Thursday, May 10, 2018

Christian Funeral for Raymond Klassen Mehmen

John 6:27-40; Romans 8:31-39; Job 19:21-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I pray that you will bear with me to use an illustration from a personal interest in order to make a point. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, the hobbit Bilbo, reflecting upon his one-hundred-eleventieth birthday, has a terrific line. Bilbo says, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I have to admit that I was reminded of that vivid image several times over the last few months of Ray’s life. As I sat and listened to Ray, prayed with him, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper with him, I observed that Ray, too, was “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Ray was tired and weary and worn, simply from long life, hard work, and from living and being lived. It is the nature of things, this side of heaven, to slow down. It is the nature of human life, since our First Parent’s fall in the Garden, to slow down and to, eventually, die. That was, essentially, the doctors’ final diagnosis in a nutshell, “Ray, you’re just old.” How many times did Ray sigh in frustration saying, “They tell me I’m just old.”
Psalm 90, our Processional Psalm today, which is attributed to Moses, expresses this sentiment well: “For all our days pass away under Your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.” Is that not the way Ray’s life ended, with a sigh? Ray was frustrated. He couldn’t do the things that brought him joy. And, he couldn’t help Jo, which made him sad and angry, but most of all he felt helpless. In the same Psalm, Moses referenced Genesis 6:3, where our LORD, grieved by man’s wickedness and sinful nature, proclaimed, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh; his days shall be 120 years.” Interestingly, Moses himself died at age one hundred twenty. And, as it is, the oldest person alive on the planet, until just a few weeks ago, was a Japanese woman by the name of Nabi Tajima, who died at the age of one hundred seventeen. Now, in my pastoral ministry I have had the opportunity to minister to a few centenarians, that is, people a hundred years old or older. Every one of them sighed and wondered why the LORD hadn’t called them home. Their spouses, their siblings, their friends, and often their children were all gone and they were utterly alone on the earth. Moreover, though their minds were sharp, their bodies would not permit them to do anything they enjoyed or wanted to do. This is why I truly believe that it was an act of mercy that our LORD limited our lifespan to roughly 120 years, in reality, more like seventy, eighty, or ninety. For, if we lived much longer than that, could any of us persevere in faith to the end?
Now, while I know that we would have liked to have had more, ninety-three years is a long life by any reckoning. And, by the grace of God, the overwhelming majority of those years were good and blessed years for Ray and Jo. However, Ray and Jo faced and overcame many challenges and obstacles together, and they suffered tremendous loss and pain together. The most poignant, painful, and life altering of those was without question the death of their beloved son Alan. Even that horrific tragedy Ray and Jo faced together, and the LORD preserved them and strengthened their faith. The LORD blessed Ray and Jo with seventy-two years of marriage. Any marriage that lasts does so through ups and downs, through good times and bad times, through sickness and health, through patience, perseverance, and forgiveness. Some of Ray’s last words to his bride were, “Jo, I love you so much. I’m sorry if I ever got mad at you.” I know for a fact that Ray’s greatest concern was not for his own health and life, but that Jo would be taken care of. Thankfully, the LORD has also provided Ray and Jo with so many wonderful friends that are as close to them and who care for them as family. The LORD blessed Ray and Jo richly, even as He made them a rich blessing to others, who in turn are a blessing to them once again.
A life well lived – That describes both Ray and Jo extremely well. Though he farmed with his family and owned a hardware store in Shell Rock for a while, Ray was a plumber and he was known and respected as a good and honest plumber. In fact, after hanging up his plumber’s wrench at the age of 90 (!), he continued to get calls for jobs even within the last several months! Ray was a hard worker, talented, and good with his hands. He loved to work in his woodshop making birdhouses and a multitude of beautiful and useful things. And, Ray was every present at Waverly – Shell Rock basketball and baseball games, sitting at the top of the bleachers for the best view. And, Ray was always in church on Sunday morning, a lesson he learned in his youth when, even if he got in at four in the morning, he had to get up and be ready for church in the morning, or else! Ray and Jo’s love for one another was self-evident. Even when they bickered it was kind and reflected the wisdom and patience that are born from love and a commitment to stick together through both good times and bad. For, life is full of challenges and blessings, and in the LORD’s gracious providence, even the challenges He makes to be blessings.
Isn’t that what St. Paul says in his Epistle to the Romans? “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” But, how can we have such an attitude as that? How can we experience that confidence and optimism when we are faced with trial and tribulation, suffering, and death? Well, what does St. Paul say? “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ray and Jo believed this, and so must you. All their lives they trusted in the LORD, through thick and thin, through good times and bad. Their hope was not in food that perishes, but in “the food that endures to eternal life.” Jesus is that food. Jesus is that holy manna, that Bread of Life of which a man may eat and truly live. He, who laid down His life for Ray, for Jo, for you, and for all the world, loves you with a boundless and everlasting love. He will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate you from His love – not even life or death. The Father has given Him all things, and whoever comes to Him He will never cast out. Indeed, it is the Father’s will that “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and [He] will raise them up on the last day.” So many wonder what they must do to do the works of God, what they must do to be saved. Jesus answers them saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Ray believed in God, and Ray trusted in Jesus, God’s Son. Therefore, we take comfort that Ray is with Jesus right now, in peace and comfort, just like Moses and Elijah before him, like the poor man Lazarus, and like the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus, to whom Jesus said, “This day you will be with Me in paradise.” Thank you Jesus!
However, don’t stop there. Don’t sell yourself short on the hope, comfort, peace, and joy Jesus offers you. But, what did Jesus say? “This is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” This truth did righteous Job confess nearly 2000 years before the birth of Jesus saying, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Too often we place our comfort and hope only in the truth that those we love who have died in faith are with Jesus. Yes, that is indeed true and extremely comforting. However, Jesus has something even greater and more comforting and never ending in store for His faithful people, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in glorified flesh and blood bodies that cannot age, weaken, suffer, and die. That is why, though we grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. For our hope is in Jesus’ promise that He will raise us up from death and that with our own flesh and blood eyes we will see Him face to face, and also that with our own flesh and blood eyes, ears, hands, and arms we will see, hear, touch, and embrace our loved ones who have died in the Lord. Jo, you will see Ray again. Dear people of God, you will see Ray again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you!
But, for now, there is rest for God’s holy children. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden,” Jesus says, and I will give you rest.” Come to Me, all you who are “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Come to Me, Jesus says, and you will find rest for your souls. The LORD has called Ray to rest in Jesus. Ray has labored hard, and now He rests in Jesus. When you miss him, remember that you know precisely where Ray is; Ray is with Jesus. Go to the cemetery, lay some flowers, and say your prayers – that is good and right to do. But, if you really want to be near to Ray, to be with him, come to where Jesus is, and to where Ray is, “with angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven.” Come to the Lord’s Supper, where heaven comes down to earth, where Jesus is present with His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and where the Communion of Saints in heaven and on earth are together as one body, in the one Lord Jesus Christ, the Church. Here is manna to sustain you as you make your pilgrimage to the Promised Land, for here is Jesus, the Bread of Life, of which a man may eat and live and never die.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.


ANNA Miller said...

Pastor Ellingworth Your comments for Jo were beautiful and very true ,may we all remember them and go to the alter for Jesus body and blood and in so doing keep our faith and eyes upon Him till death do us part from this world to His.

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Dear Anna, thank you for your kind words. I only hope and pray that grieving hearts were directed to Jesus, where true hope and comfort is found. Now is the time of waiting and perseverance and hope. Tomorrow there is life that cannot die. And, the truth is that those who trust in Jesus have already passed over from death to life, so that not even the death of the body can separate us from Him. Christ's Peace be yours. + Pastor Ellingworth