“A Temporary Assignment”
Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Perhaps you have heard about the Christian woman who was approaching death, and she knew it. As she met with her pastor to clarify her own funeral arrangements, she asked if he would be so kind as to make sure that a dinner fork was put in her casket as people came to see her. The pastor was puzzled about that, and so she explained that in all her years of going to church and family meals, it had been a custom to eat the main course, and then if dessert was to be served, she would be told to keep her fork. She knew that was told to keep her fork that the best was yet to come. That is to say, dessert was on the way. She wanted her friends and family to know that as good as life was here on earth, that heaven was going to be even better. That the best was on the way.
So also for Dale Keyes – he certainly had his days full of joy and good times and good memories. And the temptation is to think that the good old days were in the past and that after a certain age, it’s all downhill. Some have described life here on earth in this way, Bad stuff happens, and then you die!” For St. Paul and for Christians throughout the ages, that’s not how we see it. As Paul approached death, he declared, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” And in our text for today, he finds himself torn between the desire to live here on earth or to be with his Savior in heaven – and finally he cries out this summary statement, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In other words, the best is yet to come for the baptized and believing children of our Father in heaven. With that in mind, our sermon theme today is “A Temporary Assignment.”
Two lessons we want to learn again today. The first is to always remember that all our assignments here and now are temporary, and the second is to remember that the main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.
First things first. Life on earth is a temporary assignment. David says it this way in Psalm 39, “O Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away.” James says it this way, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” David talked about himself as a foreigner here on earth, and Peter urged early Christians to live their time as sojourners and exiles.
Realizing that life on earth is just a temporary assignment has a way of radically changing our values. It helps us to fix our eyes not so much on what is seen, but on what is unseen. It helps us to give thanks this morning for every sunrise and sunset Dale was given. To understand that every one of his assignments here and now was temporary. No doubt some assignments he carried out well, and in others he fell short, far short. Which is true for all of us. The Bible teaches that all of us sin in daily fashion, and that we fall short in the way that we think, in the words we speak, in the bad that we do, and in the good that we fail to do. If we try to live according to what we can see, if we try to be right in the sight of God by balancing our sins with good works, life will be a disaster. On the other hand, as often as we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, as often as we remember that we are strangers here and heaven is our real home, life will be ok. And many days will be even better than ok, by the grace of God. Lesson #1 today that we never ever want to learn again as we stare sudden death in the face - our assignments in life are important, but temporary.
Lesson #2 – we want to learn from our sermon text today that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to be baptized into the Name of the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and to remain in that Christian faith until we breathe our last breath. The main thing is to cry out for forgiveness in each one of our days and to know that as often as we cry out, forgiveness has already come our way. The main thing is to pay attention to what God is trying to say to us and to receive what He is trying to give us, and in this way to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, even and especially on those days when it seems as though God is far away.
As we pay our last respects to Dale Keyes today, we give thanks to the God Who created Him in the first place, redeemed His soul in the second place, and followed him around with goodness and mercy all the days of life. Earlier we spoke the Apostles’ Creed – the same creed into which Dale was baptized, the same creed he confessed in his confirmation vow.
We say goodbye to him with hearts that are grateful and spirits that are humbled. Grateful that God gave Ralph 78 years plus and humbled that He took away that life without warning or a chance to really say goodbye. Grateful that we live in a land flowing with milk and honey, and humbled by the fact that naked come we into this world and naked we depart. Humbled by the truth that the wages of sin is death and grateful that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Humbled that we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment, and grateful that God daily and richly forgives all our sins.
I’d like to tell you today about one of my favorite people in life. The garbage collector. I don’t really know his name, but I can tell you when he comes by. Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, without fail, a garbage man comes along and takes away my garbage – and he never brings it back to me. Always he hauls it away, and never has he pulled up the next day and thrown it back in my face because of unpaid bills. We all know that garbage can get to be a filthy and stinking and even embarrassing collection of that which we want to never see again. And what a beautiful sound the garbage truck is, as long as you have remembered to put it out to the curb.
It seems to me that every funeral is in fact, a great opportunity to take our garbage out to the curb not just once a week, but every single day. By that, I mean to say that every day we would admit to God and to each other that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That every day we would cast our failures and faults to the foot of the cross and remember that Jesus Christ took all of our sinful thoughts and all of our sinful words and all of our sinful deeds and all of our sinful habits and all of the bad we have done and the good that we have left undone and He hoisted all of that on His shoulders and He paid the price that we could never begin to pay, and when He said on the cross that It is finished, He meant what He said and He said what He meant.
We listen to God’s Word this afternoon with the assurance that Dale’s garbage has been hauled away and his failures and faults have been forgotten in the courtroom of God, the courtroom that matters. His debt has been paid for, not with gold nor silver but with holy precious blood. Not with the repeated sacrifices of mere mortals but with the once and for all sacrifice offered by Jesus at Calvary.
In the near future, you will lay Dale Keyes to rest in the Name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As you do so, go ahead and cry your rivers of tears, but do not cry as those who have no hope. Go ahead and tell your favorite Dale Keyes stories, but do make sure that the story of our Triune God remains front and center. Go ahead and live the next chapters of your own lives with free spirits and with great joy, but be sure to do so with the realization that every one of our assignments here and now is temporary and that the best is yet to come. It’s tempting today to think and talk as if the good old days have passed us by and as if at a certain age, it’s all down- hill. But for the people of God, to live here and now is to live in Christ, and to die is gain. Now we live by grace, and soon the day will come, and pray God that it come soon, when we will live in glory. May God bless and keep all of you strong in your Christian faith, may God permit whatever He needs to permit in your lives to keep you close to Him, may you always keep it clear what is temporary and what matters into eternity, may God help you to keep the main thing the main thing in life, and may Dale Keyes rest in peace. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
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