13 March 2017
Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Lam 3:22-26, 31-33; Rev 21:1-7)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
Dear Sandi, Jeff, Chris, Michelle, Tara, family, friends, colleagues, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, peace be with you.
Over the course of his nearly three quarters of a century of life on this side of the grave, Jack wore many hats. There is no higher calling than to be a husband and father, and to serve other members of one’s family in love. To run a business for half a century, helping people to buy and sell homes, to be trusted with those kinds of important decisions, requires not only knowledge, but an unrelenting trustworthiness and faithfulness. And to save life and limb and property in the fire service for 25 years as a volunteer, and even serving as a captain, is a testament to Jack’s compassion.
And of course on this side of the grave, we all wear a different kind of hat as well: that of a sinner. God spoke to our ancestor Adam, and He speaks to all of us as well, that because of our sins, we return to the clay from which we were fashioned. You may have heard this said on Ash Wednesday: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” St. Paul teaches us that the wages of sin is death. And sin is something that plagues all of us. As beloved as our brother Jack is to all of us, he was not perfect (as none of us are), and neither his love for family, nor his faithfulness to the community, nor his compassion even to the stranger, could prevent Jack’s death, nor can it save him from the wrath of God, who is perfect, and who demands that we also be perfect.
But hear the Word of the Lord, dear friends: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness…. Though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”
For as a man loves His wife and children (and we do so imperfectly at times), so does our heavenly Father love us, yet unconditionally and perfectly. And just as a person who lives in the community serves his fellow man faithfully (even as we do so imperfectly), God serves us faithfully and perfectly. And just as our Lord taught us that there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends, Jesus has offered His own life as a ransom – for Jack, for you, for me, and for all of us who need redemption and grace, and He does so perfectly. He promises to save those who are baptized and who believe, who call upon His name. For when St. Paul says that the wages of sin is death, he finishes the statement in this way: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
After his heart attack, I visited Jack in the hospital. He had just heard very grim news. According to the doctors, he had very little time left. I shared the Word of God with Jack. I prayed for him and with him. I anointed him with oil as the church has always done. In His mercy, God granted Jack extra time to be with his family and friends. I saw him a few times afterward, not in the hospital, but walking around and smiling. It was a great blessing that the Lord gave Jack this second chance. And it is a demonstration of the Lord’s mercy, and how His ways are beyond our understanding.
For we worship a God of second chances, who loves us even though not one of us deserves it. He has carried Jack to his heavenly home, where he awaits the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and the great and marvelous reunion when we will see him again in glory.
Our Lord Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
Even as a firefighter puts his own life on the line to rescue one in need, so does our Lord Jesus Christ endure the Father’s wrath, the weight of our sins, and the suffering of the cross to save us – and that is the faith that Jack was baptized into. That is God’s promise to him and to you, dear friends.
And though we mourn now – and it is natural that we do so, for we miss our loved ones who are taken from us – remember that this separation is only temporary. For God Himself “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.”
So on this day it is fitting to remember that Jack is a son of the Heavenly Father who loves him, that the Lord has faithfully prepared an eternal home for Jack, and that our Lord Jesus Christ has compassionately rescued Jack from sin, death, and the devil, saving him in victory, a victory won for Jack and for all of us through the cross and the resurrection – a resurrection that extends to all of us.
And it is in Christ’s victory, that is also Jack’s victory, that we Christians greet one another with Christ’s peace. Peace be with you! Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.