Saturday, February 27, 2016
Christian Funeral for William Joseph Brennan
John 10:11-16; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Isaiah 65:17-25
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
A “good shepherd.” Yes, I think that is a fitting description of Bill. Jodi, Brian, as your father, Bill was your shepherd, and you were his sheep whom he cared for, guided, and protected throughout his and your life because you were his sheep, not another’s, and he loved you. He would have gladly laid down his life for you if necessary. His goal was to shepherd you safely through the temptations, trials, and dangers of this world, which he knew very well due to his own experiences in the world. And, Barbara, you were also his sheep, too, even as you were also a shepherd with Bill, his partner in life, helpmate, and wife. Together you shepherded your little flock, your children and grandchildren, and provided for them a safe, loving, and nurturing pasture and home, keeping and protecting them from the dangers of this world and equipping them to withstand the assaults of the evil one and to know the contentment and peace of being a sheep in the Good Shepherd’s flock.
However, in order to be a good shepherd, it is necessary to be goodly shepherded. Thus, Bill could be found daily being nourished and strengthened in the good pasture of the Word of His Good Shepherd and heavenly Father. Bill could be found sitting with a blanket on the edge of his sofa reading God’s Word. In fact, he rarely read any other book. I did not know this about Bill until he passed, but I am not surprised. Bill was clearly a peaceful man, mild, thoughtful, caring, gentle, and wise. That is rare today. Some try to achieve it through eastern meditation, but it produces more of a self-centered detachment. Bill was the complete opposite of that. Bill’s meditation on the Word of God caused him to be humble and selfless, more concerned with the happiness and welfare of others than himself. That is the fruit of being shepherded by the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep, and His sheep know Him. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep, and His undershepherds do the same for those under their care.
Bill was a family man. Time with his family was precious and mattered most. While Bill was a serious and dedicated worker, work was truly a means to the end of provided for and enjoying life with his family. He was sensitive to his family’s comfort and happiness. He knew the moment in which a trip to Lake George or a drive in the country for a change of scenery was just the ticket to lift the spirits. The grandkids could have anything they wanted for the price of a kiss. And, Bill’s kindness and generosity was not spent only upon his family, but it spilled over into his relations with others, and even to the church. When he arrived here at church Saturday evenings, the first words out of his mouth were “How’s the family? Everything alright?” I couldn’t have been more happily surprised when Bill offered to take some of our youth to LaGuardia as they departed for a youth conference and then pick them up on their return. He wasn’t even a member. He wasn’t even a Lutheran. But, Bill was a good Christian man, and he loved the youth, and he wanted to help.
Bill was a good man. That gets said a lot about a lot of people, but Bill is one of whom we can say that and really and truly mean it without any equivocation whatsoever. Bill was a good man, a good husband, a good father, a good grandfather, a good neighbor, a good employee, and a good friend. He wasn’t perfect – no one is – but, Bill was a good man. But that’s not why we are comforted today, is it? No. That’s not why we stood beside his bedside in the hospital and were comforted, knowing that he would be with the Lord, is it? No, it is not. Bill’s goodness has absolutely nothing to do with the comfort and peace we have in knowing that he is now with the Lord. No, our comfort and peace is in Jesus Christ alone, precisely where Bill found his comfort and peace in life and in death.
It’s no secret that Bill wasn’t in the greatest health. As good as his spiritual heart was, his fleshly heart was not so good, it was damaged. Not too long ago he told me that he had an inoperable aneurysm that was like a time bomb waiting to go off. One day it would burst, and that would be that. However, that didn’t get Bill down. He remained his kind, gentle, peaceful, selfless self. But, it wasn’t the aneurysm that took him, but it was a stroke, perhaps related to the issues with his heart. A week ago Wednesday Bill suffered a stroke that was bad enough, but then he suffered a second, worse, stroke in the hospital. Before that second stroke, however, there in the hospital ICU with tubes and wires all over him, Bill was still Bill. He asked, “Are you okay?” Still thinking of others, still caring, still loving, still good. Those may have been his last words. Not long after that you had the feeling that Bill had left us and only his body remained.
St. Paul compares our earthly bodies to a tent in which “we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,” “for we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Bill knew this, and it brought him comfort and peace, even in the face of difficultly and unpleasant circumstances, that he might endure and persevere through all things. And, he could endure and persevere in peace, even with a smile on his face and a word of concern for others. The unbelieving world is astounded and confounded. “How can anyone remain so calm and at peace in the midst of suffering?” Undoubtedly Bill learned this from words of Scripture like these from St. Paul: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Bill could do all things through Christ who was his strength. And, so can you. No, this does not mean that you can do anything you set your mind and heart to, as the world and our culture tell you. But, like Bill, you will have strength to endure and to persevere through all things, even death, in contentment and peace. For, these gifts come from outside of you, from Christ, through faith. Christ is your strength when you are weak, and God’s power is made perfect in you when you are weak.
These are dark times – at least, that’s what most people seem to think, and I concur. However, all men’s days have their times of darkness. Nonetheless, God created “Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” And, in His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has begun to make all things new, already, now: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Bill, and all baptized believers, have begun that new life already, now. That is why “we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” We have, we are, on the inside, according to the Spirit, new creations, born of water and the Word in Holy Baptism. We know the Word and will of the LORD and we want to keep it and do it, and we are capable of doing it, which pleases the LORD. But, we are saved, not by our works according to the Law, but by grace through faith, which itself is a free gift, in Jesus Christ. When we die, we shed the earthly tent of our bodies, and our new spirit goes to Jesus where there is only joy and peace instead of groaning, suffering, tears, and death. Bill knew his Savior. He knew where he was going. Therefore, he face good times and bad times, times of joy and times of tears, and even his own death with contentment and peace. And how does that make us feel? That makes us feel peaceful as well, for we are not like those who have no hope, but we fully expect to see Bill again, everlasting spirit and glorified body reunited once again. Not just a spiritual, ghostly Bill, but a flesh and blood seeable, touchable, hearable, huggable husband, father, grandfather, neighbor, and friend.
What do you think Bill wants most for you now? Do you think that he wants you to hurt and to struggle and to mourn? I don’t think so. The same Bill who asked if you were okay as he passed into eternity wants you to know right now that he is in a good place, the right place, and the best place. “Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on.” And, he wants you to know that you will see him again, in the Lord’s time. Until then, he wants you to be at peace and content, in the same things and the same ways in which he was content in his earthly life. You still have a Good Shepherd who owns you and loves you and will not let you go. Still He calls to you, “Come to Me and lie down in the green pastures of my grace. Come and be refreshed in the cool waters of my absolution. Come, eat and drink, of my body and blood which are true food shed for you for the forgiveness of yours sins, the strengthening of your faith, and for life everlasting.” Jesus is your Good Shepherd who has called his precious sheep Bill home to where sheep may safely graze. And, He calls you to abide in Him that you may have peace and contentment until you pass through the valley of the shadow of death into the Father’s house forevermore.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.