Lessons: Psalm 23, Psalm 121, Job 19:23-27, 2 Timothy 3:14-17, John 10:14-18, John 10:27-30
Hymns: LSB 901, 740 (Duet), 710, 387, 461
Dear family and friends of Shirley: Grace mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Hear these words of our Lord from 2 Timothy 3:14, “Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” This verse was Shirley’s Confirmation verse. It is a very fitting verse, given her excellent childhood learning of the Christian faith. St. Paul wrote these words to the young pastor, Timothy, when Paul was imprisoned and awaiting his execution for faithfully preaching the Gospel. Right after Shirley’s Confirmation verse, St. Paul wrote quite personally to Timothy, saying, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Like Timothy, Shirley has known the Scriptures from childhood, making her wise for salvation through faith in Jesus. She did not just learn the faith as a child, but she, as her Confirmation verse states, continued in what she has learned and firmly believed.
Most of you have known Shirley for decades, or even your entire lives. I became her pastor just under seven years ago. She had already moved out of her home in Lexington and moved in with Linda. I made regular visits to her throughout my years here. While I sometimes saw her quick quips and sharp wit, I never knew Shirley when she was at her prime, for already dementia was setting in. You remember the parties she threw, the traveling she did with a carload of kids, and her fun-loving ways. You also remember her unconditional love and forgiveness. And with her unconditional love, you also remember that disobeying Shirley was not an option.
Over the last several years, her abilities decreased. Yet, there was something there that could never be taken away from her. She is baptized into Christ. And from childhood, she knew the holy Scriptures. And, as the blessing she received in her Confirmation verse states, Shirley “continued in what [she has] learned and firmly believed.” Shirley memorized lots of Scripture as a child. She also memorized many hymns. And she sang those beloved hymns all her life. The ones we are singing today are all hymns that she could join in singing up until recently.
In my visits with Shirley, I would page through the hymnal and sing with her. She did not need a hymnal to sing all five stanzas of “The Lord’s My Shepherd” or the first stanza of dozens of other hymns. She knew Psalm 23 by heart. She quoted Psalm 121 often. Even when she had troubles naming her family, she had no trouble reciting Christian passages or singing Christian hymns that had been placed in her heart from childhood.
There is nothing more important than teaching our children the Christian faith. You can see that importance in Shirley.
Sure, Shirley was not perfect. She was perhaps rowdier than some of her siblings. She had some vices. She, like the rest of us, inherited the sin of Adam. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 6:23). Faith in Christ does not mean that we will achieve perfection this life. We will always fail to live up to the perfect standard God sets.
And that’s precisely why we live by faith—why we would want to cling to Christ Jesus in faith—why we would want to learn Scripture and a goodly number of hymns to carry us through life. We don’t do these things to become “holier than thou.” Instead, we are in the Word of God so that we are near our Savior—so that He draws us to Himself through His saving Word and gives us the most glorious pronouncement—that Christ Jesus will declare us to be not guilty of our many sins on Judgment Day.
You see, God will not count any of Shirley’s faults against her, for Jesus paid for her sins on the cross, the Holy Spirit worked saving faith in Shirley, and Jesus will acquit her of all that she has done wrong on that great Day of Judgment when our Lord returns.
These blessings can also be yours. For Jesus laid down His life for the sins of the entire world. He died on the cross to earn forgiveness for all people. He rose from the grave to grant eternal life to all who would receive Him. All who are shepherded by Him—that is, all who believe in Jesus will receive this gift of eternal life and salvation.
Faith in Christ does not mean simply going through the motions of getting baptized and getting confirmed. Instead, it involves the very thing Shirley’s Confirmation verse teaches, “Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed.” That should make a lot of sense. We eventually lose the things we don’t continue in. If Shirley didn’t maintain her beautiful flower gardens, they would be replaced with weeds and overgrowth. If a muscle is not used, it shrinks. If the Christian faith is not nurtured, it withers and dies.
An important aspect of my vocation as a pastor is to visit the sick and shut-in. The faith of those who have been seasoned by many years in life must also be nourished. And so, pastors feed God’s little lambs—young and old—the life-giving, life-saving Word of God. I had been visiting Shirley about twice a month for the past couple of years. Since she couldn’t make it to church, the church came to her. She received with much gratitude the Body and Blood of Jesus. Through the Word and Sacrament, God the Holy Spirit was nourishing Shirley in her faith.
There’s no question where she is now. Christ Jesus has received another little lamb in the gates of Paradise. Shirley rests from her labors. She is at peace. Her remains will be buried this afternoon to await the glorious resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day. On that Day, Shirley’s body will be raised in perfection. And she will dwell with her perfect, resurrected body forever. For she is a child of God, redeemed by the Blood of Christ, and nourished through His Word.
Jesus, when speaking of those who have died, described them as sleeping. He did so because He has power over death. He rose, and He can raise the dead. We feel so powerless when a loved one dies. We want them to stay with us. The pain being separated from our loved ones through death is indescribable. But know, my dear friends, that Shirley is not eternally dead. She is, as Jesus says, sleeping. Her soul is alive and with the Lord. Her body and soul will be reunited when Jesus returns and recreates the Heavens and the Earth. And all who abide in Jesus will be with Jesus and all the faithful for all eternity.
This blessing is ours because of the unconditional love God the Father has for mankind. In this love, He sent Jesus to pay for our sins on the cross. Yes, God demands that you keep His Law. However, salvation comes not through your observance of the Law, but through Christ. That’s why His sheep hear His voice and listen to Him. They know He has the power to save.
If you want the salvation Shirley has, if you want to see Shirley again, then listen to Jesus. Hear His Word. Go to Holy Communion. Do not let anything come between you and Christ Jesus. After all, it is written, “Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed.”
God bless each and every one of you with the confidence that because Christ lives, so shall all who abide in Him. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.