Friday, February 22, 2008

Celebration of the Resurrection for Sylvia Rollins - 1924-2008

Zechariah 1:14-17
Holy Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Bloomington, MN

Ornery. If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that one of the words that comes to mind when we think of my Great Aunt Sally is ornery. She was ornery, stubborn, had her own way of doing things.

Of course, that’s not to say that Sally was unloving. She loved her family and friends. One time Susan and I had our boys with us at my Grandma’s apartment. Wanting Sally to see the boys, we called her to see if she’d come down the hall. No, she didn’t feel like it. Ornery, I thought.

But then we offered to bring the boys down to her, and she said that’d be fine. Visiting with her in her apartment, it was clear that she was so glad to see us. There was no question that this ornery woman also wanted to shower love on our family.

I bring all of us this up partly because it’s better that we admit that Sally was ornery and just try to appreciate her for who she was.

But I also bring it up because really you have an ornery God. He’s ornery, stubborn in His own way.

Last Sunday, probably about the time that Grandma discovered Sally in her apartment, I was back in Milwaukee teaching a Bible study about Zechariah—where we hear that God is jealous for His people, that He has a zeal, a passionate, protecting love that demands our devotion because He knows that there is no other god out there.

The passage we were studying is from Zechariah chapter 1 where God says through the prophet:

“I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure…. Therefore…I will return to Jerusalem with mercy and there my house will be rebuilt…. The Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem.”

That’s an ornery God. He wasn’t going to let the nation’s push around His people anymore; He wasn’t going to give up on His people—even if they had strayed from His ways. The Lord has such a passionate, stubborn love for His people that He wasn’t going to give up without a fight—to the death.

That’s an ornery God. His jealousy, His love sends Him with mercy and comfort. He draws His people back to Himself.

It’s this same ornery God who out-stubborned Sally. Like all of us, Sally was born a sinner, rejecting God, resisting His love, but God cannot be stopped by our stubbornness.

God’s Holy Spirit overcame Sally’s sinfulness in her baptism. From that day forward, the Holy Spirit worked in Sally—just as He does in you—working by the Word of God to strengthen her faith, lead her in the ways of Christ, comfort her in distress, confront her sin, and give her assurance through the promise of eternal life.

It’s an ornery Jesus we contemplate during these days of Lent. Jesus stubbornly refused to follow the temptations of Satan. Jesus stubbornly refused to back down when the Jewish authorities threatened Him. Jesus fought the temptation to skip out on suffering and death, and instead, He followed His Father’s will.

And even when it looked like Jesus was giving up on the cross, really He was just stubbornly accepting judgment in our place so that His people could be saved. It’s an ornery Jesus that would not let us be condemned for our sins; it’s an ornery Jesus that died so that we might live.

It’s that ornery Jesus that saved an ornery Sally. It’s that ornery Jesus who took Sally in her sinfulness and made her into His holy sister, a holy child of God the Father. And it’s to the praise and honor this ornery Jesus that we can celebrate today that Sally now has eternal life. Like the hymn we’ll sing in a moment, God has taken Sally to the new Jerusalem, her happy home for eternity.

And it’s this same ornery Jesus that promises this salvation and eternal life for you. No matter how stubborn and sinful you think you are, God doesn’t give up. Even if you feel like you’ve rejected Him too many times, remember that He keeps on looking for ways to save your ornery soul to the very day that you die. Nothing stops the jealous, zealous, passionate love of our God.

We can laugh about Sally’s stubborn streak, but God’s stubborn streak is no laughing matter. Instead, it’s what we depend on for eternal life, for victory over death, for turning our mourning into dancing, for making funerals into celebrations of life.

God be praised! He is ornery and has not let His people be destroyed. God be praised! Jesus is ornery and died and rose again to give Sally and all of us life forever with Him. Amen.