[This was shared during the funeral for Ron, a member of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, earlier yesterday.]
John 11: 21-27
I liked Ron and Colleen from the moment I met them. They were faithful, earnest, real, kind, committed to one another and to their family, and filled with good humor. I got to know them through our Tuesday Bible studies and I got to know Ron even better when he volunteered in the church office where we sometimes had long conversations.
Ron’s passing leaves a hole in your lives, Colleen, Ron, Mike, Vicki, Karen, and family. Please know that he leaves a hole in the lives of all who have known him for years and for those of us who have known him for shorter periods at Living Water. Ann and I will miss him.
Ron was such a positive and caring person. He always took it upon himself to care for people: no fanfare, no showboating, just compassionate help. He was committed to his marriage and, along with Colleen, committed to helping others have good marriages through their work with Marriage Encounter. In the hospitals where Ron was a patient toward the end of his life, he was kind and considerate toward all the staff. When Ann and I visited with him and Colleen at their home just before he was transported to hospice (Jane was there too), I asked Ron how he was doing. He answered with his trademark response, “Fantastic!”
Physically, of course, Ron wasn’t fantastic. And he had managed in the short time between the day that he got the shocking news that the tumor he’d thought was benign was in fact, likely fatal, to accept the doctors’ prognosis. His biggest concern, from the beginning, was not for himself, but for Colleen. “I know where I’m going,” he told me, acknowledging his faith in Jesus Christ. “I’m just concerned about her,” he said, pointing to Colleen.
These weren’t the words of a resigned fatalist. They were the words of a man of faith.
Today, I want to commend that same faith to all of you who grieve the loss of this special man.
It’s a faith that can take you through your grief and sustain you with the same tenacious hope that Ron displayed as he received Christ’s body and blood and listened to God’s Word this past Tuesday.
In our gospel lesson for today, we’re told that Jesus goes to the village of Bethany after His friend, Lazarus has died. Lazarus’ sister Martha, knowing that Jesus has power over disease and death, is upset when Jesus finally arrives. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But, even in the midst of her grief and anger, Martha trusted in Jesus. “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask…” she tells Jesus.
I don’t know exactly what Martha’s expectation of Jesus was at that moment. She probably didn’t expect what eventually happened: Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
But even before that amazing event took place, Jesus told her, “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.”
This is what Ron believed and it’s what made him so assured for himself as he faced death.
Ron knew that he wasn’t a perfect human being. He often lamented the fact that, as he put it, he didn’t really get serious about his faith in Jesus or the life of discipleship until he was about forty. He felt that he’d missed out on so much without that close connection to Christ and His Church. And he deeply appreciated Colleen’s faith.
But Ron knew that only one human being has been perfect since humanity’s fall into sin: Jesus, true God, and true man. He knew that because of His sinlessness, Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of imperfect human beings and that all who turn from sin and trust in Him have a life with God that begins now in this imperfect world and is brought to perfection in the world to come.
Jesus puts it succinctly in the Bible’s most famous verse, John 3:16: “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.”
Faith in the God we meet today only in Jesus Christ was well expressed by a man, part of whose life story is told in the Old Testament, Job. Job was a man who believed in God, lived to glorify God, and prayed and cared for his family’s salvation from sin and death. Job was a good man who didn’t deserve the suffering that can come to us simply because this is an imperfect world.
In one fell swoop, he lost his property, his children, and his health. Job had questions. He wondered how God could have let all of this happen to him? Why had his children died? But Job also knew that life in this world is not the ultimate destination for those who trust in God.
And so he could say in the midst of his suffering and grief, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.”
In some mysterious way that I can’t pretend to fully understand, Ron is in the presence of his Redeemer, the One Who buys believers out of their bondage to sin and death, right now. At this very moment, Ron is looking into the eyes of the Savior Jesus, Who has welcomed Ron into eternity with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
And this is no pie-in-the-sky make-believe. Jesus, Who died, rose from the dead and was seen by more than five-hundred witnesses who risked and often lost their earthly lives as they insisted, “We have seen the Lord!” (John 20:25)
I know that more than anything today, Ron wants you to know that Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, once dead, is risen and He opens the gates of life with God by our sides in the tumult and challenges of this life and a life in eternity with God to all who dare to believe in Him.
Jesus has said, “My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3)
Jesus has prepared a place for you.
Just as Ron did, you can trust in that always.
You can trust in Jesus always.
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]