Clara, Wesley, Shirley, Darrell, family and friends of Alfred Wehrend, is it our hold on God or His hold on us that saves us?
If it is our hold on Him then we’re in some major trouble if something happens to us like happened to Alfred. How can you hold onto God when you cannot remember Him? When your memory of Him and His words and promises has faded away by the horrid disease that devoured almost all your other beloved memories as well? When you have suffered in such a sad state for so many years, even at times utterly unaware of those people that you once knew and loved with all your heart?
Indeed, if it is our hold on God that saves us, we all have reason to tremble with fear. But people loved by God, the readings we heard today testify loudly and clearly that is that it is NOT our hold on God, but His blessed hold on us that is our saving hope! It is the Shepherd whose job it is to find the lost little lamb, to hold it tight, and bring it safely home.
Alfred was enfolded into His Shepherd’s loving grip when he was a little baby, only 15 days old. As Pastor Wihlborg poured the water over his head in St. John’s Lutheran Church of Drake, Missouri, saying “Ich taufe dich im Namen des Vaters und des Sohns und des Heiligen Geistes” and his parents answered “Amen!” the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, said to him: Alfred, little one, you are Mine. You belong to me. I will love you forever. I have graven your name on the palms of My hands. Nothing shall ever separate you from My love and My life. I will never, ever forget you. No one can snatch you out of My hands.
Confident in that love, Alfred grew in the faith, learning to trust the One who had made him His very own, who loved him so much as to carry all his sins to death on Calvary’s tree, and who rose for him on Easter morning, shattering the power of death to hold him. He stood before the altar of St. John’s Church and on Palm Sunday in the year 1928, he confessed Himself a sheep of the Good Shepherd. A few days later, on Maundy Thursday, Pastor Scheiderer placed into his mouth for the first time the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and the promise was renewed: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.” Which again is to say: I’ve got hold you, Alfred. Don’t worry. I’ll not let you go.
As he grew in years, he constantly gave an ear to the voice of his Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. When times were hard and he went looking for work, and landed up at the Brunnworth farm, he soon found his way to Church. And what a blessing it was – although away from his home congregation, he found another home in New Gehlenbeck. And as Church should be, it was family to him. Whether tossing the ball with the Schumachers across the street or dating that fetching young Clara who caught his eye, he put down his roots here for the length of his days. Here he married, and here he and Clara brought you their children up to trust the same Good Shepherd and the same promises.
Repeatedly Alfred heard from Christ His unfailing promise: “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand.” “I got hold of you, Alfred. Never fear. I’m not letting go. Not now, not ever.” To grow as a Christian is grow in the joyful certainty that you will live your life and die your death in the hands of Him who is stronger than all your sins, stronger than death, and whose strong hand will pull you through to life everlasting. It is to live your life toward that joyful moment Ezekiel foretold when God our Good Shepherd brings us into our own land –in unspeakable tenderness He reaches out His nail-scarred hands to wipe away the tears of our earthly sorrows.
For Alfred that moment came about this past Tuesday. Can you imagine what a joy it was for him? To see at last the One who had remained faithful to him through all these years? To be touched by the hands with the nail prints? To be gathered home by the angels with his beloved brothers and sisters and parents and to join the heavenly choir of saints and angels singing the praises of the Good Shepherd? To be healed and whole again in memories, and to know with the certain joy of the redeemed that soon is coming the day of resurrection and the restoration and healing of our bodies as well?
People greatly loved by God, this is our great Christian hope and confidence. Not our hold on God, but His secure hold on us, that is our anchor through whatever may happen in this life. It holds secure because it is attached to Jesus and there is nothing so certain in this life as a promise from Him.
How will it be at your end? Will it be like Alfred’s? Maybe. You know, it honestly doesn’t matter. What matters instead is that you are prepared for whatever end you face by learning even now to lean on the unshakable, unbreakable love God has for you in Jesus Christ your Shepherd. Then, whenever and however your end comes, you will be blessed to join with Alfred and all the saints who have gone before in the singing endlessly the praises Jesus Christ, the faithful Shepherd who laid down His life to gather His sheep into the arms of His mercy and bring them home, into the Day without evening, in the Kingdom of our Father. Amen.
Alfred Theodor Otto Wehrend, aged 95, fell asleep in Jesus Tuesday, June 16th, at the Alhambra Care Center. He was born September 20th 1913 to the late August and Christine Wehrend. On June 13, 1948 he married Clara Behrhorst at St. Paul’s Church. She survives. Also surviving is a son, Wesley (and wife Karen) of Lilburn, Georgia; son Darrell (and wife Annette) of Wheaton, Illinois; daughter Shirley (and husband, the Reverend Gordon) Besel of Rogers, Arkansas, and by eight grandchildren: Jayson, Kyle, Angie, Krista, Brian, Joshua, Jordan and Justin, and by a sister, Flora Tayloe of Owensville, Missouri. In addition to his father and mother, he was preceded in death by three sisters: Dorothea, Olga, and Alma, and four brothers: William, Martin, Oscar, and Harold. Alfred worked on a farm near Alhambra from 1937 to 1942. He then worked at Olin Corporation from 1943 til retirement in 1978. Alfred like to go for walks (especially early in the morning!) and pick up aluminium cans, garden, mow grass and was an avid cardinals fan. He was also active with Lutheran Braille workers as a volunteer and sang for many years in St. Paul’s choir. He and his wife enjoyed 61 years of marriage together. And she in these last years could be found most every afternoon, sitting faithfully by his bedside - being to him and all the workers there in Alhambra a shining image of the faithfulness of the Lord who never forget His beloved.