In Memoriam +Sharon Ryan
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sharon didn’t merely teach the children to sing, she taught them to confess. They confessed “Jesus loves me.”
It is a children rhyme, of course, but we do know this great truth from the Bible. The Bible tells us that Jesus loves us. In old and new Testament, in Prophet, Psalm, Law, and History, in Gospel, Epistle, and Apocalypse, the Scriptures testify of Jesus Christ, God become Flesh to make Himself a Sacrifice for our sins, to love us out of Hell and to Himself in heaven.
The Bible is more than a Book. It is God’s Word. It is where He speaks, where He reveals Himself to us. It is inspired, breathed out by the Holy Spirit. We do not learn from nature that Jesus loves us. Nature only shows us God’s power. But in His Word, in the bible, the prophecies and accounts of His people show His mercy and plan, His desire to forgive and reconcile, His patience. The Gospels hand us the very life, death, and resurrection of our God in the Flesh come to love us.
That is why Sharon taught the children to sing: “Little ones to Him belong.” That is what the word holy means. It means: “belongs to God.” Sharon was teaching the children that by Jesus’ love they were holy. Sometimes we’ve mistakenly talked about the word holy as though it only meant “without sin.” That is not false, but it is shallow. A fuller definition is “belongs to God.” When we say the Holy Bible or Holy Baptism we don’t mean that the Bible is without sin or Baptism is without sin. We mean that it is God’s Bible and God’s Baptism. These things belong to Him and convey or carry something of His character. So also when we talk about saints, holy people, we mean people that belong to God.
The people that belong to God, like the children Sharon so loved and taught, became His children when God placed His Name upon them in the waters of Holy Baptism. In Baptism, God claims people for Himself. Those Named in the saving waters of Baptism belong to Him. They are a people who were no people. They wear God’s Name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with His Name comes His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. His Name declares them Holy, declares them to be His.
Little ones to Him belong. They do not belong to their parents, to the State, or to themselves. And they certainly do not belong to the devil. They have been bought and paid for in the bloody Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who did not shrink from that terrible price for the sake of love. He has ransomed them out of Hell, paid their fee, made Himself their Substitute, and reconciled them to the Father, so that there is, as the angels announced, peace on earth with God and men.
He died to open heaven’s gates, has washed away our sins, lets His little children come in. This is the heart of the Gospel, of the Christian faith, of a good confession. Let us not be ashamed of it.
Our Lord says, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Sharon loved children. And she loved to hear them sing, “Jesus loves me.” In the end, she became like a child in almost every way. She was humbled in ways that were painful to behold. Her spark, energy, and intellect were taken. But not everything was taken. She almost always teared up when we prayed the Our Father together, when she heard the 23rd Psalm, or we sang “Jesus loves me.”
Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Are we too sophisticated for the faith of Sharon, too proud to accept the simple reality that we are weak, that we need a Savior, that we are not in control, that our vision and knowledge is both limited and skewed? Will we submit to what the Bible tells us and throw ourselves upon God’s mercy like children? Will we accept the cross that the Lord hands us and confess in the face of evil that God is good and will work it all out in the end or will we rebel and curse God because we do not like the hardships and sorrows of this life?
Sharon’s confession was constant. She raised children, her own and those entrusted to her, in the fear and nurture of the Lord. She confessed and was joyful, confident in the expectation of the resurrection to come, more eager for heaven than for Ireland. We know what she would have you do. She’d have you repent, turn and become like a child, seek the comforting presence of our forgiving and risen God in His Holy Body and Blood, be washed and welcomed into the kingdom.
King David confessed for all of us when his son by Bathsheba died. “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” If you would go to Sharon, be weak, be child-like, confess with her: “Jesus loves me! This I know for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. Jesus loves me! He who died Heaven’s gates to open wide. He has washed away my sin. Lets His little children come in.”
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Pastor David Petersen