“Send Me Home”
I woke up this morning to the news that Tim Keller had died over the weekend. Tim Keller was Pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City with over 5,000 members. His ministry spanned over four decades. Tim Keller taught people how to live. After he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in June 2020, Keller began to teach people how to die–a mission he completed last Friday morning when he left this world at the age of 72.
Keller was an unlikely spiritual giant. His friends thought he was crazy when in 1989, he left small town America to plant a new church in mid-town Manhattan. But the fledgling congregation exploded, soaring from 50 participants to more than 5,000. Redeemer Presbyterian Church has become the launching pad for a constellation of other churches and related ministries across New York City and the world.
The most stunning feature of Keller’s ministry has been the makeup of his flock. At least 40% of Redeemer’s participants are Asian-Americans. One-third are single adults. Many Broadway artists were drawn to Keller’s teaching. More than anything else, he displayed a heart for skeptics. He spent decades dialoguing with secularists–listening to their concerns, respecting their doubts, providing honest answers to honest questions. Many of his 33 books address the 21st century’s underlying homesickness for God.
He routinely pointed out that our lives are more comfortable than those of any previous generation in history. Why then is our culture afflicted with such a pervasive feeling of hopelessness? “The great problem is how to have a human hope that can make sense of death, and help us to face the fear of death and even triumph over it.”
The British wit Samuel Johnson once observed: “Depend on it sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Given fresh motivation to concentrate his mind wonderfully on what lies beyond the grave, Keller released his book “Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter” in the spring of 2021.
He pointed out that human beings are fundamentally hope-based creatures. We all need to know that our stories are leading somewhere. What we believe about the future powerfully controls how we experience the present. Keller reflected: “The deepest desires of our hearts is for love that lasts.” But that’s the crushing thing about secularism. According to the materialist conception of the universe, all hope of a meaningful and personal future has been erased. Nothing awaits us but non-existence.
Recently I led a celebration of life service where friends of the deceased shared memories of their friend. They endeavored to provide a word of hope. Their friend wasn’t really gone. Her molecules were being re-circulated. She would become part of the grass and the trees. The next time we saw flowers, we would know it was “her.” But those words did not generate hope. I went on to share that same day that this woman whose life we were remembering was a Christian who had given her life to Christ. She had concluded her story wasn’t going to end in a cemetery.
Keller wrote: “Death used to be able to crush us, but now all death can do is plant us in God’s soil so we become something extraordinary.” He added, “Grieve with hope. Wake up and be at peace: laugh in the face of death and sing for joy at what’s coming.”
His son Michael reports that two weeks ago his dad had prayed: “I’m thankful for the time God has given me, but I’m ready to see Jesus. I can’t wait to see Jesus, Send me Home”.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain