[Isaiah 40:6-11 / Rev. 7:9-17 / John 10:27-30]
Agnes, Keith and Ginger, Bethany, Dana, and Nick, family and friends of Marvin Behrhorst. How utterly true are the words of today’s first reading: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blow upon it. Surely the people are grass.” The grass withers and the flower fades. Such is the fate of our flesh – we grow old, wither, and die. Such is the price of our sin.
Knowing that such was the case, Alma and Wilhelm rushed their little one into the arms of Jesus eighty three years ago. When he was only a two week old babe on one cold Sunday, the Sunday after Christmas, Pastor Hansen’s hands poured water over his little head in old Saint Paul’s Church as he said: “Marvin Friedrich Heinrich ich taufe dich im Name des Vaters und des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes. Amen.” And Alma and Wilhelm smiled. Because they knew, then, that their little one, whose skin at the moment was fresh and unwrinkled, but whose flesh nevertheless was grass that withers and flower that fades, now had a future and a hope that would never, never be taken away from him. He was baptized into Christ. He was given into the arms of the Good Shepherd, and he would live his life and die his death under the promise that all his sins had been forgiven and that he now had a life that never ends.
Jesus spoke of this in today’s Gospel: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” You know how utterly faithful Marvin was in hearing the voice of the Savior. His Bible sat upon the table by his recliner and it was used. Well used. Whenever he was physically able, he was in Church to hear His Savior’s voice and to feed on the Holy Sacrament. That’s a beautiful heritage for a man to leave his family: a man who knew what was most important in life and sought to lead by example. He knew that many things were important - just think of his devoted service to fire protection - but he also knew what was most important.
“I’m ready to go” Marvin told me numerous times in the past month. Sometimes with tears in eyes, thinking of what it would mean to leave you: his wife, his faithful companion for so many years; his son, of whom he was so proud, and never missed a chance of telling me so either; his grandchildren and great grandchildren who were his great treasures. But nevertheless, “I’m ready to go.”
If you were to say: “Go where?” He would tell you! “Go to my Savior! Go to the One who went to Calvary’s cross to wipe out the entire debt of my sin together with the sin of the whole world. Go to the One who rose from the grave as the guarantee and proof that all sins have been wiped out and forgiven. Go to the One who lives forevermore and who has promised to take my soul to Himself now and even more, who has promised to raise this body that withers like grass and fades like the flower and make it immortal – like his very own body! A body that will be forever beyond the reach of death and decay. A body in which I can live as His own dear lamb forevermore. Where am I going? I’m going home!”
And that, of course, was the great scene we were privileged to get a glimpse of in the second reading. Do you realize the marvel of that reading? John is given a vision and he sees this great multitude of people beyond number. And they are standing before the throne and before the Lamb, the Lord Jesus, clothed in white and waving palm branches of victory and crying out their unending song. Do you realize that all those centuries ago that St. John saw Marvin? He was standing there next to Wilbur and Alma and Wilhelm, and they were all singing and the joy never ended.
John didn’t realize what he saw and the angel had to tell him: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They’ve washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Baptized! And now they’re before the throne of God and their worship never stops and God shelters them with His presence and provides for their every need. The Lamb in the center is their shepherd and he guides them to springs of living water and God himself wipes away all their tears.”
That’s the great company that Marvin is now apart of, and he left this world knowing that’s where he was headed. Just two days before his death the undying Body and Blood of the Savior went into Marvin’s dying body with the promise of unending life. And he welcomed it and feasted on it as he always did. He knew that the life that was his in the Savior was stronger than death itself. That to die as a little lamb in the Savior’s arms is not to die at all but to pass from this world and its troubles into the very presence of God, there joyfully to await the day of the resurrection.
And you know, each of you, that what I speak right now is God’s truth: there was nothing on his heart dearer than this: that he see you there. You don’t get there by being a good person or trying hard. Marvin wasn’t a good man because he was trying to get to heaven; Marvin was a good man because he knew heaven had been given to him as an undeserved gift of love. You get there by letting the Savior give you the gifts that He died and rose to win for you. You get there by learning to live from and trust your baptism. You get there by hearing the Shepherd’s voice that rings out in His word and by receiving from that Shepherd again and again the holy Supper, trusting the promises He makes you.
Pastor Hansen poured the water and spoke the words over Marvin long ago. Today we celebrate that he lived under the Savior’s mercy until the glorious day that his baptism was fulfilled and he joined the saints and angels before the throne. May God give us all the grace to join him there. Amen.