1. Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At a time of grieving like this, those who are present, and I, on behalf of this congregation, offer your family and all who were closest to Laura my deepest sympathy. May our Lord who knows your needs, comfort and give you strength to uphold one another. Today we’re going to look at a Gospel reading that Laura picked out for her funeral. It’s from Matthew 18:1-5, which says, “1At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…” The message is entitled, “A Childlike Faith,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. This Gospel lesson from Matthew 18 fits Laura very well. She had a childlike faith and a deep seated commitment to Christ Lutheran School here in West Bloomfield. She didn’t have a childish faith; she wasn’t afraid to ask questions of Pastor Letterer while she was going through confirmation class back in the 1970s. But, she had a faith that trusted in Jesus as her Savior, that gave her a commitment to Christ Lutheran School, that the children who went here would also trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil. Her biography shows her commitment to Christian education. Laura was involved with the Christ Lutheran Parent Teacher Group for 20 years, serving as President, working with Field Day, and drove for most of the field trips, including those Chinese fire drills she had with the children to make things fun and entertaining for them. Laura was also committed to life that God our Heavenly Father and Creator God has given to us. She and her sister-in-law, Colleen were also involved in Lutherans for Life. Laura’s commitment to Christian education obviously has influenced her children as well, since they too are deeply committed to Christian education.
3. Laura’s sermon hymn, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It,” also fits well for today. Listen to some of the verses of the hymn, “God’s own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ! He, because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price. Do I need earth’s treasures many? I have one worth more than any That brought me salvation free Lasting to eternity! Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ! When I die, I leave all sadness To inherit paradise! Though I lie in dust and ashes Faith’s assurance brightly flashes: Baptism has the strength divine To make life immortal mine. There is nothing worth comparing To this lifelong comfort sure! Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I’ll sleep secure. Though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising: I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!”
4. Through Holy Baptism God did away with Laura’s sin, death, and the devil’s hold over her. He made her his own dear child and brought her from death to eternal life. Through your baptism God has done the same for you. That reminds me of what one Lutheran Pastor has written about the baptism of his own child when she was near death. Pastor Gregory Schulz has written in his book, “The Problem of Suffering: A Father’s Hope.” “Baptism is not plain water, but water used by God’s command and connected with God’s Word. It is burial water. We baptize our children in order to bury them.” St. Paul writes in Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 3–4) Baptism is resurrection water. We baptize our children as the means of transplanting them into Jesus’ own rising from death. St. Paul continues in Romans 6, “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Romans 6: 5) Baptism is the water of life through death. Again St. Paul says, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.” (Romans 6: 8–9) Pastor Schultz reminisces in his book, “that as he hurries to follow the ambulance to the hospital for his daughter, he remembers Martin Luther’s reminder about baptism, “The sooner a person dies after baptism, the sooner is his baptism completed.” I have drowned my little girl in baptism to save her.”
5. That’s why Laura’s Gospel reading for today is so applicable. She had a childlike faith, a faith that trusts the words of our Lord Jesus to go and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28). And, children are included in all nations. So what does Jesus mean when He says the word, “UNLESS YOUR TURN AND BECOME LIKE CHILDREN YOU WILL NEVER ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (Matthew 18).” As we begin to explore Jesus’ meaning, it’s crucial that we note His use of the word unless. Any time we see this term, we know that it introduces a necessary condition that has to be fulfilled for the desired result to take place. The condition that Jesus said has to be met in order for someone to enter the kingdom of God is conversion. As Lutherans we believe that conversion takes place both through the hearing of God’s Word and through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. St. Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” St. Peter reminds us that baptism now saves you. He says in 1 Peter 3:21, “21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”
6. Because funerals are not for the dead but for the living I would encourage you at this point to ask yourself in all honesty, “Am I a converted person or an unconverted person?” If you are an unconverted person and you stay in that condition, there is no way, Jesus says, for you to enter the kingdom of God. I hear people say, “I was born a Christian.” But the Scriptures tell us that every human being (except Jesus) is born into this world in a state of spiritual death in Ephesians chapter 2. In that sense, no one is born a Christian. In order to be a Christian and be saved, a person must be reborn. We have to be born not of the flesh but of the Spirit of God. Unless we are reborn, Jesus told Nicodemus in John chapter 3, we won’t be able to see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it (John 3:3, 5). Human beings were created to reflect the holiness of God. Instead, we sin against Him from the earliest age.
7. Jesus also said that conversion must be in the direction of childlikeness. But childlikeness can be understood in different ways. Thankfully, Jesus went on to explain His meaning. He said: “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me” (Matthew 18:4–5). Jesus didn’t bring a young child into the midst of His disciples to tell them they must be innocent like a child in order to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus knew that young children aren’t angels. He knew how self-centered and demanding they can be. Instead, He was telling them to become like children in their humility. A young child doesn’t think he knows more than his parents. Instead, she thinks her mom and dad know everything. If a mother tells her two-year-old that X, Y, or Z is true, the child believes it. That child has what is called in technical language an implicit faith. He trusts his mother implicitly. Whatever she says must be true. Laura had that simple trust, that childlike faith that believed that Jesus was her Savior. Even with her Leukemia that she was battling against she didn’t stop receiving God’s Holy Word and the Sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood given and shed for her for the forgiveness of her sins. She knew that without these means of grace that she would be cut off from the kingdom of God and that’s why she earnestly desired to receive God gracious gifts on a regular basis.
8. Jesus was greatly concerned with children. They, too, have been redeemed with His own precious blood. What an empty world it would be if the children weren’t in it with their laughter and play! Jesus puts the little ones into our midst to teach us. Like the child, we should be trusting. The child believes its mother; it’s enough that she has said so. We should have this same childlike faith in God, our eternal caretaker, and in Jesus, our Savior from sin. No matter what sins we’ve done, we should believe that Jesus’ blood blots them out. Like a child, we should be joyous. The child is happy because he knows he’s loved. God loves us. His love is greater and deeper than a mother’s love. God says in Isaiah 49, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49: 15). To have a childlike humility means recognizing our own personal sinfulness, unworthiness, and inability to do anything to become worthy before God and earn salvation. Humility looks to Jesus as the Savior, who offered up himself as the perfect sacrifice for all sins. Humility isn’t about self-esteem; it’s about Christ-esteem. Whoever humbles himself God exalts, and whoever exalts himself God humbles.
9. Jesus provides us with the perfect example of God-pleasing humility. He came down from heavenly glory and became one of us. He was born in a lowly stable, and he submitted to all the laws God had given to his chosen people. He never used his divine powers for his own convenience or comfort. He allowed sinful people to mistreat him, condemn him, and crucify him, that’s what today, Good Friday, is all about. And he endured all these things for us. That was the purpose for which he came into the world. And after Jesus was crucified, God the Father was pleased to highly exalted him and raise Him from the dead. He is at the right hand of the Father, and he rules the whole world in the interest of His kingdom. Eventually, every knee will bow before Him, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. All who humbly follow him in this life will share His glory in the life to come. This is true for our dear sister in Christ, Laura, and this is true for you and me if we have a childlike faith, humbly trusting in Jesus as our Savior and our Lord. Amen.