A Father’s Love
A Funeral Sermon for Orvel Utech
(Pastor Muther preached this sermon December 7th, 2018, at the funeral of his Grandfather, Orvel Utech)
December 7, 2018
Psalm 103 // John 11:21-26a
Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Psalm 103 and John 11, reading again these great words of comfort that Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Dear friends in Christ,
Today we lay to rest a friend, a father, a great-grandfather, my grandpa, Orvel Utech. As we do that, we see in his life a picture of something greater.
Two simple truths found in our readings, two stories that come together with those truths, two images that emerge, not only from Grandpa’s life but moreso of our Savior, the one who grabbed ahold of him, the one who has taken Grandpa up into his arms.
Truth number one, from Psalm 103, a psalm that Grandpa chose for this occasion, a psalm that goes like this: “Like a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
I want to tell you of Grandpa’s clearest memories. He said, at least to me, in his waning days, that in all his ninety-plus years, these are the memories that he remembered more clearly than any other days. It was the days of his middle twenties when Mom and Aunt Lynda were young. He would come home from work and see them there at the door, much like Amos now, saying “Up up up!” and he would scoop them up and read to them. And they, Grandpa would say, “Ya know, they were so smart that whenever I would turn too many pages, they knew.”
The clearest memories from his whole life, the days of being a dad.
From Psalm 103. “Like a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
How much has Grandpa’s heavenly father delighted in him! As often as the invocation was said, Grandpa remembered the sign of the cross that had been placed both upon his heart and upon his forehead marking him as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. As often as Grandpa confessed his sins, that often did forgiveness wash over his sorry soul. As often as his lips cried out in prayer, that often did his Lord hear him. As often as he opened his Bible, that often did the voice of the God of the universe speak steadfast love to him.
And all this is – and this is Martin Luther’s touching and heartfelt words – all this is only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.
And there’s something more. You see, to hear Psalm 103 is to listen to the awe of David as he sings about a God who is eternal, who is unimaginably great, ineffable, enormous, unchanging God from everlasting to everlasting (whatever that means), doing cosmic works that we could not comprehend from the beginning to the end, and in the face of him, we are like dust, like grass, like the flower that fades.
And yet in the middle of all that there’s this line of the psalm, the only one that touches the earth. Did you hear it? “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
As a father opens the door so he can see his two girls waiting for him, so our Father in heaven delights to hear us call out to him. As a father scoops up his two kids to read to them in the easy chair after work, so our Father in heaven longs to gather us into the arms of his mercy and bring us home. As a father’s clearest memories are of his pride and joy, growing up, so much and more our Father in heaven’s chief desire is for us to grow up into our head, Jesus Christ.
Second, I turn to John 11... Jesus, here, culminates this drawn out, heart-wrenching story where he missed the funeral of his very good friend Lazarus, as he says to Martha, leading up to the time when he raises that same Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
I want to tell you a story that Grandpa told to me. It was in March of 2017, right after he’d had what he called “a small heart attack,” and we had visited him up at the Marshfield Clinic. I was sharing stories of a trip to Arizona, driving up the mountains to see my brother John. Grandpa chimed in. He said, “I remember driving in the Bighorns in Wyoming, and it was getting foggy. It got so foggy that I had to stop on the side of the road. I thought, ‘What the dickens?’ but then the fog rolled down the mountainside and as it descended into a valley below, I saw, I found that we had been driving in a thundercloud.”
Can you imagine that? The fog so thick you can’t see, so dark you don’t know what to do. Then the darkness rolls down the mountainside and you can finally see clearly. I didn’t know it at the time, but I found that we had been driving in a thundercloud.
Dear friends in Christ, I don’t know what kinds of thunderclouds you might be driving in these days, and I’m not sure that a person can know all the fog that’s rolling through his or her life on any given day, but this we do know, that as surely as Grandpa stood upon this earth, so surely does his God promise that “he will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me (and that’s Jesus talking) will never die.” As surely as we eat this bread and drink this cup, so surely do all the company of the heavenly host, all the saints that have gone on before us, Grandpa and Grandma alike, eat this same meal at the side of their Savior. As surely as the storms of life overtake us, and they will roll down the mountainside, until that final storm of death rolls over us, then just as surely we will know that it is the Christian hope that death is not the end. Christ has wrestled it to the ground for your sake. Christ has won the day.
Rest today on the unshakeable mountain of a truth that our Savior was born for Grandpa’s salvation. He was put on trial for Grandpa’s salvation. He was beaten bloody by those guards for Grandpa’s sake and for ours; he was nailed to the cross for our sins, he was buried in the tomb for our death. He died with a picture of each and every one of us in his heart, and he rose to life again with our name on his lips, and because he lives, so now Grandpa stands by his side. And because he lives, there will be a day when all the dead are raised, and we will see our God in the flesh.
“I am your resurrection and your life. Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
One more story in closing. Grandpa lived eight years since the death of Grandma. He has, in my mind, aged as gracefully as a body could possibly age. He willingly sold his house. He willingly gave up his license. He has passed close to the valley of the shadow of death several times, but I’ll tell you this. The most amazing thing that he’ll say, I had skipped over for years now.
The most amazing display of his Christian faith is when he talks about grandma. He’d say, “It still hurts. I still think about her everyday, and I just want to be with her. But I’ll be here as long as the Lord allows.”
He held his sorrow, and he held his joy, and he held them in open hands.
It’s as Paul writes, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Or perhaps best of all, God’s own words in Revelation chapter 2, “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich. Be faithful to death and I will give you the crown of life.”
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from hence forth, for they will rest from their labors.
Amen and amen.
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