Friday, November 25, 2011

The Sting of Death

Last week I received a call from the neighbor across the street. My next door neighbor had fallen while shopping and was in the neuro-intensive care unit at the hospital. His close companion of many years was at the hospital with him and could not remember the phone numbers of his children and grandchildren.

He had a hemorrhage in the brain and it was said that he was dead before he hit the floor. His body was kept alive on a ventilator until his family could arrive. His memorial service was Wednesday.

He was 91 years old. He knew that his time was coming and spoke of it fairly frequently. He often would call across the little wire fence between our yards, “Hey neighbor!” That was his invitation to swing my leg over the fence and come over to visit.

We shared in many conversations together. I often climbed back over the fence with a broken heart, knowing that he did not believe in the salvation that Jesus purchased for him. I shared the Gospel with him many times and in many ways, but the last time that he mentioned his imminent departure from this world I asked him, “You don’t really believe in anything, do you?” He responded, “Not really.”

Yet there remains a tiny glimmer of hope. He patiently listened to my excitement regarding the Gospel many times. He seemed to have a quiet sense of awe at the power that the Gospel has in my life. And so, I know that God could have created faith in his heart at some point, perhaps even as he was dying. I cannot know as he never gave any clear indication of such. Nevertheless, I do know that he heard of God’s grace, mercy, and peace from me on many occasions and in many ways. I never pressed the issue with him and he never objected to my gentle sharing. So I leave matters to the only one who knows.

I will surely miss my old friend. I know that for a very long time I will look for him across the fence only to realize that he is not there. Until the family is able to sell the house to a new neighbor, I will continue to look after the lawn and property. This, too, will remind me of his absence.

The Gospel is the most wonderful treasure in all the cosmos. Nothing is more wondrous and amazing. Nothing is farther beyond the grasp of our human reason. And yet, it can be our own possession through the faith that the Holy Spirit works through the means of grace. Christ established His Church on earth in order that this miracle can be an ongoing work among us. For the sake of my family and for the sakes of whomever else may benefit, I continue to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, binding myself to the absolute purity with which they are declared in the Scriptures. This is not a statement of my devotion or strength or commitment or faithfulness, but rather is a statement of the clarity of what the Holy Spirit has recorded for our benefit. His Holy Scriptures do teach plainly and faithfully this wondrous Gospel of God’s continual working to bring us into the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. God is the one who is truly devoted and committed and faithful, even as the Scriptures declare. And thus the pure doctrine can be known and preached and the right administration of the Sacraments can be known and practiced, for God Himself has ordained it and fulfills it wherever people hear and are gathered for that purpose. This is His work. Thus it can be trusted.

God make it so for us all.

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1 comment:

Gary Cepek said...

Amen to your comments.
We too have been granted by the LORD those occasions to give the reason for the hope that we have, gently and respectfully. Too often there was little if anything we could perceive in their response or lack thereof. And yet, over time, we could repeat those visits.
As you, so we, when the time of grace was ended, wondered and committed what had been said and done to the Judge who alone can see the heart, to the Redeemer who has paid for the sins of all sinners, and to the Holy Spirit who allows us to be His voice and hands.

"My Word will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it and achieve what I want."

Gary Cepek