Ann Harder’s funeral was two days after Ed Engholm’s, and the two funerals could not have been more different. Ed had a huge family and was generally beloved by all who met him; Ann had lived a fairly lonely, separate life. She didn’t let many people into her life. After she passed, even the older folks in our church were scratching their heads, trying to come up with details of her life. In the community we live in, if most people don’t know much about you, it’s because you want it that way. Ours was the last church she’d belonged to, so the funeral home called me and asked if I’d do the service. I said yes, because A) otherwise the ELCA pastor would have buried her, and heaven only knows what he would have said, and 2) it was a chance to preach the saving message to those who were there. Her service was at the funeral home, not the church; the funeral directors & I were expecting maybe 15 people to show up. We had 45. I wondered, as I gazed on the little room full of people with the massive dark blue casket at the front, would she have chosen to live her life differently if she’d been able to see this? Would any of us live differently if we knew how people would miss us when we were gone?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 kjv)
When someone dies, we often wonder what God’s plan is. We wonder why God let things happen the way that they did. We wonder how it could have happened differently. It’s not easy to answer questions like that. God doesn’t always tell us what he’s doing. In fact, God often doesn’t tell us what he’s doing. We don’t always get the answers we’re looking for. Therefore, it behooves us to pay specially close attention to what God does tell us.
God has revealed his will to us in the Bible. What he tells us is complete and sufficient for faith and life in this world. Few passages reveal God’s will and his plan of salvation more concisely or beautifully than John 3:16. It is to that Word of God that we turn today, for comfort and for strength. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“God so loved the world.” Why does the world need God’s love? Because it is sunk in sin. The world is lost in darkness. Ever since the Garden of Eden, we have been estranged from God. We’re under a curse – the curse of sin. Because of sin, we are angry and opposed to God on our own. We don’t want to follow God. We don’t want to listen to him. Because of sin, we die. The wages of sin is death. Sin came to all men, and all died, because they were sinners.
But God still loved the world! What an unfathomable thing, that God would choose to love us! It’s an eternal mystery why God should choose to love us. He didn’t have to. He could have wiped us out and started over. It’s certainly not of our own doing. God had to make the first move, and he did. In God’s love we see what true love is – to love those who don’t love you back.
God’s love wasn’t just a warm fuzzy feeling or a kindness in his heart that didn’t go anywhere, like our love often is. It moved him to send his Son. When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Jesus the Son of God became a man, with human flesh and blood, just like we are. By his life and death, Jesus undid the curse of sin. He atoned for all transgression. He paid for it all. His death puts everything that’s wrong in the world right again. He broke the power of death. Death couldn’t hold Jesus down. He defeated it and ruined its power forever. In John chapter 20, on Easter morning, after Jesus rose from the dead, Mary Magdalene is standing by his tomb crying. Jesus comes up to her and asks her, “Woman, why are you crying?” Sounds like a silly question, right? She’s standing by a grave of someone she loves. She’s crying. Obviously she misses him. Yet we need to remember who it is that’s speaking to her. It’s the risen Christ. Jesus has risen from the dead and he is victorious over death forever.
Now he gives forgiveness of sins and life to all who call on his name. When you trust in Jesus, you live forever. Death still claims us now, but only for a season. We are still sinners, so we all still die. Those who trust in his name have the assurance of eternal life. That is the ironclad guarantee of God, and nothing – not sin, not hell, not Satan, not death itself – can stop it from coming true. We might not always know why God chooses to do what he does. Some things aren’t for us to know. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law, this Word of God. May we each reflect on the course of our own lives, number our days aright, and gain the gift of God – a heart of wisdom that trusts in Christ alone. Amen.