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Rev. Charles Lehmann + Shirley Bliese + Psalm 86:1-7

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Karl, Nancy, Richard, Nina, John, Melody, and James. Friends and family of Shirley Bliese. What is happening right now is a first in my life as a pastor. Never before have I been given a preaching assignment from the deceased. But today I have. There are four biblical themes that were very important to Shirley. The first was grace. And that’s what we’re going to meditate on right now. The second was marriage. Pastor Mitchell will discuss it. The third is faithfulness. Pastor Linderman will preach on that. And, finally, service. Pastor Grayl will preach on it.

And so, as you listen to these four meditations, I would invite you to consider the fact that Shirley wanted you to hear about these things today. She wanted you to focus not on her, but on what God’s Word says. She wanted you to rejoice with her in these four gifts that God delights in giving to His saints.

But, have no doubt about it, dear Christian friends: What brings us here is the very worst of all the things that we face in this life. Saint Paul tells us that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death,” and he’s right. Death is not a friend. It is not a blessing. It is not natural. Death is unnatural. It was brought into creation as a result of our sinful rebellion against God. It was brought to an end when Jesus, our Savior, endured it on our behalf.

In the Psalm that we just heard read, David asks God to save his servant who trusts in Him. He asks God to be gracious. In the last verse we heard, David tells us that the reason he calls upon God in the day of trouble is that he knows he will receive an answer. The answer, of course, will be one which is filled with grace. Grace is the focus of the psalm. Grace is what David desires from God above all else.

Grace and mercy are handmaidens in the Bible. Mercy is when you aren’t punished even though you deserve it. It’s when you get a written warning instead of a speeding ticket. Mercy is what we’ve all have been praying for during Shirley’s illness. We wanted mercy. We wanted Shirley to live. We didn’t want her to receive the punishment that her sins deserved.

Instead of the wrath that she deserved, we wanted grace for Shirley. We wanted undeserved divine favor. We wanted her to receive every good gift, both spiritual and physical, that we could imagine. We wanted her strength to be restored. We wanted her to sing and to dance. We wanted her to enjoy all of the good things that we think that a good and upright woman of God deserves.

And there was nothing wrong with praying those prayers. God wanted to hear them. He wanted you to bring before Him all of those things that you wanted Shirley to receive. It didn’t matter that cancer filled Shirley’s body. It didn’t matter that the medical prognosis was grim. It didn’t matter that there seemed to be no way that she could recover. God doesn’t mind it at all when you ask him to do the impossible. He delights in it.

But why? Why would God delight in such unreasonable prayers? Why would He want us to ask for things that no person in their right mind would expect to receive? Because He loves you. He is gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love. It is the very nature of God to delight in the prayers of His children. He wants to hear our requests. He wants to know our inmost wants and fears. And, most of all, He wants to give what is best.

What is best is grace. You should never ask God to give what you deserve. Because of our rebellion against God what we all deserve is eternal wrath and punishment. We deserve none of the good that we receive from God. It is all unmerited. We receive it only because God loves us and wants to shower all of His blessings on us.

This reality was something that Shirley was very aware of. Though most of us remember her with great fondness, Shirley knew that she was a sinner. She knew that she didn’t deserve any of the good things that she deserved from God. She knew that each blessing was an example of grace. She knew that each good gift was undeserved. She knew that each blessing revealed much more about the goodness of God than it did about anything else.

And this brings us back to what I said at the beginning of this meditation. What brings us here is an evil thing. Death is never good. It is the enemy. It is a work of Satan which tries to stab at the heart of the Lord’s church. Death tries to say that grace is a sham. It tries to tell us that God gives no good gifts. It tries to convince us that despite our best efforts everything ends in futility.

Don’t believe it, dear Christian friends. Death is weak. Death has no power. It is our enemy, but it is an enemy which has been already defeated. You have nothing to fear from death, and neither did Shirley.

You see, the Christian faith is the one and only answer to death in the entire universe. As baptized and forgiven sinners we Christians dare to say, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory.” We dare to pray, “Lord, give Shirley back to us!” We pray the impossible, and our Lord grants it. Though Shirley’s remains will rest in Rockford for a time, Illinois will not be her final resting place. Shirley’s soul is with Christ in the New Jerusalem, and her body will join it on the last day.

Rejoice, dear Christian friends. By our Lord’s gracious death and resurrection, death is dead. Shirley will live forever.

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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