[This is the message prepared for presentation at the funeral of Elmer, a member of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. The funeral took place earlier this evening.]
Yesterday, I visited with one of the people in our congregation who knew Elmer best. He told me, with conviction, “Elmer was the gentlest man I ever met.” This echoes Sharon’s words: “Elmer was a gentleman.” Someone just told me, "He was a gentle giant."
The dictionary says that one way the word gentleman can be defined is, “...a man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior.” That’s certainly part of what marked Elmer as a gentleman. But even more, I think, Elmer had a gentle spirit, a servant’s heart. In Elmer, love for God and love for neighbor was manifest in a simple willingness to do for others.
Everyone who got to know Elmer at Living Water can attest to his gentleness. On learning of Elmer’s passing, one member of the congregation wrote, “Loved Elmer's hugs and smiles. Heaven has a beautiful saint. I will miss him!”
Elmer was also a man who loved to have fun. He had a ready laugh, liked to dance and play golf (and did so nearly to the end of his life) and spend time with people.
Where exactly did Elmer’s gentle, loving personality come from? Well, genetics played its part, I’m sure. And he likely was nurtured to be such a person by his family. Nature and nurture have their effect.
But I think that there was a deeper reason for why Elmer was the kind of man he was.
You know, Jesus invites all we human beings--sinful mortals in need of saving--to daily turn from sin and turn instead to Him for the forgiveness of our sins and life with God that begins in this imperfect world and that will be brought to perfection when all who trust or believe in Jesus will be raised from the dead just like Jesus.
Jesus speaks of this promise a lot.
For example, Jesus once told the crowds that were thronging around Him: “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent [that is, turn from and repudiate your sin] and believe the good news!” [Mark 1:15]
The good news is what Jesus talked about on another occasion: “For God so loved the world [He said] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16]
But what interests me in connection with Elmer is how Jesus talked about the good news--the gospel--that saves those who lay down their sins and trust their lives to Him in yet another verse of the Bible. There Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30]
The gentleness of spirit we all observed in Elmer came from the Savior in Whom he believed.
This is the Savior Who promises that if we will lay down the burdens of sin, death, and futility into which we’re all born, and take on instead, the yoke of being a follower of Jesus, this gentle, humble Savior will give rest, serenity, peace to our souls.
Once we rest easy in Jesus, we have nothing to prove to God or the world, no incentive to crawl over others in order to stand out or be successful, only to do our best to love God and love others in response to what God has done for us in Christ.
When we daily renounce our sins and daily follow Jesus, we are infused with the power to live with the joy, hope, life, compassion for others, and being at ease in our skin that we saw in Elmer.
Through our faith in Jesus, God unleashes the Holy Spirit in our lives and we reflect the very gentleness we all so appreciated about Elmer.
God’s Word tells us, “...the fruit of the Spirit [the evidence of God living in us] is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” [Galatians 5:22-23] This is what we saw in Elmer.
Of course, the good news of new life through faith in Jesus transforms much more than our lives on this planet. It also gives us an eternity with God, an eternity without fear or death, without goodbyes or grief, without pain or sorrow. It gives us a life with God that never ends.
In the passage we read a few moments ago, we’re told about Jesus going to the little village of Bethany, where a friend of his, a man named Lazarus, has just died. One of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha, is upset with Jesus and tells Him that if He had been around to help Lazarus, her brother would still be alive. But Jesus reminds 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.” (John 11:25-26)
Because he believed in Jesus, trusted Jesus as the Lord of his life, the gentleman we remember today, Elmer, will enjoy a perfect life with God that never ends. I’m sure that Elmer wants nothing less than that for all of you.
Let the gentle Savior Jesus cover your sin, overcome your mortality, and give you life with God.
Let Jesus into your life to give you life eternally and to transform you in His gentle image each and every day. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]