Listen to it:
“The Story of a Life”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I would like to tell you the story of Doug’s life. I don’t mean such things as where he was born, where he went to school, the jobs he held, the house he built with Doris, the woman he married, or the children they had and raised. Those things are all very important, and most of you know that story far better than I do. Hold onto that story and those memories. They contain the essence of Doug’s life in this world with you, his family and friends. But hold on even tighter to the story I am going to tell, because it is the true reality of who Doug was and is, and because it is your story too. It is the story the prophet Isaiah tells, first about the people of Israel in the late 8th century before Christ, and it goes like this: [Isaiah 43:1-7]. Part of this passage was one of the first things I shared with Doug when I visited him in his house not too long after I came here. Isaiah 43 is the story of the people of Israel, whom God had made His own people by bringing them out of slavery in Egypt through the water of the Red Sea, drowning their enemies, and bringing them safely (after a “short” journey through the desert) to the Land which He had promised to give them. From the very beginning of the book of Genesis, God had made a promise to the people He had created, and He reaffirmed that promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and Noah. God was their Creator, forming them from the dust of the earth; He was their Redeemer, refusing to leave them in slavery in Egypt; and He was their Sanctifier, making them into a holy people for Himself. So He says: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1b, ESV). This story of Israel was incomplete for another seven hundred years: the promises of God were fulfilled in the birth of a baby in Bethlehem; the same God who had called Israel by name in Egypt took on their flesh and lived in their midst.
But the story is still not over. This story of Israel is Doug’s story as well. Because God created Doug also, from the flesh and blood of his mother and father. God redeemed Doug, He bought him back, when Jesus carried Doug’s sins to the cross, crucified them there, buried them in the ground, and rose from the dead. It was Doug whom God called by name when he was baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit so many years ago, and it was Doug’s enemies that were drowned in that water. God put His holy Name on Doug, and claimed Doug for His own. And in that moment, Israel’s story became Doug’s story: the story of sin and salvation. But God did not leave Doug there at the font. He did not claim Doug and then leave him to his own devices. Doug now bore the Name of his God. He had the sign of the Crucified One marked permanently on his head and heart. So God kept calling Doug, kept forgiving him, kept assuring him of His unbreakable promise: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Take and eat; take and drink, Jesus said; this is My Body, broken for you; this is My Blood, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of your sins. I had the great and awesome privilege of being Christ’s hands to give those gifts into Doug’s mouth, and Christ’s mouth to proclaim those promises to him, to tell him that Jesus would never leave him, nor forsake him. Though Doug would walk through the river of Parkinson’s, it would not overwhelm him; though he would walk through the fire of cancer, it would not consume him (Isaiah 43:2). It may seem that they did, because we who are left have to face this casket and the burial of this body. But it was God the Father who created this body; it was God the Son who redeemed this body; and it was the God the Holy Spirit who made this body holy. And because of that, this body will rise again. Because Jesus broke the hold of death over His own Body, He will just as surely break the hold of death over this body and the bodies of all who trust in Him. That is Doug’s story: created by God, redeemed by Jesus, called in Holy Baptism, and fed and nourished by the Holy Supper of His Lord. Doug is called by the Triune Name of God; he was created, formed, and made for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7), and now his soul rests in that glory as he waits for the Resurrection of all the dead on the Day of the Lord.
Until that Day, the story is still being written, and it is being written for you. You who have been baptized and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, this is your story. Doug’s Lord is your Lord, and He has created, redeemed, and called you by name; He has put His own holy Name on you, and He still feeds you with His own holy Body and Blood so that you will never forget His promise of resurrection to you. But if Doug’s Lord is not your Lord, if you have not trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, which will just as certainly lead to the death of your body as it has for Doug’s, know this: the story into which Doug was written was written for you as well: the God of Israel created you from the flesh and blood of your mother and father; the death of Jesus, the Son of God, was for your sin; He died to conquer your death, as certainly as Doug’s death has been conquered. Perhaps you have been baptized, so you know that God has already called you by name and already He has put His Name on you and claimed you for His own. But if you have neglected your baptism, trust that that forgiveness is still good today; that baptism into Jesus Christ is still as valid and certain today as it was then. If you have not been baptized and given the faith to trust Christ for your salvation, know that the same Lord who created, redeemed, called, and claimed Doug for His own is calling you. This is your story: your sin, your failures, your broken relationships, your death-they have all been taken to the cross. You don’t need to carry them any more. This story, though, will one day reach its conclusion: Yahweh, the Creator of all that exists says this to the New Israel, the Church of God in Christ Jesus: “Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:5-7, ESV). That will be the conclusion to the story of Israel, who trusted the promise of the coming Messiah; that will be the conclusion to Doug’s story and the story of all believers in Christ. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, ESV). Until that final chapter, that final page, that final sentence, when the Kingdom of God comes in its full glory and power, this is the message of Jesus: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, ESV). Thus far the story.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/14/08