Most of you know that I was installed here upon the retirement of Pastor Haug. When I first began living in the area, Pastor Haug took it upon himself to introduce me to some of the shut-ins. Milton was one of those shut-ins.
It’s hard to believe that it has been less than a month since we drove just up the road to the north to visit Milton. It always feels a little odd to walk into a house for the first time, but there was something I liked about this house. It had a certain comfortable feel to it. Someone had made a very tidy and very attractive place for Milton.
Then we walked into the next room and Milton was sitting there and I saw him for the first time. The first thing that struck me was that Milton had just about the biggest smile I have ever seen on a human face. The smile wasn’t just big either. It was therapeutic. When I saw that smile, I just felt better.
Well we had a wonderful conversation. I learned that the house was made from barn timbers. I learned that it was actually his wife Lillian who had collected the horse figurines that decorated the room. Mostly, I learned about the family that he loved here on earth and the family who had already left this world to be with Jesus and wait for the Last Day.
The next time I saw Milton, he had called me and asked for the Lord’s Supper. One of the joys of being a pastor is taking the body and blood of our Lord out to people who are unable to join the rest of the congregation at the Lord’s table. There in that house made from the parts of an old barn … surrounded by horse figurines, we bowed our heads over the bread and the wine. Milton confessed his sins and by the authority I have as a called and ordained Servant of the Word, I forgave his sins. Then I gave him the body and blood of his Savior to eat and drink.
Little did I know that this would be both the first and the last time I would be able to bring the Lord’s Supper to him. The next time I visited him, he was in Lincoln Hospital … then there were a few times at St. Clara’s. Now, we are here … dealing again with the cold reality of death.
The death of someone like Milton is very troubling for a variety of reasons. There is the obvious emptiness and grief that people feel at every funeral. Someone we love is gone. Yet with someone like Milton there is more. You see, Milton seemed like a gentle soul to me. I will remember his smile for a long time. In spite of his grim physical condition, he always seemed upbeat. When I think of Milton, I think of a really nice guy. Therefore, on a day like today, I really must confess. When a nice guy like Milton dies, it really drives home the point that I too must die someday.
The Bible is fairly clear. The Apostle Paul writes, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) When we encounter death, we encounter sin for death entered the world through sin. As wonderful as Milton was, the Bible teaches that where there is death, there is sin. If a gentle soul such as Milton is a sinner who dies, then what chance do I have? What chance do any of us have?
There is only one hope and that is the man who made the promise in the Gospel that we just heard. Jesus Himself promised, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1–3) Jesus has promised to prepare a place for Milton, and He has promised to prepare a place for you.
Jesus made this promise in the upper room on the night when He was betrayed. Soon He would lead His disciples to Gethsemane. There He would pray in agony and bloody sweat, then He would allow mere mortal men to arrest Him and abuse Him. He would endure a gauntlet of unjust trials and then a Roman execution squad would nail Him to a cross.
As He hung on that cross, He paid for the sin of every person in every place and time. There, on that cross, He defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil. His victory was so complete that death could not hold Him and He rose from the dead.
This means that Milton’s sin, your sin, and my sin is forgiven. It means that Meadow Lawn Cemetery is only a temporary resting place for this body. Jesus, the one who rose from the dead, has promised that there will be a day when all the dead shall rise to immortality in both body and soul.
On that day He will give eternal life to all who believe in Him. He will show them to the room that He has prepared for them in His Father’s house. In that new place there will be no mourning, crying, or pain. There will be no death. All the old things will be gone and Jesus shall make all things new. In that new place, we shall gather with Milton and all those who died in Christ. We shall see God face to face and know Him for eternity.
Jesus said …, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) This teaches us that those who believe in Jesus cannot say good-bye to one another forever. All who come to the Father through Jesus will meet again.
Although I only knew Milton for a short time, I can absolutely give you the comfort of knowing that he regularly confessed his sin and he regularly confessed his savior from sin … Jesus Christ. The comfort for those who believe on this day is that we are not saying good-bye to Milton forever. We shall see him again. We shall see him and all our loved ones who died in Christ.
In the meantime, we wait. We mourn honest tears. We do not mourn as those who have no hope of seeing their loved ones again. Instead, we mourn as those who will only be parted from our loved ones for a while. We shall not see Milton again in this world, but we will see him again. As we gather in joy around our risen savior, we shall meet again. I wonder how big his smile will be then. Amen
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