Charlie was a piece of work, amen?
A genuine … one-of-a-kind … masterpiece …
Hand-crafted by the very Master Craftsman Himself …
And this is how he saw all of you … as genuine … one-of-a-kind … lovingly hand-crafted masterpieces. That’s how he saw everybody. That’s how he treated everybody.
Charlies was a good man … and that’s saying a lot. We are all here today because our lives have been touched by this good man, Charlie Nanney. The longer you knew him, the more you realized how remarkable of a man he was … how remarkable a servant … how devoted he was to his family … how loyal he was to his friends … how faithful he was to God … and how available he was to literally anyone who needed help … including animals.
The highest and most powerful compliment you can give a person today is to call them a “good person” and sincerely mean it. Charlie Nanney was a good man … Charlie Nanney was a great man. In our hearts and memories, Charlie will always be a “good man” … a “great man.”
Charlie was a good man who lived a good life. For over 50 years of courtship and marriage, Charlie was nothing less than a devoted husband and a servant to Linda. I have no doubt that he would have taken as good a care of Linda as she did of him if the tables were reversed … a testament of her love for him … a good man and a good husband. Stephen, his son, by his side to the very end … the love of a son for a good father and good man. His brother and sister-in-law, Roy and Louise, always there at the hospital or the rehab … helping to take are of a good brother, a good brother-in-law … a good man. Friends doing everything they can to take care of Linda and Stephen while they took care of Charlie … a good friend and a good man. His church constantly lifting Charlie, a good Christian man, in our thoughts and prayers. When people came into his auto parts store, Charlie treated them more like friends than customers.
Charlie loved his family, he loved his friends, he loved his church, he loved his community, he loved children, he loved animals … but most of all, he loved his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He wasn’t perfect … he’d be the first to tell you that. But he loved Jesus and attempted to follow Jesus and live the Christian life as best as he knew how. His own shortcomings and imperfections troubled him deeply but he did his best to model what it means to keep on trying to change and grow in our faith and our walk with Jesus … even into old age when it is hardest.
What I’m about to say might shock you at first … but bear with me. Charlie was a good man who led a good life and was granted a good death. I’m sure that you are wondering how I could say that? I understand. You might not think there was anything good about watching Charlie die … but you would be wrong.
I have been there when many people have passed though the veil and crossed over to the other side. Few … far too few, in my opinion … have had as much love and care and concern as Charlie received. There was almost always someone at his side or in his room. So many who did what they could. So many who came and poured out their hearts and their love for him. So many who did as much for him as they could and wished they could do more.
Our pain, our sorrow as we watched him suffer came from the love that we have for him. The deeper our love, the greater our pain and suffering as we watched him grow sicker, weaker … fade away … and leave us. I can only hope and pray that I will be surrounded by so much love … covered with so much prayer …when it comes time for me to pass on to my reward. And here’s the best part … the most reassuring part … Charlie knew beyond a shadow of a doubt… right down to the very bottom of his soul … where he was going. And I know that not one single person here doubts for a second where Charlie is right now. Charlie was a good man who led a good life and was granted a good death.
But what of death itself? When someone you love dies, what do you do? You get upset … you get mad … you get angry … you get sad … you cry. That’s what God does too! He gets upset … He gets mad … He gets angry … He gets sad … and He cries.
“Whoever has seen me,” Jesus told one of His disciples, “has seen the Father” (John 14:9). And we saw Jesus’ reaction to death in our gospel reading … particularly the death of His friend, Lazarus. First of all, Jesus … God incarnate … considered Lazarus a friend and loved him very much. Jesus loves Charlies … considers him a friend. Can you imagine? God, the All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Creator and Maker and Sustainer of the universe considers you a friend and loves you very, very much. After all, as we read in Psalm 139, He very lovingly, very carefully created you.
So, what did Jesus … God incarnate … God in the flesh … do when His friend died? He wept. He didn’t just get misty-eyed. He didn’t just shed a tear or two. He wept! He cried deeply!
I don’t know what your god is like or what kind of god you want, but I really appreciate a God who can cry … who knows what it’s like to weep and to mourn. I want a God who can comfort me because He knows what it’s like to feel what I feel. Jesus is that God.
“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who came with her weep,” the Apostle John tells us, Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” (John 11:33). Jesus not only wept … He got angry … He got furious! John uses the strongest word in the Greek language in an attempt to express just how “disturbed” and “angry” Jesus was. The word He used literally means “to snort in the spirit.” “To snort in the spirit” describes what a stallion does as it rears up on its hind legs and charges into battle.
When Jesus ordered the stone to Lazarus’ tomb rolled away, He gave thanks to God … not for the fact that His friend was dead. Jesus gave thanks to God for hearing His prayer … for hearing His pain and suffering … the pain and suffering of His friends who had lost a good brother, a good friend, a good man.
Face-to-face with evil … grieving for the premature death of His good friend … Jesus is outraged. Why? Because of evil … because of sin. He had made the world to be a paradise, a place that would be filled with beauty and goodness, justice and fulfillment. Sin brought evil and death into this world and He was furious. Furious for the way that it steals from us. Furious for the way that it causes us to grieve … to suffer.
We may think that death is a normal part of life because death comes to us all … all things living eventually die. But death is abnormal. Death is an aberration. Death was not the way it was supposed to be. Every person born from the beginning of the world was made to be perfect … to be eternal. That was what God intended at the beginning when He made us and one day it will be that way for us. “But someone will ask,” the Apostle Paul explains. “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come? But God gives it a body as He has chosen. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It was sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1st Corinthians 15:35, 42-44).
When Jesus confronted death, He had two reactions: He wept and He got angry. How did He respond? He “snorted in Spirit” and lunged into battle with death. He shouted: “Lazarus! Come out!”
And Lazarus came out … foreshadowing what Jesus Himself was about to go through. It is a clear picture of the hope of all of us who will die … and we will all die … and for those of us who have lost ones like Charlie.
Friends … this is a critical and clear part of the Christian message and teaching of the Bible. Jesus has power over death. He Himself went through it and His resurrection is a clear sign of His victory over death. Death may sting us, but it doesn’t have the final say … the last word. It is, in fact, not the final separation from those we love nor is death the final separation from the God who loves us. Charlie’s presence with God makes that sting so much easier to bear. As the Apostle Paul reassured us: “We grieve but not as those without hope” (1st Thessalonians 4:13). Great love and great pain go together. Our great pain today over Charlie’s passing is the result of our great love for him and his love for us. But he is no longer in pain. His long suffering is over. And for that, we are grateful.
There are many things that we can still learn from Charlie. The most important is to love our families and our friends well. I truly love my daughter, Emily. There are so many things I want my daughter to know, but the most important is that she know that I love her with all my heart and soul. I love her right down to the marrow of her bones … to the darkest corner of her self-doubt … through whatever storms and trials that life throws at her. And I have no doubt that Charlie loved … and still loves … his family and friends in the same way. Charlie knew that love is a treasure that is only a treasure if you give it away … and I hope you know that too.
Love leads to service. It’s easy to say, “I love you,” but it is meaningless if it isn’t followed up with demonstrations and acts of love. Charlie was the embodiment of this principle. Charlie served as much as he could for as long as he could … His family, his church, his customers, his community … most importantly, God. Servanthood was a broad, deep, rich part of Charlie’s legacy. At the end of the move “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Clarence the angel gave George Bailey a note which read: “Remember … no man is a failure who has friends.” Look around … by that measure, Charlie’s life a huge success.
Charlie’s life was a masterpiece … created by the greatest Artist of all time. God doesn’t just use bright colors … like yellow, red, blue, green, orange. He also uses dark colors … like black and gray and brown. We like the bright colors, the bright times, but we cry out and question when God uses the darker hues … until we step back and see the bigger picture. Only then, from God’s perspective, do we see the balance and interplay of light and dark. We see how the shadows bring out the right colors. We see how the whole picture comes together … and it is beautiful and breath-taking. Today we step back and we look at Charlie’s life and we see that it was beautiful and breath-taking. And from where Charlie is right now, I’m sure that he can see what we can’t see … the work of the Master’s hand in our lives … even at this dark and sad moment. We can’t see how God is using the darkness and the somber hues of today to highlight the joy and love that we had when Charlie was here and to highlight the love and joy that is to come as God continues to work on us … His masterpieces in the making. For now, Charlie’s memories will hang in the showrooms of our hearts until we are with him in God’s Presence and we no longer need his memories.
In verses 17 and 18 of Psalm 139, David talks about the “weight” or “number” of God’s thoughts … how impossible it would be to try and count them, let alone understand them. But then he says: “I come to the end – I am still with you” (v. 18). I think that David is saying that were he to count the thoughts of God until the end of his life, the counting wouldn’t end there because he would be with God and the counting would continue on into eternity. I don’t know what Heaven will be like … yet … but I agree with David that it will never grow old or boring.
Charlie loved God … Charlie talked to God … talked about God. Charlie studied God … studied God’s Word. Charlie was on a journey to discover God … to know God … to grow closer to God … to love God more and more. And the beautiful part … the best part … is that he is still on that exciting, glorious, blessing-filled journey of discovery that will never end … and so are we.
To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Charlie is absent from his body which means that he is with God, whom he loved and loves so much. And we who are on the same journey with Charlie will one day join him and live in the very Presence of God in the Holy City of God where we will get to continue our journey of getting to know God together forever.
I want to live you with this last image from today’s gospel reading. When Jesus called to Lazarus, Lazarus was dead … had been dead for four days. As far as I know, dead people have no hearing, yet Lazarus heard Jesus calling and responded ... rising and coming out of the tomb. Jesus commanded that the cloth, the funeral shroud, that bound Lazarus be removed. “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Unbind him , and let him go. On December 8th, Charlie passed away and Jesus called out to him: “Charlie, my love … come out. Come out of that body that bound you for so long. Come out of that body that you don’t need any more.” And Charlie’s spirit came out from its tomb and is no longer bound by his body or by death. And now Jesus is commanding us to unbind him in our hearts and minds. “Death,” Jesus want us to know, “has no hold over Charlie. You may feel the sting of his passing but death has not defeated Charlie because I have defeated death. Charlie is free from this earthly tent that had bound his spirit for so long, but now his spirit is with me … his spirit is free. You may be able to hold onto his memories but you are no more able to hold onto his spirit as you can hold onto the wind or capture a sunbeam in your hands. One day I will come to claim you and if you are one of my sheep, you will know my voice and your spirit will rise out of this temporary earthly tent that binds it and it will be free to join me and Charlie and all the saints in your new home … your eternal home not built with human hands.”
I made a promise to Charlie. Charlie told me” “I know where I am going and I’m looking forward to being there …”. And then he looked sternly in the eye and said: “… and I better see you there … and you better tell everyone else where I’m going and how to get there so that they can be with me.”
Jesus Christ died for your sins, and He can be your personal Savior. You have a choice: either to repent and to believe in Jesus, accepting His sacrifice for your sins—or to reject Christ and His words and to receive the judgment of God and eternal death. What will you do? You will be held accountable for your decision. You must choose!
Charlie wanted me to share with you the hope for salvation that he had in Jesus Christ … the hope that all who bear Christ’s mark and Christ’s name have. Do you have that hope? The hope of certain salvation because you have Jesus in your heart … in your life?