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“Be content with such things as ye have; for He hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’” (Hebrews 13:5 KJV).
Jo, Cindy, Steve, Tim, other family members and friends of Howard, members of Trinity congregation:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Reading his obituary, I learned a few things about Howard. I guess that’s to be expected. I’ve only been his pastor for a little over six years, so there were more than 80 of his more active years to catch up on. Except for a few stories that would slip out once in a while, I didn’t know the younger, more adventurous man who played football, broke horses, or rode motorcycles. Or the dashing young biker who swept Jo off her feet. The builder who could accurately tell you a board was 6 and 7/8 inches wide just by looking at it. The boss who would walk the rafters and go up in the bucket to shingle the steeple. The father who made sure his children grew up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. I just got to know Howard when he was nearing the end of building churches and then beginning his “retirement.” Who remained so active in the church and community until declining health prevented him from doing many of the things that he loved. But even then, I could see that his priorities remained the same—his Christian faith and his family.
Weekly, Howard sat here with Jo and whatever family was around. Here he confessed his sins and received Christ’s absolution. Here, he heard the Lord’s Word of Law and Gospel. Here, he regularly received Christ’s true body and blood for the forgiveness of his sins and the strengthening of His faith. Here, Howard received a foretaste of the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb. In between times, there were the daily devotions from Portals of Prayer, copies of the sermons to read and listen to, recordings of the services on Main Street Living. Living in the faith and Word that had been given to him so many years ago.
Howard Fred Everett was adopted into the family of God through Holy Baptism on June 3, 1934. In Holy Baptism, the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ gave Howard the new birth of water and the Spirit. Howard received the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all his sin. So shall he stand without fear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the inheritance prepared for him from the foundation of the world.
On May 16, 1948, Howard publicly acknowledged the gifts given him in his Baptism in the Rite of Confirmation. He promised to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully. He promised to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He promised to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.
The hymn we just sang was written by Rev. Walter Lieber for Howard’s confirmation class. It asks God’s blessing on the new confirmands, reminds them to depend on God’s grace in hard times and to thank the Lord for His blessings. Howard’s confirmation verse is Hebrews 13:5: “Be content with such things as ye have; for He hath said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee’” (KJV).
I don’t know who picked that verse—whether it was Pastor Lieber or Howard himself—but it would be hard for me to find a more fitting verse! For Howard, at least as I have come to know him, was a content man. And given how energetic, adventurous, and ambitious he was, that makes it even more remarkable. Such personalities can easily fall into discontent as they look for the next challenge, the newest adventure that awaits them. They can quickly lose track of all the good things God has already given them. It’s easy to get caught in wanderlust, instead of being lost in the wonder of God, our Creator, Redeemer, and Savior. Howard remained content. He remembered the Lord’s promise to never leave or forsake him.
God’s message to you this morning deals with such contentment in life. I invite you to listen to the words of Philippians 4:10-13:
“I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 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.”
It is a characteristic of people to seek contentment—to be pleased, satisfied, and happy with our lives. We spend a great deal of time and money and energy seeking contentment. Occasionally and for brief periods of time, we might even achieve a bit of contentment. A couple works hard to raise their children, give them an education, send them out into the world, and save enough money to retire. But very quickly we realize that contentment gained through money, security, and the good life do not prevent sickness or tragedy from entering our little worlds. In such cases, contentment turns quickly into confusion and restlessness. And so, we ask ourselves, “Where can I find contentment? Is there such a thing as being content which applies to this life and beyond?”
St. Paul wrote to his beloved Christian friends: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Here was a man who had been imprisoned for his faith, felt the 39 lashes of the whip on his back on five occasions, beaten with a rod three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, threatened by Jews and Gentiles, endangered by rivers and robbers, and adrift at sea for a night and a day. In addition to that, he lived with the fact that he was personally responsible for the imprisonments and probably the deaths of many people in the Christian Church that he had persecuted before his conversion. How in the world could he say: “I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content”!?
In Howard’s life, there had been some tremendous disappointments and tragedies—those of family and those experienced by Howard personally. A little over three years ago he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he suffered the effects of a round of treatments. In the past six months, it seems like it was just one thing after the other. Howard remained content.
Where in the world can one find such contentment? Certainly, and especially at times like this, you recognize it is not in money, pleasure, material possessions, family, people, or any other thing in this world. For these all soon vanish. It is not to be found in oneself—for inside here we find a guilty conscience that will not let us rest, a mind that is not always wise, a body that is getting sick and old, nor even in the future for none of us know how much of a future we have left in this world. Let’s face it people, such thoughts do not make us very content!
Where can we find contentment? It can be found only where St. Paul and Howard found it—in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God, in His grace, looked upon mankind’s hopelessness and eternal destruction and intervened. The perfect Son of God was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary and lived to die on the cross that you and I might be content knowing that our sins have been forgiven for His sake, that His death means life for us, and that all of God’s wrath was taken by Christ on the cross that we would be totally and completely acceptable to the Almighty.
The Resurrection of Christ gives us the guarantee that death is not the end—and this is not the end of life, but rather the beginning of what real life—the life that God wants for you—is all about! This is what St. Paul believed and he was (and is) content. This is what Howard believed and he was (and is) content.
Now this Gospel—this Good News is something that can make you content as well and it doesn’t matter what your past has been like, it doesn’t matter what is in store for you tomorrow, it doesn’t matter about your physical condition—sickness or health, rich or poor, old or young, man or woman. Christ died and rose for you in order that you might be an heir of heaven.
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” (Philippians 4:12-13). When you believe and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you can face any situation, any tragedy, any loss of a family member, any thing, because you end up a winner no matter what happens.
Earlier in his letter Paul wrote: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:21–24). That is contentment!
We know that Howard knew how to be content. We also know that now he is perfectly content. For where he is there is no sorrow, no tears, no hunger, no thirst, no pain, no suffering, no consequences of sin for he is with the Lord.
And remember, that though you are separated from Howard now for a short time, you need never be separated from the Lord. The God who gives contentment and comfort has promised: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Even as you mourn Howard’s death, may you continue to find comfort and hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ until the day you are reunited with Howard to be in the presence of our Lord forever. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.