Preached at Butler Funeral Home on May 20, 2013
Texts: Psalm 130; Romans 8:12-27; John 3:1-17
Dear Tom, Vickie, Bethany, Hannah, Gregory, Natalie, Nick, Dusty, family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Here’s what we can say about Nicholas. He was a golfer, always eager to be out on the links. He was a bowler, with several 300 games to his name. He was a friend. He was a father. He was a hard worker, along with Nick, digging in the dirt.
Nicholas was selfish. But this doesn’t make him any worse or any different than any one of us. All of us have the selfish gene – it is the corruption of sin. We are guilty through and through. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”
Nicholas hurt. Something deep inside, maybe none of us know what, but he hurt. And he sought relief in an idol. And as idols are wont to do, it killed him.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy.” That was Nicholas’ cry, as it is truly every one of ours. But often, in our weakness, we direct it to the wrong lord.
On a day like today, dear beloved, we cannot look to what Nicholas did or didn’t do for comfort. Just as on any other day we cannot look to what we do, or didn’t do, or failed to do, for comfort. At a time like this, we must look elsewhere, apart from ourselves, apart from Nicholas. If we look to God and His action, we can add a few more things to what we can say about Nicholas.
Nicholas was baptized. We recounted this at the beginning of the service. Nicholas was buried therefore with Christ “by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,” he too might walk in newness of life.
Consider that promise, God’s promise, for Nicholas in his baptism. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” On September 9, 1979, Nicholas was born from above, through the waters of holy baptism and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nicholas was baptized.
Nicholas was adopted twice. Once in, I believe, August 1979, and then again on that day of September. In Holy Baptism Nicholas was made a child of God. He was given a Father in heaven who loved him, smiled upon him, and was ready and willing to listen for his pleas and answer his prayers. And if Nicholas was made a son, a child, of God, then an heir – an heir of God and fellow heir with Christ. In his baptism, Nicholas received as a free gift all that Jesus Christ had done. Nicholas’ sin was there with Christ on the cross, paid for in Jesus’ death. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only son…” That’s what it took to pay for Nicholas’ sin, and yours and mine.
Nicholas confirmed his baptism. On May 2, 1993 he stood before the altar at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Springfield and confessed before God and man that he believed and trusted in those gifts – the forgiveness of sin, the name of God, that title of Christian, son, heir – that he received in his baptism.
But Nicholas hurt. In his sin, he hurt. In his being sinned against, he hurt.
Sin has that effect. It does damage, wreaks havoc, brings pain, ruins, tears down. And not just on us, but on the whole creation. This is not the way it should be. Even when Christ has baptized us and we have His salvation in our hearts and on our lips, we still have to wait. So we groan, because sin – though forgiven – doesn’t stop. We keep sinning. Others keep sinning against us. In the Romans reading Paul illustrates the picture of the whole creation groaning, as in the pains of childbirth. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly…”
That’s the hurt. God bids us to look in hope to His promises, to wait eagerly and patiently, to trust that He does indeed love us and is actively caring for us. God says “Ask me, dear child, as your dear father, and I will care for you.”
In His mercy, God ensure that our cries come to Him. Even in our weakness, when we fail to pray, when we seek relief elsewhere, God hears us. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
The Holy Spirit, whom Nicholas received in his baptism, was crying out to God on Nicholas’ behalf. Even when Nicholas sought relief elsewhere, the Spirit knew that the only relief was from God and prayed it for him.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy.” Nicholas hurt. Nicholas cried out for help. To an idol? Yes. Yet God still hears the prayers of His baptized children, even Nicholas, because of the very Holy Spirit which Nicholas received in his baptism.
This is the depth of God’s love. Jesus not only paid for Nicholas’ sins, but He Himself continued to intercede for Nicholas before God the Father, alongside the Holy Spirit.
So we hope and trust. God intends mercy and salvation for the whole world. And He gives it to us, each of us, in our baptism. Nicholas was baptized and God called him “son”. Let us commend this child of God unto God the Father, who is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love. He does not desire the death of a sinner, but that the sinner should live.