Funeral of Nicole Hollingsworth

Lessons: Psalm 23, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Romans 8:28-39, John 15:1-8
Hymns: LSB 744, 770, 490, 748

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      Dear family and friends of Nicole: Grace mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). These words of Jesus were given to Nicole at her Confirmation—a day when she confessed publicly that she will remain, with God’s help, faithful to Him as long as she lives.

      Jesus is the vine; we are the branches. When Nicole was just over a month old, God grafted her as a branch onto Christ, the vine. She was received into God’s family through the waters of Holy Baptism. God promised that He will be with Nicole her entire life. God promised that nothing could ever separate her from His love (Romans 8:38-39). God took Nicole’s sin away and covered her with the very righteousness of Christ. Nicole was united to the death and resurrection of Jesus. She died to sin and rose to newness of life. All of these blessings became Nicole’s through Holy Baptism.

      Even though I was not there at Nicole’s Baptism, I can say these things were granted to Nicole at her Baptism. Why can I be so confident? Because God’s Word says so. The Bible clearly teaches the blessings God grants in Baptism.

      And when we are grafted as branches onto Christ the vine, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. No tribulation, distress, danger, or trial.

      Yet, often we feel like we may be separated from Christ’s love when we go through hard times. That’s what Satan wants us to believe. You see, the Bible says, “To live is Christ; to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Instead of directing our hearts to our Savior Jesus, Satan wants us to become inwardly focused. He wants us to think that something could separate us from God’s love. Satan lies into our ears, “See Nicole there in that coffin? You love Nicole. God must not care about you. He took Nicole from our presence.” Then we start to drift inward. Then we think God must not love us. Then we think we deserve God’s wrath.

      But, do not listen to those lies. Instead, listen to the true Word of God. God has said nothing can separate you from His love. This means the cross you are enduring, the great pain you are suffering brought on by Nicole’s death, the agony you are facing, the troughs of tears you have shed—none of this has separated you from God’s love.

      He still loves you. He always has. He always will. A few verses after Nicole’s Confirmation verse, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends” (John 15:13-14). You see, Christ Jesus came into this world to bear our sins and pay the impossible penalty that our sin has brought upon us. Jesus, who became a true human being, bore our sins in His Body. He suffered the complete penalty for our sin on the cross. He shed His innocent Blood on our behalf. And death could not contain Him. He rose victoriously from the grave. He gives us life and salvation. We don’t deserve this kind of love and forgiveness, yet He grants it to use anyway. Because Jesus is God and His works are perfect, there is not a single sin Jesus did not pay for.

      Consider, for a moment, what was the worst thing you’ve ever done. Or what is the darkest thought you’ve ever had? You probably won’t share them with anyone. Yet, Jesus knows. And instead of turning away from you in shame, He took that sin upon Himself, and died to pay for that sin. For on the cross, Jesus paid for all sin. That is love. That is the love Jesus had for Nicole. And that is the love Jesus has for you, even as you grieve Nicole’s death.

      Nicole was known to be a loving person. She loved, because God in Christ first loved her (1 John 4:19). She expressed her love, always, to her family. She very proudly spoke of her brothers while downplaying her own abilities. She didn’t want the attention to be on her. Yet, she graduated with great distinction from Park University this year. She was just beginning a career.

      All of that stopped ever so abruptly last Saturday. No one got to say goodbye.

      There’s no question about it. While this is hard for us all to face, it most difficult to her closest family and friends.

      We thank God that family and friends have poured out their love and support to one another. No one is alone during this trying time. You have done so much to show Charles and Christy, Robbie and Alex that they’re not alone.

      In our tears, we cry out to our merciful God. In love, He hears us. We pray for strength to meet the days ahead, for peace knowing this is God’s will, and faith to be blessed with the same blessings God granted to Nicole at her Baptism.

      In all of this, we remember nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us (Romans 8:37). Jesus is for us. None can be against us.

      Our reading from Romans began with these comforting words, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). All things work for good. Even at the sudden death of a young, bright, vibrant, loving person. We don’t know why or how God will use this for our good, but He has a plan. And so we trust in Him.

      Jesus is the glimmering ray of hope that can be found in these difficult days. He brings salvation to all who call upon Him. He offered Himself into death so that we can live eternally.

      So while we may weep and shed countless tears over this seemingly final death, we know that death has lost its sting. For death is swallowed up in victory. Jesus is triumphant over death and the grave. He lives (1 Corinthians 15:1-58).

      On the Last Day—on Judgment Day—at a time known only by God—Jesus will return. He will raise all the dead. And all who believe in Christ will be raised to perfection. Their souls and bodies will be reunited, and they will have perfect bodies. And they will dwell with the Lord forever. There will no longer be tears, suffering, or death. Instead, it will be an eternity of bliss. God’s verdict for all who call upon Him in this life is that they will be not guilty. Christ Jesus will decree that all who abide in Him, grafted onto the vine, are innocent and acceptable to eternal life.

      Do you want this blessing? Do you want what Nicole claimed as her own on the day of her Confirmation in which she was given the comforting words “I am the vine, you are the branches?” Then abide in Christ. If you are not yet baptized, come to be baptized, to be grafted onto the vine. That way, the source of your purpose, your joy, your love, and your life can be found in the one Savior, Jesus Christ.

      You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13). This means you may bear the sorrows of this life and be received into Christ’s eternal kingdom in which there will be no sorrow.

      As you walk through this life—the valley of the shadow of death—know that Christ is your Good Shepherd. He will get you through this. He is faithful and will do it.

      God bless all of you. Amen.        

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen.