Funeral of James Clifford Flynn
March 6, 2014
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. He goes before them and they follow him, for they know his voice. They recognize his voice. From what I’ve heard, Froggy had a pretty recognizable voice too. I heard a number of wonderful stories about Jim earlier this week. I heard about what you might call his ability to delegate responsibility, specifically how he would take Diane to Reindel’s Hardware store on his day off so that she could help him with his “honey-do” list. Although, the way Diane remembers it, she would take the list up and down the aisles finding what dad needed while he would drink a cup of coffee and chat with the guys in the front of the store. That’s what I call delegating tasks. I heard anecdotes about his sense of humor, how one year for Christmas Jessica asked for a John Deere tractor, so he got her one – a miniature one that blew bubbles. I heard of his mischievous side, how he used to go joy riding in his dad’s car when he was just a boy. Apparently, his dad could never figure out why the car was always on empty, but from what I hear, Jim and his sisters could have shed some light on that mystery.
I heard memory after memory, story after story lovingly relayed by the family whose lives will always bear Jim’s fingerprint. But the one thing I found myself returning to time and again is Jim’s Fire Department nickname: Froggy. Jim was usually the one giving the nicknames, just ask “Muddy.” Apparently, Jim had nicknames for just about everyone. But he had one of his own, too, Froggy, which he earned due to his distinctly raspy voice. The unique sound of his voice was due to a medical condition that affected his vocal cords. He eventually sought and received medical treatment for his vocal cords so that many who met him later in life might have never known what he used to sound like. I myself never heard his Froggy voice, but from what I understand, those who did hear it will never forget it. In fact, Donna told me a story about a vacation that she and Jim went on up north. They happened to find themselves on a pontoon with a few people they had never met before, one of whom was a retired firefighter from East Detroit. Well, as the story goes, the mutual friend who owned the pontoon asked the East Detroit firefighter if he knew Jim, and the man replied that he had never met a Jim Flynn. However, as soon as they were all on the boat together the man recognized Jim’s voice the moment he started talking. “You’re Froggy from Fraser!” the man exclaimed. Even though he had never met Jim face to face, he knew his voice from the firehouse radio, for Froggy had a voice that you didn’t forget, one that you could pick out of a crowd, one that left its mark on those who heard it.
Hear again a few words from the Gospel of John: [Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” [John 10:1-5]. Recognize the voice. The sheep of Jesus recognize his voice when they hear it, and they follow him. That was true for Jim, which is why we say with confidence that he is now resting with our Lord awaiting the day of resurrection.
Just over a week ago I visited Jim in his bedroom and gave him communion. I knew then and there that he recognized the voice of his shepherd. With what strength he had left at that point, he joined me in the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed speaking those words that our Lord gave him to speak. He knew the voice of his shepherd, Jesus, the voice that first claimed Jim as his own dear child through the waters of baptism on June 1, 1944. Jim knew the voice of his shepherd, which is why no matter where he and Donna moved they sought out a church to proclaim God’s words of Law and Gospel to them. Jesus said that his sheep recognize his voice and they follow him as he goes before them. Jim knew the voice of his shepherd, so he followed where his shepherd lead.
That’s why we’re gathered here today, because Jim has followed his shepherd to another place – the grave. Never forget, Jesus has been to the grave already. He led Jim there, and Jim followed as his dear little lamb. But don’t forget that Jesus has not only been in the grave, he has also overcome it. Death could not hold him; it cannot hold his sheep either. Death cannot hold Jim. All of us will one day taste death. But for God’s children, we do not wander aimlessly into the abyss. We follow our shepherd, the one who goes before us. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will not fear, for He is with us – and he’s been there before. Not only has he been there, but he made it safely out the other side, the first fruits of them that sleep [1 Cor 15]. Jesus is the first fruits, his church is the full harvest. Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into his death. And if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his [Romans 6].
As we were reminded from this pulpit last Sunday, Christ is the head of his body, the church. Any mother can tell you that the hardest part of giving birth is the baby’s head. Once the head is through, the body is easy by comparison. Christ is the head, we are the body – and the head is through. He has already passed through death, already born into life everlasting. We are following behind him, certain in our new birth because we are united to the head. Jim had the gift of this certainty, which is probably why one of his favorite verses comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians where the Apostle wrote, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” To live is Christ, to die is gain. Living or dying, Jim knew the voice of his shepherd who called him out of darkness into his marvelous light. Living or dying, Jim knew that he belonged to Jesus. Jim knew that Christ, his head, had overcome death. And Jim knew that when his time came, which it did last Sunday, he too would overcome death, for he is united to the resurrection of Jesus.
Such is the joy of knowing the shepherd’s voice, a voice that spoke to Jim throughout his life, leading him in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Such is the joy of knowing the shepherd’s voice, a voice that speaks to you now and tells you, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” [Isaiah 43:1b-2].
Jim spent a large part of his life walking through fire to save other people. He spent a lot of time trying not to be consumed by the flames that were dancing all around him while he worked to rescue those in need. The shepherd is calling to you today to promise you that he will deliver you from the flames of grief and despair. Jim knew the voice of his shepherd; Jim is with his Lord. Know the voice of your shepherd. Know that because you are baptized, one day you will be too, reunited with Jim in the marriage feast of the Lamb, which knows know end. The floods of sadness will continue as you grieve the loss of your husband, your father, your brother, your grandfather. But take comfort, hear the voice of your shepherd, for he has promised that you will pass through those waters, they will not overwhelm you. Jesus has redeemed you. He has called you by name, you belong to him. Hear his voice as you journey into the coming days, weeks, months, and years. Let your prayer be that which we sang a few moments ago:
Our hands and feet, Lord, strengthen;
With joy our spirits bless
Until we see the ending
Of all our life’s distress.
And so throughout our lifetime
Keep us within Your care
And at our end then bring us
To heav’n to praise You there
(Entrust Your Days and Burdens: LSB 754 st. 1)