In Memory of Sherry Arnold
Trinity Lutheran Church, Sidney Montana, (held at Sidney High School)
March 30th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Seeing the Face of God – 1 Corinthians 4:6
Sherry Lee Arnold
Born February 13th, Year of Our + Lord 1968
Baptized into Christ March 10th, Year of Our + Lord 1968
Confirmed in Christ April 19th, Year of Our + Lord 1981
Died in Christ January 7th, Year of Our + Lord 2012
Soli Deo Gloria – To God Alone Be Glory
I was so thankful for the babies. On January 7th, on that dark Saturday, and in the dark days that followed, images of hope were hard to see. But very soon, little Henry arrived, and Eva, and her baby sister Claire. These and others of the youngest family members of Sherry came, and blessed the family in the midst of their grief. As the family and friends suffered together, people would look into these babies’ faces, blessed for that moment to smile and rejoice and know that there is still good in the world, good to be seen in the face of a little child.
I was so thankful for the faces of the babies, because in those dark days, we saw the face of evil. Evil is out there, we all know that. And there is some evil around us. The most honest of us admit that evil lurks within us. But such pure evil acted out, such senseless, hate-filled evil, most of us had never faced before. But now, we have. The loss of a mother, a wife, a daughter, teacher, and friend like Sherry is hard, no matter the circumstances. But these circumstances, random, violent, cruel, were like a cold knife in our hearts. We all struggled through that week, praying and hoping and searching, until what we had hoped and prayed against was proven true. The face of evil had risen up against us, and we were afraid. Afraid, and angry, justly angry. But feeling anger so deep, it also frightened us. We felt defeated, crushed.
We saw the face of evil, and so we clung to the blessings God gave to us through the faces of others. The family held the babies, and hugged and spoke to the people, so many people, who came, and helped and comforted and cried. Searchers, police officers, FBI agents, friends, strangers. From all over came expressions of sorrow and concern, and great acts of service, food and drink, support for the family and the searchers, people serving in large ways and small. And in these people, through these faces, God was serving us. Luther speaks of the masks of God, how God serves us through others, hiding behind the faces of people, using the farmer and the baker and the store clerk to deliver our daily bread to us, and so much more. God served Sherry’s family, friends and community through beautiful, tear-streaked faces, serving and sharing in the loss.
We rightly give thanks to God for serving us, every day, and especially in our times of greatest need, God serving us through the caring actions of other people. Nothing of this world can make up for the loss of Sherry, but we have been blessed to witness people serving as masks of God. A community, two states, a network of friends and strangers across the country and around the world, giving of themselves to support a family in great need.
And, proclaiming Christ. We’ve had a regular potpourri of preachers today, but far more people have been preaching Christ during this struggle. I was so thankful for the babies, who gave hope in the midst of tears, and for all who gave of themselves to serve. And I am even more thankful, and awed, by the many people who came and spoke God’s word, speaking with a laser-like focus on Jesus, speaking boldly of the victory of God through His Cross and Resurrection. Even on that dark Saturday in January, even then, God moved His people to speak of another Saturday, almost 2000 years ago, when all was lost, the saddest of Saturdays, because the day before, on Friday, evil had shown its ugly face, and seemed to win a complete victory.
On that long ago Saturday, as Jesus lay in the tomb, all was loss. So many had such high hopes in Him, but after the events of Friday, there was no doubt, no question what had happened. Evil had won. Outside Jerusalem, on a Roman cross, the friends and family of Jesus had seen evil do its worst, in full public view, and they were helpless to stop it, too weak and afraid to even try. But the darkness of that Saturday almost 2,000 years ago did not last, evil had not won, In fact, the power of evil had been broken, and on Sunday morning God revealed that everything had changed, everything had been re-created, made new, in the risen Jesus.
During our dark days, I have again and again been privileged to hear the Name and Promise of Christ spoken, by so many. To proclaim confidence in Christ in the face of great tragedy is not easy, but what the Apostle Paul said is still true today: We also believe, and so we also speak. The greatest service God has provided to the family and our community during these dark days has been Christians daring to speak of the forgiving victory of God, won for sinners by God’s Son, lifted up on a Cross. There Jesus swallowed up all our evils, in order to give forgiveness and new life, to all who believe in Him. For, again as Paul teaches us, God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The utter mess of this world is the fault of humans and our sin. We all share in the guilt. Even still, God cares for you, and all the world. God is grieved at human suffering, and works through human masks to give relief to each one of us. Without God’s protection, our world would soon descend into chaos. God limits evil, so that we continue here today. But this blessing falls short. Our greatest need is not met in the restraint of evil. It is good to see the providence of God coming to us through the faces of others, but this gift does not save, not from sin, death, and hell. For our greatest problems, only one face will do, the face of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God who became a man in order to rescue us from sin and death, forever.
This is the gift we all need, most of all. For we are all victims of sin, and we are all perpetrators, and sin separates us from God, who is Holy and Good. You may not think you are much of a sinner. You may like to compare yourselves to the “worst sinners” and so feel good by comparison. But there is another thing this tragedy has revealed, the guilt that each of us is carrying around. A terrible thing happened, for which no one in this room is responsible. And yet, literally dozens of times I have spoken with people, with many of you, and heard you cry out, “If only.” “If only I had done this.” Or “How could I have left this undone?” “Why couldn’t I save her?” “Why was I not a better person, when I had the chance?”
Your ‘what ifs’ about Sherry make no sense. None of you are guilty in this tragedy. But many of you, already struggling with sadness and fear and the deepest anger, are also feeling guilt. This message of guilt is a lie of Satan. This guilt is a lie, but it’s an effective lie, because we are all sinners, and in the face of this tragedy the devil all too easily twists our hearts and minds into guilt and defeat, eating away at your faith in a good and loving God.
For our guilt, real and imagined, there is only one solution, to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, given to love the world, by washing away all the sins of all people, the once for all sacrifice. And praise be to God, Sherry had this vision. Sherry knew her sin, she knew her need for peace with God, and she knew how God has won peace for all sinners. And, Sherry knew where to go to receive and be renewed in the peace of God. Sherry knew and took advantage of her access to God’s forgiving love, poured out for us in Jesus Christ.
Sherry could do this, because first God brought Sherry to Himself. God reached out to Sherry, early and often, to show her the loving face of Jesus. On March 10th, 1968, at this very font, Sherry was claimed by God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, through the washing of water and the Word, Holy Baptism. Reborn by water and the Spirit, Sherry was raised up in the Word of Christ. At the altar on which that cross and those candles normally rest, Sherry confessed the faith of her Baptism, confirming her faith and gaining access to His table, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, where she came, time and again, most recently just before Christmas, kneeling in faith to be fed the forgiveness of sins given through the Body and Blood of Christ.
On that very dark Saturday in January, when Sherry was stolen from us, all of us were tempted to ask: Where was God? I am not here to defend God against the evil in our world. No, I am here to proclaim to you this Good News: God does not stay up in heaven, waiting for sinners to free themselves from evil and find their way to Him. No, God, revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, comes down, to seek and to save. God did not turn away from us in our sinfulness, but rather, because God is love, He entered into human life, becoming a child, living among us, suffering with us, even as He taught and served, and walked His way toward His Cross, where He took all our suffering into Himself. And now, today, this same God continues to reach out through the power of His forgiving Word, to draw us to Himself, both for today and forever.
Because Sherry was united to Christ in Baptism, because she trusted in all the promises God had made to her, because her faith was continually fed by His Word and Sacrament, she was never alone. Even in the worst suffering, Sherry was never alone. For God is always with His children, never letting them out of His hand, always working for their eternal good, even when evil seems to be winning.
The loss is profound; the evil is great. Sherry was special to many, many people. Sherry taught my children, and many of you. We loved her generosity, her competence, her bright smile, and her even brighter eyes. Sherry is even more special to God, so special that He sent His Son to be her Savior. And so, Sherry was and is forever perfect in His sight, not because she was perfect in her life, but because she trusted in the forgiving love of Christ. We mourn for Sherry, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope. We weep and cry, but we also rejoice, because we know that Sherry’s soul rests with Jesus, awaiting that Final Day when He will share His resurrection with all His own.
So now what? What do we do tomorrow? Many of you have resolved to live better, because of this tragedy, to live for others, to love, to serve, to care. Good. Sure, be used by God to serve others. But never be fooled into believing your salvation depends on what you do. For the Son of Man was lifted up, not so that you could overcome evil and save yourself, but precisely because you can’t. And you don’t have to. The Son of Man was lifted up, Jesus was crucified, so that by believing in Him, you could be forgiven all your sins, and receive His eternal life, the free gift of God’s love. And this saving faith, this believing in Jesus, comes by hearing His Word, and receiving His gifts.
So, as you go on with your life, first, last and always, rest in God’s forgiving peace. Rest in God’s forgiving peace by going to the places He has promised to be present, delivering His forgiveness. Gather where the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are proclaimed to sinners. Gather where the blood-bought victory of Christ is delivered freely, in preaching and Baptism and Holy Communion. God through these means delivers forgiveness and life to all who repent of their sins and look to the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. Rejoice, for God’s Son, your Savior, has faced evil, and defeated it, for Sherry, and for you, Amen.