Sermon for the Christian Funeral of Carol Jeanne Thompson

Acts 27:27-44

Grace and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

One memory I have of my visits with Carol in the last three years came to mind while I was reading her obituary. I remembered discussing her love of history and especially the history of shipwrecks. It’s not often a pastor visits a person who likes to talk about shipwrecks at length, so that stuck in my mind. Therefore, I thought it appropriate to choose this reading from Acts 27, in which we have a detailed description of a shipwreck experienced by St. Paul and his companions.

Those who are in the know say this account written by St. Luke in the book of Acts is the most detailed account of a shipwreck in the ancient world in existence. There are all sorts of geographic points and nautical terms, and amid them is the continuing story of the Apostle Paul. Paul is traveling to Rome from Jerusalem by ship, to stand trial before Caesar. He is a prisoner, under guard of a centurion, a Roman non-commissioned officer, named Julius, and his friends Luke and Aristarchus are with him, as well as other prisoners. The sailors decided to depart from their last port at the end of the year which was a bad decision. Like the song says of Lake Superior, so too in the Mediterranean Sea the skies of November turn gloomy, and the ship became a bone to be chewed. St. Paul warned them, but they did not listen. For fourteen days the ship faces stormy seas, headed for certain doom.

Yet amid this, St. Paul has a promise from the Lord that he will reach Rome to stand trial, and that all who remain on the ship with him will be preserved. Paul holds on, trusts this word of God even throughout those fourteen days of stormy seas. When the sailors attempt to leave on the lifeboat and abandon ship, St. Paul urges them to stay aboard, or they will not be saved.
This true history is much like the story of the Christian life, and therefore the story of Carol’s life. Many have spoken of life as a journey, it is no wonder for we begin at birth and continue to an end. And we don’t know how that journey will be. Maybe for many days there are fair winds and comfortable tides, at other times a storm that brings us to a lee shore. Carol had many blessings in her life, most of all her husband Frank and her children, she would always be telling me about them, and also sorrows, especially deaths which were very hard, hitting close to her.
These difficulties in life are the result of sin, sin which our father Adam brought into the world, turning against God through disobedience. We have all inherited this sin which brought both death and suffering into the world. Storms and shipwrecks, both actual and metaphorical are a result of sin. For now in this life, we suffer through these effects every day in our lives. Carol was no exception.

But for Carol, and those who trust in Christ, there is a hope. Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, God taking on human flesh, and lived the perfect life and died for the sin of the world. Now all who trust in Him, trust that this is for them, are forgiven and have an eternal life which goes beyond death. This is what Carol has today, as well as all who believe and are baptized.
This is where St. Paul gets his confidence, knowing the Word of God that he will be preserved with the ship, and also knowing Jesus as his Savior. The other members of the ship only see the storm and coming wreck, they are in despair, they will not even eat – what is the point if you are going to die anyway? Work for your life! Paul knowing that the Lord will preserves them calmly has those on the ship all sit and receive a meal, breaking bread together for strength. For they will wreck, but will still be preserved, and need the strength food brings for the days ahead on shore.

Carol too trusted in the Word of God. She believed that Christ died for her and rose again from the dead, and so she too, believing in Him, would have eternal life. She demonstrated this faith every time I came to see her as we discussed the Word of God and the people and things she was praying for in the world. Even when the world seemed like a storm, she took time to receive the forgiveness and strength which Christ gives through His word and the food of His Holy Supper in communion. In this way, she was not preparing for the end, but for the beginning of the rest of her life.

No one knows when the end will come for each one of us, so all we can do is always be prepared, always be ready. St. Paul and the men on the ship saw the end of their voyage, trying to run the ship aground on the shore. They threw out anchors, they jettisoned all the cargo to make the ship float a little higher. The cargo was of no value anymore. And then they didn’t run aground where they thought. The ship was stuck on a shoal before they got into the bay. The expected end came much earlier than they expected. What is important is that they were prepared, and trusting in Paul’s promise that they would be saved, all safely made it to shore.
Carol was ready, even though we did not expect her life to end this soon. But whether one’s ship of life crashes upon a rock or grounds smoothly on the beach, the important thing is to hold to the solid promise of the resurrection in Jesus Christ. While death still is a reality in this life, for all who believe in Jesus and cling to Him, life continues after death. So now Carol is with Jesus, safe on the shore, resting in his arms.  Free from fear and the storms of life, with the One who loves her best, awaiting the last day and the resurrection of the dead.

Carol wants you too to join her in the resurrection, by coming onto that ship where all will be preserved. It is the ship of those who trust in Christ and follow Him. He is found where his Word is preached, and His people are gathered, in His church. All who remain in this ship by trusting in Jesus will be preserved, and like Carol, reach the other shore.

There, at the end of this worldly life, we will see, rejoice, jump out and swim to our resurrected Lord. And there we will be face to face with our Savior, and gathered will all our loved ones, as we and Carol and all the company of heaven forget the past storms and shipwrecks, rejoicing to look upon His face of love. Amen.
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