Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Truly Remarkable

[This was shared during a memorial service for Gertie this week. She was the mother of a high school classmate I have known since we were in the fourth grade. Gertie was also my Cub Scout den mother.]

Psalm 116:12-16
2 Timothy 4:6-8
John 11:21-27

On Thursday, Eric said something about his mother that stuck with me. “Her life was remarkable for being so unremarkable.”

By that he meant that Gertie’s long life, though not always easy, wasn’t marked by much in the way of tragedy. Born and raised in Jackson County, she and her husband Frank came to Columbus in search of greater opportunity for themselves and, eventually, for their sons, Jan and Eric, on the west side. They raised their children. Gertie doted on her grandchildren and loved her great-grandchildren. I understand what Eric meant by saying Gertie’s life was remarkable for being unremarkable.

But I can tell you this afternoon that from the perspective of heaven, Gertie’s was also a remarkable life! In Psalm 116, which we considered a few moments ago, we’re told: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of one of his servants.”

Part of the problem with living in this world is that we’ve grown too accustomed to death. We look at the death of someone who has reached nearly ninety-eight years of age and say, “She lived a good life. She was healthy almost near the end.”

And that’s true in this world. But in judging things from the perspective of this world, we display a lower standard for our lives than God has for us.

The book of Genesis tells us that we were “made in the image of God” and in Ecclesiastes, we’re told that God has set eternity in human hearts.

God built us not for death, but for eternity. With Adam’s and Eve’s fall though, we have become inheritors of things like aging and disease and death, along with an inclination to rebel against God just as Adam and Eve did. We’ve become accustomed to death.

But God never has!

That’s why He sent His Son Jesus on the first Christmas to bear our sin and mortality on a cross, then raised Him from the dead so that all who believe in Him can have forgiveness for sin and life with God, life as it was meant to be. As Jesus put it to His friend Martha as she grieved the death of her brother, Lazarus: “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.”

God hates death!

And that’s why the psalm tells us that the death of one of His servants is precious to God.

And Gertie was a servant of God. Her servant heart could be seen in the three most important realms of her life: her church (the same church in which Eric and I were confirmed together), her family, and the west side.

My personal recollection of her is that she never, in a phrase I learned from my Jackson County mother-in-law, “put on the dog.” Over the years, my mother has remarked more than once that Gertie  was one of the few women in the Westgate Elementary PTA who didn’t spend most of the meeting time bragging on her kids.

Now, I’m sure that Jan and Eric did many things that she could have bragged about. But bragging isn’t what servants of God do.

They let their serving and their lives of steady commitment to God and to the important things in life do their talking for them. Like the apostle Paul in the New Testament, a servant’s attitude is “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness,” because it’s in the recognition of our weaknesses and vulnerability that we become more dependent on God and His power will shine through lives of service and love and good humor.

I know that in making these observations about Gertie, I’m preaching to the choir, so to speak. The people here at the apartment complex knew what kind of person she was.

Her family also know what kinds of people you have been for her: warm, caring, considerate friends with servant hearts.

The community you share, in fact, may be remarkable because it’s so unremarkable. No great drama. Just aging children of God living in the kind of fellowship, community, and mutual encouragement and support for which God made each and every one of us.

You have been Gertie’s cheerleaders and God wants us all to be cheerleaders to each other. You’ve exhibited the confidence in God’s grace and goodness that makes it possible to live life as the apostle Paul said believers should live. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” he writes. “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves…” Your love for Gertie has been a witness to her family!

A few moments ago, I said that we’ve grown too accustomed to death. That’s true in one way. But in another way, it’s not. If we were as accustomed to death as we often seem to be, family and friends wouldn’t grieve over the loss of a mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend. You will miss this woman who has been such a remarkable (and long-time) presence in your lives. It would be unnatural for you not to grieve!

But there is good news! God did send Jesus into the world to ensure that death need not be the end of our life stories. Jesus says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” For all who turn from sin and trust in Christ, that is a promise to latch onto today and for all eternity. We may endure all kinds of griefs and deaths in this world, but God has crashed into this world and destroyed the hold of griefs and death over us. He has set us free to be servants of God, who even as we face our own deaths, can say with the apostle Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

The good fight to which Christ calls us, the good fight I believe that Gertie fought each day, was the fight to hold onto Christ. To trust in Jesus, to believe in Him.

To those willing to trust in Him, Jesus gives the power to believe, the power to hold on, the ability to be servants of God who don’t need to “put on the dog” because God has already proven their value on Christ’s cross, and the privilege of living with God forever.

Hold onto Christ today and always.

He will be your comfort, your strength.

He will dry your tears.

And one day, Jesus Christ will give you happy reunions with Gertie and with all the saints who have trusted in Him. God bless you. Amen

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

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