Fredrick William Adler
September 22, 2014
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
The date was April 13, 1917. The place, Ruth, MI. Fred Adler was born to a farming family. He spent his childhood on the farm. It’s where he learned to walk. It’s where he learned to speak. It’s where he learned the value of a hard day’s work. The farm was in his blood a little for the rest of his life, not only in his work ethic, but also in little things like the joy he found in taking his grandchildren strawberry picking and apple picking as a way to spend time with them. He lived on the farm 17 years before enlisting in the Army. They were foundational and formative years, but the farm was not ultimately home.
Fred spent several years in the service, serving in World War II. He spent time in France, Austria and Germany. He was a decorated soldier. He spoke proudly to me of his time in the service, never with any details, but one of the biggest smiles I ever saw on his face was the day he brought out his commemorative cane and his shadowbox of medals. The Army was important to him, but the Army was not ultimately his home.
After the service, he moved to Detroit with his new bride and settled in to a 41 year career working at Parke-Davis. He and Helen lived in Detroit for 30 years, raising a family together there. They retired to Fraser, where they lived until their passing, Helen a few years ago, and Fred just last week. During their time in those places, he lived a full life. He would work at his workbench, fixing up old toys for his grandkids. He would travel to Port Sanilac for summer get always. But as good as the times were, neither of those places was ultimately home.
Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that he was unhappy in any of these places. I got the impression in my conversations with him that he had a very happy life in all the places he lived. But these places were all temporary. His time in each of these places was always destined to come to an end. But there is one place that Fred has called home for almost 97 years: the house of the Lord. On November 11, 1917, at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Ruth, MI, Fred was united to the body of Christ through the water of baptism. Since that day, he has been at home in the house of the Lord. He was raised in the house of the Lord, being confirmed at Immanuel in 1939. He was fed and nourished in the house of the Lord, Sunday after Sunday, year after year. Sunday after Sunday, year after year, he heard the story of Jesus.
It was a story he loved, for he knew it was ultimately his story too. Our opening hymn was one of Fred’s favorites. He requested multiple times that it be sung the day of his funeral. “I Love to Tell the Story!” What a wonderful story it is. The story of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love, is why we are here today. There are many ways that the world observes the death of a loved one, but we are here today because of the story of Jesus. We are here today because precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his children. We are here today because Jesus’s story gives us have hope in the midst of our grief. For the story of Jesus is not only that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, but that he did those things so Fred could spend eternity with him in paradise. His story in not simply that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, but that he endured those hardships for Fred. From heaven above, our Lord and Savior Jesus was sent to show God’s love to every sinful creature upon this earthly place. Christ is the gift from heaven, God’s great gift of grace for Fred, and for each and every person here today.
But the story of Jesus doesn’t stop there. The grave could not hold Jesus. Jesus lives. Jesus reigns with the Father. But the story does not stop there, or “do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Through Baptism, Fred has been united to the story of Jesus. Through Baptism, Fred is now living in the house of the Lord under the care of the Good Shepherd.
The Lord is our shepherd. He was Fred’s shepherd, and he is yours as well. The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want. The Lord will provide. He will provide for our physical and spiritual needs alike. He takes us to the still waters and green pastures of his salvation. He restores our soul with his life-giving Word so that we are strong enough to walk with him down the paths of righteousness. He does this without any merit or worthiness in any of us. He does this totally and completely out of his mercy. He does it for his name’s sake. He did it for Fred, which gives us a ray of light amid today’s darkness; it gives us hope in the face of today’s grief.
Today we see more clearly than usual the sad reality that is the valley of the shadow of death. Above every step of our journey through this fallen creation hang the clouds of death threatening to burst forth in torrential rains and to make the way impassable. Ultimately, the way will eventually become impassable for each of us. For some, this happens at a tragically young age. For others, like Fred, the Lord grants nearly a century’s worth of days this side of heaven. But like Fred’s time on the farm or in the service or in Detroit all came to an end, our time this side of heaven will come to an end. That threat is always before us. Yet in the midst of this valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. We need fear no evil, for our Lord is with us. The shepherd is with us, guiding us, protecting us every step of the way. That’s why he has his rod and staff, to fend off the predators hiding in the shadows. We need not fear the shadow of death, for our Lord has been swallowed up by death. Jesus was swallowed up in death. But death could not hold him, and now death cannot hold those who belong to him. It could not hold the shepherd. It cannot hold the sheep.
For this is not our home. Our home is in the house of the Lord; our home is with our Lord in paradise. He has prepared a table for us in his church, and even though we are surrounded by enemies at every turn, we are given a foretaste of the feast to come in the supper of Christ’s body and blood. When we feast on this Holy Supper, the Supper which Fred received faithfully right up to the last days of his life this side of heaven, we are being given a piece of heaven on earth. In this supper, our Lord is anointing our head with the oil of his forgiveness so that all the world knows we have been chosen for eternal life through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in our place. That was true for Fred, and it is true for all the baptized. Our Lord has given us so much mercy that it overflows the cup in this life.
Through the blessing of this supper, through the blessing of being united to Christ, through the blessing of being a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd, goodness and mercy follow us all our days. The goodness of God follows us as he is continually forgiving, loving, and sustaining us. He mercy follows us as he continually provides for our needs of body and soul. Ultimately, the Good Shepherd will lead us safely home, to our true home – our heavenly home. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all our days in this life, but the days of this life will come to an end. Yet even though these days end, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Fred’s days here may have come to an end, but he is now dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. Find your comfort in that. Find your hope in the promise of the Good Shepherd who has been watching over Fred for 97 years already, and who will continue to do so for eternity.
Fred is finally at home in the land of the living, a home which will remain his home forever. Oh, what his joy and his glory must be! He is in the new J erusalem on the mountain of the Lord, in the land where the covering of death has been swallowed up forever by the resurrection of Jesus. He is in the land full of joy and blessing, where his every desire is fulfilled and his every prayer answered. Every tear has been wiped away from his face, for he is in the place where Jesus has made all things new. May God grant us comfort in our grief, for Fred is at home in the house of the Lord. And in the midst of our grief, may the Lord of life establish us in the hope of being reunited with Fred and all the faithful in the land of the living.
 Romans 6:2-5