Ed Engholm was the first person I buried. He was 94 and had been up and down with his health for maybe the last decade of his life. I had the privilege of visiting him in the hospital a few times before he passed. The verse that was the sermon text was his confirmation verse. (This was the first, and quite possibly the last, sermon I’ve ever preached out of the King James. Personally, I’d be okay with using it more, but its beautiful language has become too much of a barrier for most in today’s world. I think that’s a pity, but that’s another topic for another time.)
“Teach me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.” (Ps 86:11 kjv)
Minnie, Patsy, Donna, Gerald; relatives and friends of Edwin Engholm: grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they pray. Nearly everybody prays at one time or another, or tries to. There are no atheists in foxholes, so they say. School kids pray before tests. Sometimes even those who don’t believe in God find themselves trying to pray in times of stress or doubt. The prayer of a child of God is different. It’s confident. It knows God will hear and answer in the way that’s best. It wants what God wants. It asks for blessings the world can’t understand and doesn’t care about. You’ve selected Ed’s confirmation verse as the text for today’s sermon. That’s fitting. At a young person’s confirmation, they promise to remain faithful to the Lord until death. Now, as we mourn for Ed, we can celebrate a lifetime of God’s grace to him. This verse is A Believer’s Prayer. It has three parts. Through it, we see what God has done for us. We see how God has led us. We see what God has promised us.
David begins this prayer by asking, “Teach me thy way, O Lord.” This is not something that anybody prays on their own. We want to pray, “Don’t teach me thy way, God; leave me alone so I can go my own way!” We want to do our own thing. We don’t want to listen to God. The human race is like a herd of cats, or straying sheep. We each want to wander off in our own directions rather than follow God. That’s because on their own, people hate God and are opposed to him. The human heart is sinful from birth. Our sinful natures make us enemies of God and hostile to him. Everybody starts out there. That’s where I started out, and you started out. That’s where Ed started out too.
Jesus’ way was different. He said, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” He loved to serve God. He wanted to. Jesus did everything God wanted, perfectly. He served God and kept all his commands. He earned God’s approval, so that the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; listen to him!” Jesus’ way took him all the way to the cross. He carried our sin and our guilt and our shame to the cross. There he cried, “It is finished” – every sin was paid for. He took away all sin and punishment forever. He suffered and died so that we might be free. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Then Jesus rose from the dead. Not even death could hold Jesus back! Death isn’t supposed to be here. It’s in this world because of sin. Jesus took away all sin and destroyed the power of death. Death is the one thing that we can’t beat – but Jesus did.
Now Jesus has opened the way for us back to God. When you trust in Jesus, all the benefits of his death are given to you. He pours out all his blessings on you. Your sins are taken away. God looks at you and he sees a perfect person. You’re totally holy and sinless before him. You have peace for your conscience. He gives you rest for your soul. He fills you with joy because you have no more guilt now. You have eternal life. God has a home waiting for you in heaven. He promises that you will live forever with all the saints and angels in heaven. Then, and only then, when you trust in Jesus, can you pray, “Teach my thy way, O Lord.” When God has created faith in your heart through his Word, then you can follow him. You want to know the Lord better. You want to be closer to him. When you trust in Jesus, you can see all that he’s done for you.
Next David prays, “I will walk in thy truth.” Walking in the truth is the fruit of the faith God gives. When all your trust and your hope are in God, it’s bound to show itself in your life. The way you live is evidence of the faith in your heart. You walk in the light, as he is in the light, according to the truth of God. We saw that in Ed’s life. He was a hard worker. He loved his wife, and his children and grandchildren. Most of all, he loved his Lord. That love for God was not of Ed’s own doing. God fed his faith and kept it alive through his Word. The Word kept Ed close to God. You can tell that because wherever he happened to be living, he always looked for the Word of the Lord. He always made sure to find a place where he could worship God with his fellow believers and hear God’s Word preached. Just as all Christians do, Ed ordered his life according to God’s Word. We all seek to do God’s will, which is revealed to us in the Bible. God puts each of us where we are, in our particular stations in life, and guides us in how to please him. Our lives may look much the same as the world of darkness around us – farming or gardening, going fishing or hunting – but the difference is on the inside. We live to please God and we live according to his Word. The difference is faith. We walk by faith, not by sight. That’s how we can walk in God’s truth. We gladly walk in the truth and follow what God says, because we know he’s not going to lie to us.
All of God’s promises are true. When God says it, it’s going to happen. When God says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” that’s true. When Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” that’s true. When God says that there is life after death, that in Christ all will be made alive, that we will walk in the light of the Lord, that’s true too. God has only the best in store for his children. He promises that there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. He will be our God, and we will be his people. Nothing will separate us from our God anymore. It’s easy to do what someone else says if you know that they have your best interests at heart. We gladly walk where God’s truth leads us.
Lastly, David says, “Unite my heart to fear thy name.” He prays for a united heart because he can’t have one here, in this world. Our hearts are divided here on earth. Remember that sinful nature that I mentioned earlier? Inside every child of God there’s a sinful nature, an old Adam, and a new man. They struggle against each other. They butt heads and fight. The new man wants to do what God wants – just like the believer’s prayer in this verse. The old Adam wants to do everything God hates and nothing he approves of. Here on earth, that struggle never is resolved. Our new man wins a lot of the time, but the old Adam is never down and out. They both battle back and forth for a Christian’s whole life. I’m sure we can all think of times from our own lives where that’s been true. God promises that one day our sinful natures will be gone. Christ has taken away our sins through faith. One day, he will make that a full, visible reality. Sin and death and all their effects will flee away, and night will be no more. We will be changed. The sin will be purged right out of us, and we will be fit to live forever with God in heaven. We will enter the glory of God, the way he meant us to be all along – holy and sinless and living with him forever. Ed has received that now. His heart is no longer divided. He praises his Savior before the throne of God. God has made him a pillar in his temple, and never again will he leave it.
Today – and in the coming months and years – we miss Ed. I won’t deny that or take that away from anybody. It’s still real. It still hurts. But today we can also give thanks for what God accomplished for Ed and through Ed. “Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.” God grant it, to all of us, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.