January 23, 2016 – 11 AM, Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church
Text: John 14:6 - "Jesus answered: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (Dave's confirmation verse)
Theme: Jesus Paved the Way to Heaven
Dear fellow redeemed.
Here we are. A week ago, Dave was installing a sink in his kitchen; and last evening, many of you brought your condolences to Beth and family at the funeral home in Welcome.
No doubt, today you’ve brought your own memories of Dave: a conversation, or playing football, or hunting, or work; maybe you have fond memories of Christmases and teddy bears and birthdays and other holidays together.
But as we gather to mourn Dave’s passing, we gather to do more than reminisce. We gather to do more than swap stories, chuckle, hug; we are HERE, because Dave was a Christian. Dave was a man who believed in Jesus Christ; and Dave worshiped Jesus right here. He normally sat about halfway back, along the center aisle.
So in the next few minutes, I won’t talk a whole lot about Dave. You know more about him than I do; you have known him longer than I, in many different settings, and for far longer periods of time. And in a sense, it would be difficult for me to adequately describe the man that you called son - husband - father - friend.
But today, I’d like to talk about the Jesus that Dave worshiped.
- When Dave was two weeks old, he was baptized into the name of Jesus at a church right here in Fairmont;
- When Dave was about 14 years old, he stood at the front of a church in Wilbert and was confirmed in the Lutheran faith. That’s where he promised to faithfully use God’s Word and Sacrament, and the congregation asks for God’s blessing upon him. And from that point forward, Dave would commune at the Lord’s table – receiving Christ’s body and blood, together in, with, and under the bread and wine, for the forgiveness of his sins.
And perhaps you’d expect that since Dave was such a good guy, such a wonderful man, such a faithful friend, husband, father, son…you’d expect that Dave should’ve lived to at least 70 or 80. And especially when you know that he was a CHRISTIAN…perhaps you’d expect God to keep Dave here for at least another 30 years.
Perhaps that’s the first question on your mind today: WHY? Why him, why now? 57 isn’t too terribly old; Dave had projects that the was still working on, family to care for…why?
That question is the easy one to answer. Dave was sick.
Yes, he had the flu; yes, he had to deal with diabetes; but that’s not what I’m talking about. Dave was sick with the same disease that afflicts us all: SIN.
Why did Dave pass away? Because he had transgressed God’s law. God demands that we love him completely, love others fully; and Dave, like you and me, did not. As wonderful as he was, Dave would be the first to admit that he was not holy, he was not perfect.
And in case you’re not familiar with what the Bible says about sin . . . basically, death is the pay check for sin. Even one sin, no matter how big or small, draws the pay check of death.
That’s why we’re here. That’s why we are burying our loved one today; that’s why each of us will be buried, one day. We share a common ancestry stretching back to the very first people, Adam and Eve; we inherit our sinfulness from them, the same way we inherit our eye color or hair color from our parents.
That’s the silent truth preached at every death, every funeral; and left with that truth alone, we would quickly spend our short years on earth trying to forget about death, avoid death, wring out every drop of enjoyment as we try to put out of our minds the thought of that final pay check.
But a Christian funeral is different. Dave’s funeral today is different; not because of who Dave was, but because of the God that Dave worshiped.
No doubt you’ve heard his name before; no doubt, you’ve seen his birthday celebration marked on the calendar – December 25. But stick with me a minute here, because Jesus Christ makes makes a Christian funeral – Dave’s funeral – different.
In our reading from John chapter 14, we heard Dave’s confirmation verse: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The pay check for sin is death. We’re here today because of a death.
Jesus says that he is the LIFE - which means that Jesus himself had no sin. He was absolutely perfect. Great, good for him; Jesus had every right to live forever, every right to enter heaven on his own merits. Jesus did not have to die, because he hadn’t done anything to earn death.
But he did die.
Even though he himself was perfect, Jesus willingly let himself be nailed to a cross. A cross like that one, like the one on Dave’s casket. Jesus was nailed to a cross and left to die, on the day that Christians call “Good Friday.”
And we call it “Good,” because that day Jesus wasn’t getting the pay check for his sin; Jesus was carrying our sins upon himself. All the anger, resentment, gossip, hatred, cheating; all of it was placed upon Jesus, the life.
And Jesus . . . the way, the truth, the life . . . Jesus DIED. To my knowledge, Jesus wasn’t diabetic; he didn’t work with concrete, although Jesus was probably trained as a craftsman of some sort, like a carpenter or plumber or HVAC technician. And Jesus died at a young age, in his early 30s.
If that were the end of it, then we should weep and mourn and wail;
If Jesus stayed dead, then we would still have to pave our own way to heaven;
If Jesus stayed buried, then there would be no hope or joy at a Christian funeral.
But on Easter Sunday, the third day later, Jesus rose from the dead! And his rising from the dead is God’s guarantee that your sins, my sins, Dave’s sins have been forgiven! There is nothing more for you to do, nothing you need to complete; Jesus isn’t like some divine credit card who stepped in and paid our debt, and now we owe him back;
Jesus washed away your sins, free of charge. Jesus washed away Dave’s sins, completely. And I can say that about Dave, and about you, because that’s what the Bible says: that Jesus washed away the sins of the entire world. Whether you knew it or not, whether you believe it or not – your sins have been forgiven!
Dave knew that his sins were forgiven; through contact with the Bible, God created a faith that trusted in Jesus. And today, Dave enjoys the holiness of heaven – life in the presence of God, forever.
Perhaps you could think of it this way:
At your birth, God handed you a trowel. He poured the concrete, and said:
”The way you live your life determines how good this sidewalk is.”
And each of us started edging, smoothing, raking, finishing; but whether we tried really hard to live a good life, tried really hard to make the perfect sidewalk – or whether we totally disregarded God’s law and gave up on making that perfect sidewalk – the result is the same: When the caution tape goes up, when we step back and take a look at our lives…all we see is a mess. Footprints, splatters, a totally uneven surface that is nowhere close to perfect.
That’s where Jesus stepped in. He stood by you, by me; put his arm around your shoulder, took the trowel from your hand, and said: Here, I’ll do it. He went to work – and created the perfect sidewalk that God demanded.
And then he hands the trowel back, takes down the caution tape, and says: What I’ve done is stable, and firm, and trustworthy; it can be walked on and driven over. It remains perfect.
Maybe that’s a good way of thinking about the road to heaven. We tried to pave it with our good intentions, but kept messing it up. But Jesus’s perfect life, innocent death, and resurrection was his way of totally paving our road to heaven.
Dave walked that road, and today is in heaven.
That’s why we’re here today, at the funeral of our loved one a few years shy of his 60th birthday. Because Jesus took Dave to heaven.
I’ll grant that there might be one lingering question, one uneasy sentiment lingering in the back of your mind today: Dave was a relatively young man. And the lingering question in the back of your mind might be this: If a man this young is taken out of the world . . . how long do I really have here? Will I live to see retirement or grandkids? Will my car slide off the road this afternoon? How long do I really have?
Good question. I can’t answer that one for you. God hasn’t told any of us how many years we’ll live; he doesn’t tell us when we pass the halfway point of our lives, whether that’s age 11 or 46; he doesn’t tell us which date he’s circled on the calendar as our last day on earth.
But he HAS told us the way to heaven. He HAS told us that our sins have been totally paid for; and that whenever God calls us out of this world, whether it’s in the middle of a project or after many more years – you can be confident that Jesus won’t let you down.
Jesus has washed away your sin, as well.
Jesus still is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
The Jesus Dave worshipped here – the Jesus Dave still worships in heaven – is the same Jesus we worship today. His cross stands prominently in our church, because that cross proclaims that your sins, and my sins, and Dave’s sins, have been forgiven.
And because of that fact, whether you pass away at age 57 or 97, you can know – and rejoice in – the same truth that Dave knew: That Jesus . . . the way, the truth, the life . . . has paved the way to heaven. AMEN.