This is my first funeral sermon, that I preached today at the second funeral I have done as a pastor. The Homily text was Matthew 20:1-16. I was blessed by the family, and by the short time I got to know Fred.
The first story I ever heard about Fred was how he decided to be baptized when he was eighty-five years old. It is one of my favorite stories.
The way that his son, Jimmie, tells it, is that something had been working in Fred for a while. And about nine years ago, Fred asked how he could be saved. And so, Fred was baptized, asked Jesus into his life, and became a member of this church. And, his life was changed.
The Holy Spirit had been working in his life, and finally, he had responded to the call of God.
Unlike the laborers in the vineyard, he had not spent his live idle, no, he was a hard worker, but he had not responded to the call of God. God, in infinite wisdom, kept calling him. I know part of why Fred was able to respond to the call of God was because of the love of his family.
See, Fred had a rough life. And those laborers who were waiting all day to be called to work somewhere, that was rough, too. Living outside the promise of God is a rough life.
It is not easy, and sometimes the longer you live outside the promise, the harder it is to believe that the promise is true. It becomes difficult to believe that there is any hope. But that is the Grace in this parable, and in the story of Fred’s life.
We rejoice with God that Fred asked to be saved, and we rejoice that he became a part of this blest community. Because, see, the promise is that Fred is now rejoicing in Heaven, in paradise with Christ, with the almighty, forgiving God.
After Fred was baptized, he began to sing hymns. Jimmie said that the nurses on staff at Bethany Woods would hear him singing at all hours of the night. They would go in and tell him he can’t sing, it’s the middle of the night. He’d say ok, but then he would keep on singing. It’s like he had released a stopper, and had to get eighty years of singing hymns out.
I went to see him last week, and spent some time singing with him. I couldn’t be sure what exactly he was singing, but we sang Amazing Grace, and some other old gospel hymns.
He sang with me.
I believe that he is singing now, in heaven. He has joined the chorus, and is singing with more joy and exuberance than any of us can have. He has received the gift of living eternally with God.
We look for that time, whether we have been workers in God’s vineyard since we were small children, or if we became believers as teenagers or adults. Even if you have not yet accepted Christ as your Savior, you have not missed your chance.
God opens the door, and all we have to do it enter into the promise.
Once Fred entered into the promise, he was a changed man. And his change impacted everyone else in his life. He became the one known for singing hymns, rather than the one who was troubled by his life. His troubles may not have ended, but his view of them most certainly changed.
When asked about his baptism, and celebration of his salvation, he said: “I recommend it.” It altered his life, and it changed his view of the world. He became part of the Kingdom of God, and celebrated being part of that Kingdom.
And so we celebrate with Fred’s family today, over his life and salvation and the glorious and generous over-abundant grace that we all receive from God. None of us deserve to be members of the Kingdom, but we all have been offered places in it as a gift from God. We all work together for the Kingdom of God, and we receive the gift of grace from God. This is the gift and the eternal promise that we have in Christ.
And this is the promise that we celebrate as we celebrate Fred’s life. We have been given the promise of resurrection. It is appropriate that we celebrate his life during Holy week. On Sunday, we will come together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
We celebrate that Christ defeated death.
We celebrate that through Christ, we have received life.
Not the life we deserve, but a life of joy, hope, and eternal wonder. And we look forward to singing with Fred again, when we all get to heaven. What a day of rejoicing that will be.