Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Christian Memorial for Thomas Henry Standley – February 19, 2018
Text: John 3:14-18
Tom’s story is a story of the Gospel of Jesus at work. He came to Bethlehem knowing a little about the Lord, but it was here that he was confirmed at the age of 26 on May 7, 1950 by Pastor Herbert F. Koehlinger. He quickly grew in his faith, as he was soon asked to serve as Sunday School Superintendent. He told the story of how he was honest with the pastor, and said he didn’t know enough to teach Sunday School, but the pastor and his wife gave him instruction.
Tom’s love for is Lord Jesus was evident in his life. He led the Sunday School for over 40 years. Many people fondly remember his humble leadership and dedication for children to know Jesus. Out of love for the Lord, he and Winnie would drive their van around to pick up children for Sunday School. He and his wife exuded their faith to their family, this congregation, and our community.
Although all this was done by Tom, it was truly evidence of Jesus at work in his life and in our midst here at Bethlehem. Ninety-four years of stories richly show God’s hand in Tom’s life. But even though we talk about these things in the past tense, this is certainly not the end.
I’d like to direct your attention to the Gospel reading again, which contains, as Tom used to call it “the Gospel in a nutshell”:
“14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:14–18 ESV)
Death is not the end for Tom. “Ridiculous!” you may say, because obviously he’s not with us anymore. But this is the good news which the Lord gave to Tom and to everyone who believes: death is not the end. Jesus was lifted high upon the cross for this very purpose! Whoever believes does not perish, but has eternal life! If you believe that God does not lie, then you have this promise also!
Many people believe that Jesus was a historical person, that he taught love and left us a humble example. But, that’s not the whole story. How tragic it would be if Jesus just gave us a better way to live our short lives. If that were true, what would it matter how good or bad our life was, if we’re all going to a bleak nothingness when we die? That sort of supposed faith in Jesus doesn’t help at a time like this.
But to believe in Jesus is something more. To believe in Jesus is to believe that His suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection are for you. Why must Jesus, the Son of Man, be lifted up? Because we are all under condemnation. No matter how good our lives are on the outside, they fall short of what God has made us to be. Our hearts were meant to be pure, but they entertain all kinds of evil thoughts. Our minds are meant to be holy, but we scheme how we can get the better share of the deal. Our actions are to be blameless and help and serve those around us, but there are so many ways that we hurt and fail to help the people God puts right in front of us. Without Jesus, we are all under condemnation.
For God’s part, He loves us still. He loves in this way: To save us from perishing, condemned and in hell for our wickedness, He gave His only-begotten Son. This is who Jesus was and what He was about: saving sinners. The cross was lifted high with the Son of God nailed to it, and everyone who looks upon Him and puts their trust in Him is justified—“just if I’d” never sinned. Jesus was lifted up and those who are baptized and believe in His death and resurrection, are not under condemnation. You are forgiven, and you have life that even the grave cannot steal away.
It is this good news, this Gospel, to which Tom devoted his life—whether in Sunday School, or singing in the choir, or helping build this sanctuary, or even mowing the grass. It was all done to the glory of God who “so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV)
Even though Tom’s course in this world is complete, the Gospel of Jesus continues. It’s easy for us to remember what once was and set our hope in the past. Oh, when the Sunday School was full! Oh, when the choir was bustling and many voices joined together! Oh, when the pews were packed! Even though the visual reminders are there—the large sanctuary, the three-tiered choir loft, the accordion dividers downstairs—God calls us to trust in His Gospel and what He is still doing here today. We should not dwell on what used to be or pine after what isn’t here anymore. That is idolatry of the first degree, because it’s done supposedly in the name of God. Repent and believe in Jesus, not in His congregation.
Instead, remember why Bethlehem Lutheran Church is here: To preach and share the Gospel, to call sinners to repentance, to shepherding all ages into eternal life, and to serve our neighbors with God’s love. The Gospel never changes and God’s Word never stops working. This is true, even if what we see today is different from what happened at another time.
I know this to be true personally, because I came to the Lord as an adult. It wasn’t anyone’s strategic planning that brought me to faith, but a series of events that God orchestrated and a friend he put in my life who told me about Jesus and invited me to church. You see that God is at work today just as strongly as He has ever been. God teaches us that His Holy Spirit calls men by the Gospel [John 3:8] to know Jesus Christ and be saved. There is nothing about America in 2018, or Lebanon today that is too much for God to handle. He created our hearts, and He’s in the business of saving sinners.
God was at work throughout Tom’s life, and now Tom has reached God’s intended goal: freedom from sin, death, and an eternal Sabbath rest. He will surely do the same for all who believe the Gospel today. Amen.