[This was shared during the funeral for Dorothy, a lifelong member of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church, earlier today.]
There are really only two legacies any of us ever leave behind, only two things we can give others that last.
One is love. The love that Dorothy bestowed on and shared with her family and friends didn’t end on Tuesday. The urgent desire of her family to be with her even in her final hours as she slept and occasionally fluttered her eyes is testimony to the love that was her gift to you, a gift you still possess and always will.
The only other enduring legacy we can bestow on others is our personal testimony about the truth of Jesus Christ. It’s a testimony we can give every day of our lives in words and actions.
The most powerful testimonies don’t usually come from people called to climb into pulpits and proclaim God’s Word. They more often come from people we see regularly, people who live their faith in the everyday places of life.
These testimonies can even come from grandmas who tell their grandchildren as they face new challenges and temptations in life, “Don’t forget who you are.” That, I’m told is something Dorothy sometimes told you, Ben and Sarah.
It seems to me that there are several ways you could have heard that simple admonition.
First, you could have heard it as a reminder of who you are in the eyes of God. Like your grandmother before you, you were baptized at the Saint Matthew Lutheran Church baptismal font. Water was poured over your head in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God was invoked, and, without any qualifications or merit on your parts, God claimed you as His own.
The title “child of God” is a privilege that, again, like your grandmother before you, you claimed as your own when you affirmed your baptismal covenant at the time of your confirmation. First John 3:1 says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”
Today, I invite you to remember, Ben and Sarah, and all who mourn Dorothy’s passing, that being a child of God is a tremendous privilege. When we children of God grieve, the God Who conquered death (and sin and futility in our lives) through the death and resurrection of Jesus, can be beside us. When we wander from God’s will, as we are all prone to do, God is ready and willing to welcome us into His embrace. When we rejoice, God rejoices with us. Remember who you are.
Of course, there’s another side of that admonition. It was no doubt what Dorothy immediately had in mind when she said it to her grandchildren. Remember that you were raised in a Christian home. Remember God’s commandments. Remember the love and respect you are expected to bear toward not just family members and people you like, but toward those you dislike or those who dislike you, toward strangers. Remember God’s grace and that it is, as we sang a few moments ago, amazing.
But remember too that God’s grace isn’t cheap. To give you His presence today and His promise of tomorrow cost Jesus Christ His life on the cross and that came after He underwent intense agony and the abandonment of His friends.
The very least we owe God in response to this free gift of everlasting life for all who believe in Christ are lives of obedience and love and daily repentance, lives in which we seek, however imperfectly, to tell God thank You and to display His presence in our lives.
Remember who you are. Dorothy has left you with powerful legacies: love, the great way of living, and the good news of new life through Jesus Christ.
But today, I want to add something to Dorothy’s admonition. Remember who you are, to be sure. But also, remember who she was. Some of who she was comes through in two of the Bible passages we’ve read today, passages I’m told were among her favorites.
One is Psalm 23. In it, the psalmist, speaking as a child of God, proclaims confidently, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for His Name’s sake.”
Because of the heart God has revealed He has for us through Jesus Christ, we can cling to these confident words. As children of God, we can trust, as our lesson from Romans reminds us, that nothing…nothing…in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Another of Dorothy’s favorite passages is found in Luke 12, where Jesus said, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” And then Jesus says, “If God so clothes the grass of the field…alive today and tomorrow is thrown in the oven, how much more will He clothe you—you of little faith.”
Martin Luther, the great reformer of the sixteenth century, used to talk about what it will be like when we all come into the presence of God for judgment. Considering all the passages of Scripture that speak of judgment, Luther says that God will look upon two groups of sinners, the whole human race in one of these two groups.
When God looks on one group, they’ll stand naked in their sins, living in the separation from God and self-will they chose while living here on earth.
But when God looks on the other group, He won’t see their sins—though they will be just as numerous and horrible as those committed by those in the first group.
Instead, in this latter group, God will see people clothed in Jesus, people who, in this life, claimed their baptismal heritage and trusted in Jesus for life and hope and peace even in life’s dark valleys.
When Dorothy came into the immediate presence of God on Tuesday morning, she was clothed as she had always been in the righteousness of Jesus. We do a lot of unnecessary toiling and spinning in life. But all we need is Jesus Christ!. Dorothy knew that. She was a child of God. That’s who she was. And that’s why I’m confident that when God met her at 6:30AM on Tuesday morning, the Lord said to her, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Father.”
I didn’t get to know Dorothy the way I would have had I arrived at Saint Matthew years before. But despite dementia, something of her essential self came through in our monthly visits. And much of who she was can be seen in the rich legacies of love and faith she bestowed on her family. That’s why today I know that Dorothy wants all those who are here this morning to one day hear those same words—“Well done, good and faithful servant!”—from God.
And we can hear them, joining her and all the saints in eternity, if we will simply remember who we are as children of God, saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus and our faith in Him.
And whenever you need inspiration, remember who Dorothy was.
If you can commit yourself to remember these two things in all the days that lie ahead in your lives, no matter what, your joy will be full and you will never go wrong. Amen