Tuesday, December 08, 2015

What Faith Is

[This was the message at a funeral service for Tim.]

Hebrews 11:1-16
John 11:21-27

"...faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what do not see." 

So says the first verse of one of Tim’s and Debi’s favorite passages of Scripture, Hebrews 11. 

Since I have been Living Water’s pastor for little more than two years, I never knew a time when Tim wasn’t ill. B​ut I also never knew Tim when he didn’t have the kind of faith that Hebrews talks about.​

He had confidence in the eternity of perfect peace and healing with God he would experience one day. And he had the assurance that the Savior Jesus he could not see had won this eternity for him. 

Tim was confident of the central teaching of Scripture: W​e are not saved by the good we have done, but by the great good God has done for us through Christ and by our faith in Christ alone.​

Christ died for sinful human beings like us, taking on Himself the death sentence each of us deserves for sin and then Christ rose from the dead, taking all who turn from sin and follow Him by faith with him, to lives of purpose on this earth and of everlasting life with God in eternity.

Tim often told people he was unafraid of dying. He knew where he was going and to Whom he belonged. 

This faith, this confidence in the God we cannot see, was forged early in his life, when he suffered from cancer at the age of twelve. He received the then­-newest treatments for cancer at Miami Valley Hospital. He told me, as I’m sure he told you, that his father­,­ who was Tim’s hero­­, often assured Tim that Jesus was right there with him and, when Tim asked what would happen should he die, his dad assured him that Jesus would be right there, leading him by the hand and giving him a hug when he entered heaven.

Are you letting Jesus hold you today? 

Or do you only have a passing relationship with Jesus? 

Tim held onto Jesus. One of the great joys in Tim’s life was that the Early Risers Bible study group purchased a device that made it possible for him for some time to read Scripture, the Word of God. And no one I have ever known more craved receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the body and blood of Jesus, given to believers to receive the presence of Jesus with them in a tangible way and, through it, just as Jesus promises, the forgiveness of sins.

In fact, it was during one visit with Tim at Saint Leonard’s rehabilitation center, sharing Holy Communion, that Tim had an amazing experience that I was privileged to witness. 

We had just considered Jesus’ words, “This is My body, given for you...This is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” I then handed Tim the bread and said, “The body of Christ, given for you.” He took the bread and then stopped, seemingly stricken. 

“Oh,” he exclaimed. I thought that he was in pain. 

“Are you alright?” I asked. 

He was silent for some moments and then said, “I just had an experience I have never had before. I felt the Lord in this room. Just as I took the bread in my hand, I had the overwhelming sense of His presence, a feeling of peace like I’ve never had. I felt it throughout my body."

Now, lest you be skeptical, Tim was not on any medication at the time that would have induced an hallucination of some sort. Five minutes before, we’d been having as pedestrian a conversation as you and I might have over a dinner, at a barber shop, or in the clubhouse at a golf course. N​o, the God we cannot see, had come to Tim to reassure Tim that, no matter what may lie ahead of him in this earthly life, all was well.​

And all is well for you today if, like Tim, you trust in the God in the flesh Jesus to be your Lord, Savior, King, and Best Friend.​

In our Gospel lesson for this morning, Martha, one of Lazarus’ sisters, seemed to condemn Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here," she said, "my brother would not have died.” 

We need not feel that Jesus was absent from Tim’s years of suffering or his death. We know that the Savior Jesus, Who bore scourging and death for us, was with Tim through all of his sufferings...and with Debi, who cared for him so faithfully, too. 

And Tim knew something else which Jesus claims about Himself later in his conversation with Martha. J​esus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”​

Tim is alive today and with the Lord in Whom He believed, the Lord He experienced through the Word of Scripture, through the Word proclaimed in words and in the hymns he loved singing, through the waters of Baptism in which God washed and claimed Tim as a child of God, through the body and blood of Christ that Tim so gratefully received “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine.

But Tim also experienced the presence of Jesus in another way. I would be remiss in not mentioning this other way now: He experienced Christ through the fellowship of believers. 

He loved the guys of the Early Risers Bible study group. That’s something he often expressed to me. 

He appreciated the ad hoc group of singers from Grace, Epiphany, and Living Water who came to sing for and with him recently. 

And he also often expressed appreciation for the people of Living Water.

In fact, if there’s one sadness I have this morning it’s that Tim couldn’t fulfill the one ambition he expressed to me many times. 

“I want to get strong enough,” he would say, “to speak to the people of Living Water. I want to thank them. I want to tell them how much their prayers and their encouragement have meant to me. I want them to know what a special church it is.” And then, he would always add, “I feel the love of Christ the moment I open the doors to Living Water. Every person is just filled with the love of Christ.”

"...faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."

We ​can trust in Christ this morning. He’s the God and King Who can destroy the power of sin and death over the lives of those who turn away from sin and turn each day to Him. 

He’s the Lord Who promises that He will never leave nor forsake those who trust in Him, even when we experience illness, grief, or adversity. 

He’s the Lord Who can be counted on to one day welcome to eternity those who have been faithful in following Christ, faithful in returning to Christ even after we have sinned. 

There, those who trusted in Christ will be told by their Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Welcome to the joy of your master.” 

(And some of the saints who enter into the joy of the Lord in eternity might next hear, “By the way, the heavenly choir needs a bass. Report for duty immediately.”)

Today, I invite you to follow Jesus. 

Today, you can find Jesus where Tim found him: in the fellowship of believers; in the Word of God; in the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. 

And when you do find Jesus in these places, latch onto His strong hands of grace and power and never let go. 

When we hold onto Jesus on this earth, we may not see Him. But one day, like Tim the moment he closed his eyes to this world, we will see Christ face to face. 

And we will know that our lives with Christ here have been, in C.S. Lewis’ words, “....only...the cover and the title page,” as we step into the first chapter of a never-ending book entitled, Eternity with God.

Trust in Christ and let him give you your story with God to live out forever and ever. 

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