Saturday, February 17, 2018

Christian Funeral for James Lee Wright

John 11:17-27; Romans 8:28-39; Lamentations 3:22-33

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” So proclaimed the prophet Jeremiah in his lamentation. Jeremiah was called to his prophetic office when he was a young man to speak against the southern kingdom’s idolatry, and to call them to repentance. Though he prophesied their coming defeat and captivity by the Assyrians, the people wouldn’t listen, they ignored him, and often they violently rejected him. Understandably, Jeremiah was afflicted by bouts of depression, hopelessness, and despair, such that he earned the nickname “The Weeping Prophet.” Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit was with Jeremiah and preserved him in faith so that Jeremiah remained stalwart, strong, and immovable in his faith. And so, Jeremiah waited quietly and patiently for the LORD and for the redemption and salvation He had promised. “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”
Waiting quietly for the salvation of the LORD, those are words that I believe apply well to our brother in Christ, Jim. Surely, Jim could be said to be the “strong silent type.” Indeed, the times I spoke to Jim in church, usually just before or after the Divine Service, his words were few, but there was strength in them, and, more than that, peace. Men like Jim often get ignored or overlooked by others, because they do not put themselves forward, they do not speak the loudest, or feel the need to be incessantly yawping about one thing or another. However, to assume Jim’s reticence to be indifference or even agreement would be to make a grievously faulty assumption. In this regard I am reminded of an elder in my former parish who didn’t have much to say. I once mused, jokingly, that, because he didn’t say anything, that meant he agreed with me, to which he replied, calmly, but firmly, “Many have made that assumption, Pastor. You should not.” And, that reminds me of a story about Jim that someone shared with me. One Sunday after church, Jim and Elaine went to HyVee, as many in the congregation are want to do, for coffee and for deconstructing the pastor’s sermon – er, I mean, for fellowship. Jim and the other men were all talking together, Jim remaining silent as usual. One of the women present said, “Why don’t you guys give Jim a chance to speak?” And, one of the men responded, “It isn’t Jim’s time to talk yet.” Jim laughed. Jim was fully engaged in the conversation, even without speaking. He was listening, he was engaged, and nobody took him for granted. Jim waited quietly for his turn to speak, just as he waited quietly and patiently for the salvation of the LORD.
Silence, patience, and trust are qualities lost on most today, but, nevertheless, they are marks of Christian faith, strong, unswerving, and immovable faith. As the LORD spoke through the Psalmist and inspired Martin Luther to write “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Be still, and know that I am God.” When we are still, that is when God acts. When we are still, then we can see that God is acting, and has been acting, preserving and protecting and keeping us in His grace, mercy, compassion, and love all along. When we are still we can rest in the LORD, and in His Word made flesh, Jesus, knowing that He works all things – even the bad things – for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. Indeed, nothing can separate us from His love, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. Jim was a builder. While he was a welder and a maintenance worker in his working years at Nestle / Carnation, he always worked with his hands, which takes patience and care, and a clear and sober mind. After Jim and Elaine were married fifty-two years ago, right here at St. John, Jim built their home. Jim also had a hand in building the Gathering Room addition to the church building. And, Jim was a woodworker who made furniture and crosses for baptisms and weddings. He also made the small wooden frames that hold the names of our cradle roll children in the education building. It is clear that Jim put his hands and his God-given talents to work in service of the two most important things to him: His family and his church. When we are confident that our LORD is for us, we can be bold to serve Him by serving others. For, if God gave His only-begotten Son for us all, how will He not give us all things needful and good?
Lazarus’ sister, Mary, chose the better portion, sitting still at the feet of Jesus, hearing and digesting His every Word, while her sister Martha was busy with many needful things. It’s not that work is bad, but it’s a matter of priorities: There is a time for work, and there is a time for silence, stillness, and sitting at the feet of Jesus. In fact, if you do not first have the LORD and His Word and His Gifts, then your work will be futile and unfruitful. But, true, good, and fruitful work flows from the gifts Christ freely gives. Busyness, worry, anxiety, and distraction rob and deplete the soul. Blessed is the one who can be quiet, still, and at peace in the LORD. Such a soul has found its rest even now. Perhaps that is why it was Martha who first approached Jesus saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We have all felt that way at one time or another. Perhaps some of us are feeling that way right now. But, take heart, and let us not be too hard on poor Martha, for we are tempted to let our fears, anxieties, and reason get the best of us too, and rob from us the surety of God’s Word and promise. Jesus’ Word of comfort to Martha is His Word of comfort to us today: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Do you believe this?
Elaine, Gertie, Becky, and Jeff, beloved Grandchildren, family, and friends, Jim believed this. Indeed, Jim’s reserved and quiet demeanor was the fruit of his trust in Jesus’ promise. In his last weeks, his faith kept him at peace spiritually and mentally, even as he struggled physically. And, in his last days, when a chaplain visited and prayed the Lord’s Prayer with him, Jim responded to those words of Jesus, long seated in his heart and mind, as they were at once familiar and meaningful and comforting. And, as the family remained by his side in those last hours, a nurse commented, “I’ve seen this before. Some men have John Wayne Syndrome. They’ll hang on until their loved ones aren’t around.” Indeed, as Elaine and the family stepped out briefly for a bite to eat, Elaine said to Jim, “I’ll see you in heaven in a few years.” It was shortly after they left the room that Jim was called to rest in Jesus.
“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” There is something to be said for being quick to listen and slow to speak. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. Problem is that, for most of us, most of the time, our hearing is overwhelmed by noise and busyness and restlessness and anxiety that we cannot hear properly, and so we do not believe properly, and we cannot rest properly. But, today we are comforted and, amidst our tears and sorrow and grief, we have hope, and even a glimmer of joy. Why? Because we know that our brother Jim had Spirit-created faith, and that he believed, and trusted, and was comforted in the knowledge that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, in whom he lived and died and will be raised again unto life that cannot die. Jim’s faith provided him strength and hope and comfort and peace throughout his life, faith that was manifested in Jim’s strong and silent demeanor and in his loving service of his family and his church. And so, we mourn, but we do not mourn like those without hope. For, our LORD is our hope, and our LORD is faithful and good and cannot fail us. Elaine, you will see Jim again in heaven. Indeed, all who trust in the LORD will see Jim again in heaven. Let us wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD as Jim did, ceasing our striving and our worrying, and finding peace in Christ, in His Words and in His wounds, in life, through death, into life that cannot die.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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