Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Here lies a very strong man. Well, he had to be didn’t he? Between his flock of older brothers who I’m sure never did anything to aggravate him, and a sister who could tease and outrun him, he had to be strong. Those brothers may have called him spoiled but here lies a very strong man. I know it’s true because he’s my age and he has endured more (medically) in his lifetime than I can even contemplate. And even though he probably had more to complain about then most people, he didn’t do it. Here lies a strong man.
Now I don’t think in general people really thought of Kelly as all that strong. After all, he needed daily care. He depended on his family for everything, especially these last few years. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t even hold his own eyes open. He walked with great difficulty. And these last few years again, he was pretty much confined to his house. And he didn’t speak much. “Hello Kelly, how are you today.” “Fine.” For Kelly that was a Russian novel. No, I think most people would look at that and say this guy is not strong.
But I know that he was. The thing is, I think Kelly really understood something very clearly. Something that we don’t have the perspective to understand. He understood what it means to be dependent on people, and I think he understood what it means to be dependent on God. Now don’t take me wrong. Kelly was no perfect person. He was a sinner just like you and me, no better, no worse. Sinful to the core. Just like me. Just like you. Every day he struggled with selfishness. I’m sure that nearly every day he questioned God’s wisdom at letting all this happen to him. You see, he struggled with sin, too. I know that even though he never said a word to me about it. I know that sin was there in his heart because: Here lies a strong man. Because according to God, the soul that sins will die. And as for you and me; well, you’re looking at what we deserve too. Someday we will all hold the place of honor at our own funeral. Remember I said as far as sin is concerned, we are no different than Kelly. We are sinners who deserve this.
Back to Kelly’s strength and his dependence. Listen to his confirmation verse.
Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. ” (Proverbs 30:5, ESV)
This really is Kelly. Actually it is God’s wonderful gift of faith given to him. All those years ago, God gave that gift of faith to Kelly with His name and water. “Kelly Jay Brown I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And year after year, Sunday after Sunday Kelly sat here in the pews and listen to every word that came from God. How many times did Kelly open his mouth here and receive God’s forgiveness through the body and blood of his Savior, Jesus? You see, Kelly took refuge in God, in Christ. I have two short stories to tell you.
I was visiting Kelly in the hospital. I asked if he wanted to take communion. Some of the family was there and said that he just had it Sunday. Then Kelly spoke up. “Yes!” He wanted it. He wanted God’s promises right there in the hospital bed.
The other day Ellen told me that when Kelly was alone he used to take the bulletins that had the hymns printed on them and try to sing them. The psalm says, “Make a joyful noise!”
Here lies a strong man. But the strength that I want you to think about now is something different than the strength that kept him alive all these years. It is the strength of faith. Faith is being dependent on a Savior from sin, completely dependent. As the proverb says taking “refuge in Him.” Our faith, Kelly’s faith is in God’s faithfulness. We believe that God will keep his promises.
And this is what we rejoice in today. Not in Kelly and his strength but in God and his promises, God and his forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. God promises, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:16 ESV) That’s his promise to Kelly. “This is my blood given for the forgiveness of your sin.” That too is his promise to Kelly. Kelly’s sin, oh, and by the way yours and mine too, were hanging on the cross with Jesus. This is where all God’s promises come true. Jesus suffers God’s anger over all human sin. Jesus Christ suffers the complete punishment of Hell for all. And this point I want you to really understand, and I want you to understand it by understanding Kelly’s dependence. We take refuge in Jesus, believing God’s Word of forgiveness. But it is nothing that we do, can do or will do. We don’t make ourselves right with God in any way. Rather God makes us right with himself by becoming human in Jesus Christ. He is God’s substitute for sinful people; living a perfect, sinless, God dependent life; Suffering punishment that was not his but ours, and walking out of death alive again. And then through His Word and Sacraments he gives us the faith to believe that all that Jesus did he did for me and you and Kelly. That’s what Kelly believed. That is Kelly’s faith; taking refuge in God, being totally dependent on Him for forgiveness; depending on him to raise him up from death to life again. Like the hymn we sang says, and I think you can put it on Kelly’s lips.
He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.
You see, this death, Kelly’s death is absent of the ultimate punishment of sin. Because of Jesus, Kelly has only passed from life here to life with God. The eternal punishment of Hell was already taken up by Jesus. And, God be praised, on the day when our Lord returns, Kelly’s body will be raised up perfect, and whole without spot or wrinkle or blemish and we will stand with him rejoicing in Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.