“Jesus loves you” were the first words that I shared with the family and friends of Liana Payer. I was asked a few minutes earlier to offer some words of comfort at Liana’s funeral, on June 6th at the Ho-Chunk Community Center here in Winnebago, Nebraska.
Before I go on, let me tell you a bit about Liana and the relationship she had with her Lord and Savior. Liana began attending our preschool, Jesus Our Savior Lutheran preschool, when she turned three years old. During that time, Liana's teachers taught her about the love of Jesus. Liana was a bright student who learned quickly and was eager to share her lessons with her family.
In her first year, Liana learned:“I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14).
I shared that Bible verse with the family and friends who had gathered for the noon meal two days before the funeral, and explained to them that Liana was a sheep whom the Good Shepherd loved, died for, rose for and still cares for. Moreover, I said that Liana knew Jesus as her Good Shepherd and knew the hope of the resurrection.
In May of 2015, Liana graduated from preschool which is always a bittersweet moment and brings tears to our teacher’s eyes. Liana had learned so much and was even able to read. She loved to draw pictures, and she knew so much more than a few memorized Bible verses. She knew the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed and could pray the Lord’s Prayer and sing it in Ho-Chunk. She knew other Bible verses, including the 23rd Psalm, and several songs about Jesus and His love.
A week or so after Liana’s graduation, I received word that they had found a tumor on the stem of her brain. I drove down to Children’s Hospital in Omaha and later that day teachers from our school would do the same.
Prayers went up to heaven and God blessed Liana, her mother, and her family and friends with another year with her on earth. That year was filled with life’s ups and downs, good and not so good days. Yet through it all her, faith did not waver and she continued to trust in Jesus and express His love to others.
This brings me back to Liana’s funeral and God’s message that ‘Jesus loves you.’ One of my fondest memories of Liana is when she said those three words to me. I told Liana’s mother and family, as well as all those who were gathered there, that even though I'm a pastor, I needed to hear those words, too. We all need to hear these words every day. We know that God loved us, I continued, because He sent His Son into this world so that everyone who believes in Jesus is assured of life everlasting.
I went on to read these Sacred Words: Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35 and our 2014-15 school year Bible verse). But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." [John 6:35-40]
I continued to offer comfort and hope to one and all that Liana will rise on the last day. I did not say much more than that. I closed with these words, “Jesus loves you!”
Shortly after, those gathered viewed the little body of Liana one last time. As I hugged or shook the hands of the family members I told each of them individually, “Jesus loves you.” When I came to Dorine, Liana’s mother, I hugged her and she touched my heart with her response. A response that I should have expected, but a response that I was so blessed to hear. Her words were “Jesus loves you, too!"
The work we do on reservations is making a difference. It is changing the lives of the people we reach with God’s love and grace.
Pastor Ricky Jacob is featured quarterly on the "Daily Chapel" broadcast out of West Plains, Nebraska. Here he speaks on Jesus' "I am" statements.