December 3, 2017
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ— especially you, Juanita’s family:
Since I had the pleasure of knowing Juanita for just a little over two years, I asked her family if there was anything they would want us to remember about her. They gave me a list of what they call “Juanita-isms.” Let me share a few of them with you today.
- Best soup maker— ever
- Knowledgeable in so many different subjects
- Knew everyone— Frankie Valley, Tuskegee Airmen, and every person she met became a friend
- Sometimes she had to miss church for bowling
- She never had anything negative to say about anyone
- Loved visiting her “specialty stores” in Virginia
- Always ready for an adventure. Whether it was picking up Leah’s grandchildren from school, going through Yosemite National Park, or taking a trip to Germany, she always said “Yes.”
I also asked the members here at Christ Lutheran to jot down what they will always remember about Juanita. I found it interesting that in all of their responses it was as if I asked them the question, if you were asked to describe Juanita in just one word— which word would you choose? Again, permit me to share. One of our members here at church described Juanita as “witty.” I agree! On more than one occasion when I was having lunch with Juanita down at Norm’s Café or when I was picking her up for Bible class and taking her home, Juanita made me laugh! Another member described Juanita as being “attentive.” I agree! Juanita loved to attend our Wednesday morning Bible class. She always paid very close attention to what we were studying, she carefully took notes during class and when possible she worked ahead in the study guide. Still another member described Juanita as “caring.” I agree! Not only did Juanita remember everyone’s birthday and anniversary, but if someone was not able to come to church on any given Sunday, Juanita took it upon herself to mail them a copy of the sermon and the bulletin. And lastly, one of Juanita’s dear friends here at church needed a few more than just one word. She said that she will always remember Juanita as someone who had a deep love for her God and her church; someone who felt her greatest gifts were her three children (she had great pride in all of them); someone who considered her church family dear to her (she always spoke of them with joy); you are blessed if she counted you as one of her friends; and loyal, loving and true to all.
“Witty.” “Attentive.” “Caring.” “Loyal, loving and true.” Those are all words that I am sure we can all agree describe Juanita very well! But the one word that I think describes Juanita the best is the word— thankful! Juanita was deeply thankful that she was adopted and raised by family members. Juanita was deeply thankful for her Lutheran heritage. Juanita was deeply thankful for her own family— she loved you dearly and spoke of you often. Juanita was deeply thankful for all of her many friends, both her friends here at church as well as the many other friends she had in her life. But most importantly, Juanita was deeply thankful to her Savior-God for everything that He had so graciously done for her!
That deep heartfelt thankfulness to her Lord, that deep heartfelt thankfulness that Juanita so openly expressed in her life led me to choose the words of Revelation 7:9-17 as the basis for Juanita’s funeral devotion. Under the inspiration and power of God the Holy Spirit the apostle John was given a glimpse into our heavenly Father’s Home— which means that John was given a glimpse into what Juanita has now received and is now enjoying in Jesus’ eternal heavenly Kingdom. John writes, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’ Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes— who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun sill not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
I can see Juanita in these words from beginning to end! For someone who loved being around people, for someone who loved being surrounded by her family and her friends, imagine what it was like for Juanita when she joined the “great multitude” of saints in her heavenly Father’s home! Imagine the big beautiful smile on her face as she now has the privilege of standing before the throne of her dear Savior Jesus as she brings her praise to Him! Imagine the joy that overflows from her heart as she listens to the multitudes of heavenly angels join her in worshiping her Savior-God! As much as Juanita enjoyed gathering together here in God’s house with her brothers and sisters in the faith, as much as Juanita enjoyed worshiping her Savior-God and singing His praises here on this earth— what she now has the privilege of seeing and experiencing, well, my friends, that leads us to join Juanita in bringing our thanks to our God as well!
But why? Why has Juanita been given the glorious privilege of living with her Savior-God in the glory and perfection of His heavenly home? Was it because she was such a “good” person while she was here on this earth? Anyone who knows Juanita knows that she would have instantly brushed aside any notion that on her own she was a “good” person in the eyes of God. Juanita openly and regularly confessed that she was a sinner just like each and every one of us. Was it because Juanita worked so hard to try and “earn” God’s grace and forgiveness? Again, anyone who knew Juanita knew how well she understood the words of the prophet Isaiah, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
Well, if it wasn’t because of who she is and if it wasn’t because of what she did, then why has Juanita been given the privilege of living forever in heaven? Because Juanita believed and trusted in Jesus! Juanita believed and trusted in who Jesus is! Juanita believed and trusted in what Jesus had done for her! Juanita knew that the Child who was born in a stable in Bethlehem so many years ago, the Child whose birthday she loved celebrating each and every year, is indeed “Christ the Lord”— just as the Christmas angel announced to the shepherds! She knew deep down in her heart that Jesus is the eternally-begotten Son of the one and only true God who came into this world for one reason— to fulfill the words that we heard from the prophet Isaiah, to suffer and die right there (Pointing to the cross) to completely pay for all the sins of all people— including all of Juanita’s sins! Juanita knew deep down in her heart that when she was baptized in the Name of the Triune God she was given a glorious white robe of perfect righteousness to wear, the robe of righteousness that Jesus won for her on the cross of Calvary’s hill, the beautiful “white robe” that John saw all the saints wearing in heaven! Yes, my friends, by the grace and power of God alone Juanita knows who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for her! (Pointing to the cross) That God-given gift of faith in Jesus is what guaranteed Juanita that the instant her physical body died her soul would be joyously welcomed into the eternal glory and perfection of heaven.
That glorious gift of faith that was created and strengthened in Juanita’s heart through the power of God the Holy Spirit guaranteed to Juanita— and guarantees to us!— that Juanita’s life in the presence of her Savior-God is a life that now includes: “serving him day and night in his temple,” a life where she will “never again hunger” and “never again thirst;” a life where “the sun will not beat upon her, nor any scorching heat;” a life where “the Lamb at the center of the throne” is “her shepherd.” He is the One who leads her to “springs of living water” and “wipes away every tear from her eyes.” Yes, my friends, that glorious gift of faith in Jesus as her Savior is what guaranteed to Juanita— and guarantees to everyone who believes and trusts in Him (Pointing to the cross) — unending joy and happiness in heaven.
My prayer then today as we gather together here in God’s house for Juanita’s funeral service, is that whenever you think of or remember Juanita you not only fondly think of all the “Juanita-isms” that her family shared with us, that you not only fondly remember that Juanita was witty and attentive and caring and loyal and loving and true, but I pray that you especially remember what Juanita has now received— purely by grace through faith in what Jesus had done for her! (Pointing to the cross)
May this bring you comfort and strength.
To God be the glory!