Sunday, April 24, 2016

Gloria Gray Memorial Sermon

Gloria Gray Memorial

            It was the signature song of “old blue eyes.”  Frank Sinatra would come to the end of a concert with one final tune to sing.  The lights would go down until there was just one spotlight on the singer who had entertained generations.  He would begin, “And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.  My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.”

            The song would continue to build to a crescendo and then Sinatra sang its spine-tingling conclusion: “To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels.  The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!”  And before the last note was played, the crowd was on its feet, saluting the man who, for better or worse, did it his way.

            On the Sunday that she fell asleep in Jesus, I heard stories about Gloria.  We were gathered in a hospice room, Mike and Lori and some other family members.  People reminisced and told stories.  I was glad to be there to hear about Gloria’s life.  And I heard a phrase that seemed to describe her.  She did things her way, Gloria’s way.

            If you know of Gloria’s battle with cancer, she certainly followed a type of treatment that was her way.  She didn’t have a lot of use for traditional medicine.  She didn’t care much for “idiot doctors.”  My apologies to any doctors here today.  In talking with Gloria one day I came to realize that she had done extensive reading on cancer treatments and medications.  She was not going to let some doctor poison her with a treatment that would do more harm than good.  So she dealt with cancer her way.  If she had to battle cancer, she would do so on her terms.  That was the way it was going to be.

            On the other hand, the “my way” of doing things served Gloria well in reaching out to other people.  Lori and Mike talked about the way that Gloria took such “lost souls” under her wing, so to speak, those who were in need of love and friendship.  Gloria was not concerned with befriending the successful or well connected.  She discovered people who were in need of a little love and a little grace.  She reached out and cared for them.  Gloria made such people feel special.  Wouldn’t we all want a friend who made us feel that way?

            Gloria was a gifted and talented person.  I had no idea she was an engineer with the phone company.  Even more impressive was that she was a woman engineer in a place that was dominated by men.  She had to be smart and quick to compete in that environment.  She was also a talented seamstress.  Did I get this story right, Mike? Gloria used to make clothing for you and David to wear?  Like matching shirts? And you weren’t too happy when David came out of the house wearing the same shirt as you? Gloria thought it looked cute.  You weren’t so sure.

            So this gifted and talented person did lots of things her way.  In fact, you might say that God gave Gloria a lot of freedom to deal with certain aspects of her life in the manner that she wanted.  But there was one thing that God said “no” to Gloria.  And there isn’t anything in this world that Gloria could have done to have changed God’s mind.  That was regarding Gloria’s salvation.  She would not earn salvation “her way.”  God said “no way” to Gloria’s way.  Instead, God would give salvation and eternal life to Gloria Gray.  He would do it His way.

            You and I needed God to come to our rescue and work salvation for us.  Go all the back to the beginning of creation.  Adam and Eve had been given the role of caretaker of all that God had made.  Their lives were full of bliss and happiness.  God had given them everything they needed.  He also gave them one rule – don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or they would die.

            Adam and Eve would be completely safe as long as they stood on the firm ground of God’s Word.  But they did it their way.  They listened to the lies of the devil.  They did not trust the loving God than had given them everything.  One bite of the forbidden fruit was all that it took.  By doing it their way, Adam and Eve brought sin into the world.  You and I have been infected by this sin disease.

            And as Gloria did battle with cancer on her terms, you and I try to deal with sin on our terms.  We decide that if we just try harder, work at living a good and honest life, that God should accept us.  Unfortunately, trying harder doesn’t remove sin or make us holy.  And that’s what God demands – perfection, holiness.

            Or our way to deal with sin might be to try to make up for the bad things we do by doing good things.  If we can tip the scales in our favor, God will surely have to accept us.  But again, the idea of trying to cancel out our sin with good deeds doesn’t remove the sin that is already in our lives.  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God.”

            And if all else fails we can resort to the “good old comparison game.”  We look at the people around us and say, “I’m not perfect but I’m a lot better than many people I know.  That must count for something!”  But that way of dealing with sin is a losing way too.  You see, it’s not our holiness against others that counts but it’s how you and I measure up to God’s holiness.  In Leviticus, the Lord says, “Be holy as I the Lord Your God am holy.” 

            Anyone tempted to stand before the Lord and say, “I did it my way,” is certain to suffer eternal condemnation.  We cannot save ourselves no matter how hard we try.  Indeed, as we gather here today, we can give thanks and praise God that in the matter of our salvation, how grateful we are that He did it “His way.”

            God’s way began with the giving of His Son.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world to become one of us.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary and was made man.

            The God-man, Jesus, lived a perfectly holy life.  He was tempted by the devil and constantly tested by His enemies but not once did Jesus think an evil thought, speak an evil word or do an evil deed.  Once, when Jesus was verbally sparring with His critics He said to them, “Can any of you prove me of sin?” They could only stand before Jesus, speechless. 

            And we too are left speechless when we consider the next part of God’s plan of salvation.  The perfect Jesus died on a cross for imperfect people – people like Gloria and you and me.  The Bible teaches that “The Lord laid on Him (Jesus) the iniquity (sin) of us all.  This was God’s way, to transfer our sins to Jesus and to have Him pay the penalty for them, which is death – separation from God.

            This helps us to understand why Jesus, near the end of his six hour ordeal on the cross, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus is suffering the wages of sin which is complete separation from God – it’s called hell.  God’s own Son, forsaken by God.  Why? Because resting on Jesus were the sins that bring with them the just penalty of death.

            Then just before He died, Jesus cried out again, saying, “It is finished!”  This was not a cry of defeat but of victory.  The word means, “Paid in full!”

            This was God’s way, His plan for our salvation.  Jesus paid our way in, paid the penalty in full, taking our sins upon Himself so that we could be in a right relationship with God.

            This you and I can be certain of.  For in return for our sins, Jesus gave to us exactly what we needed – His righteousness.  Now, we have the holiness that God demands and so, in God’s eyes, we are truly righteous and holy people.

            So all those who died, trusting in Jesus for salvation and eternal life, have these gifts of grace.  We don’t do salvation our way; instead, we trust in the One who is “the way and the truth and the life.”  We trust in our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

            And we can celebrate today because Gloria trusted in Jesus to be her personal Savior.  She confessed that Jesus had won her from sin, death and the power of the devil.  She knelt here at this table, confident that Jesus had come to her in the bread and wine, giving her His true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

            Knowing this gave Mike the courage to say to his Mom that it was alright to let go and take the hand of Jesus, who would lead her through the valley of the shadow of death and to her eternal rest.  Mike could say this because, as we confess in the third article of the Creed, we believe in “the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.”

            Mike and David and all the rest of us who believe will be with Gloria again.  She will be so beautiful.  There will be no signs of the cancer that wracked her body.  She will be whole again with a new glorified body.

            We’ll gather around the throne of God and the Lamb.  We will use our voices to give glory and praise to God for the eternal life that we have in Jesus.  We will sing with a great heavenly choir, voices too numerous to count: “Great and marvelous are Your deeds, Lord God Almighty.  Just and true are Your ways.”  What joy it will give us all to sing, “Thank you, Lord.  You did it Your way!”  And just think – Gloria is there, waiting for us to join her.  And join her, we will.  Praise God! Amen.