BE PREPARED FOR THE INEVITABLE
Dear Christian friends,
My mother’s parents were classic grandparents to my brothers and me. My grandfather was a hardworking farmer, active church member and involved citizen. He loved his grandchildren. We loved to sit in his lap and he would talk to us. He had a way of really communicating with kids my grandmother was also classic grandma. She had white hair and was always smiling. Could she ever cook! She made home made doughnuts that would have knocked Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme out of business. She had a great sense of humor.
Even though my grandfather never smoked, he died of lung cancer. His was the first death I experienced that was so close. He was a handsome man. He had gray hair but wore a flat top. He looked like an Air Force Lieutenant. He was always tanned because he was always working outside.
On the day of my grandfather’s funeral, the whole family gathered at their farm. From there we would travel over to the church for the funeral. We were all sitting in the living room waiting the time to go to the church. Not much was being said. We were all sad; Grandpa was gone. This kind of feeling was not usual at family gatherings. There was usually a lot of laughter and conversation and grandma’s doughnuts. We got together for birthdays and Christmas. I will always remember how Grandma, dressed in black, came into the living room where we were all seated broke the tension. She looked at her watch and said, “Well, it is time to go! Now, where is Ed? He’s always late!” Ed was Grandpa.
As a kid, I had spent two weeks every summer at their home. It was always a good time. Grandma and Grandpa were good role models. As a child I learned a lot from them – a God-fearing and God loving man and wife who loved each other - the way it ought to be.
We have studied the life of Abraham and Sarah. They had been together for a long time, but it had come to an end. It had to come to an end. They teach us a lot of things, they also teach us to “Be Prepared for the Inevitable.”
“Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.” There is a tradition that for different years of marriage, a specific kind of gift is appropriate. For instance, for a first anniversary a paper gift is appropriate; the second anniversary cotton is appropriate; third, leather. Then there are gifts appropriate for longer times a couple has been married – 20th - china; 25th- silver; 50th - gold; 60th - diamond. As far as I know that’s as far as they go out. There is a definitely a probability that Abraham and Sarah were together for far more years. In ancient times marriages often took place in early and midteens. Sarah lived 127 years. Abraham and she could have been married for over a hundred years. What would the appropriate gift be for a 100 year anniversary?
Think about the experiences they had been through together. God had communicated with Abraham to move away from their homeland in Urto a land that God would show them. By faith Abraham and Sarah went, knowing only that God would show them. What an adventure! The traveled from Urto Haran to Shechem to Bethel to Egypt to Bethel to Hebron to Hobah to Hebron to Gerar to Beersheba and that’s not the complete list. Sarah could have thought that her husband was crazy, but the two went the distance together. They knew the LORD was guiding them.
Sarah was quite the woman. Peter refers to her as an example for all women. He instructs women to like the “holy women of the past who put their hope in God… They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” That last phrase is quite a phrase: Do not give way to fear!” That’s only possible through faith that we know the good Lord goes with us. There is a lot to be learned from Sarah.
There is a lot to be learned from the married team of Abraham and Sarah. Don’t get me wrong they were not perfect – or we should say - only perfect in through Jesus. They experienced the grace of God every morning. The Lord forgave and remained with them when they didn’t deserve it.
When I devised the theme for my sermon – Be Prepared for the Inevitable – any couple married in Christ can expect to be blessed every day with God’s grace. Yes, that, too, is inevitable.
But the day came in Sarah’s 127th year when Abraham and Sarah’s marriage ended. She closed her eyes in death. When I was in my pastoral training, I spent my vicar (intern) year in a congregation which was one of the oldest congregations in our church body. In fact, I believe it was the fourth or fifth oldest church in The WELS. It had a long and interesting history. The congregation was very large. There were two pastors. One of the pastors had grown up in the congregation. His father had been there for forty years and he was called back and served there for thirty years. He had a lot of experience in that church. He knew the members. He told me early in the year that I would notice something. When a spouse would die at a ripe old age, within six months the other would pass on too. He attributed that to the last spouse dying with a broken heart more than anything else.
The famous contemporary preacher Chuck Swindoll wrote a book on marriage called “Strike the Original Match.” In it he speaks about his own parents and the marriage they had but was ended when his mother died. “My father lost the joy and light of his life when my mother died in 1971. She had been his spark, his motivation for living. Not being a “people person,” he leaned on her for delightful evenings with friends, those musical interludes each week, those fun times of conversation, laughter, trips and visits with others. Her sudden departure left him stunned, immobilized and alone in the truest sense of the word. Although, we, his children later cared for him and reached out to him, he soon became a man of boredom and occasional depression – a sad tragedy that often brought us to tears.”
When Adam and Eve sinned and God confronted them, he enumerated the consequences of sin. Among the things he said was, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” While he said that the body would return to the ground and the soul to God, he doesn’t mention the hurt that goes with death for those who survive. What a big hole is made in the heart when a spouse or a child or a parent or grandparent is called away.
The Bible always refers to family as a blessing. The Proverb says - “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” The psalm says, “Children are called a heritage and a reward from him. It hurts when one is taken away.
Someone once compared marriage to becoming a Christian. There are parallels. When, by the Holy Spirit’s power, we become a Christian we leave a former way of life and adopt a new one. When we get married we leave father and mother and are united with a spouse. We lead a different life from when we were single. When we follow Christ, we are committed to him with an irrevocable love to serve and submit to him. That’s no different with a husband and a wife. In marriage we are committed to our spouse with an irrevocable love. We promise to stay by each other in the good times and the bad times, in sickness and in health, poverty or wealth, in agreements and disagreements.
We have a family who in the past has signed our fellowship register after the service by putting down the name “Team Means.” I like thatBrandonand Mandy and Veronica. God willing the team gets bigger next May.
Like the team of Sarah and Abraham, every team will break up one day. I heard this week that the Jonas Brothers won’t be holding a concert in town. The reason – some say irreconcilable differences. Couples way too often break up the team when only God decides the team to an end. That’s the will of God.
A man remembered his wife was having a birthday. He bought her a most unusual present. No, it wasn’t a frying pan. Besides, what is so unusual about that? He bought a pre-arranged funeral. He bought the coffin, the burial vault, and all the services that a funeral home would provide at the demise of his wife. The wife thought at first it was a little odd but the more she thought about it, the more she got used to the idea. They were getting to the age where she said it was practical. The next year came along and her birthday. She wondered what her husband was going to get her. There were no packages with pretty little bows. There was no gift at all. She finally asked the question, “Today is my birthday, what did you get me? He answered, I didn’t get you anything. After all, why should I? You didn’t use the gift I got you last year.”
As I have gotten older, that joke becomes less and less funny. I have a wonderful spouse whom I love and I don’t know what I would do without her. I know you feel the same about yours. It is hard to think what life would be like without her or him – whatever applies. But it will happen if the Lord’s Judgment doesn’t come first.
A couple of weeks ago Judy and I went to see my brothers and their wives in what has become our family reunion. We also got together with other cousins from my family one of the nights we were there. Our oldest daughter, Kristina, met us there along with Catie, our three year old granddaughter, one of her two children. Kristina has become the family historian. She knows people in my family background that I have never met; some of the names I never heard before. She was interested in going to some cemeteries where our relatives are buried. She wanted to see the place of burial for my parents. This was only the third time I had visited. Many years ago they bought a burial place in a mausoleum. They wanted to get that taken care of so we wouldn’t have to. I noticed something for the very first time. On the granite covers that cover the place where their dust is resting is their name, the year of birth and death. There is says Alvin Zahn (1913-1987) and Helen Zahn (1917-1979). I noticed something I never noticed before. There were crosses by their names. I looked at other granite covers of other people next to them and below them. Some had just names; others had their names and a Star of David.
It dawned on me that my parents wanted to give a testimony about their lives. Yes, there bodies have turned to dust but their souls are alive and well and part of the triumphant saints in heaven. They stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple. They, by God’s grace, were washed in the blood of Jesus, forgiven freely and fully because of the cross on which Jesus died. One day, can be certain that granite cover will no longer hold them but they will be raised to live forever with perfect body and soul. All who are in Christ, who understand the power and promise of the cross will be there with them. One day, because of Christ, we will join Abraham and Sarah, and Alvin and Helen because of the cross of Jesus. Amen