In the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John we are presented with the struggle between faith and unbelief, or, the struggle between trusting in God to strengthen our faith, the gift we need the most, and relying on the things of this world. The chapter begins with the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. The people who witnessed and ate wanted to make Jesus their king because He satisfied their physical hunger. As we read on in the rest of the chapter, we find that the people weren’t very interested in Jesus as their spiritual Bread. They wanted to be comfortable in this life. They wanted someone to feed them, to make them wealthy and comfortable. They wanted a bread king. So when Jesus tells them that He came to give eternal life, to reveal the temporary nature of this world, to awaken a hunger and thirst for eternal righteousness in the Kingdom of God, they reject Him. He tells the people that the bread He fed them in the wilderness will not keep them alive, but whoever eats of Him, that is, whoever believes in Him, will live forever. The people’s response was “This is a hard saying; who can understand it” and then many were offended and walked with Him no more. But the Twelve understood a little bit. St. Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But before he made that good confession he spoke words that instruct us still today: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.”
St. Peter confessed what Jesus said to the devil in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). Jesus has the Words of eternal life. By hearing His Word faith is created, and that faith gives salvation because it cleaves to the very work of Jesus, to His death that paid the price for our sin and His resurrection which guarantees our own. That faith teaches us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That faith teaches us that God our Father loves us and protects us, even when our life doesn’t go as we have planned it, or things happen in this life that we do not understand.
That is the faith that was created in Lois when she was first brought to this place by her parents, George and Ella. There at that Font, water and the Word made Christ’s death and resurrection hers, and there the Holy Spirit made His dwelling in her. At that rail she knelt and received Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith. That faith that was created and nurtured in this place and in various other churches throughout her life is what saw her through her 79 years of life in this world. As I spent time with Lois, and as all of you did, too, we heard stories about countless happy memories in Detroit and Grand Rapids and around the world, of a life lived enjoying the good gifts God gives to His children. But we also heard stories about challenging times. She would tell me during those stories “I don’t know why that happened.” But what was underneath that statement was a confession of faith: “I don’t know why that happened but God has all things in His control.” When challenges came, whether it was the unexpected move to the west side of the state or conflicts in life or even the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, Lois had the one thing needful that sustained her. She turned to Jesus, who has the Words of eternal life. She rested in His promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:6). She sang with David, “The Lord is my Light and my Salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1).
And when those sad words came from the doctors, that the cancer was unable to be fought any longer, she cleaved to different Words, but still the same promise. She found solace in the Words of Absolution, the declaration that all her sins were forgive in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As death drew near, she rejoiced in her Confirmation verse, the Words of the 23rd Psalm: “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.” And most importantly she knew the greatest promise of Jesus, embroidered beautifully around the bottom of the Pall covering her body at this very moment, the Words of Jesus from today’s Gospel: “I Am the Resurrection and the Life.” She knew that just as Jesus called Lazarus from the dead, so has He called her out of death to life. “Because I live,” says Jesus, “you will live also” (Jn. 14:19).
In all the situations in Lois’s life where it would have been easy to let sin and the devil have the upper hand, to allow them to take over and cause her to grumble and lose faith, to say that whatever had come was a hard saying and no one can understand it or live with it, especially a terminal cancer diagnosis, in times when it may have been easy to admit defeat and walk with Jesus no more, the Holy Spirit kept her steadfast in the one true faith. He did His work of calling to her remembrance the very Words of Jesus, the Words of eternal life. He brought her to the Lord’s House where Jesus Himself spoke to her, forgave her, fed her with His own Body and Blood. She heard Jesus’ Words of eternal life which carried her into eternal life.
Gary, Linda, Brenda, and Gary—these Words of eternal life are yours as well. Your wife, your mother is in the arms of Jesus because of His victory over her sin, His victory over death and the devil who wanted her but could not have her. He speaks to you and to all of us who love Lois and miss her a Word of promise, that just as He has received her to Himself, He will receive all of us who have faith in Him. So, in these days ahead when your grief is great, go to the Lord’s Supper. There Jesus will speak to you Words of eternal life. And there you will be with your wife, your mother, your grandmother, your great-grandmother, your aunt, your dear friend because there the whole company of heaven joins with us on earth, gathered around Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life as He gives us His living Body to eat and His Blood to drink. There Jesus silences your fears, wipes away your tears, and calms your troubled heart.
Though this life can deliver plenty that can challenge faith, thanks be to God that He kept our dear sister Lois in the faith. She heard the Words of Life that Jesus spoke to her, and she now lives with Him, hearing His voice for all eternity. Because Jesus lives, Lois lives, and you too can rest in that hope, that promise, the Word of eternal life, the joy this sweet sentence gives: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
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.