Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Character Unto Eternity

By Larry Beane

[Note: I had the bittersweet privilege to preach this sermon today at the funeral of my beloved parishioner and dear friend, John Ryan.  All of the Lord's sheep are unique, but some are quite outside the bell curve.  John will be sorely missed, and I join many other Christian brothers and sisters who look forward to seeing John again in eternity! + LB]

John Ryan and Rev. Larry Beane after John's baptism, July 23, 2010
Sermon: Funeral of John Timothy Ryan

13 May 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Rev 21:1-7, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Dear Mary, Denny, Tammy, Tracy, relatives and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, honored guests: “Peace be with you!”  These are the first words spoken to the disciples by the risen Lord Jesus, announcing His victory over death, and comforting them in their mourning. 

Again, “Peace be with you!”

When I would tell people that I was John Ryan’s pastor, they would smile and say: “John’s a character.”  I would smile back, and agree with them.  Indeed, John is a character – right out of the parables of Jesus: a true example of the unexpected grace of God.

The first time I met John, he tried to shock me with an off-color joke.  He didn’t shock me then.  I gave it right back at him, and we became good friends.  But John did shock me when after a few months, without nagging or prodding, this 68-year old retired chief petty officer of the Navy Seals asked me to baptize him.

For that’s what is truly and joyfully shocking: God’s sudden grace, mercifully answered prayers, the unexpected call of the Holy Spirit, and John’s faithfulness even in this cynical and faithless world.

In being baptized nearly seven decades into physical life, John became a character out of the Lord’s parable of the workers, in which those who labored in the fields for a single hour, by the master’s mercy and kindness, were paid as much as those who labored all day long.

“The first will be last, and the last will be first,” says our Lord.  John is that character.

“The sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me,” says our Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd Himself.  John is a character in this metaphor, hearing the voice of His Good Shepherd, who promises: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”  For “I nothing lack if I am His, And He is mine forever.”

John is also that character.

St. Paul wrote: “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

John is also that character, who knew the glory of world travel and the humility of being wheelchair-bound.  John knew what it was to golf with admirals and to be attended by healthcare nurses.  He knew what it was to be in faraway places and he knew what it was to be unable to get out of bed.

And it was indeed Christ who strengthened him in his own time of struggle and trial.

John is indeed a character!

And we honor Chief John T. Ryan’s courage and service to his country, rightfully so.  For in this world, honor is earned.  The Navy’s motto “non sibi sed patriae” – “not for self but for country” calls to mind our Lord’s words that the greatest love is demonstrated by those who lay down their lives for their friends.  But John Ryan has another country, not a republic but a kingdom, governed not by a president but rather ruled a King, Jesus Christ.  And this King comes not to be served but to serve.  In this country, honor is freely given and cannot be earned.  In this country, the King bleeds and the church militant reaps the reward.

John Ryan is also that character.

For ultimately, dear friends, as much as we love and admire John, this isn’t about John.  Like all of us, John was a sinner in need of a Savior.  And thanks be to God that in response to prayers, in answer to the work of the Holy Spirit, by means of the grace of God and the atoning work of Jesus Christ our Lord at the cross, John Ryan is one of the redeemed in eternity.  “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man….  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Blessed John Ryan is also that character!

And today, we are the ones who mourn – not John.  We are the ones in the church militant, continuing to wage war against the forces of evil: the world, the devil, and our own fallen flesh.  But John is today part of the church triumphant, no more to be a warrior, but rather to be the eternal victor by means of Him who won the victory for us at the bloody cross and the empty tomb. 

It is okay to mourn.  Of course, physical separation from our beloved John is painful.  But again, as St. Paul teaches, we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope.”  For John is now reaping the peace dividend of Christ’s victory, and we can pray with John and with all the saints of every time and place: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”

John is that character as well.

It was a military man who confessed at the Lord’s crucifixion: “This man is truly the Son of God.”  It was also a centurion who said: “I am also a man under orders.”  John Ryan understood that he was under the orders and command of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  He knew it and confessed it like the biblical soldiers who saw Jesus.

John is that character also.

As is fitting for a man who retired from the Navy after a long life of honorable service in the water, it was good, right, and salutary that John should have gotten this victory over death through water, in the honorable service of Holy Baptism.  It was my honor on July 23, 2010 to bring John the gift of Holy Baptism, walking with him “where streams of living water flow,” John’s “ransomed soul He leadeth.”  It was always my privilege to bring the Holy Supper to John, “where verdant pastures grow, With food celestial feedeth.”

John Ryan is that character, the sheep led by the Shepherd, the lamb redeemed by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Like every Christian of every time, John is the character of the child of God redeemed by the Lord’s water-borne grace, mercy, and love – even unto the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

Indeed, dear brothers and sisters, dear fellow baptized and redeemed, we can join John Ryan in all eternity in singing:

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 life-long 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!

John Ryan is that character!  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia! 

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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