In the Name of God the Father, and God the Son, Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen
Lou, you should know that you, your daughters and sons-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, are in the prayers of many people today. Donna was a person cherished by many, not least by those of her Living Water Lutheran Church family, along with many from Epiphany.
Donna was a special person, devoted to her husband and family, committed to helping others, as she did for years through the Gabbards’ involvement in Aid Association for Lutherans.
I always found Donna to be a kind and considerate person, quick to smile and quick to laugh, and always available to participate or help. Donna will be missed!
Lou, I want you to know, how inspiring you have been for your family and others, as you have cared for Donna these past few years By the power of the Holy Spirit, you have faithfully kept your vows to God and to Donna, loving and serving Donna in a trying season. I know you have been assisted in doing this by your family and that you’re grateful for them and their help. But believe me, they’re grateful for the love you gave to Donna every day of your married life!
At the start of a beautiful section of First Thessalonians, the apostle Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope…” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Paul wrote to the Christians in first-century Thessalonica, a city on the Aegean Sea, who, thinking that Jesus should have returned by then, had become concerned about the fate of fellow Christians who had already died. Paul wanted to reassure them that the Savior Who had died for the world’s sins and had risen to open up eternity to all who believe in Him, was good for His promises to come back to the world to judge the living and the dead and to usher His kingdom fully into being.
He also wanted them to know that those who died trusting in Jesus Christ as their Lord and God were, even then, in God’s care.
No one who trusts in Jesus is ever lost to God!
Paul wanted to underscore the promise that Jesus had made to us all in a conversation with Martha, the grieving sister of His friend 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.” (John 11:25-26) This is the promise to which Lou referred during one of my visits to hospice last week when I asked him how he was doing. Of Donna, he said, “I’m glad she’s a Christian!”
Christians, like others, of course, grieve the loss of loved ones, even of those who have trusted in Jesus Christ.
It would be unnatural for us not to grieve those we have loved and who have loved us.
It would be strange not to grieve for a mother who has nurtured her children, a friend who has shared life’s burdens, and a fellow disciple who believed in Jesus.
We feel grief for those we love even when we know their passing brings them relief from this world’s pain and brings us an end to our agonies for them.
But, as Paul says, the Christian need not grieve like those who don’t believe in Jesus. Those without faith, Paul says, are people “who have no hope.”
The Christian has an eternity of hope! We know that Jesus Christ, Who died for our sins and sent His Holy Spirit to witness for the Gospel in the Word and the Sacraments to give us saving faith in Jesus, will welcome believers in Him into His loving arms when we pass from this life!
We know too, that we will be reunited with all the saints, like Donna, who have trusted in Christ in this life. What a reunion that will be, living in the presence of God: tears dried, bodies made new and whole, death eternally destroyed!
Until that happy day, we will, in this world, have grief. We will have challenges and setbacks.
But, even now, the joy of heaven invades the lives of those who take Jesus at His Word when He invites us to daily take up our crosses, that is, repent for sin, and follow Him, meaning trust in Him.
Jesus has told His Church and all who are part of it, “...I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
God inspired the apostle Paul to talk about this too, as He does in our second lesson for this morning. “I am convinced,” Paul writes, “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.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Nothing can separate believers from Jesus!
So, once more today, Lou and family, the crucified and risen Jesus gives you two incredible and undeserved promises, the power and credibility of which are certified by His death and His resurrection.
First, He promises that death is not the final word over the lives of those who, like Donna, believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus, Who triumphed over sin and death, including your sin and my sin, your death, and my death, can be trusted when He tells us, “For God so loved the world [God so loved Donna and you and me] that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, tell us repeatedly that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:17) Saved by grace through faith from sin, death, and futility! Jesus is the certain sign that we can bet our entire lives on that incredible promise!
Second, Jesus promises to be with us in this life, no matter what. This promise too is given in both Testaments. In Deuteronomy and Hebrews, God’s promise is shouted forth: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6) Again, the Savior Who bore our death on the cross and Who gives His righteousness to all who repent and believe, tells us that we can trust this promise for our daily lives, even today, even in the midst of grief.
Last week at the hospice facility, we read Psalm 46, the words of which inspired the lyrics of Martin Luther’s best-loved hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. It begins: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Then, God breaks in to say, “Be still, and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)
These words are for you, Lou, and for your family.
Even in your grief, you can rest easy, you can be still, in the strong arms of the God you know in Jesus. You can be still, knowing that He is God and, because of the Word-borne, Holy Spirit-given faith in Jesus that was Donna’s and is yours, you can know for a certainty that God has Donna and you and all who believe, in His strong, loving hands, now and forever. Amen