Last week was kind of busy. I had another funeral to conduct. It was for Edwin Ricke, someone who joined our church after I came. He was old and had a lot wrong with him healthwise, didn’t always have a lot to say, never married and had relatively few friends — but he is such a great example of faith and confession to me. He left the ELCA church he was baptized and confirmed in and joined our church because he didn’t agree with the direction the ELCA seems determined to take. We received him into membership last Fourth of July; it was the only time he was ever in our church building as a member. Shortly after that, he went into the old folks’ home here in town. He bounced back and forth between there and the hospital regularly, so I got to visit him quite a bit. Something those outside the church don’t always understand is that those in the church, who insist on taking a stand for what’s right, based on their faith in Christ, sometimes grow weary too. We get tired of the conflict that faithful confession of Christ’s name brings. That’s why Christ encourages us that whoever acknowledges Him before men, He will acknowledge before His Father in heaven. Now Edwin enjoys eternal rest and solace at Christ’s right hand, in the paradise of the redeemed. I’ll miss him.
The text for the funeral sermon was his confirmation verse. That seems to be a custom in these parts, and it’s one that I like. It connects the young believer’s promise to remain faithful until death with its fulfillment, which gives evidence of God’s grace throughout that person’s life.
I wanted to mention the reason in his funeral sermon that Edwin came to join our church. It was not my intention to throw stones at the ELCA — no outward communion is perfect, not even mine — but at the same time it has to be said that the ELCA’s refusal to let God’s Word be God’s Word opens the door for a multitude of ill effects. Condoning sin, instead of pointing it out and rebuking it based on God’s Word, is spiritually dangerous. That does not change, regardless of political correctness, social norms, or the shifting dictates of culture, and only God’s eternal Word gives life. “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (john 8.31-32 kjv) Edwin is free from his sins and his health problems now. God be praised, now and forever.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” (ii pe 3.18 kjv)
You learn a lot of things when you become a new parent, and among them is a lot of new terminology. One of the terms that’s always intrigued me is “failure to thrive.” It’s such an exact phrase for an inexact thing. Failure to thrive means that for a growing child, nothing is happening, or very little, and that’s the problem. When a child doesn’t grow like it should, the doctors call that failure to thrive. The same thing can happen spiritually. People can fail to feed their faith or stop growing in their faith as they get older. They can have failure to thrive, not in their bodies, but in their souls.
God doesn’t want that for His children. That’s why He tells us what He does through the Apostle Peter today. God wants His Christians to keep growing and maturing in their faith as long as they live. This verse was also Edwin’s confirmation verse. It’s a fitting verse for a young person, and for a Christian. It’s also fitting for Edwin’s life. In order to understand this verse, and to more fully appreciate Edwin’s life as a child of God, we need to understand three things. We need to see why we need God’s grace in the first place. We need to see where the grace that Peter talks about came from. We need to see what that grace produced in Edwin’s life.
God’s grace is that quality in God that moves Him to have pity or mercy on us. We needed that mercy because we were lost without it. All people are blind and enemies of God by nature. We can’t know God and we don’t care about Him. That’s where Edwin started out. That’s where all of us started out. That hatred for God is the result of sin. Sin infects each of us. It causes all this world’s ills. It causes what you see in front of you today. Death is the result of sin. It’s not part of God’s plan.
But God in love had mercy on us. He chose to love us and save us. He didn’t have to do that. Nothing made Him do that. God chose to send His Son to die for the sins of the world. Christ willingly sacrificed Himself to save Edwin and you and me and millions of others like us. Christ gave Himself so that each of us would be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that we might receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in Christ. Jesus shed His blood on the cross to pay for every one of Edwin’s sins, and yours, and mine. Those sins are paid for and gone!
God doesn’t overlook our sins. He doesn’t turn a blind eye to them or say, “Ahh, you got close – good enough.” He does something far more costly and far more precious: He forgives them. He takes them away by the death of His Son. Since Christ has paid for all our sins, that means that we are holy in His sight. No more sin stains us. Now follow the logic: since our sin is gone, that means the devil doesn’t have power over us anymore. We don’t belong to him – we belong to God. We are God’s own children now! Since our sin is gone, that means that death is not what it once was. Jesus has turned death into the gateway of life. He has destroyed the power of death by rising from the dead. He’s made death the gateway to life instead of the end. That is the grace of God that He wants us to grow in: to ever more trust in Christ as our Savior, and to live as He wants us to.
God’s grace is never without effect. It always produces good fruits in a Christian’s life. I know that was true for Edwin. I first met Edwin when he was thinking about changing churches. He wanted a church that taught what the Bible said and believed that the Bible is God’s Word. He was unhappy with the direction that the ELCA is taking in going against the clear words of Scripture, and he told me he wanted to be buried in our church. I was happy to accommodate his request, especially since it was motivated by confessional reasons. He wanted to be where God’s Word was taught and preached without adulteration and without compromise. His love for God’s Word moved him to join our Zion family.
When I think back to Edwin, I think of a few Scripture passages. Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven.” Edwin was not afraid to acknowledge Christ with his words and his actions. He chose to show to the whole world what he believed. Right now, Edwin is being acknowledged by the Son of Man before God’s eternal throne in heaven. Christ is saying, “Welcome home, Edwin. Well done, good and faithful servant. You have confessed me before men, and you did not love your life on earth so much as to shrink from death. You looked ahead to a better country, and now you’re here. Enjoy all the delights of My heaven. You have no more pain or suffering or discontent. You are free. Welcome home, Edwin.”
I also think of Jesus’ words from John chapter 10, which we heard today. Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me. They listen to My voice, and they follow Me.” Edwin listened to the voice of his Good Shepherd throughout his life. He chose to follow that voice wherever it led. He cared more about what his Lord told him than the opinions and ideas of men. Edwin attended our services at the nursing home whenever he was able. He always valued God’s Word and he hungered and thirsted for the Lord’s Supper. He knew what his Lord had taught him, and he was always thinking about it and turning it over in his mind. Sometimes he’d ask me hard questions, and we’d talk, based on what God says in Scripture. Edwin always listened to the voice of his Good Shepherd, and now he gets to hear that voice in person. Now he is at home with God, and he gets to come in and go out and find pasture, as Jesus said.
That was the grace of God at work in Edwin’s life. God brought Edwin to faith in His Son through His Word. He kept Edwin strong in his faith throughout his life, through all his ups and downs, and at last He brought Edwin to everlasting life. God accomplished all those things for Edwin through His Word, and He will do the same for you if you hear and believe it. With Peter we say — and I’m sure Edwin would agree – “to Him be glory both now and forever! Amen.”