Sunday, May 22, 2016

Set free to be who God makes us to be

John 11:21-27
A few years back, a large group of us from Living Water went out to eat together, then went to Poelking Lanes to bowl. Paul and I were on the same team. Although I used to bowl regularly in a league, it had been a few years and I was rusty. During the second game nonetheless, I thought that I was doing pretty well. One frame though, I failed to pick up a spare. I turned around to see Paul grinning. He asked me: “Do you try to bowl badly?”

That little incident, which I’ve shared with others many times, seems to crystalize much of what I came to know about Paul for myself and from the witness of family, friends, and fellow church members. Paul, who had several really good games that night, loved to be with people. Loved to bowl (and golf). Loved to have fun with others. And, even in a casual evening of bowling, he loved to do his best.

Lynn, Paul, David, David, and Lauren, all of us who knew Paul have some sense of the magnitude of your loss. Yours too, Mary Lou. Paul was a special man, in many ways.

Anyone who spent any time with him knew how bright he was. And his was an applied brilliance. He was an engineer for thirty years with Cincinnati Milacron, holding a Masters in electrical engineering and a Masters in business administration. He later worked for AMF, leading a team that improved that company’s products. After that, he taught engineering at Sinclair College.

But Paul was also a dedicated husband and family man. Lynn has reported on what a good listener Paul was, mentioning specifically the help he provided to her as she considered what her major would be by what, in my field, we call active listening: Hearing her out, asking evocative questions, helping her to reach her own choice. When his family was younger, there was croquet on the lawn and camping trips for getaways. The Ackermann house was filled with laughter, parties, and music: Paul was a tenor who was part of a barbershop quartet and could also play the ukulele and the piano. It should also be mentioned that Paul was a wonderful grandfather to David and Lauren.

And Paul had friends. It isn’t often true that men make and retain friends, you know. But Paul was the kind of man for whom friendships were always important.

Paul also was a follower of Jesus Christ. His faith showed in his decisionmaking and in his priorities.

In the two-and-a-half years since I began serving at Living Water, Paul was always among the first to arrive for worship each Sunday.

And Paul wasn’t just a Sunday morning guy. I once went to see him as he was recuperating from surgery. During the course of our conversation, he told me that there was some input he wanted to give. It was early in my time at Living Water; so, I braced myself for some hidebound advice from an unhappy traditionalist. Instead, Paul said, “One thing I hope is that as we grow as a church, we’ll be sure not to give up on serving the poor in places like Chevy Chase.” Paul gave living expression to that sentiment by being part of a crew of Living Water folks who go to that government subsidized housing community to tutor young people with their studies.

Paul's outward focus was a byproduct of his faith in Christ. When you belong to the King and Creator of the universe Who laid aside His glory in order to die and to rise and to set you free from sin and death, you’re also set free from worrying about yourself or what will happen to you.

You can focus instead on the family that you love, the friends you care about, the work for which you were made, and the poor who need the kinds of love and opportunities you want everyone to have.

That was the freedom--what another Paul, the saint and evangelist of the New Testament called our “freedom in Christ”--in which Paul lived.

I think that knowing about Paul’s faith goes a long way in explaining how he lived, how he cared, how he laughed, and how he enriched the lives of those he came to know. The freedom Jesus Christ gives to those who dare to turn from their sins and follow Him was the freedom in which Paul daily moved.

I hope that knowing the freedom in which Paul lived each day will lighten the burden of grief you feel today and will feel in the days ahead. Jesus’ words to Martha, the sister of his friend, Lazarus, are meant to comfort you as much as they were meant to comfort Martha: “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.”

Those, of course, would only be pretty words were it not for the fact that, a few moments later, Jesus called Lazarus back to life from the tomb.

Even then, they would be little more than words if it weren’t for Jesus Himself rising from death a short time after that.

Jesus has authority over life and death.

And He gives new and everlasting life to all who dare to follow Him.

He gives His followers the power to face life, death, adversity, success, failure, joy, and challenge with equal faith and power.

Today those who knew and loved Paul grieve. And it’s right that you should. He was a wonderful man who loved you and was a powerful presence in your lives.

But you can take comfort from a truth that other Paul talks about in Romans 8: Nothing can separate followers of Jesus from His love. Not even death.

Today, Paul is in the nail-scarred hands of the Savior Who died and rose to set him and all who believe in him free to be the loving, caring people we were made to be.

And all who turn to Christ for life know that one day, we will be united in eternity with Christ and all his saints, including the saint we remember and to whom we say goodbye today, a sinner made saint by the grace of God given in Christ, Paul. Amen

[This was shared on Saturday during a memorial service for a member of Living Water Lutheran Church.]

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

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