Many of us, if not most of us, spent much of this week in shock and grief. Many of us knew George and Hazel Hastings. Some of you knew them well for many years. He served as an elder in one of the congregations that merged to form West-Ark. Many of us held cherished personal relationships with them. They were an honored, active part of this congregation. Even though they were elderly [88 and 84], they were actively involved in visiting and encouraging others.

Some of you were actively involved in encouraging them. Last Sunday they were not with us, and that was very unusual for them. Some of you called them Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening to see if they were okay. They explained to at least some of their callers that George was not feeling well. That coupled with Hazel's struggle with the pain of her "shingles" kept them at home.

  1. One of the questions that haunted our thoughts this week: "What could I have done to prevent this tragedy?"
    1. All of us have been in a state of shock.
      1. A lot of tears have been shed the last few days.
      2. Many have struggled with "dazed" feelings.
      3. I am sure that neither George nor Hazel had even a small idea of how distressful their deaths would be to so many people.
    2. What occurred was so out of character.
      1. George and Hazel were gentle, kind, helpful people.
      2. They were married for 62 years, and were extremely close and independent.
        1. They depended on each other, and only on each other.
        2. Hazel grew up as a orphan.
        3. For years her greatest fear was being left alone; in fact, years ago she formed an agreement with George that he would never leave her alone.
        4. They were very open about the fact that they wanted to die at the same time--neither of them could consider continuing life without the other, and being a burden on their family was not an option.
      3. Hazel was suffering from Alzheimer's disease; they did a good job of disguising how advanced her condition was.
      4. Quite recently George was informed an aggressive form of cancer would end his life soon.
        1. His death would mean that he could no longer be Hazel's caretaker.
        2. It also would mean her worst fear would happen: she would have to continue life without him.
        3. Even with all the assurances from their children, that was unacceptable to both of them.
    3. So that leads us back to our question: "What could I have done to prevent this tragedy?"
      1. When I answer from my perspective, listen to all of my explanation.
      2. "What could I have done to prevent this tragedy?" Nothing.
      3. All her life Hazel's worst fear was being left without George.
        1. That fear was founded in her experiences of living as an orphan as a child.
          1. That fear intensified when a grown son died of cancer.
          2. That fear intensified as her Alzheimer's progressed.
        2. That fear had been a part of her married life for many, many years.
        3. That is why long ago she had George promise her that he would never leave her to live alone.
      4. Their children made special efforts to assure each of them that they would never be a burden and would never be abandoned.
        1. Years ago they actually got them to agree to move closer.
        2. When the time of moving neared, George and Hazel refused to move.
      5. They wanted to be independent, and they refused to consider any other arrangement.
        1. They made it very clear long ago that nursing homes were not an option.
        2. They made it very clear long ago that moving was not an option.
        3. They made it very clear long ago the there was only one acceptable situation: depending on each other as they took care of each other in their own home.
      6. These were not their decisions that were made in the past few weeks or few months.
        1. These were their decisions made years ago.
        2. These were their options and the way they lived for years.

  2. George and Hazel's deaths offer unusual spiritual challenges: their tragic deaths almost demand that we examine our basic concepts of Christian existence.
    [Transition: An 88 year old man married to an 84 year old woman for 62 years chose to die this week. They made their choice after a lifetime of devotion to Christ and the church. Their choices demand that we think about three common concepts most Christians accept without thought.]
    1. The first consideration: our basic understanding of Christian existence needs honest re-examination.
      1. We have seriously oversimplified the nature of Christianity.
        1. Some of you say, "That is crazy! In no way have we oversimplified Christianity!"
        2. Some of you say, "I am terribly confused. This whole event does not make sense. I have no idea what to think."
        3. Some of you say, "Obviously we need to do some serious thinking."
      2. If you think that Christianity is simple and we have all the answers, I challenge you to consider two examples as I ask you some basic questions.
        1. Example one: how could king David be a man after God's own heart and (a) commit adultery with Bathsheba and (b) have Uriah killed in an attempt to hide his adultery?
          1. If the answers are so simple why did God allow David to keep Bathsheba as a wife?
          2. How could God allow the next king of Israel be Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba?
        2. Example two: how could an apostle be guilty of hypocrisy and influence other Christians to indulge in hypocrisy?
          1. In Acts 10 God used a variety of methods [including visions, the voice of the Holy Spirit, and the falling of the Holy Spirit] to convince the apostle Peter that people who were not Jews or Jewish converts were not to be rejected by Jewish Christians as "unclean" people, and the apostle Peter finally understood and did just as God directed.
          2. In Acts 11 Christians in the Jerusalem congregation were upset with the apostle Peter for associating with people who were not Jews or Jewish converts.
          3. In Acts 15 some of these upset Christians traveled to the first non-Jewish congregation, rejected their salvation, and caused serious confusion.
          4. Later, in that very same congregation (Galatians 2:11-13), the apostle Peter did the exact opposite of what God commanded.
          5. The apostle Peter did this because he was afraid of some Jewish Christians who came from the Jerusalem church.
          6. Paul said what the apostle Peter did was an act of hypocrisy that influenced others to be hypocrites.
        3. We have oversimplified the basic nature of Christianity, and that oversimplification produces confusion and consequences.
    2. The second consideration: every single Christian--without exception--totally depends on the mercy of God's forgiveness.
      1. Every one of us who are God's sons or God's daughters have relationship with God because of God's major forgiveness every single day of our lives.
      2. If God's merciful forgiveness were withdrawn from any of us, none of us could be God's son or daughter.
      3. I am not God's son because I am good; I am God's son because I am forgiven.
      4. We urgently need to spiritually mature to the point that we stop placing our faith in our goodness and start placing our faith in God's mercy.
    3. The third consideration: we need to define correctly God's core concern.
      1. When I talk about God's core concern, this is the issue:
        1. What is God's core concern?
        2. Not, what is our core concern?
        3. By "core concern" I mean the heart of God's basic concern.
      2. The answer we gave for almost 100 years is this: God's core concern is proper worship procedures.
        1. We have created the impression among ourselves that God's greatest single concern is how we do worship.
        2. We have created this conviction: as long as we do worship right, God is pleased.
          1. If you have a horrible marriage, that is okay; just do not miss communion on Sunday.
          2. If you neglect your children, that is okay; just sing a cappella in worship on Sunday.
          3. If you commit adultery, that is not the end of the world; just stay through the invitation song on Sunday morning.
          4. You and I could illustrate this truth in many ways.
        3. We have said that to God, the core of Christianity is worship procedures, not relationship realities.
      3. God's core concern has never changed: it always has had a double emphasis, relationship with God and relationship with people. Briefly consider five examples.
        1. Consider the ten commandments God gave Israel in Exodus 20.
          1. My understanding: those commandments were God's basic expectations and were the foundation of everything else God commanded Israel.
          2. Four of those commands declared Israel must have profound respect for God.
          3. Six of those commands declared Israel must treat others properly.
          4. None of those commands dealt with what we regard to be worship procedures.
        2. Consider Isaiah 1:10-17.
          1. Every single worship act that God found offensive was commanded.
          2. To me the emphasis is very clear. Listen to Isaiah 1:16,17.
            "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.
          3. "You place your emphasis on worship, and your worship makes me sick."
          4. "First, learn to treat people as I want them treated."
        3. Consider Matthew 12:1-7. The Pharisees verbally attacked Jesus over what they regarded as violations of the Sabbath day.
          1. In Jesus' response, he made this statement:
            Matthew 12:7 But if you had known what this means, "I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice," you would not have condemned the innocent.
          2. Compassion was about the way people were treated.
          3. Sacrifice was about worship.
          4. Number one with God is the way people were treated.
        4. Consider Matthew 22:36-40. Often we refer to Jesus' response to God's greatest commandment.
          1. Love God with all your being.
          2. Love your neighbor like yourself.
          3. Jesus never separated these two commands.
        5. Consider Romans 13:8,10. Paul stressed the same truth. When writing to the Christians in Rome, he said:
          Romans 13:8 he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
          Romans 13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

"Are you saying that what we do in worship is unimportant?" No, that is not what I am saying. God's core of relationship with Him is how we treat people. That is what Christianity is about. Worship honors God when we first treat other people right.

Our failure to understand that is destroying us.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 11 August 2002

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