Sermon 97




The One of Surpassing Worth

The Funeral Sermon

for Jim Coile (1948–2019)


July 6, 2019


I want to thank all of you, on behalf of Jim’s family and his church, for coming today to give thanks to God for Jim’s life and faith. All of you are invited to the reception immediately following this liturgy – for food and a chance to share your memories of Jim with all who knew and loved him.

     Even though we all do not know each other here today, we all share our love for Jim and our shock over his untimely, ghastly death. All of us feel devastated about the accident.  

     But now I want to remember something else about Jim – something I’ve thanked God for many times over the nearly 30 years of our friendship – and that is his Christian faith. Jim was my brother in Christ.

     But how did this come about – his faith in Christ? Well, it probably began before we met – back in Culver City when he was baptized as a 32 year old man. At that time his faith started working in him – percolating, if you will. And it probably reached its height – and sustained him richly from thereon out – in the late 1990s when he found out he had cancer (on illness leading to faith, see Kierkegaard for the Church, 2013, Chapter Two).

     Over these many years Jim was gripped by the One of Surpassing Value or Worth – as Saint Paul calls Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8). Could it be that Jim saw in this One of Surpassing Worth what he had listened to many times before on the classic 1965 jazz album, A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane (1926–1967)? Maybe. But clearly Jim was gripped. And it wasn’t easy because when you are, everything else is devalued – its importance fades away – again, as Saint Paul says (Philippians 3:7).

     Now that’s tough on a person. How can nothing else be of any worth? How can everything else be but loss and not matter at all? All the music? All the love between family and friends? All the beauty in nature? Well, when it comes to this stretch of time we call our lives together, there is value. No wonder Jim and Nicole enjoyed each other’s company eating sushi and watching TV together, late into the night. But Saint Paul is talking about the end of our lives and the final disposition of our days – and obtaining the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:11) beyond out temporal existence. So what about that? Well, on that score, only the One of Surpassing Worth matters. Only he can clear the way; only he can forgive our sins; only he can open the windows of heaven, and take us to eternity where the most blessed, fulfilled life awaits us and lasts forever.

     All fear is cast out from there – all trepidation is gone about being punished forever in eternal fires. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we surely will fear no evil (Psalm 23:4), no punishment, no hell, no meaninglessness. For the One of Surpassing Worth has gone before us to prepare a place in heaven for us (John 14:3). And he did that by being punished in our place on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to be. As the Lutheran Confessions teach (The Book of Concord, 1580, ed. T. Tappert, 1959, p. 561) – and as is printed on Jim’s bulletin cover for today – Christ bore the curse of the law, paid for all of our sins, freed us from the wrath of God, and saved us eternally. God loved the world so much that he sent him to do all of that for us (John 3:16). And when we trust in him instead of in ourselves – not relying on our own insight (Proverbs 3:5), and when that One of Surpassing Worth abides in us, then it’s all ours and it lasts forever.

     Is this good news obvious to everyone? For heaven’s sakes no! Does that offensiveness ruin it for us? For heaven’s sake no! It’s rather what energizes the good fight of faith in us (1 Timothy 6:12) – where we struggle to make Christ our own who already has gripped us and made us his own (Philippians 3:12). It’s what strengthens the paradox of faith (Kierkegaard, Journals, trans. Hongs, 3:3097) – the difficulty of faith, keeping it from being dumbed down and made as easy as pulling on your socks, as Kierkegaard wrote in the 19th century for the church in Denmark (Practice in Christianity, 1850, KW 20:35–36) – and as we have today, again in Jim’s bulletin, in one brief excerpt from Kierkegaard’s vast writings.

     Jim was gripped by all of this – but he also nurtured it in himself through studying the Bible and worshipping weekly, helping the poor, praying daily, and receiving the sacrament – sometimes even more than once weekly.  Donna tells me that when they recently visited the old Mission sites in Mexico – those old, highly prized tourist attractions, you know – Jim would first knell down and pray before the sight-seeing began. Doesn’t surprise me!

     Was Jim perfect because he was so favored and gripped in this way? No! – and neither was Saint Paul (Philippians 3:12). Was Jim then still gripped by that One of Surpassing Worth – even though imperfectly? Yes!

     And so may all of us gathered here today, when we remember Jim, pray that we too may be gripped as he was – by that One of Surpassing Worth. Amen! Let us now stand and sing together that great Irish hymn, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”


(printed as preached but with some changes)