Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One of the many things that I think makes life interesting, and if I daresay, even fun, are its contrasts, disparities, and incongruities. If everything were too consistent, too regular, too bland, I think we’d cease to experience any surprise, any sense of wonder, perhaps even any sense of joy in things that are just unique enough to delight us. While it’s true that sometimes differences can lead to rivalries, disagreements, and even conflicts, differences still have their place in God’s creation.
As I was preparing for this funeral and gave some consideration to what I knew of Roy and his life of faith in Christ Jesus, I was struck by a couple of the seeming incongruities in his life. Not bad differences or incongruities, certainly, just interesting ones. In fact, in some ways, these attributes and characteristics are mirrored in what we know of God and His plans for us and for our salvation.
For example, it’s not news to most of you that—over the past few years—Roy tended to move pretty slowly. His legs and his back weren’t what they used to be, and it often took him a long time to get from point “A” to point “B”. I saw the unrelenting progression of time spent as a mortal creature in a fallen world working on Roy, as he moved from cane, to walker, and finally—on my last visit to his home right after Christmas—to wheelchair. But I almost always found him in good spirits, regardless of the frustrations and the discomforts.
In spite of this physical slowness, too, I remember that when Roy was still able to come to church regularly, he was almost always one of the first to arrive for the service. He took his usual place, right over there on the outside aisle, a few rows back on the lectern side of the nave. I once jokingly observed that his promptness in getting to church ran the risk of getting here before the pastors, elders, ushers, or trustees had arrived. Roy good-naturedly replied to the effect that he had to allow himself extra time to get to church these days, since it could take him so long to get places. As long as he got here before things started, that was OK with him. He just didn’t want to run the risk of being late.
So, moving quite slowly, but always on time, and even early. That’s one of those little incongruities that made Roy’s life interesting to me.
Speaking of early: Another thing I discovered in going through Roy’s church profile is that a lot of things in his Christian life happened somewhat early for him. He was baptized just a couple weeks after his birth. That wasn’t too unusual in that era, of course. Still, it’s quite a contrast to people’s current and unfortunate practice of often waiting weeks or even months after a child’s birth, until arrangements can be made for people to travel from long distances to be present. Perhaps it wasn’t such a challenge when families tended to live in much closer geographical proximity.
Roy was confirmed relatively early, too: Just past age 13, as opposed to the typical 14-plus. Again, nothing earth-shattering or highly unusual, just early enough to be different and interesting.
So, too, was his marriage to his beloved Adele, coming when he was a young buck of just barely 20. Plenty of people of his generation were married by that age, too, but certainly not the majority. As I consider my own son of age 19 now, and imagine what it would be like to see him married in less than a year, my mind reels. It seems that the world made people grow up quicker in earlier generations, doesn’t it?
Another thing about Roy and his tendency toward being early, eager, and ready: He always wanted to be sure he got his Portals of Prayer devotional booklet for the upcoming quarter well before the first day he would need it. And, thanks to dear Ardis Meschke, he almost always did.
So, what do we make of the fact that a man who was eager and generally early to experience the things of faith—baptism, confirmation, holy matrimony, devotions, and worship—ended up living to the rather generous age of 92? Does it seem that God was playing some sort of slow-tempo game, extending Roy’s life on earth when Roy, along with all faithful Christians, are rightly eager to join our heavenly Father in the joys of eternity?
No, that’s not it at all, is it? We know that a long life, even in this often troublesome, painful world, is always a gift from God. Every day is a new blessing, even a new beginning, if we understand it correctly and use it properly. Our departure to be with God, while always something to be desired and looked forward to with faith and hopeful anticipation, is a matter of His choosing, not ours.
Our only roles in that departure, apart from taking good care of the mind and body He has given us, are to use our abilities to serve our neighbor, to give witness to the hope we have in Christ, and to be strengthened in faith and prepared in spirit by repentance, prayer, worship, devotion, and the regular reception of His gifts.
St. Peter explains our situation well in his second epistle, a portion of which was read as our second lesson today. He opens that section with a reminder to his readers that we are to remember and trust what God has revealed to us in the predictions of the prophets, the teachings of Jesus, and the writings of the apostles. In other words, we are to cling to God’s Word as our source of faith and hope.
Peter goes on to say that it is to be expected that many people will scoff at the promises made to us by Jesus. The world sees time marching onward, with changes taking place but humanity still struggling along, and presumes that it will always be so. Those who reject God’s authority, the commandments and threats of the Law, and the actions and promises of Jesus forget that the world has already been destroyed once on account of sin. God had waited patiently in the days of Noah, but finding no one else faithful to Him, wiped out His creation by the same waters from which they had been brought forth. Peter warns that, just as the earth had once been destroyed by the waters of the flood, but some had been saved, in the Day of Judgment the earth will be destroyed by fire, and all the ungodly ones will receive destruction.
It is in the next section of Peter’s letter that we begin to see the answer as to why we can’t begin to question God’s will or His process when it comes to matters of time and lifespan. The Lord exists outside of time itself, Peter explains. God is not only everywhere; He is every when, too. Peter uses the analogy that to God, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. Our lives in His hands are both momentary and eternal, passing by the viewer of history like a single stripe on a long, long highway, but every fraction of every moment is seen and understood by God, in its entirety.
The next verse is pivotal in our understanding of God’s governance of time, of eternity, and of each of our precious lives. Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
You see, God has a very good reason for you to be alive and breathing and here in this Church at this very moment, even as He had good reason for giving Roy so many years on this earth. It is so that we can turn from who and what we are by our sinful nature, so we can repent of our sins, and be brought into and kept safe in the holy ark of His sacred Church.
You don’t know that you will get 92 years to live a life of repentance and service like Roy did, or even another 92 days, minutes, or even seconds. None of us know that, for none of us knows when our life will end, or when Christ may return. “The day of the Lord will come like a thief,” Peter writes. For this reason, we are called to repent today, tomorrow, each moment of every day, and to live in the faith that trusts that only Jesus can please God and satisfy the terrible judgment that will come upon those who reject His suffering and death as the payment for their sins.
Knowing and anticipating the dangers of unbelief, we wait as Roy did, as long as it takes for the coming day of God in our lives. Not in fear, but in faith; living as St. Peter suggests, “lives of holiness and godliness.” When heaven and earth are destroyed at the end of the age, those who believe will receive in fullness the promise we now await: Promise of life in a new heavens and a new earth, a new creation in which righteousness dwells.
How do we do this? How do we wait with patience, while still being always ready for the coming of the Lord? It’s not easy, and it’s not something we can do alone. Peter urges us, in the words of the text, to“be diligent to be found by [the Lord] without spot or blemish, and at peace.”
Without spot or blemish, you say? With all of our sins, how is that possible? By faith in Jesus Christ alone, who has paid for your sins, and has taken them all away by suffering and dying in your place.
And at peace? How is that possible, too, in this turbulent, troublesome, turmoil-riddled world in which we live each day? You can be at peace because the promises of God are sure. No matter how tempestuous, stress-filled, hectic, and worrisome your life, it will all pass away except those things which God has promised. The guarantees of our certainty are the empty tomb of Jesus; the imprint of the nails in His now-living hands; the resurrection miracle that stamped God’s full approval on Jesus’ sacrifice for you.
You are here today so that you can count the patience of our Lord as your salvation, just as Roy did. God hasn’t taken you from this world yet, because He wants you to reach repentance, too. To receive His promises, to participate in His family, to worship and serve Him, to be blessed with His gifts of Word and Sacrament.
As Peter concluded this section of his letter to the Church, so I conclude this message of encouragement to you: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”