Monday, July 25, 2016

Singing with the Saints

Elsie Kane’s Memorial Sermon         

“Singing with the Saints”

            I want to tell you about one of the most enjoyable times I had in ministry and I have Elsie Kane to thank for it.

            Everyone who knew Elsie knew how much she loved music.  She sang hymns on Sunday morning with gusto.  Singing with church choirs was a delight.  Playing piano and singing the great hymns of the church, along with good old gospel favorites, filled her heart with joy.  Some people are described as having “a song in their heart.”  That was Elsie.

            For years she and Pastor Vern Trahms and some other people led a monthly hymn sing at Baptist Village (now Lifestream).  One day Elsie came to Connie Kanzler and I and asked if we would take over that ministry opportunity.  Pastor and Esther felt like it was time to step aside and maybe let someone a little younger have the chance to participate. 

            Elsie did not want to see the hymn sing simply fade away.  She loved the people who came each month.  She saw how encouraged the residents were by having the opportunity to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.  She also knew how much the residents looked forward to having people to sing and visit with.  Elsie was determined to see the singing at Baptist Village continue.

            So Elsie asked Connie and I to take over.  And, frankly, how do you say “no” to Elsie.  If there is a way to do so I never discovered the secret.  Connie and I began making our monthly visits and Elsie was right there with us – greeting the residents, passing out a liberal amount of hugs, singing with all the power her tiny lungs could generate, and just generally letting the light of her faith in and love for Jesus shine brightly for us all to see.

            For nearly 10 years Connie and I made the monthly trek over to Baptist Village.  We enjoyed singing the great hymns of the church with the residents.  We also learned some new songs, ones not in our Lutheran Hymnals.  We made a great friend in Chaplain Craig Avrill, who helped Connie navigate her way some unfamiliar tunes. 

            And during those ten years something kind of bittersweet happened.  Connie and I also made some good friends during that time.  But then we would miss a friendly face.  We’d ask Chaplain Craig about these friends of ours.  And he would say something like, “They’re not here anymore.  They’ve gone home to be with the Lord.”

            All of those friends of ours, no longer with us, resting in the arms of Jesus.  And on July 5, our dear and wonderful friend, Elsie Kane joined them.

            The blessed good news that both comforts and thrills us this day is that Elsie is still singing praises to the Lord.  Now, in this service we’ve been lifting up our voices in praise to God.  But Elsie has it so much better – she is singing praises in the presence of God.  How amazing is that!

            We know that there is singing in heaven because the apostle John, in the book of Revelation, give us glimpses of such singing.  He describes one such scene in chapter five. 

            John paints a picture of a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of a throne.  We know that this is our Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And the singing starts – first from what are described as the four living creatures and 24 elders.  Then they are joined by countless numbers of angels, who sing with full throated power.  And then John writes: Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.

            Elsie couldn’t possibly be happier than she is right now.  Singing in a heavenly choir.  Singing praises in the presence of God. 

            In the 10 years that I knew Elsie she had one lasting hope – to go to heaven and be with Jesus.  She sang with real feeling the great hymn of the church, “I’m but a stranger here – heaven is my home.” 

            It wasn’t that she was dissatisfied with what she had here in this life.  She loved her family very much.  She prayed over you all every single day.  She loved all of her many friends.  She loved her church family.  For most of her 96 years Elsie lived a full life.

            But her hope was heaven.  And Jesus, the Lamb of God, made heaven possible for Elsie.

            What are we saying when we call Jesus, the Lamb of God?

            When Israel sat down to eat the Passover meal, they sacrificed a lamb and smeared the blood from that lamb over their doorposts.  The shedding of that blood saved Israel from death.  Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who blood saves all who believe from death – eternal death.  Jesus is the lamb of the daily offering, mentioned in Exodus, chapter 29.  He is the perfect sin offering through which you and I receive forgiveness for all our sins. 

            In heaven the saints sing of the Lamb of God, and with Your blood you purchased men for God. 

            A few weeks ago Connie Kanzler gave me an unexpected but wonderful gift.

            I wonder if you all remember S & H Green Stamps? My Mom was an avid collector of Green Stamps.  I remember how she carefully watched the cashier put the Green Stamps in her grocery bags.  And when we got home, nothing got put away until her Green Stamps went into her books.  Connie was going through some stuff of her mother’s and found a whole collection of S & H Green Stamp books.  What a find! I hadn’t seen these stamps and books for decades!

            Those of you who collected Green Stamps – do you remember where you went to use the stamps? The Redemption Center! You redeemed or purchased goods or products by virtue of having the stamps.  My sister’s first bicycle was redeemed, you might say, by Green Stamps.

            We could do nothing to save ourselves.  No amount of our own blood, sweat or sacrifice could ever make us right and holy before God our Father.         

            But Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God, shed His blood on the cross.  He truly is the Lamb without blemish or defect, as the apostle Peter wrote.  Only Jesus could make an offering acceptable to God the Father.  Our Lamb redeemed us by His blood.  He lifted our sins and the sins of the whole world upon His shoulders and carried them away in death.  And through His death, we have life – power to live our new life in Christ now and eternal life in heaven.

            Once upon a time, Elsie used to sit right here with us and sing songs like:

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling

Lamb of God pure and holy, Upon the cross didst suffer

Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us

But now she sings a new song, one sung by every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and on the sea and all that is in them – in other words, all creation sings:

To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

Be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!

            So God be praised! He has kept His promise and has given Elsie her heart’s desire.  God’s promise is that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life.  And we who are still living life daily with our Savior by faith, look to that day – the Last Day, Resurrection Day – when we will be reunited with family members and friends and all those who died trusting Jesus for life eternal.

            We’ll be raised to new life and Elsie will be there.  Her mind will be sharp and clear.  Nothing will bother her.  Nothing will infirm her.  We’ll see her and certainly get a hug or two from her.

            Family and friends, follow Elsie’s example.  Receive Jesus’ gracious invitation to trust in Him for forgiveness of sins, peace for your heart and a new eternal address in heaven.  Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.  That’s God promise to you.  Trust in Jesus and have the certainty that no matter what challenge or problem or disappointment you face in this life, there is absolutely nothing that can separate you from the love of Jesus

            Do this and then look forward to that day when you are singing with the saints.  Elsie will be there waiting for us to join our voices with her to give praise and honor and glory to Jesus, that Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Oh, what a day that will be!  Amen.