Schaefer-Shipman Funeral Home, Marysville, WA
Text: Romans 5:1-11
In the name of Jesus, our only Savior from sin and death. Amen.
Sally was confirmed in her Christian faith back in 1970 at my congregation, Messiah Lutheran Church just north of us here in Marysville. That was a few years before my tenure here. And so, as you can guess, I can't speak from personal experience about her character or her life. Although from speaking with Cindy, and learning more about her from her obituary, it sounds like she was a person that I would have enjoyed getting to know. I'll let those of you who knew her personally share your memories with each other. Some of those memories are distant. Some are near. Hang on to those memories. Remind each other of them. Enjoy those precious moments you had with Sally.
When death strikes, it is a time to grieve. We miss the person who is gone. But it is also a time to consider our own lives and the comfort that God's Word brings to us. I want to read to you one more portion of God's Word today, upon which my message is based. It is Romans 5:1-11.
Therefore, 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 hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
One piece of comfort that we hear from that text is that God loves us. God loves you, each and every one of you. He loves you and he wants to comfort you when you grieve over your losses. And the reason we know that God loves us is because of a death that involved Him.
Death was never in God's plan for the world. That's why the dying process can be such an ugly thing. Death, disease, suffering, and the way the body breaks down in the aging process and finally stops working altogether – all have come in to this world because mankind has rebelled against God. The Bible says, "The wages of sin is death." (Rom. 6:23)
But God the Father loves us so much that He gave His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place. Jesus, true Man and true God – the perfect, sinless Son of God – was born so that He could grow up and die on the cross for the sins of the world … for your sins, for my sins. He gave His life in exchange for your life. And after three days in the tomb, He rose again from the dead showing His power over death. Yes, the Bible does say, "The wages of sin is death," but that verse goes on, "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." We can't earn it or deserve it. It's a gift … a gift from a God who loves us.
How do we receive that gift? We receive it by faith. That's what the first verse of our text is all about. "We are justified by faith." That means that we are brought into a new and right relationship with God when we have faith, when we completely trust in what Jesus has done for us on the cross. To be justified means to be declared not guilty. Or, you can think of it this way: In Christ, God looks at me and sees me “just if I'd” never sinned.
The next piece of comfort that I want to bring to you is that through Jesus, we are at peace with God. We live in a world that is not always a peaceful place to live. And when death strikes our families, our hearts are often less than peaceful. Oh, sure, sometimes it's a relief, especially when someone has suffered so much. Yet many times, we are haunted with thoughts such as these: "If only I could have her here just a bit longer ... She was so special to me, I'm going to miss her so much ... There were still so many things I never got the chance to tell her." Only the peace of God in Christ can truly soothe our hurting hearts in times like these.
Without that trust and faith that was described moments ago, we are not at peace with God. It is as if we are God's enemies. In fact, that's exactly what the text calls us … "enemies of God." We often go our own way, not particularly caring about God being a part of our life, not particularly caring about hearing what His Word, the Bible, has to say to us.
God offers His love and forgiveness to us so that we might know that we are "reconciled" to Him through the death of His Son Jesus. Another Bible version translates that word "reconciled" by saying that we are "God's friends again" through Jesus.
And because we are God's friends again through faith in Jesus Christ, we have another piece of comfort. We can rejoice! We can rejoice for two reasons, according to our text. "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God," and "we also rejoice in our sufferings."
"We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" because we know that because Christ lives, we too shall live. We receive His forgiveness and a new life today by believing in His name. The gift of forgiveness and eternal life gives us hope and assurance that we will be with Him in heaven when our last hour on this earth has arrived. And our hope also lies in the fact that the Bible tells us that Christ will return again on the Last Day, our bodies will be raised to life just as He was raised to life, and we will join Him forever in heavenly glory.
Until that day, we live here in this life, facing many difficulties, including the death of loved ones. And our text says that we rejoice in those sufferings. Now that's crazy talk, right? Who says, “Whoopee! Look at me! I'm suffering! Isn't this great?”
Well, the rejoicing that St. Paul is writing about here is not the “click up your heels and cheer” type of rejoicing. It's a quiet, inner joy that knows that God promises to sustain us and be present with us when we suffer. Paul says we can rejoice "because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Suffering for the Christian ultimately leads to hope because in the midst of those sufferings we realize that difficult circumstances have been allowed to enter our lives so that we might draw closer to God.
Job knew about suffering. You heard from him in today's Old Testament reading. Job was a wealthy man who lost everything … his family, his wealth, and his health. His body was covered with boil-like sores that brought him great pain. And all that remained of his family was his wife, who urged him to curse God and die, just to get it over with.
Yet listen to the hopeful words that came from Job's mouth: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed [and here you can imagine him pointing to his rotting body], yet in my flesh I shall see god, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Hundreds of years before the birth of the Savior Jesus, Job trusted in that Savior. Job knew that one day he himself would rise to life again and stand in his own restored flesh, seeing his Risen Redeemer with his own eyes.
People with lingering diseases like cancer and brain tumors can easily relate to Job. It was thirteen years for Sally. Yet, it sounds like Sally had a hopeful faith like Job's. And so, she is with her Lord right now. And when Jesus returns visibly on the Last Day, as he promised, Sally will also rise to life again, with no more pain, no more tears, no more suffering.
The God who loves you … the God who showed that love by sending His only-begotten Son Jesus to be born for us and to die for us … the God who is our friend again through faith in Jesus … the God who causes us to be able to rejoice in the midst of suffering and in the hope of glory … He is calling to you today, offering you His gifts of mercy, love, peace, comfort, and hope.