Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Sermon for the Service in Memory of Pearl Rainwater (November 1, 2011)
“A Disciple Who Abided in God’s Word” (John 8:31-32)
"If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)
Today in our liturgical church calendar, it is “All Saints Day.” It’s the day on which we remember all those who have died trusting in Christ as their Savior. What an appropriate day on which to remember Pearl. She is now with the company of saints and angels in heaven. And you who believe in Christ as Savior and are baptized in his name are also saints who are united with her in the great mystical fellowship of the Body of Christ, the Holy Christian Church. The creed calls it “the communion of saints.” The Church on earth is united with the Church in heaven. “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine, yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine,” we sang a few moments ago.
The Eve of All Saints – yesterday – is also known as Halloween. Lutherans are not averse to being silly and dressing up like ghouls and goblins or Spiderman and Strawberry Shortcake. We also have no problem encouraging our children to be mercenaries and go door to door collecting sweets. But for us, Halloween is also Reformation Day. This is the day we remember when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany back on October 31, 1517. It was the event that sparked what history calls the Reformation of the Church. The Reformation stressed three important points or “solas” as they are called: Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, and Sola Fide. That’s Latin. Here they are in English: Scripture Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone. For churches who are heirs of the Reformation, we confess that the Bible alone is our source of authority when it comes to knowing who God is and what he has done for us. We also confess that our sins are forgiven and we are given the gift of eternal life by God’s grace alone – his undeserved favor towards us – apart from any good works that we do to try to earn God’s love and favor. And we receive this all personally by faith alone, by trusting in what God has done for us in sending his Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation.
These three “solas” were near and dear to Pearl as a confessing Lutheran Christian. God’s Word, the Bible, was indeed an important part of her life. That’s why I chose our text today from John 8. It’s the Gospel reading assigned for Reformation Day, but it’s also appropriate on All Saints Day at the death of a saint who abided in God’s Word throughout her life. Pearl loved to read and study God’s Word. Her Bibles were well-worn and well-marked. She kept pages and pages of notes in notebooks as she read along.
Pearl loved to teach God’s Word. Over the years, as you heard earlier, she taught many Bible classes here at Messiah. She assisted with confirmation classes. Her Monday morning ladies’ Bible class was always very popular, meeting right in there in the Council Room. Up until the day she died, she was fully expecting to return to church and teach a Bible class. I imagine by now she probably has recruited quite a few departed saints and started a Bible class in heaven.
Pearl also used her writing skills to share God’s Word. She had a regular column in our church newsletter. Selected Bible verses would spark some memory she had of growing up, being raised by her Grandma, then marrying Dewey and raising her own family. Through these memories she would share the wisdom she had gained over the years, reflecting on her life and applying God’s Word to her life.
Pearl showed herself to be a disciple of Jesus by abiding in his Word. A disciple is a learner, a follower of Jesus. But the truth is, people don’t decide for themselves to be disciples. Jesus makes us into his disciples. To his first 12 disciples, he said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). That’s true for us, too. Paul says in Ephesians 1 that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world … in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4-5). Here’s how disciples are made. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20) Pearl was baptized in the name of the Triune God. There, she was marked with God’s own holy name and adopted into his family. The Holy Spirit created faith in her heart. Her sins were washed away. She was taught God’s Word throughout her life. That’s what made her a disciple of Jesus. And disciples abide in the word of Jesus.
Abiding in God’s Word, Pearl knew the truth. She knew the truth that she was a sinner who deserved nothing from God the Father. But she also knew that because she was forgiven by God’s grace in Christ, she was also a saint. She knew the truth about what Jesus said about himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Pearl knew the truth that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). She knew that Jesus died on the cross for her sins … and for yours and mine, too. She knew the truth that Jesus rose from the dead again on Easter morning, victorious over sin, death, and hell for us.
This is the truth that set Pearl free. It’s the truth that sets us all free. Because Jesus suffered and died in our place at the cross, we are forgiven and free from the fear of condemnation. Because Jesus gives us the gift of eternal life, we are free from the fear of death. Because Jesus promises that he is “the resurrection and the life,” we are assured that one day we will be free from the pains and sorrows and troubles and anxieties of this life … even as Pearl is enjoying eternal rest and peace right now.
In the meantime, we wait for the day when “the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). In just a few moments, we’ll sing about that day in the words of the hymn: “But then there breaks a yet more glorious day, the saints triumphant rise in bright array…from earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host” (LSB 677.7, 8)
“Through gates of pearl.” Couldn’t pass that one up. In St. John’s vision of heaven in the book of Revelation, he sees heaven as having twelve gates, each made of one single pearl. Now I don’t know whether heaven will literally have gates of pearl … not to mention streets of gold (Rev. 21:21), a wall made of jasper (Rev. 21:18), with foundations made of assorted gemstones and precious jewels. I have a feeling this is visionary language helping us here on earth to understand a heavenly reality … that heaven is more glorious than we can ever imagine.
So will there be actual pearly gates in heaven? I don’t know. But this I do know: Grandma Pearl will be there … and she wants you to trust in Christ as your Savior so you will be there, too.