.
The degree of precision, and the use of science reminds me of the universe in which we all live, which likewise functions with a degree of fine-tuning that just boggles the mind. As William Lane Craig, who has studied astronomy in great depth has written, “Astronomers have been stunned by the discovery of how complex and delicate a balance of initial conditions must be present in the big bang itself if the universe is to permit the existence of intelligent life anywhere at all in the cosmos…We’ve come to discover that the universe is fine-tuned for the existence of intelligent life with a complexity and delicacy that literally defy human comprehension.”
For example, the subatomic weak force, “which operates inside the nucleus of an atom, is so finely tuned that an alteration in its value by even one part out of 10100 would have prevented a life-permitting universe. Similarly, a change in the value of the so-called cosmological constant, which drives the acceleration of the universe’s expansion, by as little as one part in 10120 would have rendered the universe life-prohibiting.”
Jim’s scientific mind and quest for the truth, was matched and exceeded by a God of creation whose scientific precision is literally beyond understanding. It was this God that interested and fascinated Jim his entire life.
But Jim didn’t only work for a living. He had hobbies, too. And one was as a caver. I suspect that many of his caving friends are here today. And I will not presume to know anything about caving, for my only experience with it was walking the lighted and paved trail around Carlsbad Caverns this summer. My greatest difficulty in that cavern was that my 4-year-old really had to go to the bathroom and restrooms were scarce.
But real caving is a far different, and more dangerous pursuit. You go into a completely dark environment, lit only by a lantern or lighted helmet. There are no sidewalks and trails, but sharp and slippery rocks. The only thing between you and a plunge is the rope that is attached to your harness, and perhaps the firm grip of your fellow caver at the other end. Just being injured could mean death because it’s not exactly easy to get in and out of these caves, especially with a broken leg. Yes, actual caving is not for the faint of heart.
And in thinking of Jim going in and out of these caves, I couldn’t help but to think of the dark, stone tomb in which Jesus was placed. For after his crucifixion, the lifeless body of Jesus was placed to rest in a tomb hewn from stone. Like a cave, there was no light, there was no help. Only death and danger awaited Jesus there. But God, having sent his Son to die for the sins of man by becoming man himself, raised Jesus from the dead as a testament to the truth of Jesus and as a promise of the future resurrection for all who believe. As Jim’s selection from 1 Corinthians says, “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.”
But Jim not only worked and not only had a hobby, he also possessed vision of what he could not touch or see. And perhaps no vision of his was more controversial than his vision of a manned mission to Mars, part of which included that the man would not return to earth, but would die on Mars. You may have even heard there is a movie about a similar mission, but in this one, the drama is built around the fear of not returning the man home safely. Jim’s vision is controversial precisely because there is no plan of return the man home, but to let him die on Mars.
Again, I could not help but think of Jesus, the man sent from heaven by God, to a planet where he was an absolute stranger. The scriptures even tell us that his own people, the men and women of Nazareth rejected him. Jesus, in being both God and man, was so different from us all, well, he may as well have been a Martian.
But like Jim’s vision of man sent to die for the pursuit of a greater vision, God sent Jesus to die in pursuit of a greater vision as well. Whereas the earthling would go to Mars to discover, Jesus was sent that we might discover him and the truth of God that he proclaimed. And just like a man dying on Mars may be the only way to achieve our goal of getting there in pursuit of knowledge, Jesus dying on earth was the only way God could achieve his goal in the pursuit of souls.
If we are to honor and remember Jim, we should remember his life as a testament to the God of creation, the God who became flesh, the God who came to earth and died, and the God who rose from the dead. For Jim knew as well as anyone, that the only hope for salvation when death finds us all, is the God who became flesh, who died and himself rose from the dead. Amen.