Sermon for the Memorial Service for Gust Kettel (November 17, 2007)
“A Beloved Child of God” (1 John 3:1-3)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, especially to you Gloria, Dick, John, Mark, and to all of you family and friends gathered here today. Amen.
The day on which Gust died, John had called me to ask if we could gather together on Sunday afternoon at his dad’s apartment with the family. Around an hour later he called me back to say that Dad was gone. The little gathering that we had planned was moved up a day ... a day earlier than we expected. Although, when a fellow makes it to 102 years old, no matter how strong a heart he has, you kind of expect that any day could be “the day.” I think even Gust knew that ... and even anticipated it, because he knew that he was a beloved child of God and that his Savior Jesus had prepared a place for him in heaven.
Just two days before Gust went to be with his Savior it was All Saints’ Day. That’s the day on which we give thanks to God for all that he did in and through the saints who are now in heaven with the Lord. And your dad was a saint. Not perfect. That’s not what a saint is. A saint is one who has received in faith the forgiveness of all their sins through Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection.
And Gust certainly trusted in Christ throughout his long life. He trusted the Lord when he was farming back in North Dakota, even though, as Gust wrote, “Farming was more or less a hit and miss deal, but not too bad until about 1930. For some reason best known to the Lord, he decided to withhold rain. For the next 7 years we planted but never harvested.” Now that’s faith! He also trusted the Lord when it was time to pack up and move to the “promised land” of Washington, with his life’s possessions loaded onto a two-wheel trailer behind a Model-A Ford.
Washington turned out to be just as affected by the depression as anywhere else. But Gust and those hearty souls from the plains continued to trust the Lord. Gust once shared how in those days, as he wrote, “we were concerned for the welfare of our souls.” Only two weeks after their arrival in Sequim, they had the Lutheran pastor from Mt. Vernon come and conduct services and give them Holy Communion. Gust added, “That humble beginning is the result of the large church and congregation in both Port Angeles and Sequim today.” It seemed like every time I visited Gust and Anita, not only would I get cookies and ice cream and coffee, but I would be shown that old picture of the people of St. Matthew’s in Port Angeles and be asked to find their faces in the crowd. There was Gust in suit and tie, standing there next to your mother, holding Gloria. Even though many years had passed since that photograph was taken, you could certainly tell it was Gust, with that strong chin and his ever-so-slight grin.
Gust’s faith was also evident even in his later, frail years. He continued coming to church in suit and tie ... even with the aches and pains that would keep people younger than him from coming. In my first few years here at Messiah, he and Anita were still able to come to church, hitching a ride with some of our people here. There they sat, listening to God’s Word, having their faith in Christ strengthened, and insisting on coming to the altar for the Lord’s Body and Blood rather than have the pastor bring it to them in their pew, as I do for some of the elderly.
The Bible verse I shared with you the day of your dad’s death was the one I was using to prepare for my sermon the next day, the day we were going to observe All Saints’ Day together. It talks about the blessedness of those who trust in Christ in this life and the hope that we have in Christ for eternity. Please listen as I read that text from 1 John 3:1-3 ...
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
Gust was 102 years old. But he was still a child. He was a dearly loved child of God. God first bestowed his love upon Gust when he was baptized. God the Holy Spirit came upon him through water and the Word of God and created faith in his heart which trusted in Jesus as his Savior. Gust knew that God loved him so much that he sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Gust knew that Jesus loved him so much that he was willing to lay down his life for him at the cross. And Jesus did this not just for Gust, but for the sins of all people ... for yours and mine (1 John 2:2).
Gust was a beloved child of God who was not known by the world. Now, this has nothing to do with his fame and fortune ... although to be sure, Gust was not “world famous.” He was one of those numerous kind and gentle saints who go about their work quietly and faithfully, working hard to provide for their family. St. John says that “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know [God].” Spiritual things can only be known by hearts renewed by the Holy Spirit. Christians look like anybody else. Their bodies get old and break down like everyone else. Nor do Christians always act like the saints that God has declared them to be through Christ. The Church takes a lot of heat for that in this day and age. But the fact that we are God’s beloved children is something that’s hidden to the world. It’s not something that’s immediately obvious. Nevertheless, by baptism and by faith in Christ Gust was among that number of which one of our hymns describes: “We sing for all the unsung saints, / That countless, nameless throng, / Who kept the faith and passed it on / With hope steadfast and strong / Through all the daily griefs and joys / No chronicles record, / Forgetful of their lack of fame, / But mindful of their Lord.” (LSB 678.1)
Gust was a beloved child of God, not known by the world, and what he will be has not yet appeared. St. John says in our text, “what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears [meaning, when Jesus returns on the Last Day as he promised] we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” For those who trust in Christ on this side of heaven, their status as children of God ... their identity as saints ... is hidden to the world. They are like uncut diamonds ... rough, unpolished, looking simply like big pieces of thick glass. When they were brought to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit began the process of cutting and shaping them into the people God wants them to be ...taking off a hard edge here ... smoothing out a facet there. But that whole process will not be complete until the day when Jesus returns. On that day, those who have died in the faith will rise to life again. Those who are left will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. (1 Cor. 15:52)
“We shall be like him,” St. John declares. We will be like Jesus, “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” (Phil. 3:21) Resurrected. Immortal. Glorious. Without sin. Without sorrow. Without suffering.
Gust is with the Lord right now. But what he will be has not yet appeared. On the Last Day, Gust and all believers in Christ will rise again to eternal life. We will be like Jesus with resurrected immortal bodies, never to die again, and “We shall see him as he is.” Even the Old Testament saint Job understood this very well. We sang a hymn based on some of his words today, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” Here’s what Job said: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25)
The last line of our text says, “Everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” As we await that great and final day of resurrection, we are called to lead holy lives. As God’s children, beloved and forgiven, it is an honor and privilege to live as God’s children, to throw off every sin that would trip us up and weigh us down as we run the race marked out for us. A great cloud of witnesses surrounds us. These are the saints like Gust who have gone before us and have already run the race. They are like those athletes that young kids try to emulate. Ever watch a Little League baseball game? Every batter comes up to the plate and goes through the same motions and stands just like his favorite player. In the same way, we can emulate the faith and life of those saints who have gone before us ... living a holy life in response to the forgiveness earned for us at the cross, in response to such great love that God has poured out upon us, in response to the hope of eternal life and the resurrection which his word of promise instills in us.
Having said all this, I can’t think of a better way to close than with Grandpa Gust’s own words: “The Lord has been good to us. To him be all glory.”