“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand.” – John 10:28
Just a few minutes from now, we will share the fond memories we have of Marilyn. She truly was a gift of God’s love through which we all received much joy. I was fortunate enough to get to meet her and spend time with her during the past few weeks. Even in her illness and suffering, Marilyn was generous, thoughtful, funny, and kind to me – someone who for all practical purposes was a stranger. What a blessing I am sure it is to have known her longer. The most blessed man here in this room today in that regard is Joe whom God brought together as one with her in marriage for nearly 60 years on this side of eternity. Indeed, in the light of the goodness she brought to all of us here, the death of such a dearly loved wife, mother, sister, family member and friends brings sadness so I too grieve with you.
We are all saddened by Marilyn’s loss because there is a bond of love that we all had with her and now it is temporarily severed by her physical death. So my sympathy goes out the most today to Joe. Sixty years of love is a long time so the bonds run deep and even a little while away is painful. Now I say this not to embarrass Joe, but I was told by one of his family members that he “worshiped the ground she walked on”. So I am 100% confident if I asked him why that was the case, why he loved her so deeply, Joe would say ”I don’t need to list any reasons for loving her. I just love her. I just do.”
1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us that the greatest virtue we can have in this life is love so the kind love that Marilyn and Joe shared was not far from the Kingdom of God!
But as tremendous a blessing that such a wonderful marriage like this is, it is not the Kingdom of God. It may be the best of things in this fallen world, but it still falls short of the glorious future that God Our Father has planned for us His children whom He loves. Allow me to explain what I mean by that.
Now I don’t want to put Joe on the spot any more than I have already, but I am sure if you asked him, being an honest man, he would say that there were some rough spots or maybe an argument or two in their marriage. Joe if there wasn’t, see me immediately after the service so I can help you write a book – we can make millions – because you and Marilyn were obviously on to something the rest of us married folks don’t have a clue about if you can go 60 years without getting cross about something. My point is, for all of us this side of eternity, we are still caught up in the grip of sin. Even the best of us. We frequently fall short of the perfect love for God & one another that we were created by Him to give.
Now if you seriously read the Bible, you’ll know what I said is true. God knows this is true as well. If left on our own, the wages of sin is death so death would get the final say over us. But God so loves us, so loves Marilyn, & so loves you He was determined not to let the grave rule over us so He sent Jesus.
And the Bible also does not provide God’s reasons for loving so much He sent His only Son to die for us while we were yet unrepentant sinners. It just said He does. He loves us. Nowhere is there an assessment of humanity from God’s view point where He lists our numerous helpful qualities, amiable characteristics, or even proven capacities to produce good works as reason for Him loving us to the point of dying for us. If anything, a sober reading of the Bible would reveal a huge mass of evidence that says, if we dig underneath the shiny exterior we all try to present, there is not much lovable about us sinners. Now I know that it is hard for us to be told we are sinners because we live in a culture where we have generous self-assessments of ourselves. So we erroneously think that there obviously must be something in us that God values, something we can do or be, some potential, that God earns His love.
But if that were actually true, then God’s love is a conditional, qualified love which looks for something lovable, desirable in the object of His love. But, as we just heard the Romans 5:8 that is not the way of God’s love. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” There is no expression of worth or value here that motivated God to spend Himself for us. Jesus gave Himself for the unlovable and ungodly – for us, for Marilyn, and for you. In Christ, God loves us for no other reason than He freely chooses to do so.
So God wasn’t waiting around to see if Marilyn was going to produce something of worth to Him before He expressed His choice to love her for all eternity. He sent His Holy Spirit to her in the waters of Baptism to claim her, adopt her, and make her His own beloved Child. God told her that He would unconditionally love her, that He would walk with her all the days of her life, and that she could call on Him as her Heavenly Father at any time in prayer. So Marilyn walked all her days on earth in the glorious light of God’s gift of reconciliation in Christ. Jesus her Savior was always with her to clear away the debris of the past by speaking to her His loving Words of forgiveness of sins. He was also continually out ahead of her speaking His unconditional promise of eternal life to her to open up an unlimited future. Our Lord was – and is – and will be – with her always simply because He loves her.
So today, Christ in His love has also come to you in this place to be with you in your time of sorrow and to speak to you His Words of comfort. He has come to tell you that Marilyn now enjoys eternal life in the Good Shepherd’s pastures because she was one of His sheep & she is with Jesus where she will never perish & no one will ever snatch her out of His loving care. Today Jesus has fulfilled His Baptismal promise to Marilyn to take her home so she is with Him now. This is most certainly true.
But that is not the only Good News that Christ has come here today to speak to you. He not only has Words of comfort but also Words of life & hope for you too. He didn’t come here seeking something from you. He didn’t come to tell you to get your act together before He will choose you. He isn’t here demanding you produce a lot of good works either before He will love you. Christ is just here to say: “I love you. I just do. No strings attached. I choose you to be my beloved sheep for all eternity too. The same baptismal promise I gave to Marilyn is also for you. Your sins are forgiven and I promise that someday we will all be together again at the great marriage feast of the lamb that won’t ever end.”
Your ears have just heard your salvation my friends. Though you mourn the loss of Marilyn today, God has spoken His unconditional promise of salvation to you. God has said that He will one day complete His Baptismal work of salvation in you as well and bring you also into His eternal Kingdom of love.
That is Christ’s glory and our hope. And to have hope in Jesus Christ is to know for certain that even the bonds of death cannot keep us apart from God’s love in Him. It is to know as a sure and true fact that you will be held forever in faith by the One who also struggled with grief, pain, & loss even entering into death as someday we all must. So ours is a hope that extends beyond the grave. Indeed, it is really our final & only hope, that even as we too enter the shadow-lands of death that we will hear Jesus call our name, as the sheep know the voice of The Shepherd. Then, like the ancient Lazarus, we will stumble from death into the light & love of the One who has promised: “I give them eternal life…”