21 September 2015

In Due Season

The eyes of all wait upon the Lord to open His hand and provide for all their needs in due season.  So did Betty also spend her entire life as a Christian waiting upon the Lord in faith.  But especially in these past four or five months, she waited.  Patiently and peacefully, yes, but also eagerly.  She watched and waited on the Lord.  She waited and prayed for the right time, the appointed time, when He would finally take her from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven.

Not that Betty was one to weep and moan, leastwise not in my experience.  But as much as she was able to find joy in her life and was so thankful for all the many blessings with which the Lord had blessed her on this earth, she knew her time here was drawing short.  She was ready to go home.

Especially in these last days and final weeks, she was very aware of how dependent she was on the care of others.  She was deeply appreciative of the help that she received from her children and various providers, but it is also a humbling experience to be in that position.  Old ladies, and old men, too, become like little children again.  We talked about that on my last visit with Betty, this past week, as we heard the Holy Gospel for the coming Sunday.  For Jesus takes the little child up into His arms, and He says that the Kingdom of God belongs to such a one as this.  Not because little children are so innocent or sinless, by no means, but because they are so helpless to care for themselves, and so they must rely upon and trust in those whom God has given to care for them.

To be so small and weak and helpless is a difficult cross and challenge to bear.  But it is also one of the ways by which God teaches you how to live, that is, by His grace and not by your own skill.

So, did Betty have her troubles?  Oh, yes, of course she did!  Some of you are well aware of that, because you were close to her, and you were there with her and helped her in her difficulties.  But so did you also discover that her heart was not troubled by those trials and tribulations of this life.

I don’t mean to suggest that Betty was never grumpy or distressed or saddened by her situation, although I rarely saw it, myself.  But the fact is that she knew, as St. Paul did, the secret of being content with her circumstances.  Such joy and peace she positively radiated throughout this long summer now past, in which she could hardly do anything but lie in her bed and wait on the Lord, and yet she did so quietly in hope, and she never stopped expressing her gratitude for God’s grace and mercy toward her.  What a remarkable witness in this final season of her life on earth.

And really, for as long as I have known her, these past twenty years, she had a way of seeing the good, the lovely, and the beautiful in this world.  She enjoyed reading books; and she had a great interest in history; and she took such pleasure in her garden flowers; and, oh, how she loved people in all their wonderful variety.  She made a conscious choice to dwell, not on the evil, but on the good, as the Apostle admonishes Christians to do.  That’s not naive; it’s divine wisdom.

The secret of such contentment, peace, and joy — the wisdom by which Betty lived — is that of faith in Christ, in His Word and promises, in His Cross & Resurrection, and in His Righteousness.  These are the works of God, which He has accomplished from before the foundation of the world and established for all eternity in the Body of His incarnate Son.  No one can add to any of this, nor can anyone subtract from it.  Nothing in all of creation can undo what God the Lord has done.

Betty lived and worked, she waited on the Lord, and she loved her neighbors in that hope and confidence of faith, because Christ comforted and cared for her; He strengthened and sustained her faith in Him by His Word of the Gospel, His forgiveness of her sins.  The “secret” is that simple.

Now, to be sure, the comfort and contentment of the Gospel are hidden for the time being, for this life on earth here and now.  They are hidden under the Cross.  Not that God is making sport with us, but that we should learn to fear God and to live by faith in His Word, and not by sight or the experience of our senses.  Neither presumptuously, nor pessimistically, but in the peace of Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.

The Cross of Christ is laid upon your fallen flesh, as it was upon Betty’s, and as it is laid upon the whole of creation, so that you should learn the fear and faith of God and neither despair on account of your troubles nor make idols of this world with its beauty.  For this world, with all its ups and downs, with all its goods and evils, is perishing and coming to an end.  But so has the Lord also placed eternity in your heart, that you should long for Him, and look for Him, and wait upon Him, until at last you rest in Him, both body and soul, forever and ever.

If this divine wisdom is a “secret” hidden under the Cross, so is it also revealed in the Cross of Christ, in His Word of the Cross, and in His Body and His Blood, which are the fruits of His Cross.

This one Lord, Jesus Christ, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, as you have heard this morning.  In Him you know the Father, not in the way of abstract trivia, facts and information, but as a son or daughter, as a member of His household and family: a little child in His Home and at His Table.

That is what is yours, and that is what is Betty’s in Christ Jesus, conceived and born of St. Mary, crucified, dead, and buried, risen from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of God the Father.

That is the place He has prepared for you, where you live already now by faith in His Gospel.  For in your Holy Baptism, you have died with Christ and risen with Him, and your life is now hidden with Him in God.  There it shall remain, safe and secure, until your life and your place with God in Christ are manifest in His appearing, in the resurrection and glorification of your body in Him.

Imagine that, even now, for dear Betty!  That her poor body, though it has suffered, declined, and deteriorated, and though it returns to the dust of the ground whence it was taken — her body shall be raised up at the last and glorified in Christ.  Healthy and strong; beautiful, lovely, and perfect; immortal and imperishable: Glorious in its appearing, like unto the glorious Body of Christ, with which, indeed, He has these many years and again last week fed her body for the life everlasting.

Even now, under the Cross — beautiful to faith alone — He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life in His means of grace.  Not only by what He has done and accomplished once for all upon the Cross and in His Resurrection from the dead, but also by what He continues to do through the Ministry of His Gospel, by which He comes to forgive you all your sins and to receive you to Himself.

He comes to be and abide with you here and now, so that, now and forever, you may be and abide with Him in the presence of His God and Father.  That you should fear no foe nor any evil with Him at hand to bless.  For ills have no weight and tears no bitterness with the Victory of His Cross and Resurrection in view.  Neither death nor the grave can triumph over you in Him.  Nor could even these last great enemies rob Betty of her hope and happiness in Christ Jesus.  Indeed, she prayed and waited to depart from this world, and yet, to be with Him still.

That, again, is the “secret” of contentment, of peace and joy and gladness in any and all situations: In the fluctuations of the times and seasons.  In your daily labors, and in your rest and relaxation.  In your celebrations, and in your sufferings.  In your eating and drinking, sleeping and waking, and all your coming and going.  In your living, and in your dying.

All of these activities and circumstances are opportunities to live by faith and in love, to glorify God, to rejoice in His good gifts — to hear His Word, to receive His pledge and promise of eternal life and salvation, and to wait upon that which He shall do at the time He has appointed.

The outcome is already accomplished and certain in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead.  So is it certain for you, as it is for Betty, whom the Lord has now called to Himself in due season.

As she reclined in the green pastures of His Word, and was cleansed and refreshed by the waters of His Baptism; as she feasted at His Table here, and drank from His Cup, so does she dwell in the House of the Lord forever, a beloved child, a dear daughter of her God and Father in Christ.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


John J. Flanagan said...

Wonderful words to share. Very well expressed, and especially heartfelt because it was personal. I am almost 71. My older sister passed away several months ago at 73. She was the wife of a non-denominational pastor, a very devout believer, and a kind and gentle soul, qualities I had seen in her even in the early years of our family life. When she was given the news that she had pancreatic cancer and the prognosis was only for six months of life, she accepted it graciously and although received treatments....eventually it was hospice at home care and she passed after a year. I like to think of her as she was always...a child of God who is now joyfully in the presence of Jesus. Thank you for sharing your message. May God give each of us the strength to live as confident believers and face our own end as well as these other brothers and sisters who have gone before us. Blessings.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you for your kind words, John, and for sharing your own personal experience. I echo your prayer that we should have such faith to live and die in the confidence of Christ. God grant it to be so for Jesus' sake. Amen.