I didn't have the opportunity to know Ray back when he was healthy. I have been here only a little over three years and Ray's name has been on our prayer list for that entire time. Never the less, during those three years, I have heard many stories that let me know that Ray touched the lives of many people in many different ways.
People tell me that everyone who knew Ray respected him. He had a strong work ethic and an uncommonly large amount of common sense. He provided for his family by farming until he retired. Although, even after he retired from the farm, he didn't really stop working. He was ready to help out other farmers, do seasonal work at Stokely's, and lend a hand in his brother's plumbing business. Like most men who are doers, he wasn't much of a talker, but when he talked, people listened.
Even during these past years of weakness, I came to know a man who loved others deeply. Not only did he love his own family, but he took his children's friends under his wing. Little children always brought a smile to his face as well. Even in his weakened state, his smile could still light up the room. There were times that I went to minister to him and he in turn ministered to me.
There are some other things that I know for certain. When I look at the hymns and the Bible readings he chose for this day, I see choices that are theologically sound. His choices tell me that his faith focused on who Jesus is and what Jesus did to save us from our sins. He truly lived his confirmation verse: "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."
Ray confessed his faith in Jesus Christ in many ways. I am sure that each of you has memories of the many ways he confessed his faith to you and to others.
One example of the way in which Ray confessed his faith is still with us. It is a very solid something that we can still see and touch. Every Ash Wednesday, we bring out this special cross and leave it out until the end of the Easter season. It is a very substantial cross and is built in such a way and of such materials that it will last for many generations. Ray built this cross. Even though Ray is now in heaven with the Lord, his confession of faith still lives on. Ray will continue to proclaim his faith in Jesus Christ for years to come - through this cross.
The Bible tells us that the work Jesus did for us on the cross is His most important work. Whether we look on the cross that Ray built or some other cross, there is no better place to see Jesus than to stand at the cross and look. Christ's death on the cross is the expression of the innermost being of God. There is no better place to learn about God. God's justice and His love intersect at the cross. At the cross, we see both Law and Gospel at work to save us from our sins.
When we look at Ray's confession in this cross or any other cross, we see that the Law is at work because the cross shows God's wrath. At this cross, we see the serious nature of our sin in the physical suffering of our savior. When we look at the cross, we see the punishment that should have been ours because of our sin. When we look at what Jesus endured on the cross, we see God's justice. His justice demands this punishment for our sin.
Ray's confession also proclaims the Gospel in this cross. All crosses proclaim the Gospel that when God punished sin, He did not punish us. Instead, Jesus showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, He died for us. When we look at what Jesus endured on the cross, we see God's love. He Himself paid the price that His justice demanded. This is the Gospel of the cross.
As I said before, Ray didn't say a whole lot, but the proclamation he makes through this cross is the greatest proclamation of all. God worked through Ray to make an expression of the central teaching of the Christian faith - the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Even after God has called Ray home, his confession of faith still lives on in this cross.
Jesus defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil with His suffering and death on the cross. Because of His victory, death was unable to hold Him and He rose from the dead. This is the great comfort that we have on this day. For we know that, last Thursday, Ray appeared before Almighty God and because of Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection, God declared Ray to be holy and welcomed him into his eternal home in heaven. Because of what Jesus has done, Ray heard those wonderful words, [Matthew 25:23] 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'
If we could talk with Ray now, he would tell us that there is lots of room in heaven. He would tell us that Jesus has reserved a place in heaven for each of us. That reservation waits for the time when God in His infinite knowledge and wisdom brings an end to your time here on this earth. Those who trust the person and work of Jesus Christ will join Ray and all the other believers in Christ. Together with Ray and all the other believers in Christ they will enjoy the eternal happiness of heaven.
Ray would want us to listen to the words of Paul, "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Ray would also encourage us to listen to Christ's words in the Gospel where He says, "Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." He would warn us that we should all be prepared for our last day. It could come like a thief in the night.
We can be happy for Ray on this day: No more oxygen tubes; No more medications and treatments; No more being more or less stuck in bed; No more needing help with every little thing. Ray is now truly free from all the difficulties that sin brings into our lives.
On the other hand, we are still here. A dear one has been taken from us. We miss him. It is honest to mourn, but we do not mourn as those that have no hope. We know that Jesus did not die in vain, but that He rose from the dead. Through that death and resurrection, we know that Jesus will bring us to Himself in the end.
Remember the faith that Ray confessed: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved …" The Holy Spirit wants to feed your soul so that you will believe this very thing. With faith in Jesus Christ your separation from Ray and your other loved ones will not last. One day the trumpet will sound. The dead will rise. And we will all be joined in Christ forever more. There to be joined with our loved ones, never to be separated again. Amen
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