Friday, November 22, 2013

Homily for the Christian Funeral Raymond P. Tucker

John 5:24-30; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; Lamentations 3:22-33

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Shirley, Keith, Ray Jr., Teresa, and dearly beloved friends of our departed brother Raymond Tucker, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It has pleased our Lord to call His servant Ray to Himself. Therefore, we are gathered here this day to offer our thanks and praise to God our Father for the gift of life He gave to Ray, to Jesus our Savior for laying down His life in death for Ray that he may live with Him in heaven, and to the Holy Spirit for calling Ray to faith through the Word of our Lord and for sanctifying and keeping him in faith through trial and tribulation, even suffering and death. Today we give thanks and praise, even while we grieve and mourn, for we do not mourn like those without hope, but we mourn the temporary loss of a husband, a father, a friend, and a brother in Christ even as we look forward in hopeful expectation to the resurrection of his and our own bodies on the day of Jesus’ return when we will stand with Ray and all the saints before the throne of God and the Lamb forever singing God’s praises in endless day where there is no suffering, no pain, no sorrow or tears, and no death, but only life in the fullest as it was meant to be in the presence of our Holy God.
This is the reality and life we watch and wait for in hopeful expectation, yet this is a life that the baptized into Jesus live in part even now. Truly, this is what Jesus teaches in John’s Gospel saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” Jesus teaches that those who believe and trust in Him now, while they live, have already passed from death to life. That describes you, and that describes me, and that describes Raymond as well. Now, that does not mean that Ray was perfect and without sin. He was not. But then, neither are you perfect and without sin, and neither am I. There is One alone who is perfect and without sin, and that One is Jesus. And, it is Jesus whom Ray trusted to be perfect and sinless for Him. For, we are saved by grace and not by works – The grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ who covers our sins with His righteousness.
It’s really that simple – so simple that even a child can believe. Yet, that is precisely why God’s grace is so often rejected by men, because the flesh and human reason and wisdom reject God’s grace saying, “It can’t be that simple! That’s ridiculous!”  But Raymond did not think that. No. Ray had that simple, child-like faith that clung to, trusted, and found comfort in the fact that Jesus had been faithful, obedient, and sinless for him, and that God forgave Ray because of Jesus’ suffering and death in his place.
I have known Ray for most of my years here at Christ the king. However, I didn’t really get to know Ray until Margie became critically ill and died. It was then that Ray came to me distraught and seeking comfort and counsel. That was the beginning of a two to three year period where contact with Ray was nearly a daily occurrence, more than a few times at two or three in the morning. Ray had battled addiction to alcohol most of his adult life. After Margie’s death he spiraled deep into it once again. I consider those years ministering to Ray through rock-bottom alcoholism the seminary education I didn’t receive in seminary – how to minister to an alcoholic and other kinds of addictive personalities. I witnessed first hand the battle going on within Ray as he wanted to do right and to remain sober but couldn’t fight against the addiction which affects body and mind, emotions, and just about everything else. It is right to think of alcoholism as a disease. It may not always start out that way, but it will eventually take over your thinking, your desires, and your life.
In this way, however, addictions aren’t all that different from the common, ordinary sins that we all commit from day to day. We’ve all experienced how a small sin, a little white lie, got away from us and snowballed into something we could no longer control. In the worst cases, sinners end up concocting alternate realities, false narratives, and lies to keep people from finding out the truth and to justify themselves that they are doing nothing wrong. As I like to say, “If you dance with the devil, pretty soon he’s going to take the lead.” This is what St. Paul describes saying, “The good that I want to do, I do not do; while the bad that I do not want to do, that is what I find myself doing again, and again.”
Through our talks and through my ministry to Ray, he began to see this truth. He confessed his sins. He asked for help. He asked for forgiveness. He asked for mercy. And, these he received through faith in Jesus Christ. Ray trusted me because he saw that I accepted him even though he was an alcoholic, even though he lied to me at times about his drinking, even though he fell off the wagon again and again after going through stints of detox. He used to ask why I was so kind to him. I would answer that I was no different than him, I just had different sins and temptations; there but for the grace of God go I, but we were both forgiven in the same way through the same Savior – through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. It came to be that Ray would regularly tell people that “Pastor Jon is just like me; he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like I do.” And he was right.
Things did eventually stabilize for Ray, but I have to say that that did not happen until God brought another caring and loving person into Ray’s life. That was you, Shirley. I don’t know how anyone could say anything other than that you were a gift of life to Ray. Through your love and compassion, God threw a lifeline to Ray to pull him out of the sea in which he was drowning. And, it was obvious that he loved you and was thankful for you. I know how very sorrowful you are now and how you will miss your “Big Teddy Bear.” But, take heart and be comforted, you will see Ray again with your own eyes, and you will hold him again in your own arms. Now he rests and is at peace with the Lord, but one day you will see him again, face to face, in the presence of your Lord and Savior Jesus, who died that you might live.
Jesus says, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out” […] “for, as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself.” This is why Jesus said to his dear friends Mary and Martha who were mourning the death of their brother Lazaraus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believe in me will live even though he die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Though Ray has died and his body will now rest in the earth, Ray’s soul is with the Lord. But there will come a yet more greater day when Jesus returns and the dead will be raised. Then, Ray will stand with all the saints, including you Shirley and all who believe and trust in Jesus, in flesh and blood bodies and souls and we will behold God with our own eyes, not the eyes of another, and we will live in His gracious presence and love forever. For that great and glorious day we wait and watch praying, “Come, Lord Jesus; come, quickly, come.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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