“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Ephesians 1:3-4)
It’s a calm and cool fall day today. I think is appropriate because that was the impression I got from Francis the first time I met him. From his patient and calm demeanor, I could tell that he was a real gentleman. Despite his pain, he received me into his home with a friendly greeting and made me feel welcome. He knew that I had just moved into the area so he asked me how I liked things here in the U.P. and had many questions about my family. When I asked him how he was doing with his illness, he was modest and didn’t want to talk too much about it. He preferred to talk about the things he loved the most: His family and friends. In his stories, He talked about the good times he spent with them at work, at play, and in the Church. Francis was a long time member of Bethany Lutheran in Covington so he talked happily about his service on the church council. His relationship with God meant a lot to Him so we prayed & received Christ’s very own body & blood in Holy Communion.
When I talked with his daughters after Francis’ death, I learned much more about the content and happy man I met. Through their words, Lisa, Ann, & Lynn painted a vivid picture of a man who methodically gave all his love and attention the people God placed into His life. In their stories, I heard about a caring father who always made sure that he gave each one of his kids their own special time together, a fun-loving grandfather who never missed one of the little ones sporting events or birthdays, a dedicated worker at the Baraga County Road Commission who always did his best to keep the roads safe for his neighbors, and an outdoors man who enjoyed the gift of God’s good creation at his hunting camp & on the lake ice fishing. The sisters shared so many memories of good times, I confess that I lost track of some of them. I did catch that whole bunch of hot coco, Dodge trucks, & country music were involved! While this is hazy, what was clear to me was that Francis was happiest when he could help bring joy to other people.
So even though I only intersected with his life briefly, I am the better for it. I join you in mourning Francis’ death. He really was a devoted family man and friend. So it’s appropriate to thank God for the gift of His life and celebrate it. We were blessed by God with a lot of love and happiness through Francis. However, I think he would appreciate what I have to say next since his daughters also told me that when Francis was determined to do something , he stubbornly stuck to it and got the job done. What I mean by that is, as nice as it is to share memories of Francis, they won’t help us in the long-run when it comes to death.
You see, God is stubborn too when it comes to death. The truth is He hates it. So God has sent me here today with a job to do. I am to be God’s voice to speak to you His Words of grace that will create a future that extends beyond the grave; a new future which contains unlimited possibilities for Francis and for you. Our eyes try to tell us that death gets the final say. It appears the person we knew and love is gone forever. So our human reason and logic say the best we can do is to reminisce about the past and then move on with our lives. I am here to tell you today, that when it comes to death, your eyes deceive you. What really matters is not what you see but what God says and so does about death. God loves Francis and each and everyone of us so He wasn’t content to let the grave have the final word.
This is why Paul’s letter to the Ephesian opens with the announcement of God’s unshakable determination not to let the grave be the end. It begins by turning our sight from the earth to the stars; that is to say from trusting what we see to having faith in what we hear. You see, what Paul is describing is God’s direct answer to a great mystery; a mystery of which all humans are part of. So what is this greatest of all mysteries? Well it’s the age-old question: What happens after we die? Is the grave our ultimate fate?
God’s answer to that question in these two verses is clear. No! Death doesn’t get the last word because on a bloody cross long ago, Jesus defeated it. God left His only Son forsaken so, as Paul put it,“that we might be holy and blameless before Him.” Because Jesus died once for all, the greatest secret in the universe has now been revealed: “All the blessings of heaven are already ours in Christ.” To say it another way, even before the earth’s creation, God had already chosen to give you & Francis eternal life with Him.
Now this isn’t the first time God has proclaimed this truth. He came and said it to you and Francis in the waters of Baptism because He wanted His decision to be personally and publicly known. On that day, in those waters, God spoke your names, forgave your sins, and promised that Jesus would come and take you and Francis to be with Him someday. God made an unbreakable commitment in your Baptisms to do all these things and God doesn’t lie. God always remembers & so today fulfills the promises he made to Francis. He now rests in paradise with Jesus and someday you will too. To make sure there is no uncertainty at all about your future, God has sent His Holy Spirit here today in His Word to say He hasn’t changed His mind about you. So by Christ’s authority, not my own, I am here today to declare that: “All your sins are forgiven & you will live forever in the Father’s house.” What this means is that you aren’t saying your final goodbye to Francis. You will see him again & when you do the Lord promises that your joy will never end. So may this Good News give you Christ’s peace always. Amen.