Lillie Mae, Carolyn, all of Walter’s family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
By no small coincidence, our Gospel lesson this day, from Matthew, chapter 6, concludes with Walter’s confirmation verse: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
But I’d like to start a little earlier in the text, because as I was reading it, something caught my attention, and reminded me of Walter. It’s where Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body.”
Back in Jesus’ time, people believed that the eye caused light to flow out from inside a person, enlightening others as to what was within. They didn’t scientifically understand the behavior of light and the workings of the human body to the extent we do today, but they were still onto something. That is: from seeing a person’s eyes, you can often tell what is going on within them. In other words, to borrow a slightly different phrase: The eyes are the window into the soul.
Jesus’ words about the eye being the lamp of the body hit me quite powerfully when I read them again a few days ago. In thinking how they applied to Walter’s life and faith, I realized that just about every time I saw Walter, especially in church but even on several visits in the hospital, his eyes—his body’s lamps—were gleaming warmly and brightly.
Now, I can’t tell you with any certainty whether those eyes were gleaming in joy, in satisfaction, in happiness, or with a little bit of mischief, of course. But I can tell you that Walter’s lamp was usually bright. He was almost always shining forth in a way that could be apparent to everyone around him, if only they looked. Walter’s twinkling eyes were spiritually healthy. He shined forth with the love of Christ and with the joy and pleasure of being in the Lord’s house, hearing His Word and receiving His gifts. Even having those gifts brought to his bedside brought light to his soul and peace to his heart.
We know that only God and His Word are eternal and perfectly consistent, but my, oh, my… Walter certainly had his own sort of consistency and longevity, didn’t he? Assistant to the treasurer here at St. Paul for 34 years. Assistant head usher and then head usher for a great many years, too. Employed by the same company for 43 years; how many can say that anymore?
Father for a good many years, too—I won’t mention how many, Carolyn. The husband of one wife for—listen carefully now—64 years. A guest at His Lord and Savior’s Supper for 72 years, and continuing. A baptized child of God and brother of Christ for 86 years, also continuing.
Yet for all that investment of his time in so many noble, wonderful, and worthwhile vocations and activities, Walter was certain of something even more worthwhile: He wouldn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t lay up for himself any treasures here on earth that could compare to the treasure of knowing and trusting Christ as his Redeemer, his Savior, his Lord. For all his consistent, persistent ways, Walter knew that the moths and rust of our fallen world, and the sins and sinful nature of his own fallen flesh, marched on even more relentlessly than he ever could. He needed someone even more persistent, more consistent, more faithful, than he could ever be himself.
That someone was, and is, our only hope as well—Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and son of Mary. Out of love for His fallen creation and His fallen creatures, He came to earth to suffer and die for all of us, and for all our sins. But He also came to a font in Lee County in 1926, to the son of Richard and son of Anna, and with Father and Holy Spirit gave Walter a faithful, consistent promise: You are mine. I have claimed you by water and word; I have bought you with my body and my blood. You are my treasure; you are my special possession; where you are my heart will be.
Jesus made Himself Walter’s master that day at Trinity Lutheran Church—but a Master who is a loving, sacrificial Shepherd, not a harsh and demanding dictator. And even when Walter, like all of us, struggled with our human tendencies to try to serve two masters, to deal with life’s anxieties and worries, to sow and reap and gather into barns, Jesus waited patiently.
Jesus speaks to remind us that it is our heavenly Father, and not our worrying or working, who provides our daily bread of food and drink and clothing. He teaches us that it is the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, and not our being anxious, who adds the hours to our lives so that we might have more time and more opportunities to serve our neighbor and bring glory to God.
As I was choosing our scripture lessons for this service, I wanted to select readings that would remind me of Walter, and that I hoped would remind you of Walter, too. Certainly not to eulogize him, for though there is much for us to admire, we are here first and foremost to remember what God has accomplished in and through Walter, and what God has in store for us, as well.
As you re-visit those words from the book of Joshua, Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia, and from Matthew’s gospel account, though, I want you to contemplate this: How has God shown His mercy, love, and grace to you, as He has to Walter, and as He has to our forerunners and offspring in the faith?
I have a few ideas, and no doubt you may think of several others beyond these. Which ones reflect actions the Lord has done in your life? Which ones resonate with you? Which ones had you forgotten about, or never really recognized before?
The Old Testament lesson began with Joshua reminding the Israelites of many of the blessings God had provided to them and their forefathers, blessings that are still provided to us, in God’s own way.
Out of all the people on earth, none of them worthy or deserving of His love and mercy, God chose Abraham. He’s also chosen you, like He chose Walter, from before the foundation of the world.
In every generation—Abraham’s, Isaac’s, Jacob’s, Moses’, Joshua’s, Walter’s, and yours—He’s provided rescue from your enemies, answer to your prayers, food for your sustenance.
Time and again, He’s given the chance to serve Him in sincerity and faithfulness, to put away our false gods, to choose the truth over the falsehood, to obey His voice. Just as He instructs us to do for others, He restores in a spirit of gentleness we who are constantly caught in our transgressions. He keeps watch over us, lest we be tempted. He bears our burdens infinitely more capably than we can bear them for one another, though we are still called to do so.
He shares all good things, sows the Spirit within us, and reaps His crop in due season, taking those whom He wills into the eternal storehouses of His peace and joy. He never wearies of doing us good; He never gives up on those whom He has placed in the household of faith.
Try as we might to attain or emulate those attributes and those accomplishments of God, they are beyond our capabilities, strive for them though we might—and are called to do. In always falling short of them, though, we need not fret. We are the crown of His creation; far more valuable—far dearer, far more loved—than the birds He feeds. Far more enduring in His love than the flowers or the grass of the field.
Our only significant concern, then—the only anxiety that ever really matters in the end—is this: After all is said and done and lived out, where and with whom will we spend eternity? For Walter and for you, that answer is certain. It removes all doubt and anxiety and fear: Your heavenly Father has always known what you needed: A Savior from your sins and the death that they bring. And He has always had a Savior prepared for you, promised for you, sent for you, and given for you: Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus brings righteousness to replace your sin. Jesus brings healing to restore your soul. Jesus brings Himself to hang on the cross between you and God’s wrath, so that you may be reconciled to the Father. Jesus brings reality to destroy the idols of your and the world’s making. Jesus brings something—No, Jesus brings everything—to replace the nothing with which we deceive ourselves. He has done good to everyone, but in binding you to His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of your sins, He has especially done good to you who are of the household of faith.
May you and your house, like Joshua’s and like Walter’s, choose this day to serve the Lord. Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
In the name of (+) Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness, our faith, and our eternal treasure, Amen.