Funeral Sermon for Annie Maria Howald

The Gift of God’s Grace

Ephesians 2:4-10

In the first chapter of his letter to the Romans, the apostle Saint Paul proclaims “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Our dear sister Anne was of the same mind. In my visits with her she would always confess the Gospel; she would tell me of her faith in Christ. Surprisingly, I don’t get that a lot from people—and by people, I mean baptized believers in Christ, like Anne. It’s not that they’re ashamed of the Gospel, but rather, I think, somewhat conditioned, as we all are, by the secular world in which we live. With Anne, though, it was different. Often before I could open my mouth to say something to her about Jesus, she would be telling me of her Saviour. And I think this is because she understood, with the clarity of 102 years of God’s grace supporting her, what an amazing and wonderful gift her salvation is.

Now the whole idea of “gift” is also something that our modern world has us a little off in our thinking and understanding. We hear so much in advertising, and the like, that you’ll receive a “free gift” if you’ll only first buy something. They say, “Just buy one of our super-duper frying pans, and we’ll send you another as our free gift.” Free gift? No. It’s not really free, nor is it truly a gift if you must first do something to get it. A gift is something that is given, without any strings attached—without you having to do anything except take it.

This truth is at the heart of what we heard Saint Paul saying today to the believers in the church of Ephesus. He tells them, and us, that salvation is “the gift of God.” And so that we would correctly understand this—what it means to be a gift—he adds that it is given without you having to do anything. “Not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” he says.

What he says about not boasting, dear friends, is a very good and necessary thing of which to be reminded, for we are, by nature, people who like to boast in our accomplishments. It makes us feel good about ourselves. It strokes our egos—even if our boasting only extends to what we say to ourselves.

Boasting in ourselves, however, takes away from what God has done for us in Christ. It takes away from your full trust in Jesus for your salvation. It essentially says that you don’t believe that His death on the cross is really enough to earn salvation for you. It says that Jesus is pretty much a failure at doing what His heavenly Father had sent Him to accomplish, which is to provide full atonement for all sin with His own innocent suffering and death. Faith that saves, dear friends, is faith that depends fully in the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our Lord—or, as Saint Paul firmly states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.”

Such was Anne’s faith. Oh sure, like every true believer in Christ, she had her moments of doubt. But she knew that the gift of forgiveness was always there for her, by the grace of God in Christ, to wash away all those doubts and restore her in the faith that she had been given—yes, given! That’s part of the gift, too. Not only does God freely give you salvation, He also works and establishes in you the faith that is needed to receive it. Without this God-given faith, no one would be able to take hold of the salvation that Jesus has earned for you and for the whole world. And this is because, as Saint Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 2, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

The natural person—which is how we all were as children of Adam, conceived and born in sin—is predisposed by sin to be hostile toward God. Or, as I’ve heard it put differently, we all come into this world as God-haters. By nature, we want nothing to do with God. By nature, the salvation of Christ is folly; it’s foolishness; it’s a thing that cannot be discerned by our own reason or strength. It can only be grasped with the help of God—with the Holy Spirit giving us a new birth in Christ that believes and trusts in the richness of God’s mercy and the great love that He has for us, so that “even when we were dead in our trespasses,” He “made us alive together with Christ.” Hallelujah! “By grace you have been saved!”

Grace, as you probably know, is just another word for love. And it is of the saving love of God that we hear our Lord Jesus testify in today’s Holy Gospel. Jesus declares to the Pharisee Nicodemus, For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is the gift that God freely gives—no strings attached. His grace is, as we sang, truly amazing, for it has saved wretches like you and me—sinners who were lost and blind—who hated God and wanted nothing to do with Him. By His amazing grace we are found. He pulled us out of the darkness of sin and unbelief and set before us the light of Christ that we may see—that we may see what dear Anne saw—what she testified to—what she believed with her whole heart. And what we see by faith, as Anne did, is that in Christ Jesus we will “not perish but have eternal life.” We have this as a promise from God, whose Word does not change. And His Word, as the hymn says, our hope secures. His grace will lead you home. Count on it, dear friends. Believe it, for the sake of Christ, our Lord. Amen.