Posted on August 23rd, 2012
The last time I visited Carol in her home, she remarked, “I’m not a feminist. I’m just bossy.” It’s a great line, and I suspect I’ll always remember it. She delivered it with a smile, a smile which she so often had. For most people, 36 years of widowhood, a stroke, partial paralysis, and a wheelchair would wipe away that smile. And that would be justified.
But Carol was not like most people. She persevered, and more: she found joy that went far beyond her personal sufferings and obstacles. Joy in reading, joy in her home and the water, joy in food, joy in her friends, and especially joy in her family. She loved you all.
And while she enjoyed the attention of handsome boys and firemen, there was never a question about the one man in her life, whom she always referred to around me simply as “Pastor.” When I first came to Immanuel, it was intimidating hearing so many good things about Pastor Mensing. Now it’s not easy being a pastor’s wife, and Carol was like many: fiercely loyal; no one else can really take his place at the altar or pulpit. I mention this because she was always very gracious to me.
I don’t mean to be talking about myself, but it’s hard not to think about Carol without thinking about Immanuel and what she and her husband devoted their life to in this place. The work of the church, and the mission of our parochial school with all of its ups and downs. It is fitting that the earth poured in the image of the cross on Carol’s casket at her Committal last Tuesday was from the vial that belonged to her husband, which she passed on to me some years ago. In this way we see that the ministry really isn’t about me, or Pastor Mensing, but something that transcends it: the ministry of Christ, who works through humble, sinful, weak men to accomplish His goal, the salvation of sinners from death.
All this then is introduction to the most important words Carol ever uttered. These words of hers that I want to share with you are not as humanly memorable as “I’m not a feminist. I’m just bossy” – but they are of far greater significance.
One of the times when I was praying the Commendation of the Dying for her—and it is a testimony to her tenacity that this happened numerous times! and I must thank Pastor McClean for his remarkable faithfulness in bringing her the Gospel in her last weeks—I was reading the passage that served as our Gospel reading today, John 10:27ff. It was her confirmation verse, and has been passed down through the family now for generations. She was weak, and I was not certain how much she was really conscious of. There in John 10, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” At that, she gathered her strength and said clearly, “I believe that.”
“I believe that.” This, dear daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, friends and brothers and sisters in Christ – this is the confession of faith. In the end, we cannot place our confidence, our trust, our hope, in what we have done or not done, in who we have been, in your relative the pastor or your office in the church. Not in works, not in anything within ourselves can we boast. Boast only in this: Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep—He gives eternal life. He gives it, as a gift. Not earned, purchased, acquired of ourselves. It is a gift, even for pastor’s wives, and pastors, and their children: children in the flesh, and children in the faith.
And so at the last, all we have in ourselves is death; and leading up to it, the memory of what we have done wrong, and what we have failed to accomplish. We die with nothing to keep, nothing to present before God, nothing to justify ourselves, nothing to acquit us of the severe demands of the law, the accusation that you are a sinner, you deserve death, you deserve condemnation. We have nothing, except by faith wrought by the Holy Spirit to confess, “I believe that” at the Gospel of Jesus, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish.” “I believe that,” was Carol’s confession, and it is on that basis that we hope for her what we confess in the Creed: I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen! +INJ+
Preached on July 7, 2012, at Immanuel