Bernice Rudolph Funeral Sermon
I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me, all those laboring and having been loaded down! And I myself will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, that I am gentle and lowly in heat, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is pleasant (easy), and my load / burden is light.
Dear Friend in Christ,
Just yesterday, I was out and about and visiting a few of our shut in and elderly members with Holy Communion. I knocked on the door of one of our dear and elderly members. I heard a little voice say “come in” and so I did. She wasn’t feeling very good, still in her bed clothes even though it was 5 in the afternoon, and she was having a pretty bad hair day. What I saw her doing made my day. She was sitting there reading and underlining her large print Portals of Prayer, and underneath was her large print Bible. She welcomed me, as Bernice and so many of our elderly members do, with open arms. She yearned, as Bernice and so many of our home bound friends yearn, to hear the voice of her shepherd, to confess her sins, and to receive her Lord’s Supper. In contrast to so many of us who are younger and still in the busy stages of our lives, she and Bernice and so many of our sweet and aged Christian men and women have learned to be still and to pay close attention to the Voice of their Good Shepherd.
One of the hymns Del and Erv chose for this funeral is “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”. This hymn was written in the mid 1800’s by a Scottish pastor named Horatius Bonar. A glance at his life story indicates that he had married his wife Jane in 1843 and five of their young children died in succession. Towards the end of their lives, one of their surviving daughters was left a widow with five small children and she returned to live with her parents.
And so he writes, “I heard the voice of Jesus say, “come unto Me and rest, Lay down thou weary one, lay down, Thy head upon My breast. I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn, and sad; I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.”
Story of my days as a newspaper man here in Janesville, delivering papers to 30 customers or so every morning, including Alvin Rudolph. Most days it was a breeze, but on Sunday mornings and the day after Thanksgiving, the load was heavy, almost unbearable. One paper at a time, the load would become lighter, more bearable, and before long, all was well.
We come to Jesus with our burdens and our weariness as often as we cry out to Him for mercy. As often as we come with hearts that are at the same time sorry for having fallen short and believing that Christ has not fallen short. Hearts and minds that are at the same time terrified by the Law and comforted by the Gospel. At the same time tired of so many good intentions gone awry and resting in plan of salvation intended and carried out by God in perfect fashion. At the same time burdened with loads so very heavy and overwhelming but on the other hand resting in the knowledge that in Christ, all is well.
As we lay Bernice to rest in the Iosco Cemetery today, we do so with the confidence that her sins have been paid for at the cross, that there will be for her a resurrection of the body and life everlasting. In the waters of Baptism, she received the sign of the cross both upon her forehead and upon her heart, marking her as a holy and redeemed child of God. From her mother’s knee, she heard again and again that Jesus loved her and that she could take her sins and her sadness and her sorrows to her Savior in prayer any time and anywhere. She is famous in my mind for having a beautiful smile on the outside and a quietness on her inside, both suggesting that she had found in Jesus Christ a resting place, and that He had made her glad.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, behold, I freely give. The living water, thirsty one, Stoop down and drink and live.” I came to Jesus, and I drank Of that life giving stream; My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.
The rhythm of Christian living is that God gives and we receive. Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians that by grace are we saved, through faith. This is not of our own doing, faith is the gift of God and not of works, lest any of us should boast. In Divine Service, God serves and we are served. In the words of absolution and in the reading of Scriptures and in the preaching and teaching of His Word, the Good Shepherd speaks, and sheep listen.
Jesus said it this way, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. Bernice’s nursing home family and friends tell us that in the last few months of her life, she would have episodes where she would be unkind, unpleasant, and impatient.
I am reminded of the familiar Footprints poem, with a new twist, When the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back. I noticed that at some times along the path there was only one set of footprints. At other times, there was one set of footprints along with gouges and irregular lines in the sand. I also noticed that this happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life. This bothered me, and I questioned the Lord . . . "Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you would walk with me all the way. I have noticed that during my most troubled times, you were not with me". The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child, I love you and would never, ever leave you during your times of trial and suffering". "When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you and dragged you, kicking and screaming..
Even in her last months, as often as her pastors would visit her, that often she would receive us. As often as we asked her if we could pray with her, she agreed. Every time we asked her if she was sorry for her sins and believed in Jesus as Savior and desired to amend her sinful ways, she said yes. With all of her heart, she believed that with goodness and mercy her Good Shepherd was following her around, and that she would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, I am this dark world’s light. Look unto Me; thy morn shall rise And all thy day be bright. I looked to Jesus, and I found In Him my star, my sun; And in that light of life I’ll walk Till trav’ling days are done.
One of Bernice’s favorite things to do was to listen to and watch the Twins’ games. Whenever the Twins won, she knew that they won, she could tell me what the score was, and she was as pleased as she could be. When they lost, which some years was more often than not, she knew that they lost, and she never seemed to get to down about it. Pretty even keeled she was in her day. She had figured out that even if the Twins lost and lost bad, the sun was still going to be coming up in the morning.
Dear friends in Christ, the Bible says that although there will be weeping in the night time, joy comes in the morning. No matter how faulty and full of failure your days may be, the mercies of God are new in every one of your mornings. No matter how dark is the darkness in your soul, it doesn’t have a prayer in the presence of Jesus Christ.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, Jesus says, 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. In Jesus day, the religious leaders spoke of the yoke of the law as a glorious obedience to God. They thought that obedience to God would free them of obligations to the world and give them rest. Jesus described that yoke as heavy, and He offers us the alternative that we would be yoked to Him. As often as fix our eyes on Christ crucified, resurrected, ascended, and coming back again, that often life gets easy. Easy in this way – a great light has come into this world, and in His presence, darkness doesn’t have a prayer. Amen.
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Saturday evening supper on the farm
There are at least two kinds of households- those with set routines and those where routines are the exception rather than the rule. I grew up in a family where three meals a day were common and each of the seven days included certain rituals. Sunday was go to church, go to Sunday School and Bible class, buy a Fargo Forum newspaper, get together with aunts and uncles and cousins for roast beef dinner or chicken dinner day. Monday was wash the clothes day, Tuesday was iron the clothes day, Wednesday was Ladies Aid day once a month, I don’t remember so much about Thursdays, Friday was go to town and get groceries day, and Saturday’s agenda was firm. Vacuuming and dusting in the morning, mowing lawns in the afternoon, pitching manure in the spring time, and all year round, Saturdays were for the baking of cookies and all kinds of bread. Not bread that would be broken, but bread that would melt away in your mouth at the Saturday evening meal. A meal where everyone had their assigned places, a meal that would include all four of the food groups, a meal where plates would be cleaned, a meal where there would be no singing, and a meal that would end as all supper meals would end –with Mom reading a devotion out of Little Visits with God. Growing up, I had no idea what the Spirit of God was doing on the inside of me. Looking back, I realize that this time of breaking bread and listening to Bible stories and praying the Our Father together as a family has been burned into my heart never to be extinguished. Three parts to our sermon today, as we examine our own family meal rituals, as we take a look at that first Easter Sunday supper meal in a little town of Emmaus, and the theme, “Bread Broken.”
Jesus started out the day as the student, but ended as the (teacher). Two Sundays ago, we listened in as Jesus sauntered up alongside of two disciples journeying, asked them what sorts of things they were talking about, and played the part of a student. Last Sunday, we listened in as our Risen Savior perfectly and carefully opened up prophecy and fulfillment to them. Today we make the case that table fellowship was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry. Professor Art Just from the Ft. Wayne Seminary writes, “Jesus frequently used the occasion of a meal to create fellowship with people. Jesus’ table fellowship may be defined as the gracious presence of Jesus at table, where he teaches about the kingdom of God and shares a meal in an atmosphere of acceptance, friendship, and peace. His usual table fellowship practice combined those three ingredients: his presence, his teaching, and his eating.”
To go back into the history of Israel is to see that it was often at the table where bread would be broken and God communicated salvation to His people. Already in the Garden of Eden, God provided fruit trees, but Adam and Eve violated the boundaries of fellship set by God by eating the forbidden fruit. In our Old Testament lesson for today, God appears to Abraham via three men, one of whom turns out to be the Lord. Abraham and Sarah show hospitality to their guests by preparing a meal, and in the context of that setting God promises a Son who would eventually crush the serpent’s head.
The covenants the Lord God Almighty made with his people often were celebrated with bread that would be broken. The Passover meal was the context in which the head of the household would teach his children the fundamental doctrines of God. On Mt. Sinai, after the Exodus, Moses and Aaron and Nadab and Abihu and seventy elsers “saw God and ate and drank.” Throughout their wilderness wanderings, God would provide the meals, including manna and quail. Even when the people of God were in exile, they would celebrate the Passover every week at their Sabbath evening Seder meal.
It is within this context of weekly Jewish Sabbath meals and synagogue worship that Luke records the table fellowship of Jesus. We find Jesus present and breaking bread and teaching at the feast with Levi the tax collector, at the meal where Jesus forgives a sinful woman who anointed his feet, at the feeding of the 5000, at meals with sinners, at the meal in the story of the prodigal Son, at the meal where Jesus lodges with Zacchaus, at the Last Supper, and post resurrection at the Emmaus Supper and later that very night when Jesus appeared in the upper room, startled them with his presence, comforted them with his peace, asked them why they were troubled, showed them his hands and feet, invited them to touch and see, and while they were still disbelieving and marveling, Jesus asked, “Hey, have you anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of fish, he at it in their presence, and proceeded to start teaching again! Lesson #1 today is to be impressed by how great is the desire of our the Holy Spirit to teach eternal and life-saving truths in the context of His people breaking bread together.
Second truth we want to receive today: Jesus began the meal as a guest, but finished as the (host). When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. It’s easy at this point to think of what we call the Common Table Prayer, which begins, Come Lord Jesus, be our guest….let these gifts to us be blessed. Wikopedia suggests that this is the best known mealtime prayer among North American Lutherans, that it was first published in 1753 in a Moravian hymnal, that the author is unknown, that a second verse was spoken by the Germans, “Blessed be God who is our bread; may all the world be clothed and fed.”
On the one hand we pray that God would give us our daily bread, and on the other hand, we believe Him to be the very bread of life. On the one hand, we ask Christ to be the unseen guest at every one of our meals, and on the other hand, we honor Him as the provider of all good gifts for body and soul. On the one hand, we ask Jesus to be the silent listener to every one of our conversations, and on the other hand, we recognize Him as the Teacher of our hearts and the lover of our souls. As often as we step forward to Supper of all suppers, we do so as invited guests. As guests with broken hearts, messed up lives, and failed records, we receive the very body of Christ which has been broken for us. The very blood of Christ which has been poured out on our behalf. Christ is the host, we the guests. He is the Giver, we are the recipients. He is the Forgiver, we are the forgiven. He is the lover, we are the beloved. He serves, and we are served. Lesson #2 today is eat and drink at our Lord’s Supper together, to do so often, to do so with broken and contrite hearts, and to know that every time we do so the Holy Spirit will be fanning into flame the fire in our hearts, the fire that was started so long ago in the waters of Baptism and at our mother’s knees.
As often as Christ reveals Himself, that often faith (grows) 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
I would like to think that Jesus was really looking forward to this moment. The when Jesus had taken the bread in his hands and looked up and blessed the bread, and then just as he handed it to them, they realized who Jesus was and poof! He was gone! Now you see him, now you don’t. I’d like to think that there was a smile on Jesus’ lips and a twinkle in His eye and a joy in His heart as He vanished and then listened in, “whoa, where did He go? That was Jesus. That was Jesus with us all the while! That was Jesus listening to us and talking to us and messing with us! Hey was there something going on in your heart earlier on today? Me too!”
As long as I can remember, Holy Communion has been something special in my heart. Like many of you, I can remember getting instructed in the faith, getting ready to be confirmed, memorizing all those Scriptures and hymns and Psalms, answering all those questions, learning what a privilege it would be to be a guest at the Table. For us at Peace Lutheran in little Barney, ND. Communion was the second Sunday of every month. My cousin Merlyn and I were ushers, we took turns being the gate, letting 6 or 7 people up for the Supper and then back into place. In recent months, more often than not, it’s Pastor Muther who holds the bread in front of my eyes, He looks me in the eyes, and assures me in his Pastor Muther kind of a way that the body of Christ has been broken for me, that my sins are forgiven, that I may go in peace. Lesson #3 today is to never forget and to look forward to with all of our hearts for Christ Jesus to reveal Himself to us, and that as often as He does – whether it be in the Supper or in the preaching of His Word, He is doing so with a smile on His lips, with a twinkle in His eyes, and with joy in His heart.
Boundary waters’ fire vs. Wahpeton fire Two stories to close off our message today. A story of two fires. The first is of the one and perhaps last time I chaperoned a youth group into the beautiful but primitive boundary waters. There were no Boy Scouts in my group, nor was I a Boy Scout leader kind of a camp fire builder. Our fires were weak and they were wet and they often went out altogether. Every evening, it misted or it drizzled or it poured down rain. Several evenings, I came to the point of hyperventilating in an effort to blow on those pathetic little fires. At least half the nights, I said to the cold and damp teenagers, hey let’s have a snack and a devotion and call it a night!
The fire in Wahpeton, where my folks lived for many years, was much better than that. It was in the lower level of my parent’s house, and it came from their electric fireplace. All one had to do is flip a switch, sit back in a comfortable chair, cozy up with a good book or deal out the cards, and the fire appeared. Thank God, somebody else had already done the work. Someone had designed that electric fire place, my folks had purchased that fire place, and when my sisters and I were divvying up our folks’ stuff, I said, “I’ll take the fire place.” To this very day, that fire place blesses my family, as often as we turn on the switch.
Dear friends, in every one of your days, no matter what how cool or hot or maybe lukewarm is the fire in your heart, remember these two truths.
• As often as bread is broken in your family circle, that often the Holy Spirit will show up as Teacher, as Counselor, as Comforter.
• As often as bread is broken in this place, that often Jesus Christ will show up as Lover of your soul, as Forgiver of your, as the Giver of the peace only He can give.
First in Series of Four on Annual Theme, “With Burning Hearts, We Believe”
Luke 24: 10-17
Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.
Dear Christian Friends,
The kingdom of God is like a Christian couple who worked hard all their lives, and God blessed their labors in incredible fashion. They lived to ripe old ages, they died, and were buried. When their last will and testament was read aloud, it came to be that they were able to give away no less than ten million dollars. One million dollars each for each of their three sons, and one million dollars each for 7 other institutions and charities, including a couple of churches, a Christian camp, the Salvation Army, and the local dog shelter.
The reading of their will brought three distinct reactions from their three sons.
• Son #1 received his inheritance with absolute gratitude from Day #1. He was overjoyed with his parent’s generosity and proceeded to spend the rest of his days sharing his good fortune.
• Son #2 wasn’t quite sure what to think. He was grateful and yet he wondered why a dog shelter should get a million dollars. He had more questions than answers. Should he save his money for a rainy day? Should he pay his bills and buy a bigger house? Should he spread it around and leave a portion for his own kids? As time went on, his eyes were opened, and he came to the same conclusion as son #1.
• Son #3 had the opposite reaction. He resented the idea that he had not received a third of the money. He spent every last dollar on himself and lived out his life with a stingy heart.
Three lessons we want to learn today, in this first of four sermons focused on Luke 24 and our annual theme, “With Burning Hearts.”
The first lesson is that really good news always brings (mixed) reactions. As evidence of that theory of mine, I give three examples. 1) When the Vikings win the Super Bowl this year, there will be a mixed reaction. Vikings fans will be ecstatic, a lifelong dream has come true. Bear fans won’t really care one way or another. Packer fans will be absolutely dismayed that they will no longer be able to ask their favorite question, “How many super bowl rings do the Vikings have?” 2) A more serious and likely example is at the gravesite of a loved one who has suffered long and hard and then breathed her last.” In the same family, there will be mixed reactions. One brother will be mostly grateful that the suffering is over and will be fixed on the promises of heavenly mansions, another brother will walk away mainly resenting that there had to be so much suffering and believing that his sister deserved way better than that from God.
A third example is in our text for today, as the news began to spread that the grave was empty and that in fact Jesus was alive. Reactions were mixed, to say the least. Scribes and Pharisees were angry that someone had stolen the body, and Roman soldiers were no doubt embarrassed that it had happened on their watch. The women couldn’t stop talking and reporting the good news, and the apostles just wanted them to shut up and quit being so silly. Peter went away by himself muttering and marveling and wondering what had happened.
In one corner there was a heart where faith was duking it out with unbelief. Not too far away was a mind where Sunday joy was wrestling in the mud with Friday’s sadness. Nearby there was a believer taking one step forward in confident manner, then two steps back into doubt despair. That seemed to be the case with Clopas and his friend as they made the seven mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Wanting to believe that Jesus was alive but not wanting to have their hopes dashed yet one more time. On the road talking a mile a minute, remembering in one moment and forgetting in the next what Jesus had predicted. Hoping what the women said was true and yet suspecting it was just a false rumor. Before the day ended, they would see clearly, but for the time being, Luke records, their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus, even as He walked alongside of them and began to engage in conversation with them. I’d like to think Jesus had a twinkle in his eye and a bit of playfulness in his voice as he drew near and asked, “Hey, what are you guys talking about?” Knowing full well what they were talking about! Lesson #1 – The Good News of Jesus Christ will always bring mixed reactions and responses.
Which brings us to our second lesson learned in this text, Conversations with Jesus often include all kinds of (confusion) on the way to clarity. An honest survey of the ministry of Jesus will show that Jesus often spoke in such a way as to puzzle the hearer for a time, but with the hope that eventually they would understand and accept the truth of the obscurity. Jesus wanted people to know the truth, but to go through a bit of chaos in their heart on the way to that truth. Instead of teaching people what to think, it seems as though He wanted to teach them how to think correctly and in accordance with God’s Word.
A couple of examples. One of my favorites is “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” His point? Your sin problem isn’t your hand, it’s your heart. Another example could be that to one audience He says, “Peace I leave with you,” and to another audience, He quips, “I have not come to bring peace, but division.”
We may be sure that Jesus never spoke with hidden meanings just to be cute or for obscurity’s sake. There is always a purpose to His apparent madness. Sometimes Jesus was trying to startle the smug, and at other times He was rebuking the scoffer. At times He was simply expressing heavenly truth, as when He told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. And on other occasions, He would plant a time-delay charge, such as His prediction that He could destroy the temple and in three days raise it up again. Virtually all of our Lord’s predictions concerning the cross and resurrection fall into this latter category. The disciples heard these predictions but were slow to understand. They believed that the Messiah would deliver their nation from Roman oppression, but could not understand how death by crucifixion fit into that picture.
Lesson #2 is that there will be hours and days and even seasons of our life where God seems far away or even absent. As children hide so that other children come looking for them, so does God hide in the circumstances of life so that we will come looking. Seek and ye shall find. Ask and ye shall receive. Knock and the doors of the kingdom will be opened unto you.
Lesson #3 today as we focus on two disciples journeying on their way to Emmaus is that darkness doesn’t have a (prayer) in the presence of Jesus. Jesus knew that He would be revealing Himself to them in the breaking of the bread in the evening, and so He could hide himself for a time during the day. He knew that they would be believing once they could see clearly, and so He took the time to walk alongside. He took the time to listen to and care about their story. He took the time to let them babble their way through with all kinds of ifs, ands, or buts – knowing all along there would be a happy ending. Not only would there be a happy ending to their day as they recognized their Risen Savior, there would be a happy ending for time and eternity for all who would discern that this very body had been broken and this blood had been shed on their behalf.
The Bible says that it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross, scorned its shame, and was crucified until He was dead and buried. Jesus knew that Easter Sunday was coming and that’s why He took the time to come from heaven down to earth, that’s why He took the time to fulfill the law in every way, that’s why He took the time to teach His disciples slowly but surely, that’s why Jesus took the time to be beaten bloody and that’s why He took the time to be slapped silly and that’s why He took the time to be tortured in total fashion on your behalf and mine. He knew that once the price was paid, debt would be cancelled. He knew that once the sacrifice was offered, sins would be forgiven. That once death had been swallowed, it would be swallowed forever. That once eyes were opened, then hearts would begin to burn, and that once hearts began to burn with resurrection truths, the lies of Satan would have to slither away into the dust from which they came.
The kingdom of God is like a large congregation of believers in a small town whose hearts are burning, some days flickering and other days going strong. They are learning again and again that darkness doesn’t have a prayer in the presence of Jesus. That although there may be weeping in the night time, the mercies of God will be cause for laughter in the morning. That as often as they draw near to their God in Divine Service or in private conversations, their God has a heart with a burning desire to give them a second chance and yet another new beginning.
The kingdom of God is like a den of Boy Scouts who know exactly how to build a fire. In the early stages, the fire is unimpressive and small. There are moments when it seems as though the drizzle and the darkness will win the day, but their teachers have taught them well. Their fire ends up ruling the night, and day by day they keep on having happy endings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
A Feast of Rich Food
Isaiah 25:6-9, John 10:11-15
Focus: Our Savior leads us through death to everlasting life.
Function: that the hearers find comfort in the hope of the Gospel, even in their grief.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our sermon meditates on two texts for today: Isaiah 25 and John 10, and as we reflect upon our texts and upon the life of this departed saint, there are two lessons we would cling to today. First, that God will make a feast for the ages. Second, that He is the Good Shepherd.
First, He will make a feast for the ages. That is the hope held out to us in Isaiah 25. There’s a man, named Jon Reiner, who lived in New York and because of a certain disease, was not able to eat for years (for years!). He had to have his food digested by an artificial stomach that he carried on his back and pumped into his body again. For years, this is how he got nutrition, until his doctors told him to start eating again. And when he was able to eat, he said, first thing, he went to a little greasy New York diner that had been his place many years before. He ordered a fried egg and cheese sandwich with bacon. He sat down, put his elbows on the table, and dug in. He made one of these faces, the kind of face you can imagine someone would make if they hadn’t been able to eat in far, far too long, and he turns to the man sitting next to him and says, “This is the best darn sandwich I’ve ever had.” To which the man says, in true New Yorker fashion, without missing a beat, “You think that’s good, you should try the meatloaf.”
Now, I’m not sure what Karen’s favorite food was, but I do know that it had been far too long since she could enjoy it. Now, listen again to what God says to the people of Israel. On this mountain – mountains are the symbol for the places where God shows up - on this mountain I make a feast of the finest of meats and the strongest of wines. On this mountain there will be a feast for the ages. He’s talking, filet mignon. He’s talking bacon-wrapped T-bones. He’s talking the best of wines, aged and strong. He’s promising a place where there isn’t discomfort, where there isn’t pain, where the only tears are tears of joy, where the food never runs out, and where the party is just getting started, because as we see in the next verse, God goes one step further: not only does he set a feast before his people, he finally swallows up death itself. Death gone, never to come back. For the Lord has spoken.
Karen, she desired the food that could be had in this life. She watched Food Network, like Nikki said, about 20 hours a day, and when I went to Rochester to visit her, I found that same thing to be true. And yet, when I asked if she wanted the Lord’s Supper, she turned the TV off, looked me in the eye, and said with tears in her eyes, even as she had sores in her mouth, “Yes, I do.” And the hope that we held out for her is that in her days, she ate and drank the Lord’s Supper for the strength that God gave her in it. In the end of her life, Karen was first and best hungry for the Supper that her Lord would give her. And now, in these days, know this: we take the Lord’s Supper with her and all the company of heaven, until at the end of all time, God opens up the banquet tables, we get to sit ourselves down, we put our elbows on the table, and dig in.
Lesson number one is that I would invite you to spend your days desiring the food that really matters. Let these things of eternal significance that marked Karen’s life at the end of her life also mark yours. Spend your days eager to come to the Lord’s Supper, receiving strength from the foretaste of the feast to come. Keep on being fed by the Word of God, because it will sustain you like none other especially when times get lean. Feast on the riches of God’s promises, because, at the end of all time, you’ll find this to be true: nobody throws a party like God throws a party.
Second, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” John 10 goes on, “I know my own and my own know me. My sheep know my voice.” Jesse told me that through his impressive wrestling career, he went to a lot of gyms and wrestled a lot of matches with a lot of people watching, and a lot more people yelling. And when you play, you get in the zone, until it feels like only you and the other guy are there. But, he found that there was always one person that he could hear from the stands – his mom. No matter which match it was, he could hear her voice telling him, Come on, Jesse. Get it done, Jesse. Don’t let up, Jesse.
And I tell you that to tell you this: Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. My sheep know my voice.” In her moments of fear, Jesus said to Karen, “I am your Good Shepherd.” In her moments of confidence, Jesus said to her, “I am your Good Shepherd.” In every one of her days, Jesus followed her around, and he followed her around with goodness and mercy, eager, absolutely eager to comfort her, to lead her before still waters, to restore her soul, until he took the lamb that he loves in the arms of his mercy and brought her home.
This is the foretaste that calmed her fears when they tried to overtake her, that led her to her shepherd’s arms that made her strong, even when her body failed her. This is the hope held out by our Savior, Jesus Christ, who went to the cross where his body failed him, who was crucified until he suffered the sting of sin, but who rose up as the first fruits of resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Lesson number two is that here and now I would invite you to hear the voice of your Shepherd calling. If you could hear the voice of your mother so clearly amidst all the noise of those gyms, then now listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd speak in your busy times and in your quiet times. If you could find encouragement in the strength of her love, then now find encouragement in the proclamation of your Savior Jesus Christ, when he says, “I have won my wrestling match with death. Death submits. Sin subsides. Pain will fade, because Christ has mastered it, and he mastered it for you.” Let the clear, calm voice of your father in heaven speak into your ear today. Let him tell you what you learned from your mother’s knee. That death is not the end. That you are bought with the blood of another. That your shepherd has been guiding you, and he will not rest until he guides you all the days of your life and more – to the feast of the age to come.
Worship Sermons & Letters