Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Leap That Brings Hope

[This was shared during the Celebration of Life Service of Worship and Holy Communion for the family and friends of Glenn, a member of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. The service happened in the Saint Matthew sanctuary on October 25.]

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
John 14:1-7
I first met Glenn over the telephone. He called me in June of 2007 about interviewing for the call to become pastor of Saint Matthew. Glenn was president of the congregation and chair of the call committee.

That first phone call, of course, was hardly a getting-to-know-you conversation; it was little more than setting the day and time for my interview. But very quickly, in several personal meetings and telephone calls, I came to form an impression of Glenn, an impression that only grew stronger after we came to Logan.

Glenn was a people person with a quick wit. He loved his wife, his family, and his friends.

He loved getting together with people, especially when getting together entailed food. “Meet to eat,” I learned early on, was one of Glen’s favorite mottos.

He cared about the Church and its mission. (Boy, did he care about the mission of the Church!)

And he had a strong and informed faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, it’s one thing to have a strong faith in Christ when things are going relatively well in your life. It’s another to still have that faith when hard times come.

The day that Glenn let us know he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I spoke with him. “We know, of course,” he told me evenly, “that this cancer will eventually take my life.” But, he explained, he and Sue were committed to fighting together for the ability to life to the full for as long as he could.

Then he said, “I’ve had a good life. And I have no doubt about where I’m headed. So, we’ll just go from there.”

Now, it seemed to Ann and me as we absorbed Glenn’s news, that if any two people had a right be bitter or to rail at the rotten hand this fallen world had dealt them, it was Glenn and Sue.

They’d had little time to savor their retirement. First, Glenn had required a major surgery. Then, sharing the care for Sue’s father with her sister occupied much of their time until his death shortly before Glenn learned of his cancer. And I know that there were times when Glenn had questions, when he felt overwhelmed. The same things will happen to you who mourn his passing in the weeks and months to come: You’ll have questions; you’ll feel overwhelmed.

But every time I visited with Glenn, no matter how tired or out of sorts he was feeling, the enduring, compelling traits of his personality remained and, in one way or another, he would affirm what he had told me the first time we talked about his cancer, “I’ve had a good life. I have no doubt where I’m headed.”

It was because of these things about Glenn’s (and Sue’s) life and character that the words of Paul from Thessalonians seem so appropriate for us today. “We do not want you to be uninformed,” Paul wrote to the church at first-century Thessalonica in Greece, “about those [believers] who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

You see, the Thessalonian Christians were worried because when they first came to faith, they’d been sure that the risen and ascended Jesus was going to quickly return to the earth and fully establish His kingdom. As the first century after Jesus’ resurrection moved on, believers in Christ everywhere were starting to become edgy. Persecution for their faith was intensifying, all the signs that Jesus had said would presage His return had appeared, and yet Jesus hadn’t come back. Paul wanted to assure the church at Thessalonica that the One Who had died and risen for them had not forgotten them. I’m sure that Glenn would want you to know that too. Jesus, Who died and rose to give new and everlasting life to all who believe in Him, has not forgotten you or His promises to you.

Because of Jesus Christ, Paul was convinced—Glenn was convinced—that believers in Jesus Christ could grieve, of course. But we don’t need to grieve as others do who have hope. Followers of Jesus Christ have hope. Glenn always had that hope!

At one level, that a man like Glenn, who was a businessperson with an inquiring mind, read history, and considered the evidence on all sides of arguments, trusted in a risen Savior he could not see, is something of a miracle.

Faith in Christ is always a miracle of God’s mercy and grace.

“No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit,” the New Testament teaches.

God gives faith in Christ not to those who marshal the most religious facts, or satisfactorily answer all their questions, or, who through science or logic, eradicate all their doubts.

Faith comes to those who look at the Bible’s witness about Jesus and the evidence of His presence in the lives of believers they may have known or observed and who then, dare to take the leap of the faith into the waiting arms of Jesus.

Glenn took that leap. That was why he could say, “I have no doubt about where I’m headed.” It’s why today, you can grieve that Glenn will no longer be with you in this earthly life, but you need not grieve as people without hope.

In the lesson from John’s gospel, which we read a moment ago, Jesus consoled the disciples. He had just told them that He would soon be leaving them. Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

I believe that on Sunday morning, October 16, when Glenn leapt into what appears to be only darkness to us, he landed in the nail-scarred arms of Jesus, Who then took Glenn to that place He has prepared for all who turn from sin and trust in Jesus alone as their God and Savior.

Today, Sue (and all your family), I hope and pray that you will be comforted and strengthened in knowing that Glenn is today with Jesus. You will remain in our prayers and we ask you not to hesitate to ask us for any help or comfort we can provide. (And you may expect us to provide these things even when you don't ask for them!)

And to those here this morning who may doubt that Jesus can raise the dead to new life, I ask you to consider the evidence of Glenn’s life.

Glenn would have been the last person in the world to claim to be perfect. But I think that if you look at Glenn, you’ll conclude that Jesus—the real, risen, living Jesus—made a difference in his life.

If Jesus, Who can’t be seen by us today, can make a difference in the lives of people living in this sometimes tough and challenging world right now, aren’t you willing to entertain the notion that maybe this Jesus is alive and waiting for us all to turn to Him, waiting to give us the strength and humor and faith we need to face this life, waiting to give us the places He has prepared for all who are willing to leap into His loving arms?

Today and every day, dare to put yourself in the arms of Jesus. He will catch you and He will never let you go. I know that Glenn would love nothing better than for every person in this sanctuary to rest easy and rest eternally in the arms of Jesus. Tell Jesus you’re willing to be taken into His arms and to let Him be with you now and for eternity. Even as we enjoy and live this life, it’s good to know where you’re headed. Amen!

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