14 July 2008
Let’s begin with a story that Earl loved:
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; one belonged to him and the other to the LORD. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it. “LORD, you said that [when I followed] you, you’d walk with me all the way, but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there was only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed you most, you would leave me.” The LORD replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”Many people find great comfort in that little story, but what’s truly amazing is that someone like Earl would find comfort in it. After all, Earl was a war veteran, no doubt toughened by the horrors of war. He was also an engineer and carpenter by trade, no doubt because he liked to build things and have things fit together in logical, predictable ways. Yet, despite his rough and tough personality and his great accomplishments in constructing bridges and buildings, Earl still found comfort in that little story of the Lord’s presence and protection.
Some people don’t like that little story. Some say that the Lord would be carrying us all the time, so there should only be one set of footprints all the time. Others say that there should really be two sets of footprints, because we’re still following the Lord even through the difficult times. Actually, it might be better to focus on a different “problem” in the story. Why is it that when difficult times come our way, we automatically think that the Lord is not with us? If we could look back on our lives, would we assume that God somehow left us high and dry in the moments we needed Him most?
That is a constant temptation. It’s also a concrete reality. You see, Earl had the same fallen human nature that we all have. Like us, he also would question if God were with him and protecting him. I have no doubts that such thoughts flooded his mind as he sat in the gunner’s seat in the fighter plane during World War II. Such thoughts may have vexed him when he lost his first wife. And these past few years, as he fought the cancer and stared death in the face—a prime opportunity for wondering, “God, where are you?”
So the punch line of that little story is what gives great comfort. In the story the Lord says, “During your times of trial and suffering…it was then that I carried you.” It takes faith to trust something like that, because, after all, that is God’s promise to His dear children—even if they are toughened by war or accomplished in feats of construction and carpentry or fighting against cancer that ultimately wins out.
It’s the very promise that our Lord Jesus Christ gives when He calls Himself “the Good Shepherd.” He says, “I lay down My life for the sheep.” He knows the troublesome time of suffering and dying. That’s why He came into the world—not to avoid suffering and dying, but for the express, eternal purpose of suffering and dying to free us from such troubles. What Earl truly trusted was his Savior who shared in our human toil and woes. After all, Jesus the Christ, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for Earl and for us, His blood-bought sheep. And when He rose victorious on the third day, He revealed the best comfort of all. Death has been swallowed up. Death has been conquered. The enemy worse than war and more threatening than any cancer has been soundly defeated—and all because our Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep, for Earl and for you and me.
Jesus also says this: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:28). Now that’s a much greater promise and comfort than that little story! Earl heard the voice of his Shepherd Jesus through the years. He also received the Shepherd’s eternal life every time he ate and drank the Lord’s Body and Blood in Communion. So even now, as he rests and awaits the resurrection of the body on the Last Day, Earl rests in the promise that no one and nothing can snatch him out of his Shepherd’s hand. Even now, Good Shepherd Jesus is carrying Earl.
Dear family and friends of Earl, that promise and comfort are for you too. You may think of this as a time when you see only one set of footprints in the sand, but don’t for a minute think that your Lord and Savior has left you. Remember and trust that your Good Shepherd Jesus is with you, yes, even carrying you. Remember and trust that His victory over death is your victory even now by virtue of your Baptism into Him. And, by all means, remember and trust the words we heard from St. Peter: “According to His great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:3-5).
That’s what Earl awaits as he rests in the arms of his Shepherd. That’s what we anticipate even now. Amen.