Sermon for the Funeral of Lillian Killingsworth (February 26, 2008)
“The House, Beauty, and Goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4, 13)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lillian left behind some handwritten notes giving strict instructions about her funeral. She had all the hymns picked out. She had jotted down some Bible passages. She also had written, and I quote: “Pastor knows not to say much about me.” I remember her saying something like that to me in some of our many visits over the years. She knew this day was coming. In fact, she was looking forward to it with all her heart, because it would mean that by the time we were gathered together here, she would already be in heaven with her Lord. But she wanted it made perfectly clear that I am supposed to point those who are left behind to Jesus and what he has done ... not only for Lillian, but especially for you. So I’ll do my best to honor her request. However, two of the verses she specifically highlighted in her notes make it hard not to talk about her a little bit, because they are so fitting for the type of person she was.
Those verses are from Psalm 27, the Psalm we read together earlier, verses 4 and 13: “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple ... I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” Lillian was someone who loved “dwelling in the house of the Lord” ... “gazing upon the beauty of the Lord” ... and “looking upon the goodness of the Lord.”
Dwelling in the house of the Lord
The psalmist asked the Lord that he would be able to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Lillian, too, loved spending time in God’s house. She loved being here in church. And I know it just ate her up inside when she couldn’t be here in her later years because her body stopped cooperating.
Lillian loved being here because she knew what Solomon knew. You heard about Solomon in today’s reading from 2 Chronicles 7. He had just built a glorious temple in Jerusalem as the place to worship the one true God of Israel. Solomon had prayed, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you, that your eyes may be open day and night toward this house, the place where you have promised to set your name, that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.” (2 Chr. 6:18-21)
God answered that prayer of Solomon’s. And in a similar way, the Christian Church fits that description as God’s dwelling place. God has set his name here, and we begin every Divine Service in that name: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And God has set his name upon his people here, as they are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Solomon was right. If the heavens cannot contain God, then certainly neither can a building like this. But where God has placed his name, that is where he has promised to be graciously present. Therefore, when his Word is proclaimed in its truth and purity, we know he is present with his forgiving love. St. Paul wrote this about the Church: “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people.’” (2 Cor. 6:16) In Holy Baptism, God placed his name upon Lillian, took up residence in her, forgave her all her sins, and marked her as his very own. And Lillian loved being in church, praying and receiving all the gracious blessings God offered her as she listened to God’s Word.
Gazing upon the beauty of the Lord
The psalmist also said that his desire was to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” When you look around this building, there’s not a lot of beauty here. It’s rather simple. Other church buildings are much more ornate.
Solomon’s temple was a beautiful place. It was filled with gold-plated fixtures and furniture. It was covered with colorful curtains. But there was an awful lot of ugliness, too. There was a lot of blood and gore. God had told the people of Israel to offer sacrifices of bulls and lambs and goats to cover their sin. Amidst the beauty, it was a very messy, smelly place. I would think that for most us, we would miss out on the glory of the temple because we would be nauseated at the sights and sounds and smells around us. It would be hard to look at all that death and say that you were “gazing upon the beauty of the Lord.”
Hidden behind those ugly sacrifices was the beauty of God’s grace and favor. All those sacrifices in Solomon’s temple pointed towards the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In the death of Christ on the cross, the price for the sins of all people was paid. Death is the result of sin. But Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was made to be sin for us at the cross so that through faith in him, we are declared righteous and holy. That’s what Paul means where he writes, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)
Jesus didn’t look very beautiful on the cross. It was a brutal death, with nails, and a crown of thorns, and a spear thrust into his side. You might say it was quite ugly. But hidden behind all that ugliness was the beauty of God’s love and favor, reconciling the world to himself. Paul said, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Lillian loved gazing upon the beauty of the Lord as she contemplated her Savior on the cross. And she also craved the beauty of the Lord’s Supper, too, where Jesus gives us his very body and blood which paid the price for our sins and brings forgiveness as we receive them in faith. I remember when I would visit her and bring the Lord’s Supper to her, she would get very excited when I would arrive. She would smile, her eyes would light up, and she would say, “Have a seat, Pastor.” And pointing to my portable communion set, she would say, “And can we go ahead and do that right away before we get interrupted?” She couldn’t wait to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord hidden under those humble means of bread and wine, and to receive them into her mouth for the assurance of her forgiveness and the strengthening of her faith.
Looking upon the goodness of the Lord
Lastly, the psalmist also said that he fully expected to “look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Well, here in the land of the living, I know that Lillian looked upon you, her family and friends, as blessings from the Lord. She bragged about her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren constantly. It was the goodness of the Lord that gave Lillian so many good things while she was here among us.
But this land of the living is not all there is. In the face of death, Jesus came to give us life. Jesus came to give us eternal life, and all who are baptized into his name and who trust in his finished work at the cross have eternal life. Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning, and all who are united to him by baptism and by faith will also rise to eternal life on the last day. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Many years before Jesus rose from the dead, the patriarch Job also expected to “look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” He said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27)
Lillian is with her Savior right now. The Bible says to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:8) But one day Lillian will rise again, just as her Savior Jesus rose on Easter morning. And she will look upon the goodness of the Lord in that eternal land of the living.
I’ve probably said too much about Lillian. I hope she will forgive me. But the only reason I did was to tell you how much she loved Jesus, how much she loved you, and how much she wants you to share in the eternal life that Jesus has earned for you. Trust in him, and you will.