In Memoriam +Max Dilling+
St. Luke 12:7
Rev. David H. Petersen
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When we were planning this funeral, I chose the bread of life discourse from St. John because Max and I always talked about food. Doctors’ orders had robbed him of most pleasure. He couldn’t eat what he loved or at least not much of it. He was thirsty all the time. It was a frustrating and unsatisfying existence. Our Lord’s promise about filling the hungry with good things and being the Bread of Life that satisfies the dissatisfied seemed directly pointed to the man I knew. Thus I subjected you to the long reading from John 6.
But I am switching. I have another verse in mind, a short one: Luke 12:7. In the midst of his sermon on the plain, the Lord says, “even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
In the eyes of the world, Max was insignificant. He wasn’t rich or powerful. He didn’t leave any great mark behind. He didn’t discover or invent anything. He didn’t seem unique. He had normal, mundane hobbies and interests. He had a small, normal family – no celebrities, no generals, no power. Outside of those of us gathered here today, there probably aren’t 75 more people, in all the world, who care about what is going on here.
But for all that, he was unique – whether it is recognized by the masses or not. We all glimpsed that to some degree. We don’t lay a generic man to rest today, as though it could be anyone. It isn’t anyone. It is Max. He isn’t unknown, but is the man who loved you in his own way and he can never be replaced.
That is why you all have stories. When we go down into the nice cool undercroft for the meal, immediately following this service, I expect a lot of laughter. That is good. I have been to funerals where there is nothing to laugh about, where the only tears are of sadness and regret. Thanks be to God that you have good stories and joyful memories, along with the sad.
But as many stories as you might have, God has more. He not only remembers better, but He also loves Max more than you ever did. He counted the hairs on Max’s head – and while the task might have gotten easier over the years – so also did not one fall without being noted. God didn’t count the hairs of Max’s head because He was bored. He did it because He found Max fascinating and delightful. He never got bored or impatient with him. He didn’t love Max in a generic way, but in a personal way.
Our society doesn’t get this. For one thing we are still infected by the Masonic idea of a generic deity in outer space – a god who can go by any name because he doesn’t really care or really have a name. He is more an idea, an abstraction, than a person. But also because we tend to elevate the idea of equality and therefore want God to love everyone the same. We forget that is the brutal ethic of communism. In fact, parents don’t love all their children the same. They love them individually, specifically, deliberately. Love is always knowledge and always based in personality. You ought to love your children for who they are – and you ought to respond to them in ways appropriate. And so also, our God is a person, three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Son’s Name is Jesus and there is other name under heaven by which men are saved.
So it turns out that God loves Max better than you do, more intensely than you do, and more knowingly. You knew some of Max’s faults. You know he wasn’t perfect, but you loved him anyway, even as he loved you. God knows all of Max’s faults even better than Max knew them himself. But where we would back off, He has not. He knew full well Max’s propensity for sin, for selfish behavior, but He didn’t stop. He took up Flesh, became Max’s brother, in order to be Max’s Substitute. He did all things that Max should have done but didn’t or did imperfectly. He kept the Law. He obeyed God’s Word – even when it was terribly inconvenient and costly. And He took Max’s sins – every one of them into Himself. He became Max’s sin, was cursed for Max’s sake, and died Max’s death. He sacrificed Himself, underwent the Father’s wrath, and brought Max back into favor with Himself.
He didn’t do this because He likes people the way that some people like cats. He did this with a very specific goal in mind. He did this because if He didn’t then Max would go to Hell and He would not be able to spend eternity with him. And He wanted him. He wanted Max. He looked through the years and He saw Max and He counted Max worthy of it all – of the humiliation and shame, of the pain from lash, thorn, and nails, even of being forsaken by His Father. He knew what it would cost, but He also knew Max, and He loved him – specifically, deliberately, and individually. He loved the way that Max thought, the way his mind worked. He loved his sense of humor and his laugh. He loved all of his little habits, the way he held his spoon and stopped when he was talking to think for a bit and what he ate for breakfast every morning. He loved Max, right down to every last hair. He loved Max enough to do what we would never and could never do: to give His life into Hell so that Max would be spared and spent eternity in heaven.
He chose Max. He named him as his own in the waters of Holy Baptism. He claimed him. Then he guided and nurtured him through the years, always bringing him back, never letting him get too far astray, ever keeping him close to Himself through suffering and disease.
Our God is a Man. He is one of us, with us, and He loves deliberately. He chastens His sons. Max loved food. Who is to say whether food and that pleasure might have become an idol for Max if left unchecked? Max loved his family, too. He wanted to fight, wanted always to be resuscitated one more time. Who is to say when that love would cross the line and become more important than God? God, in His mercy, wouldn’t let it. He wouldn’t let go off Max even if, at times, Max wanted Him to. He kept him for Himself, close to Himself, dependent. “When I am weak,” says St. Paul, “then I am strong.” There is no food, no solace, no joy in this world for God’s children, save God alone. Apart from Him, all is darkness. Our only hope is the cross, the passion, the death, and the resurrection of the Christ for us. But that is enough – enough to make a people who were no people into God’s own people.
God counted every hair on Max’s balding head. Even his hairs mattered to Him. He was and remains unique. He has not been transformed into some generic saint, faceless, the same as all the rest. He is, in fact, more himself, than he has ever been. When you get there, when you follow in the way of Jesus Christ, he will be waiting, still himself, the man you loved, but then now you will be free, as he is free, of your own sins and baggage, free to be loved and to love more purely and fully than ever before. Because even as God loved Max, so also does He love you and count your hairs as well.
We do not mourn as those without help. Max is in good hands. Rejoice in the days that you had him. Be eager for the days and the reunion to come. For Max has gone to the reward of Jesus Christ. He has been saved by grace – pure, undeserved , unchanging love. He has been brought home where he belongs, where his joy is complete and he is satisfied.
May God, in His mercy, deliver us all to the same fate.
In +Jesus Name. Amen.