05. May 2011
Funeral of Raymond T. Gollnick, Sr.
+ IN NOMINE JESU +
Dearly beloved, Ray Jr. and Cindy, Joy and Alan, Crystal, Nick, Erik, other family, friends, and fellow redeemed – Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The text for our meditation is the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 10, especially these words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Hear the Word and believe. Our Lord Jesus Christ knew Ray. He made him one of his flock through Holy Baptism. He fed him in the green pastures of his Holy Sacrament. He led him through the valley of the shadow of death into his promised land. Today is a time for sorrow but also a time for rejoicing.
Christ is risen. Alleluia. And because Christ is raised from the dead, Ray has not seen death. He is asleep, resting the eternal blessedness of our Lord until the last day. On that day, Christ will come again and will raise Ray and all believers with an imperishable body, to live and love in heaven forever.
The last years, months, and especially weeks have been difficult for all of you. No one wants to see the slow decay of death, especially of a loved one. Our preference is that death be quick and painless. If it is inevitable, at least let it be easy, we think.
There is no doubt that Ray, since he entered hospice on April 19, began to long for the same. The months of dementia-induced denial gave way to reality. Finally the pain couldn’t be ignored, the slow toll of death’s bell could be heard coming nearer.
I know he longed for his last day, just as we did. We were all desperately praying that our Lord would relieve Ray of his suffering and take him into the blessed rest and joy of heaven.
But that wasn’t quite the Lord’s plan. He wanted Ray to see hear of His Passion, His suffering, His death, and His glorious Easter one more time. Jesus wanted Ray to receive the body crucified and the blood shed from the cross again, to receive the fruit of the tree one more time. Jesus wanted Ray to hear one more time that his sin is forgiven, he is a child of God and will receive the crown of everlasting life on the last day.
We might ask “why?” Why one more time? Ray had his fair share of Holy Weeks and Easters. Ray was faithful in his attendance to hear the Word preached and receive our Lord’s gifts.
Surely, Ray had enough. Surely, when the cancer got the better of him, our Lord should have taken him home in a blaze of glory, with a whirlwind and fiery chariot. Surely, he should have spared him the agony of those last weeks. In the least, our Lord Jesus should have relieved us of our sympathetic suffering with Ray, your father and grandfather.
Dearly beloved, I don’t have a good answer as to this question. I cannot say why Ray lingered like he did. King David often prayed the same way. In Psalm 13 he said: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”
This and many of the other songs of our faith are laments. We cry out to our Lord and plead for mercy. He always answers our prayers according to his will. Sometimes the wait for the answer is excruciating. The road we are forced to travel is often difficult.
We can’t answer why. We can only say, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Funny thing, though. Your father and grandfather did not ask this question.
Over the past months, I queried Ray as to his spiritual health, trying to assess if there was any doubt or despair that the Lord loved him, was watching over him, and would take him home in the proper time. Even when I came to Kouts or the hospice home, Ray’s hope remained on Christ and the salvation he brings.
If anything, Ray’s faith grew stronger as his days waned. Joy tells me that he called out for the pastor when the worst struggles were upon him. One might think this is because he doubted. I don’t think so.
When Ray called out in the middle of the night, laying in bed in pain and agony, it was not because he doubted the Lord. No, Ray knew that there was only one medicine that would get him through the worst of times just as it had in the best of times. Ray wanted to hear the shepherd’s voice.
That’s the way it is with sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Ray knew many pastors in his lifetime. I’m just the last in a long line of faithful ministers. The best word for a pastor might be “undershepherd.” For there is but one shepherd and he is good. There is but one voice and it is Jesus. He called out for the pastor because he knew I came bearing Christ’s voice.
That’s a hard thing to believe if you’re not part of Christ’s flock. Our instinct is to assume the worst. We want to assume that the church and pastors are just out to get us and our money. It is true, many false shepherds roam about, fleecing people of house and home, abusing their children, and worse.
But there are those who are faithful servants of Christ, who strive to preach nothing but the very Word as Christ himself utters it. You are not left without the means to determine who is true and who is false. For in his wisdom, God the Holy Spirit inspired the holy evangelists and the prophets to record Jesus in Holy Scripture.
If you want to hear God, hear his Word. Ray knew this well. He was rightfully proud his faithful attendance to this Word. Sunday in to Sunday out he listened to the Word whether here at Grace, at Bethlehem, or Trinity Oak Lawn. So, too, Ray desired that all of you hear this same voice of the same true shepherd.
That’s why he raised his children, Ray Jr. and Joy, in the Christian faith. He greatly desired that you be part of Christ’s flock, to hear Christ’s voice regularly, and to follow the Good Shepherd all your days.
His care didn’t stop there. Crystal, Erik, and Nick—your grandfather cared about you, too. Even when the dementia had the better of him, he did not forget you. He was proud of you and loved you.
I can say with great certainty that Ray desired nothing more than his family know the shepherd’s voice and follow him. Being a part of the flock of God was not secondary, or tradition, or just what he did. The promises of God were Ray’s hope and he wants them to be yours, too.
But why? Really, in this day and age, when our lives are comfortable, our homes large, and our table full, why do we need the Shepherd. Why do we a Christ, an anointed one? We are rulers of our own destiny, masters of our own fate, right?
We are wealthy, healthy, and prosperous. We have mastery over disease. We may even be able to extend our life. But Ray’s casket, here before you, tells a different story. No one can cheat death. This enemy is tenacious, persistent, and inevitable.
Ray saw his share of this enemy. Many of his friends left these shores and fought overseas. Ray stayed in Jersey, waiting for them. Most did not return. Ray saw all his friends meet this enemy and lose. Even his wife and your beloved mother could not escape this mortal foe.
Ray knew the real enemies. He knew that his own nature was at war with the good given to him by God. He knew that the evil one himself prowls around, even here in peaceful Dyer, seeking someone to devour. But most of all, he knew that he could not escape the grave.
Well, that’s not entirely true. He knew he would die but that it would not be the end. Why? Because he trusted in his Lord, the shepherd. There is but one way through that valley of the shadow of death. The Lord is the way. There is only one eternal truth that overcomes the foes that seek to destroy you. Jesus is the truth. There is only one way and truth that leads through death into a better place. Jesus is the life.
No one comes to the Father but by Jesus. No one knows the way to heaven but by following the shepherd, the good shepherd, the only shepherd.
Jesus is this shepherd. And believers on him are his sheep. Dearly beloved, fellow baptized believers of God, you know the way that leads to everlasting life. You know who swallowed up death forever.
Christ our Lord died so that you will never die. Christ rested in the tomb those three days so that you will never taste the same sort of death. Christ rose from the dead so that you too will have a resurrection like his.
This is the love of God, that he gave his only son for Ray. For Ray Jr. For Joy. For Cindy. For Alan. For Crystal, Erik and Nick. For everyone who believes in him.
Let us join with Ray and follow the Shepherd’s voice. We are his sheep, the sheep of his pasture, the pleasure of his hand. Let us follow our Lord and receive the gifts that his promised…. the gifts Ray waited for and now has received.
Jesus said: I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. The last foe has been defeated and Christ has triumphed. He risen and is not here, alleluia. Ray is not dead but is sleeping and will on the last day rise with Christ. Alleluia!
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +