Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Christian Funeral for Jeffrey Dean Sherburne

Matthew 11:25-30; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; Job 19:21-27

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jars of clay. That is how St. Paul describes our human bodies. Jars of clay are incredibly versatile and useful. They can hold life-sustaining food and water, fruitful wine that brings joy to our lives, healing oil, and countless other useful things both secular and sacred. It was jars of clay that preserved the Holy Scriptures for us so that we still have the Word of our LORD today to give us faith and hope and courage to face the myriad challenges, trials, and tribulations that come our way. Yes, jars of clay can be very strong and enduring, weathering the forces of nature, the wars of men, and the attack of demonic forces commanded by Satan. Yet, jars of clay are also very fragile. If they are dropped, they can easily shatter. If they are struck, they can easily break. But, if jars of clay are protected and cared for, there is no limit to the things they can accomplish and the people they can help and serve and influence.
Jars of clay hold treasures. And, the specific jar of clay we are thinking of, remembering, and giving thanks to God for this day is Jeffrey Dean Sherburne. Jeff was a perfect image of the jars of clay St. Paul describes. Jeff was strong, and yet fragile. The LORD worked in and through Jeff to help, serve, and influence countless people in countless ways. And, Jeff was strong, enduring and weathering powerful storms and forces, thankfully, most of us never have to face. Jeff was “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken,” and lastly, Jeff was “struck down, but not destroyed.” The LORD made us to be strong, but fragile, jars of clay, says St. Paul, “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Jeff knew, understood, and believed this throughout his life, and this belief and knowledge made him the husband, father, son, and friend you all knew him to be.
Jeff knew that he was the LORD’s jar of clay, hand made by his Creator and God and filled with His glorious treasures: grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, peace, kindness, selflessness, sacrifice, and more, that God’s grace might extend, through Jeff, to more and more people to the glory of God. Because of this faith and knowledge, Jeff had the spirit of perseverance and endurance. He never complained, but was always ready to lend a hand, to take the lead, to get ‘er done – a useful, versatile, strong, even if fragile, jar of clay holding the LORD’s gracious and glorious treasures. If those treasures were for Jeff alone, then they would be of little value or glory, but because Jeff knew the purpose of his gifts, the purpose of his calling, his vocations, Jeff could continue on and persevere though whatever was laid upon him for the love of his God, his family, his friends, and, frankly, anyone the LORD had placed in his path.
Jeff lost his right arm in a work accident in 2004, a tragedy that might have ended the careers of many. But, not Jeff. Jeff fought his way back and he adapted to his new situation in miraculous ways. Jeff was able to do more with one arm than many men can do with two (and, here, I speak for myself!). The affliction that befell him did not crush him. Though Jeff may have been perplexed as to why the accident had to happen, he was not driven to despair. Through his faith and the gifts of his baptism into Jesus, Jeff carried the death of Jesus in his body, thus the life of Jesus was also manifested in Jeff’s body. Then, when the cancer diagnosis came, surely that would crush him, so it seemed reasonable to think. If they had not asked it before, surely now most everyone, and surely Jeff himself, was justified in questioning God, “Why?” However, once again, Jeff was afflicted, but not crushed. He may have been perplexed, but Jeff was not driven to despair.
That was part of the treasure in Jeff’s jar of clay: His faith, his hope, his perseverance and endurance, his love and wanting to serve others. Through Jeff, God’s grace extended to more and more people to the glory of God. Because of that treasure, Jeff could face the crushing blows of losing an arm and of cancer in faith, hope, perseverance, and endurance. While his outside was wasting away, Jeff’s inner self was being renewed day by day. What, to the eyes appeared to be a crushing affliction was, in comparison, a light momentary affliction preparing Jeff for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. That is why we must not look to the things that are seen, which are transient and passing away, but to the things that are unseen, which can never perish, but remain eternal.
You see, the treasure is hidden in the jar of clay. It is there, and it is seen, not directly, but through words and deeds of love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, sacrifice, and service. This treasure was hidden in Jeff just as it was hidden in Jeff’s Lord, Jesus. And, just as Jeff’s treasure was Jesus hidden in his jar of clay, so did Jeff share in Jesus’ suffering, and Jesus in Jeff’s suffering. Truly, that was the source of Jeff’s strength, perseverance, endurance, and hope. Jeff was yoked with Jesus, which made His burden light, for the Lord carried the burden along with Jeff. “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
It needs to be stated plainly: The LORD permitted this to happen to Jeff, just as He permitted His own Son Jesus to be mocked and scourged, crucified and killed – Just as God permitted Satan to afflict righteous Job. Why? I don’t know why. We’re not given the answers to all the questions we may have, but we are given what we need to know for forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus, God’s only-begotten Son whom He raised from death, and in whom all who trust in Him will be raised from death to life that cannot die. As God permitted Job and His own Son Jesus to suffer, so also God permitted Jeff to suffer. The “why” is a mystery we cannot know. However, we do know this: God loves His Son, and God loves Job, and God loves Jeff so that He gave all, He gave His only-begotten Son Jesus over into death on the cross, that more and more people might be saved. Both Job and Jesus were afflicted, but not crushed; they were perplexed – they asked “Why?” – but they were not driven to despair. In faithful trust, perseverance, and endurance they clung to the LORD and the LORD delivered them and restored them – all that Job lost was restored to him sevenfold, and Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the Father in all power and glory having authority over all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. Even now our brother Jeff rests in comfort and peace in the presence of His Redeemer Jesus. The spirit-treasure within us would not wish him back, but we await in hope and expectation the resurrection of all flesh and a blessed and joyous reunion in the heavenly courts of our Father’s house in heaven.
For, this is our hope: Not merely that Jeff is now without suffering, cancer, pain, and tribulation – though that is certainly the truth! – but our hope is in the resurrection of Jeff’s body, and of our own bodies, glorified, perfect, and holy to live forever in the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a joy that no one can take from us! Indeed, this is what Job confessed, in the midst of his tribulation and affliction, over 2000 years before Jesus’ birth: “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.” You will see Jeff again. You will see your beloved husband, father, son, friend Jeff again – not merely spiritually, or in a memory, but face to face, in the flesh, with your own flesh and blood eyes. You will hear him again with your own flesh and blood ears. You will hug him again with your own flesh and blood arms. This is the hope, the treasure, that fills your jars of clay. This is your hope, and nothing less, and no one will take that joy from you.
At the end of the day, it was faith, family, and farm for Jeff, and in that order. It was Jeff’s faith that made him who he was: Devoted husband, doting father, loving son, faithful friend, a hard and tireless worker, a selfless man of service to others, a lover of simple things, natural things, good things, godly things, humble, patient, kind, good. Jeff was a treasure in a jar of clay. The treasure lives on and cannot die. The clay will be raised, glorified, and we will know Jeff again as we knew him before, only the treasure will no longer be hidden, and the clay will be unbreakable and complete.
We often say in the Church that our worship, particularly the Lord’s Supper, is a foretaste of the feast to come, a little bit of heaven here on earth. Truly, that is what worship is: Heaven comes down to earth and we worship our LORD “with angels, archangels, and with all the company of heaven.” Well, that Thursday morning that the Lord Jesus called Jeff home to Himself, Teresa walked into the room and found Jeff with one leg out of bed trying to get up. She asked, “What are you doing?” And, Jeff answered, “I’m getting ready to go to church.” I think that’s telling of how important Jeff’s faith was to him. Was he delusional? Was this a comment from his subconscious? Was he referring to his going to heaven shortly thereafter? I don’t know. Nevertheless, that is what he said, and it bubbled up from the deepest part of who Jeff was. In life, when it was planting or harvesting season and there was work on the farm to be done, Jeff was known to say on Sunday morning when asked about going to church, “Would you rather I be in church thinking about farming, or farming and thinking about church?” I think that statement comes from the same place as Jeff’s getting ready for church on the morning he was transferred to the Church Triumphant. This is who Jeff was. This was the treasure in Jeff’s jar of clay. And we know this, “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.” There, you will see Jeff again, and no one will take your joy from you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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