“Not Despising The Little Ones”

For the Funeral of

+ Jacob William Wickline +

January 17, 2015

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

St. Matthew 18:1-5, 10-11  At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

Dear Martin and Michelle, Jacob’s brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

When a child dies, parents grieve.  That is right and proper at all times.  And it is no different when a child dies before it has been given birth.  It is an understatement, to be sure, to say that what happened last week is every parent’s nightmare.  No parent should ever have to bury their child.  But, as painful as it is, it is important to say it out loud: A child has died.  A baby has died.  A pre-born 14-week old tiny little boy has died long before he had a chance to develop fully, be born into a loving family, and enjoy the fullness of life outside the womb.  It is, at best, maddening that you had no choice.  It was simply Jacob’s time to be received into the Savior’s arms.

You were, however, able to enjoy his life while he grew inside the womb.  You cared for Jacob by caring for yourself.  You, Michelle, fought for Jacob’s life with your own life.  You did everything possible to give him every chance to survive.  And during that fight you felt his activity, you heard his heartbeat, and, for the 14 weeks he grew and was formed, your lives were continually re-formed in growing anticipation and anxiety of the day when you were hoping he would be born.  But as we all know, last week changed everything, and you came to the heartbreaking realization that his short life was over.

For those who may be listening in, and for those of you here, this needs to be said.  Our Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 18:10, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones.”  He said that in the midst of a brief conversation He had with His disciples about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  He then “called a little child to Him, [and] set him in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:2), and made an example of the child to all the adults present that the life of this child was precious in God’s sight.

The example that this family has shown throughout their recent ordeal is nothing short of an excellent witness to Jesus’ words.  As you all know, we live in a world where life is becoming increasingly less and less important.  And when it comes to the smallest of God’s human creation, there are people murdering and throwing away pre-born infants every day, not even recognizing them as a life, let alone seeing them as precious and valuable.

But you, Michelle and Martin, chose a different path, and it is one that is absolutely God-pleasing.  Your actions are the perfect example of God’s priority of the ultimate respect for all life.  You spared no effort to give Jacob every chance of making it.  And I pray that your clear and faithful witness be the strongest encouragement and teaching to ALL people that ALL life is precious in God’s sight, and that any and all efforts to preserve the lives of even the smallest of God’s gifts are well worth the effort.

In the case of an infant we easily and innocently overlook the truth of God’s Word that we are all not only born sinful but indeed conceived sinful.  Not only is a baby a person and a life from the very first second of conception, but a baby is also sinful from the time of conception.  Even though a baby may not have “sinned” yet, every child conceived is sinful by nature because that child is the product of two sinful people coming together and passing along that sinful human nature to their child.  It has been that way since Adam and Eve.  Even in the case of the pre-born, naturally we do not want to comprehend our child this way; it’s all quite understandable.  And that is why the death of any child, even a child still in the womb, seems so unreal.

We need a response to these deep emotions and feelings no matter how gut-wrenching and painful they may be.  We need to be comforted and strengthened.  Dear grieving people of God, we will not be denied.  We will not be disappointed.

Because of Jacob’s death he was unable to receive the gift of God in Holy Baptism – a gift which the Lord knew you certainly would have brought him to the house of God to receive.  But let me assure you, you are not alone in your grief.  Not only are there others in your lifetime who have experienced stillbirth, some of whom are here today, there is at least one similar circumstance in Holy Scripture to which we can look for help in coping with the events of this week.

In II Samuel 12 we read where King David’s newborn son was very ill, during which time David feared the worst – that his son would die.  For seven days the child lay ill and for seven days David lay on the ground fasting and weeping in hopes that his child’s life would be spared.  For seven days he looked forward to the eighth day, the day on which, according to God’s Law, the boy would be circumcised which was the Old Testament equivalent to New Testament Baptism.  However, the child died on the seventh day and was prevented from receiving the gift of earthly membership in God’s kingdom.

Picking up the story from there, we hear the Word of the Lord recorded in II Samuel 12:20-23. [20] Then David got up from the ground.  After he had washed, put on lotions, and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.  Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food and he ate. [21] His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way?  While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” [22] He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept.  I thought, ‘Who knows?  Yahweh may be gracious to me and let the child live.’  [23] But now that he is dead, why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

In faith, David knew he would see his son again.  In faith he knew that God would not hold him accountable for what he was unable to do in carrying out the eighth-day custom of circumcision.  In faith and trust in his God David went about his business looking forward to the day when he would go to be with the Lord and be reunited with his son.  In faith David knew that God was able to work beyond and outside of earthly limitations.

Martin and Michelle, even though he was so very young and small, your son was known by God, for God indeed knows all things.  And even though there was nothing you could have done to prevent Jacob’s death, certainly you can turn to God in faith at this time of your grief and loss.  Look in faith to God who knows all things.  Turn to God in faith and be comforted and strengthened by His love for you.  It is a love which He showed to you and to all people through the life, death, and resurrection of His only Son, Jesus Christ, as He Himself said in our text, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”

For it is Jesus who “saved the lost” when He took all our sins upon Himself on the cross.  It is Jesus who “saved the lost” when He suffered the pains of hell for us so that we do not have to.  It is Jesus who “saved the lost”  when He triumphantly rose from the grave that very first Easter morning 2,000 years ago in order to demonstrate once and for all His power and authority over even death itself.  And it is Jesus who continues to love us and comfort us with His promise of eternal life through faith in Him.

Like David you know and believe by faith that you will see your son again and get to enjoy him in a way that you could not here in this life.  In faith you know and believe that God does not hold you accountable for being unable to bring Jacob to Holy Baptism.  And in faith you know and believe that God in His love and mercy indeed has the power to work outside of His chosen means.

Remember the words we heard at the outset of this service: In love God has blessed His people with the washing of Holy Baptism, through which He gives rebirth in the Holy Spirit to us and to our children.  When death comes before Baptism, we trust in His mercy that by His grace He has received Jacob to Himself for the sake of the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  So we take comfort in the confident hope that Jacob will be raised to life with Christ in the resurrection on the Last Day.

Trust that God in His mercy has done that – He has received your son to Himself.  Trust that for him there truly is life, a life that waits for you.  Receive the strength God continually delivers to His people through the worship life of His Church, continuing to receive God’s richest blessings through Word and Sacrament.  Lean on Him, for He promises this to you: “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5).

The Lord bless you and hold you in His ever-loving arms as you commit Jacob’s earthy remains to Him and His care until the time reserved for your reunion.

In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.