“Don’t Give Up!”
The day before Gerry was called home to heaven by our gracious Lord, I was with him in his hospital room with his dear children Marianne, Barbara, and David. And beside Gerry’s bedside we prayed Psalm 27, the Psalm that Gerry himself had chosen for this service today. After we prayed the Psalm, I was told that this was sort of Gerry’s parting message for all of us. He wanted all of us to hear a thing of great importance, that the Lord God Himself speaks through the Psalmist David, that can be summed up in three words: Don’t Give Up!
Gerry Storm, as I’m sure you know, was not a man to give up, but his reason for standing firm—for remaining steadfast—was not always the same reason as we hear in the words of Psalm 27. You see—and here I’ll let you in on a little secret—Gerry was something of a stubborn man. Now, I say this in great love and with the confession that I, too, am a stubborn man. This is perhaps why he and I got along so well … and sometimes didn’t. But being stubborn has nothing to do with the Psalm’s message of “Don’t Give Up.” Rather, it is all about giving up—giving up on yourself and trusting fully in the Lord our God, whom the Psalmist David calls, “the stronghold of my life.”
In the Psalm, David tells us about affliction in his life, about adversaries and foes—evildoers who assail him so as to eat up his flesh, which we take metaphorically to indicate the intensity of their hatred toward him. False witnesses, he says, have risen up against him, breathing out violence. David’s own father-in-law seeks to take his life. Yet in all of this, David is not defeated; he does not suffer the will of those who wish him harm. And he does not give up because his trust is in the Lord, who is his light and his salvation. With the Lord as the stronghold of David’s life, he can proclaim, “of whom shall I be afraid?”
Now, dear friends, this is not to say that David was never afraid. For example, when he was on the run from his father-in-law, King Saul, and sought refuge with a foreign king, he became afraid also of this king and, to save himself, hid behind the assumed behaviour of a madman and fool, until he was able to run away and hide in a cave. But why was he so afraid? Did he not remember how, as a youth, God gave him victory over the giant warrior-champion Goliath? Did he not recall all the promises of help and deliverance that God had made to his people in times past—promises that were for him, too? Where was his faith as he huddled in fear in the darkness of that cave?
If life teaches you anything, it’s that you don’t have to be someone like King David to go through difficult and trying times. Today is an example of just that. It’s hard—it’s very hard—to bid our earthly farewells to this dear man that we loved. It’s difficult to see his casket before us, and not only because it reminds us that he has died, but also because it’s a stark reminder to all of us that we, too, will one day die. And there is a certain measure of fear in contemplating this. Oh yes, we trust in God. We know that in our Saviour Jesus we have nothing to fear, but yet we do fear death and the grave, despite the confidence that faith delivers.
With the Psalmist David, you not only know what it is to have trouble and trial in your life; you also know what it is to be afraid—to not trust in God as you should. And this is because, as it was with the Psalmist David, you are all sinners at the same time as God has made you to be His saints—His holy people.
Sin brings forth a disconnection between you and God. It was that way from the moment that life began in you. In one of his other psalms, David declares, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” That’s how it is for you. And while your baptism into Christ Jesus has restored the connection that sin had broken between you and your heavenly Father, the sinful nature of your birth remains to disrupt that blessed and holy connection and come between you and Your merciful and loving God. And this happens all the time, doesn’t it?
When David pleads with God, saying, “Cast me not off, forsake me not—Hide not your face from me,” it’s because he knows that this is what he deserves from God for sinfully doing this exact thing to Him—for being disconnected from God and turning away from Him in sin and unbelief. David knows that because of His sin he deserves to be abandoned to the terrible fate of death and hell. Yet God does not abandon David, nor does He abandon you in your sin. From your worst and most terrible enemy in all your life—your own sinfulness—does the Lord God lift you up to safety “high upon a rock.” He forgives you your sin, through His dear Son Jesus, who humbled Himself, taking on your flesh, becoming true Man, so that He could sacrificially pay the full penalty for all of your sins with His innocent suffering and death, on the altar of Calvary’s cross. You are forgiven and have life and salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Oh what comfort and consolation this brought to our dear brother in Christ, Gerry! As you know, life was not always wonderful for him. There were many times of darkness and trouble. Growing up in the epicenter of a world war could not have been easy. Emigrating to the other side of the world, where they spoke a different language, could not have been easy. Having serious health problems later in life could not have been easy. In all those trials and hard times, though, Gerry did not give up. Because he was stubborn? Well, maybe a little.
Mainly, though, because God had graciously given him faith to trust in His goodness and mercy, faith to look to His Saviour for forgiveness and strength, faith to look beyond himself for the help he needed. And the faith that God gave did not disappoint our dear friend Gerry. In the many difficulties of life, Gerry received his good gifts from God to help: a loving and devoted wife, his dear Erna, whom he is with again; dear children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to give him the joy of family and also help in these later years; a congregation through which he received God’s grace in the ministry of Word and Sacrament; and all sorts of other good things, too numerous to list.
The greatest and best of all that God gave to Gerry is the gift that he received in the waters of Holy Baptism—the gift of salvation and everlasting life that he now enjoys in God’s kingdom of glory. This same best of all gifts, greatest of every good thing, God, our gracious heavenly Father, freely offers and gives to you, too. And with this, He also promises to be the stronghold of your life, to care for you and defend you from all harm and danger, so that even, as Saint Paul says, you are beset by all manner of “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or sword”—even if for the sake of Christ you are “being killed all the day long,” regarded as “sheep to be slaughtered,” you are, in all these things, “more than conquerors through him who loved us … who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.” And in Christ Jesus, your Saviour and Redeemer, He does graciously give you all things—everything that you need for this life, as well as the life to come.
So don’t give up! “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” With the faith that God freely gives and strengthens through the forgiveness of your sins, proclaim in your life with the Psalmist David, with Gerhard Reinhold Storm, and with all the saints, “I believe that I shall look upon the Lord in the land of the living,” for “the Lord is my light and my salvation … the Lord is the stronghold of my life! Of whom” … of what … “shall I be afraid?” Amen.