[This was shared during the celebration of life and memorial for Jack earlier today.]
I only met Jack once, just a few weeks ago, when I spent about an hour with Jenny and him at their home. But I felt I knew a little bit about him before the moment I stepped through their front door. I’ve gotten to know more about him in the days since his passing. This knowledge, limited though it is, has come to me through family he loved deeply and who loved him deeply in return.
His life story is a remarkable one, really.
It’s the story of a young Jack, whose loving dad believed in his capable son. Jack suffered from dyslexia. But his dad found a school that could help his son on the pathway to achievement.
Jack’s is also the story of a man who himself was a fine husband, father, grandfather, and uncle. A man who built a remarkable business with talent and ability, who mentored people--children, fledgling engineers, nephews, even classmates; sometimes a taskmaster, but always affirming. A man of good humor, as I learned as soon as I met him and a friendly man, who reached out to shake my hand and called me Mark from the beginning. (That's rare; I'm usually called other things besides Mark.) A man who continued a tradition begun by his dad which, until this day has taken him and his extended family to Kentucky Lake in June every year.
Jack was a man loved and appreciated by his wife, Jenny, with whom he spent fifty eight years. And he was a man who, among other things, bequeathed a hearty laugh to his sons.
How do you fill the void left by the passing of a man like this? You don’t! You can’t! And it’s right that you should grieve your loss.
But there are two things I think that you should also do. The first is: Learn from his example. Love well. Work hard. Care about people. Laugh heartily. From what I know of Jack, the world could use more of his kind. I think that he and Jenny have done a good job in creating and nurturing more people who are like themselves. Keep learning from their example.
The second thing you can do is this: Put your trust in the God revealed to all the world in Jesus Christ. It’s Jesus (and only Jesus) Who can help us be the kind of people that we were made to be.
You know, we come into this world willfully self-centered. Sin is our default mode. In the book of Galatians in the New Testament, this common human default mode is called “life in the flesh.” According to Galatians--and according to the news you probably saw on TVs or your computer screens this morning, life in the flesh leads the human race to all sorts of destructive, hurtful ways of living.
But when we let Christ into the center of our lives--when we turn away from our sin and set our hopes for this life and the next on Jesus Christ--God unleashes the power of His Holy Spirit to work good in us. Galatians calls this “life in the Spirit.”
The fruits of this life, Paul says, are things like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
I’m sure that there many of you here today who can attest that you’ve seen such “fruits” in the lives of believers in Christ, even though there isn’t a single believer in Jesus who is perfect. Trusting in Christ can change the way we live.
But trusting in Christ can also give us hope for eternity.
A moment ago, I read the Bible’s account of what happened in the village of Bethany after a friend of Jesus, Lazarus, had died. When Jesus, Who had already performed so many miracles and claimed that He and God the Father are the same being, one of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha, greeted Jesus with what can be seen as a note of scorn. Certain of Jesus’ power and oneness with God, Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
We can feel that way some time. Even though we know that death is part of life in this fallen world, we can be angry at God when we lose someone we love. It’s understandable. Deep in our DNA, we know that we were meant for eternity. Death violates the way things are meant to be.
But remember this: You can only be angry with a God you believe is there.
Jesus doesn’t argue with Martha. He understands her grief.
Instead, Jesus makes a simple statement: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha affirms her faith in that proposition. She says that she knows that Lazarus will rise on the day of the resurrection of the dead.
But then Jesus underscores that the resurrection of the dead isn’t an abstract theological proposition. It’s not a religious fairy tale. Jesus says: “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.”
The God we meet in Jesus Christ has sole proprietorship over the resurrection of the dead. Resurrection is rooted in Him. It is a physical reality given to those who follow Jesus. All who believe in Jesus--the original Greek word in the New Testament which we translate as believe is literally, trust, or we could say, total trusting surrender--all who believe in Jesus have eternal life.
Resurrection isn’t just a promise, then.
It’s a reality as strong as the Savior Who secured it when He died on the cross, taking the condemnation that you and I deserve because of our default orientation to doing and living the way we want to without regard to God.
It's a reality as strong as the same Savior Who did not remain dead, affirming His power over life, death, and all that grieves us in this world.
Jesus lifts the death sentence that hangs over every human life apart from faith in Him.
Romans 8:1 says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” There is hope when we trust in the God of the universe, Who makes it His business to give life with Him now and life made perfect with Him in eternity, to all who turn away from sin and turn to Him each day they live.
Jesus promises that those who endure in trusting in Him will live with God!
You have lost a good man whose influence can be a positive and inspiring one for as long as you live. Cherish that. Learn from his example of a life well-lived! Celebrate his life and its lessons even as you mourn. Thank God for how blessed you were to have Jack in your life.
And trust in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, Who can fill you with the power to live a life of purpose and meaning today; Who gives life with Him that starts now and cannot be brought to an end even by death.
You can live with the same conviction and hope that we see in Romans 8, that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Count on the truth of those words today. Jesus died and rose to make them true for all who trust in Him.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]