I am content. Contentment is a fleeting concept. Something we think we understand, but in the end can’t really wrap our minds around. Not in this world, anyways. But we just sang it twelve times. I am content. But did you notice the source of the contentment? It wasn’t things. It wasn’t money, it wasn’t good health, it wasn’t the absence of sorrow or trouble or any other thing on this earth. I am content! My Jesus ever lives, in whom my heart is pleased.
We’re here today looking for contentment, for our tears to be dried, our hearts to be mended, our hopes given a foundation. And that’s exactly what we have in Jesus Christ. It’s exactly what Jack had in Jesus Christ. He certainly had things to be discontent about. He couldn’t see. He had the aches and problems that come to a 92-year-old. He knew the sorrow of burying a wife and a daughter, not to mention other family and friends. But in the last week of his life, when he knew full-well what was coming, he was content. I remember going to visit him in the hospital the morning after he was admitted and the first thing he told me was “I am content. I know what Jesus has done for me. I know where I’m going.” There was no sorrow, only peace and joy. He knew that this earthly life was about to get worse as his body gave into death, but he also believed everything we said and sang together at the beginning of this service: “If we have been united with [Jesus] in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” “Jesus lives! And now is death but the gate of life immortal. Jesus is my confidence.”
One of the things that gave Jack the most contentment was the image of Christ the Good Shepherd. On the last day that he was really able to communicate verbally we talked about faith and life, about the last Gospel truth he wanted to share with his family, both biological and otherwise. And he said “Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd. That’s my favorite.” So we read it together, from the King James, of course:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
That image of Christ the Good Shepherd is one of the most comforting images in all of Holy Scripture. Of all the ways Our Lord describes His work, this shepherd talk is where we find the greatest comfort. St. Luke, in his Gospel records a parable of Jesus where He again presents Himself as a shepherd: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when He comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’” Consider again the words from today’s Gospel Reading: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who stops at nothing to accomplish your salvation. He seeks you out, plucks you out of the thorns of sin, pulls you from the jaws of death and the devil. But He doesn’t stop there. He lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus Christ sacrifices Himself for you, to save you, to pay the price your sin demanded. He gives His life to guarantee yours, the Shepherd dying for sheep who love to wander. And all of that work of salvation Jesus gave to Jack in His Baptism, when He made His death and resurrection Jack’s, as Jesus opened heaven to him. And week in and week out, Jack came to this Altar to receive in Christ’s very Body and Blood the fruit and benefit of His saving death on the cross. The Good Shepherd wasn’t content to lay down His life once and be done, but came to Jack daily, to forgive his sins, to strengthen his faith, to lead him beside the still waters, to fill his cup to overflowing, to anoint his head with the oil of gladness. Is it any wonder that Jack held that image so dear, that the faithful for generations have painted that on the walls of their tombs, their churches, and their houses? As Jack walked through the valley of the shadow of death, he didn’t walk. He was carried in the arms of his Good Shepherd, who gathered that dear lamb into the arms of His mercy and brought him home.
As much as that image gave Jack contentment, it also gave him a blessed discontentment. He wasn’t content with just himself having that knowledge, that peace of Jesus Christ. He wanted everyone to have that same calm, that same reassurance. So he spoke of it to his family and friends. I sat in his room and listened to him as he proclaimed the Gospel to a doctor from his cardiologist’s office when they were still trying to determine if surgery was an option. The doctor said he wasn’t sure if they would be able to help him, but his team of doctors was about to meet and discuss all options. Instead of fear and anxiety, Jack answered that doctor and said “If you can’t, it’s okay. Jesus has forgiven me and He will take me to be with Him. My Pastor would be glad to talk to you more about that!” When Jack believed in something, he wasn’t quiet about it. He threw his whole self into the work. And that’s part of the reason we’re even here today, at Epiphany Lutheran Church. Twenty-six years ago, he was one of the leaders who wasn’t going to sit still until the new church was established and flourishing. He put all of himself into Epiphany—his time, his prayers, his money, his labors. One of my favorite pictures of Jack is in the history binders in the display case in the Narthex. It was taken in June 1999. This building was barely more than a skeleton. That picture is Jack, on his knees in what is now the church office, screwing the cover on the back of the church cornerstone, which had been laid that morning. He rolled up his sleeves and worked for Epiphany, the same way he worked hard to provide for his family and for his country. He did it because he took his Christian vocation seriously, to provide for the neighbor. Thanks be to God that he provided so much for us today and for future generations.
So now we settle into a different world, one without Jack, our husband, our brother, our father, our grandfather, our great grandfather, our friend. As we search for contentment and peace, Jesus Christ comes to us. He comes to gather us as lambs, dear, precious, Blood-bought lambs. His death has brought death into subjection. Jack is not dead, but lives with Christ, in His green pastures forever. Jesus comforts you with that Gospel, and He makes it your future as well. Faith grasps this blessing, believes what Jesus says: “I Am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.