Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear family and friends of Robert: In your time of grieving, we who are present here to support you, and especially I on behalf of the St. Paul congregation, offer all of you our deepest sympathy. May our loving God, who fully knows all of your needs, bring you His comfort, and give you an extra measure of strength and faith to lift one another up.
Whenever people gather for a Christian funeral, there are two primary reasons for the worship service. First, we come to demonstrate by our presence our respect for our departed brother or sister in Christ.
Second, we take the opportunity to contemplate the meaning of our relationships with God and with others, both here in our temporal lives, and what will be in eternity.
For this consideration, our text from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is very appropriate. It describes both our individuality and our life within the grace of God.
There is nothing more meaningful or beautiful in our human existence or our contemplations than the grace of God. God’s grace not only shows us His greatness, but also His goodness. Though our life on this earth is dangerous, uncertain, and precarious, we see God’s grace in every breath He gives us. We see it in the knowledge that our life is in His hands at every moment, and—although the prospect can be frightening—we see his grace in the knowledge that we are accountable to Him for every moment, too. It means He never forgets us.
God’s grace is His love and care, and it is always undeserved. As Robert’s family and friends, we have all experienced the grace of God in many ways, including in our relationship with one another. God’s grace is most strongly and clearly shown, though, in how He has restored our relationship to Himself; a relationship that was broken by our human sin.
We know God’s grace clearly in that Bible statement that is so often repeated among Christians, that of John 3:16. Many of you have that verse committed to memory: “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.”
Whether we celebrate a marriage or a birth, whether we experience worldly success or failure, whether we enjoy good health or struggle with illness, and whether we gather together to share a holiday feast or to mourn together at a funeral, the fullest and ultimate meaning of our lives is always found in the grace of God.
The apostle Paul, who wrote the words of our epistle lesson to the Christian Church at Corinth, bears testimony to the significance of God’s grace. Paul had experienced God’s grace very powerfully in coming to faith. Remember how Jesus touched Paul’s life so dramatically as he was on the road to Damascus, an enemy and persecutor of the Church, seeking to arrest believers and return them to Jerusalem for punishment.
But in that experience, and through Paul’s baptism and instruction that followed, his life was turned in a new direction. Instead of eagerly and persistently hunting Christians to persecute, Paul traveled endlessly and energetically to bring the message of salvation to people all over the ancient world.
Paul always attributed the changes in his life, and the purpose of his witness, to God’s grace in Christ. As he wrote, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
In the same way, for us and for all Christians, we ought to recognize that our Baptism, our hearing of the Gospel, our strength for each day, our blessings of health, possessions, and family, and especially our hope for eternal heavenly glory all originate in the grace of God.
As we come together today to remember Robert, the gift that he was to all of us, and all the gifts of God that were present in his life, we ought to remember and testify that the grace of God was the greatest thing in his life as well.
And that would be saying something, indeed, for Robert had many wonderful blessings in his life: The many years God gave him. A profession at which he excelled, that provided for his family, and brought him the admiration of others. Many hours of enjoyment in the outdoors. And, of course, his many years of marriage to his beloved Mildred, and a family of fine daughters whom he loved dearly.
All of these things, too, stem from the gift of God which St. Paul calls “grace”. What is true of St. Paul is true of Robert as well, “By the grace of God, he is what he is.”
Robert fully recognized the working of God’s grace in his life, as he was a faithful worshipper at St. Paul for many, many years. When that was no longer possible, he often welcomed visits from his pastors, and I was privileged to share many of those visits with him. Robert’s recognition of God’s grace in his life also showed in his generosity toward St. Paul, both in his giving and in his work for the congregation. For all who believe, and especially for Robert, we recognize that all our own weaknesses and sins are overcome by God’s grace in Christ.
And that grace did not come to Robert in vain, either. As Paul said, it “was not without effect.” Unfortunately and sadly, many who are dependent upon the grace of God—and that includes everyone, for their very lives—do not give Him thanks and glory for it.
However, at the end of this earthly life that we celebrate today, we can be comforted that in Robert’s situation, this wasn’t the case. In his life, God’s grace was received; God’s grace was sought, and God’s grace was trusted. We can be glad that this grace now provides Robert with the promise of eternal life, in the presence of God Himself.
The comfort and hope given by the grace of God is never more clearly evident than when a Christian’s life on earth comes to an end. And the entire chapter of 1st Corinthians 15 is Paul’s account of the hope and assurance that we have in Christ because of God’s grace to us. Paul rests all evidence of our eternal hope on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ death on the cross, and His subsequently being raised from the dead, assure us that our sins are fully atoned for, and our victory over death has been won.
We know that no one can stand blameless before God by our own merits. Neither do we claim that for the departed. But we firmly believe, as God’s Word clearly tells us, “The blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.”
It is this confidence in the grace of God that brings peace and comfort to us now as we remember Robert for his earthly life and rejoice in his eternal life with God in heaven. In the days and years ahead, that confidence will help you even more than the good memories you hold of Robert. Share those memories with one another, and remember the happy and joyous times. But know that the grace of God is what will truly sustain you, just as it sustained Robert and has now brought him eternal peace and glory.
At the end of 1st Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul writes words that give a fitting exhortation and encouragement to you as you go forward in God’s grace. He says, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
So, stand firm in the assurance and trust that Robert now experiences the fullness, the wholeness, the unrestrained glory of God’s grace. Continue steadfast in the faith that will sustain you as it sustained Robert, knowing that as you continue in the work of the Lord, your lives will carry the same hope, the same trust, and the same final reward. In the grace of God in Christ, go forth in His peace. Amen.