Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing
In Memory of George Veliz
January 17, 2013
As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. -2 Cor. 6:10
Before I had the honor of meeting George Veliz in person, I had the honor of praying for him. Just a couple weeks before George’s homegoing, his son-in-law Calvin came to me after a Sunday morning worship service, with eyes tearing up, asking me to pray for Tina’s dad. I remember being deeply moved by this son-in-law’s obvious love for his father-in-law.
I had the honor of meeting George in person on the first day of the New Year 2013. He was in St. Joseph’s hospital fighting for his life. When I entered his room I was immediately welcomed with a warm smile and handshake. I sensed a peace about George that, to some, might seem contradictory to his circumstances. George’s medical prognosis was not good.
As we visited, I learned why George radiated such a calm in the storm. I asked him about his faith and he professed clear trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. He didn’t speak as one trying to convince himself, but as a man with deep assurance of his salvation. George struck me immediately as a man who knew that this world was not his home.
This was confirmed when I asked him if I could read a passage from Scripture that I was eager for him to hear again for the first time. With his permission I opened my Bible to 2 Cor. 4:16-18,
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
George affirmed the truth of this passage by saying, “Yes, Pastor, I believe that.” We had prayer together and, after assuring him of my continued prayers, I told George that I looked forward to seeing him well and out of the hospital soon.
George was released from the hospital soon after that, but not because he was physically well, but for in-home hospice care. The doctors estimated four days to live. What happened next was something unspeakably difficult for this family. Children, including Tina, brought their dad home to die.
I’ll never forget the scene I came upon last Saturday afternoon when I went to visit George and the family at 429 Donovan Ave. I was welcomed through tears and ushered into the back room through a line, perhaps 15 deep, of family members waiting to say their last words to the man they loved so much. When George saw me he sat up, put his legs over the side of the bed, and made room for me to sit beside him. He looked at me with eyes that said, “I’m okay. God has me. I know where I’m going.”
Looking this dear brother in the eyes, I said, “George, are you right now trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting?” He said, “Yes, Pastor, I am.” I then reminded George of the promise of John 11:25-26 where Jesus says to Martha who was mourning the death of her brother Lazarus, “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?” By Jesus asking Martha, “Do you believe this?” we know that this event wasn’t only about Lazarus.
Technology can facilitate ministry – in particular the ministry of word and prayer. On Sunday evening at 4:55 I received a text message from Calvin. It read, “We are having a singsperation for George. He loves it. Praise God!” (I learned later that while this was going on George was propped up in his bed with the door open to the living room so he could not only hear, but also see the family singing. He would move his hand like a conductor. Then, when they were done with a song, he would motion for more!)
I replied to Calvin’s text on that Monday night with this text: “Amen! Much prayer for George and family today. Sorrowful yet always rejoicing because of the unshakable hope of the gospel! (2 Cor. 6:10).”
The Apostle Paul captures perfectly the paradox of the Christian life: sorrowful yet always rejoicing. This world is full of sorrow because of the fall of mankind into sin. Our rebellion against God has wreaked havoc on this world. We know in countless ways that it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But Christians also know the hope of the gospel, the bedrock truth that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Christians know that we have been justified by faith, have peace with God, and are now standing in grace. Therefore, the Christian can sing with the Psalmist, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Sorrow, yes. But a sorrow being daily intercepted by gospel joy!
There is a palpable grief in this room. And there should be. Your grief testifies to the love you have for George. But there’s coming a day when your night will give way to the dawn of a new day. To hasten that day, let me share with you some of the last words I shared with George, the hope-giving words of John 8:51 where Jesus declares, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” In a very real sense George never saw death for when death raised its gruesome head just after 4 a.m. Tuesday morning it was swallowed up in life – death was overwhelmed by the victory of Christ! Yes, we grieve. But not as those who have no hope.
Right now George is singing a new song surrounded by a choir of billions who likewise have had every tear wiped away, every disease eradicated, every sorrow turned to joy everlasting because he has received the goal of his faith, the salvation of his soul.