Thursday, August 20, 2009

You Betcha!

[This was shared during a funeral worship in the sanctuary of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

Psalm 23
Isaiah 40:27-31
John 3:16-18
John 11:21-27

I knew Luke for only twenty-two months. But in that time, like countless others here at Saint Matthew, I’ve come to appreciate him and rely on him in more ways than I can catalog.

On Sunday mornings, he was always in the sacristy with my remote microphone at the ready, giving me updates on how much time I had as he listened to the radio monitor.

Whenever there was a funeral here at the church, Luke was here, too, making sure, among other things, that the casket pall was laid out and ready; in fact, he told us a few weeks ago that he hadn’t missed a funeral in Saint Matthew’s sanctuary in twenty-five years!

If we were to have Sunday worship, Advent or Lenten services, Bible studies, Church Council meetings, or some other gathering, Luke made sure that there was heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. He climbed a stepladder every week and posted the hymn numbers.

He maintained the boilers and AC systems in this building.

And if the lights were still on when we left the building, he let us know about it.

This maintenance was all part of Luke’s ministry, one for which he was well suited. Luke had an amazing mind for mechanical things. The other day, Bill recalled that, after years as an auto mechanic, his Dad decided to try for a job at Carborundum. He had to take a test measuring his mechanical aptitude. When Luke turned in his test, he’d made a note beside several of the questions. “These are the answers I know you want,” he said, "but, here are the real answers.”

I’m told that his fascination with how things worked went all the way back to his childhood. When he was about ten, he took his sister’s baby buggy apart and couldn’t get it back together. He rode on an escalator repeatedly until, to his own satisfaction, he’d figured out how it worked.

But, though it may take twenty people to replace Luke for all the things he did here at Saint Matthew, people will miss him most for who he was.

He was the guy who, when asked how he was doing, might replay, “Oh, just staggerin’ along.” Larry and Jim told me the other day that, growing up close to the Mowery Garage, they remember that Luke was always friendly, wearing the same smile he wore on the very last day he was able to speak with me on one of my visits to Grant Hospital. There, as I left, typically, he pointed at me and said, “You take care now.” Butch put it well last night when he said of Luke, “We lost our right hand man.” Luke Mowery was everybody’s right hand man.

Yet if his church family and our community will miss Luke the person—and we will, our loss cannot be compared to that of his family.

And it’s to that loss, Blanche, Bill, Suzanne, and family, that I want to speak.

It was clear to me that Luke was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. To others, he was a great friend. He was a great guy: a person who suffered little in the way of foolishness and one who wasn’t comfortable talking about his faith, but who lived it every day.

And it’s to that faith relationship that, today and in the weeks and months to come, I ask you all to turn once again. I want to do it by commending to you two promises and one image from the Bible. I hope that you can hold onto them and find comfort and hope.

Long ago, to an elderly man who had spent years studying religion, but still didn’t know God, a man named Nicodemus, Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

If that isn’t true today, it simply isn’t true.

But, in fact, we have evidence for its truth.

We see it in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus died on a cross, taking our punishment for sin, so that death need not be the last word about our lives. He rose to open eternity to all who turn from sin and follow Him.

Jesus’ resurrection underscores the truth of what he said the sister of His friend, Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said, “Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

That was Jesus’ promise to Luke. That is Jesus’ promise to you today! That’s the first promise to which I hope you'll cling.

But there’s another promise. Ours isn’t just a sweet by-and-by faith. We have a God Who, through Christ, has shown us that He is willing to go through life with us, in joyful times and sad, when we’re young and when we are old. God isn't afraid to get his uniform dirty!

Psalm 23, which I read a few moments ago, says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Shepherds, in the ancient world, were tough, practical, strong guys. To have one as a friend would be to know that there was always someone who had your back. That's the kind of friend Luke was to people. But the Scriptures says that God is infinitely and eternally such a Friend, such a Shepherd!

The God we know in Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd Who has your back today, Who stands with you even as you trudge through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s the second promise I hope will comfort you today: The God we know in Jesus Christ promises to always be with those who call on Him.

And finally, I hope that you’ll keep a Scriptural image in your mind. It comes from another of our Bible readings, Isaiah 40:31: “…those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Luke never gave up on living life. He plowed ahead with living and did it with tenacity and good humor, even when he was wracked by terrible pain from the hip issues that hobbled him. He was here in the sacristy on the Sunday before he went for his surgery.

But he was in obvious pain all the time. He had to plan how to get up from a sitting position. It was a struggle for him to get around. He was thankful when someone would save him a few steps by handing him the key he needed to lock up the sound equipment.

But I believe that at the moment he passed from this life, because of his faith in Jesus Christ, Luke passed into the presence of the Savior in Whom He believed. He is no longer hobbled by his hip or subject to the ravages of age. He is running and is not weary; he is walking in total strength.

Three things I ask you to hold onto today:
  • God is with His people now.
  • God gives His people eternity.
  • And God renews those who trust in Him.
Today, I believe that if we ask God if these three things are true, we can, within our spirits, hear all heaven join in God's reply, telling us with a smile and a friendly thump on the back, “You betcha!"*

*I use first names only in the blog version of this sermon. "You betcha!" was one of Luke's trademark phrases.

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