Whitney Houston: A Eulogy

In the gospel According to Matthew, Jesus says, “you are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).[1]

This saying places emphasis on identity and uniqueness. A disciple is unique because of who he is. The identity of a disciple makes him unique. In this case, Jesus identifies a disciple as a light-bearer. What makes a light-bearer unique is what he is contrasted against, darkness. By saying “you are the light,” Jesus should be understood to be implying that there is darkness all around and that the disciple is not like that darkness. Without darkness, it wouldn’t matter if the lamp is placed “under a bowl.”

The light-bearer, who now knows who he is, is told to “let your light shine before men” (5:16). Knowledge of identity precedes that of mission (in this case). Having to be who he is in an environment that is not conducive to who he is, is what the light-bearer is told to do. If he is indeed who he claims to be, then he will be who he is, for he can’t be anything else.

A light-bearer does “good deeds” that are not intended towards glorifying himself, but his “Father in heaven.” This final part of the saying is truly the ultimate purpose of a light-bearer’s existence: glorifying God. Indeed, humanity finds true self-fulfillment in a life that brings praise to the “Father in heaven.” Thus, a light-bearer, when his entire life is viewed as a whole, will ultimately reflect the God whose light he bears.

Whitney Houston was a star, a light that stood out against others that surrounded her, a city on a hill. And she still is all that. Although she now sleeps the sleep of the dead her contribution to this world, especially in music, is colossal. No one can ignore the elephant in the room. The world is full of singers, but none of them sounds like Whitney.

Whitney is missed by her family and close friends. They are the ones who are primarily affected by her death. They are the ones who have watched her grow up to be the star that she is today. Before the lights were fixated on her, they were the ones that first saw someone of worth. At this time, they are in pain. They are not now concerned with what legacy she leaves behind (although they will do their best to make sure that she is remembered as positively as possible). They are grieving over the loss of Whitney, the person.

They are not the only ones that are grieving. Fans of Whitney are grieving also. Fans are grieving over the loss of someone they admire; sing songs recorded by; and watched performances by. They are in disbelief. They weren’t ready for this type of news. For them, it came like a “bat out of hell.” They are forced to say goodbye to a shining light they believe is gone too soon. They are left only with CDs, pictures, and videos of the starlet in all her glory, not enough for hearts that are broken.

Undoubtedly, in Whitney’s official eulogy there will be great praise for what she has accomplished in over 40 years of life. It is a feat that many of will never attain to, let alone aspire to do so. She will be lifted up in grand sermonic discourses describing her towering and iconic status. So great will the praises be that, if it was possible, they would usher Whitney into the gates of heaven—a place she certainly be said to be in. Truly, her family will be proud. But what kind of light was Whitney? Did she leave behind a legacy that praises the “Father in heaven”?

To claim to have an answer to that question would be pompous on my part. Some may be offended that one would even ask such a thing. Only God truly knows whether or not she brought glory to His name. All that can be done now by we who are still living is evaluation of our own lives in an attempt to sort out whether we are living a life that praises God. It is much better to make assessments of ourselves than others. Although we would never admit to this, we tend to make great mistakes when it comes to the latter.

The death of such a young star reminds us that we cannot continue to exist forever. At some point, this life will come to an end, one way or another. Before it does, however, we can take a deeper look at (1) who we are, (2) what we have done and are doing, and (3) who that did and is glorifying: God or the other. The death of Whitney forces us to reflect collectively, as those who are “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

As we look over Whitney’s life, let us look at ours and sort out what type of lights are we. The heights that can be obtain means nothing if our “Father in heaven” is not praised. That is truly what we were born to do. Although Whitney is resting in peace, we will not be able to have any peace now unless we are living to what we are destined to be.


[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures in this article are taken from the New International Version.

A Sermon on the Canaanite Woman

It is always a wonderful and blessed experience to go to the house of the Lord on the Sabbath (Saturday). Yesterday, I heard a sermon by a good friend of mines on the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. It was an encouraging sermon, outlining the importance of persevering in our requests to God, and having faith that He is able and will do it despite what is confronting us. It’s a message that was necessary for a people going through hard economic times and other challenges that the community at large may not be aware of. In this first segment of my Sermon Talks series, I present to you my reflections on the story of this woman.

If you have a problem and you hear of someone who can solve it, would you go to him? Well, I don’t know about you, but I would. Apparently, the Canaanite woman, who had a daughter suffering from demon possession, heard about such a man. Whoever told her about Jesus must have done it in such a way that she, a Canaanite, whom the Jews despise, was convinced that she had to seek this man and that He was able to bring deliverance (Matt. 15:21). Her decision should remind us of something we don’t recall too often, and that is Jesus’ ability to bring deliverance.

Demonic possession is considered a thing of the past by many, even Christians. We have dismissed the supernatural aspect of things and concluded that it is limited to ancient times. The truth is, just because we don’t see people yelling and screaming doesn’t mean that they are not possess. When Satan entered Judas at the last supper, there was nothing strange about him or else the others would have noticed. The disciples thought that Jesus was sending Judas out to buy things for the coming feast (John 13:21-30). Demon possession may show physical manifestations or it may not, but it is real.

In her opening cry to Jesus there are some phrases she uses that are worthy of note. She asked for “mercy,” and she called him “Lord, Son of David” (Matt. 15:22 NIV). Her appeal for mercy is an indication of her belief that Jesus the Jew is able to have compassion for a Canaanite woman. Her mention of his Davidic lineage is an acknowledgment of Him as the Messiah, a point that Matthew brings up over and over again in his gospel. However, these phrases didn’t generate a response from Jesus.

Many of us would have given up at this point. I know I would have. I have no patience for sitting around and waiting for things to happen, I consider it to be a waste of time. But can you imagine how ashamed she must have felt when she received no response? How many times have you prayed, hoping for a favorable answer, but instead you heard the silence of God or been unable to tell what He is doing? It didn’t stop there for the Canaanite, it got worst. The disciples were getting annoyed with all the pleading and gave Jesus their opinion of what He should do (Matt. 15:23). Her problem didn’t concern them, they were only interested in getting rid of her.

Twice Jesus responded as the disciples would have responded. He told her that His mission was limited to the Jews, which is a dismissive statement since she wasn’t Jewish (Matt. 15:24). She was being disqualified because of something that she had nothing to do with, where she was born. But she didn’t quit, she worshiped. Remark that this worship takes place after a statement of unworthiness, not after deliverance. Have you ever been told or felt that you were unqualified?

Jesus’ next response is the one that would have done the most damage. He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” inferring that she was a dog. Had enough? That didn’t get her to leave. Instead she came back with one of the most wittiest replies, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27 NIV). This is a true analysis. The Canaanite woman had persisted in her request and Jesus, who was so overwhelmed by this woman’s faith in Him, granted her request. That very hour her daughter was healed (Matt. 15:28). This miracle is not limited to the first century, we can have this powerful experience with Jesus in our lives today if we would only press on.

The disciples’ advise to Jesus, and His responses to the woman, have led me to the conclusion that Jesus spoke as He did to teach the disciples a lesson about compassion, faith, and the inclusiveness of deliverance. Not only did He use a Canaanite to give them a lesson on what real faith looks like, but He helped her faith increase by the challenge that it faced. From that experience she gained even greater confidence in the power of God. Sometimes God uses the experience of those that we think are not worthy to teach us important lessons.

The lesson on faith and compassion is crucial because in the following narrative they are evident in Jesus’ statement to the disciples concerning a hungry multitude (Matt. 15:29-39). The statement seems to have been a test to see what they would say. The disciples are not the only ones that need to learn these lessons, we need to learn them too. We should be a church that encourage each other in persevering in our request. When we read a story, it’s easier to place someone else in the role of the villain than ourselves.

Was the church motivated after the sermon? Certainly. I, for one, am going to answer the call to persevere in my request and have faith that God’s hands will move and deliver. There is something real in Christianity and His name is Jesus, He is able.


Notes

Sermon Talks is a series of my reflections on sermons heard over the weekend that are not preached by me.

The picture above: Christ and the Canaanite Woman – c.1784 Germain-Jean Drouais