Posted on March 24th, 2017
We are all shocked. No one anticipated Sandy’s death, and it’s hard to process.
But Sandy was a direct person, so let us speak directly about the matter: Death is God’s judgment for sin. The suddenness of death is a reminder to us all to prepare for our own.
Sandy graduated from Immanuel Lutheran School in 1970. Upon the foundations of that school, a larger one is rising in its place. Someday, however, the whole thing will lie in ruins. Human civilization, like the human body, is crumbling. What can last beyond the ashes and desolation? The crucified arms of Jesus stretch out across the world and across all the expanse of time, embracing all the cosmos with His love, calling us all to confess our sins and be gathered to Him. He alone crossed through death, and emerged from the tomb. The Lord Jesus trampled down death by His death, and Him Sandy confessed, in Him she placed her trust.
No blind faith of an ignorant simpleton, Sandy’s faith was formed both by the conviction of the truth of Scripture and by the witness of Science testifying to a designer, a Maker, a Creator.
Among the many challenges when I became the pastor here at Immanuel was Sandy herself. She was not a problem; but it sure seemed a problem to me when I began to realize that she knew the Scriptures better than I did. I had studied them, but she had been living them, faithfully, year by year. I had a long way to go, to catch up to her.
If I didn’t know an answer to a Bible question, I’d try to fake it. And in her straightforward manner, Sandy would correct me. I didn’t like it. But it wasn’t personal with her. What mattered to her was the truth. I needed to apply myself with the same kind of diligence.
That diligence she exercised in caring for her mother in her declining years. At the time, that also seemed excessive to me. Why would she put so much effort into that? How foolish I was. She was teaching the whole world a lesson: this is what love does. Her own life didn’t matter; what mattered was what God had given her to do. And she did it, not only diligently, and faithfully, but cheerfully.
Then there was the mystery of the missing Luther volumes. Immanuel has a set of the entire original edition of Luther’s Works. And periodically, a volume would go missing. Where was it? Then it would return, with the next one gone. Somebody is reading these things, systematically, hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of pages. Who is doing this? Sandy.
“Who’s going to do the luncheon?” someone asked me a couple of days ago. And then this person reflected, “Normally we would ask Sandy to help with that.” She did everything, happily, without asking for any credit.
Now whether those who are with the Lord are aware of what we are doing is an open question. But I think at this point, Sandy would be growing frustrated with me. “Pastor, you should not be talking about me. You should be telling them about Jesus.”
Sandy’s Confirmation verse came from Psalm 55, which we prayed this morning. That Psalm begins with suffering, lament, and the throes of death. “I am restless in my complaint and I moan.” Why? “Because of the noise of the enemy.” The enemy we can identify variously as people who are out to get us, the sin and death lurking within us, and even trouble in the church.
Sandy lived through troubles in the church and remained faithful. This Psalm is a prophecy of Jesus Himself, who discovers one of His chosen Twelve has turned on Him: “It is not an enemy who taunts me; then I could bear it … But it is you … my companion, my familiar friend.” This is Judas, the familiar friend of Jesus, who turns on Him. Jesus experiences not a sudden and swift death, but an agonizingly slow one, made all the more horrific by the betrayal of His friend, and the abandonment of nearly all.
And what are we to do, when everything and everyone has turned against us, when life itself is being pulled from our grasp? “But I call to God, and the LORD will save me.”
Often the death of a dear one leaves us with feelings of guilt. “I wish I had said this, or done that; but now it is too late. If only I had been there!” We may then look for someone else to blame. Remember this is how the sisters of Lazarus felt; they even blamed Jesus for not showing up in time.
But you must not feel guilty. Jesus orders all in His good time. It is hubris to imagine we could change it. The best sermon we could hear was already in the prelude: Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit – God’s time is the very best time.
At the right time, Jesus speaks His Word, “Arise!” and it is so. If you do feel guilty, hear Him speak to you, “I forgive you!” And again, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.”
So do what Sandy’s Confirmation verse said, and what she lived by: “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”
This faith she lived by, but more importantly, this faith, this Jesus, she will live by, for He will cause this body to be renovated and renewed, shining and beautiful in the resurrection; and we will rejoice with her and her Savior in the kingdom of God, when death, the last enemy, has been utterly vanquished.
I want to let Sandy herself have the last word today. The day before she died, she wrote a beautiful, three-sentence message that captures the deep truths of the Christian faith eloquently and succinctly:
I thank my Lord and Savior who gives me life and all that I have. I encourage everyone to put their faith and hope in Jesus Christ. To Him be glory forever.