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Taunting Death–Funeral Sermon

In Memoriam+Esther…

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Isaiah 61:1-4, 10-11; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, St. Luke 2

August 30, 2012

“Taunting Death”


Dear John,

John Jr., George, Jennifer,

Esther’s brother George, grandkids, family, friends,

Members of St. Peter:


Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


God’s Word for our comfort this morning is from St. Paul’s letter to the Christian Church in the city of Corinth: Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:56)


Since Esther and John had two boys and a girl, I am sure that you know what taunting is.  I am sure that you and Esther heard your share of it around the house.  Oh, the joy of taunting your siblings when they get in trouble and they can’t do anything about it.  When one kid gets in trouble, and the other waits until dad or mom isn’t looking and then says, “Ha ha, nah nah nah nah nah nah,” and the other kid hits him and gets in trouble again!


Of course that’s a sin.  Jesus wants us to love our enemies, not to mention our brother and sister, as I’m sure at one time or another mom probably told you. 


But there is a right time to taunt and gloat.  Not when we win a battle and get glory, but when God does.  God will shout in triumph over his enemies on judgment day.  And in the verse from First Corinthians, St. Paul, a man just like us, is taunting and bragging over death and the devil.  Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?


To say something like that you are either crazy, or kidding yourself, or you have something amazing within you that is almost scary that the world and human beings can’t understand.


What is it people say?  ‘Your mouth shouldn’t write checks your body can’t cash.’  If I’m going to pick a fight with someone or taunt them, I better be sure I will win. 


If I’m going to pick a fight with death and the devil, I’d better be pretty certain that they won’t be able to take me.


Today, hasn’t death won a victory? 


From what I’ve seen from spending time with you, your family is a happy one with a treasure chest of happy memories.  Even though I only saw a little bit of your life together, it is still true that you have had much happiness as a family, much to be thankful for.  And I know from the time I got to spend with Esther what a comforting, beautiful person she was to me, so how much more to you?


None of us were ready for her to be taken away now.  Yet here we are, missing her.  Now we have to live, but now a huge source of happiness and joy for you is gone.  So how can we say, “O death, where is your sting?”  How can we taunt death, as though it is beaten?


Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Those words are said a lot, so they are easy to ignore, but let us hear God again: 


The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Those are easy words to read and say, but impossible for us to believe, apart from the miracle of God’s Spirit raising us from unbelief to faith, from eternal death to eternal life.  Believing in Jesus as our Savior is easy as long as the weather is fair and the seas are calm, but when the seas are rough, then we start to cry out, “Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?”  Or like the apostles and Peter, we falter in the time of darkness and then we lock ourselves in a room, forgetting that Jesus told us that He was going to suffer and be abused and mocked and crucified, and then rise from the dead on the third day.


It was not the will of the disciples that those things should happen to Jesus.  They wanted Him to go to Jerusalem and have everyone accept Him as the Messiah and then have His glorious kingdom come to the whole earth.  But He told them, “It is necessary” that he suffer and rise from the dead.  It was necessary—that was why He had come—to bear sin and bear God’s holy judgment and wrath against sin.


That looked like the end of the world, and in a very real sense, it was.  The sun was dark.  The rocks split and the earth shook.  But Jesus let out a loud cry at His death.  It was not a cry of despair but a cry of triumph.  Now the awful power and guilt and punishment of our sins was removed.  Jesus came as our brother, helper, and friend, and swallowed up sin and death and Satan’s power in His suffering and death.


That is the word of comfort, of unspeakable comfort, that Isaiah speaks about; God binds up the hearts of the brokenhearted.  He opens the prison.  He proclaims the year of His favor, that His anger is gone and His gracious, fatherly heart is open to us, because our sins have been paid for, and our enemy Satan has been defeated. 


Satan likes to tempt us to sin and then remind us of the law of God that threatens death, anger, and judgment against sinners.  That is the sting of sin Paul talks about.


But the devil’s power is all just an empty show now.  It looks terrifying, but God’s Word says that he is stripped of his power.  He pretends to be strong and mighty, but he no longer has power over us. 


Because God has “clothed us with the garments of salvation” and “covered us with the robe of righteousness” as a bridegroom decks himself out, as a bride puts on jewels at her wedding.  He clothed us with Christ’s righteousness by pouring on us the water joined with His Name—Baptism.  Then Jesus’ death that paid for our sins washed us clean. 


That is why the white cloth covers Esther’s casket.  We are taunting death.  Death looks like it can destroy everyone and everything that we love and that makes life worth living. 


“Laugh to scorn the gloomy grave, and at death no longer tremble.”

But not so.  Esther’s death was received by Jesus.  Esther’s body  is wrapped up in Jesus’ body that rose from the dead.  Her whole life is covered in the white garment of Jesus’ holy life and His payment for the sins of the world on the cross.


Our will for ourselves is not as loving as God’s will for us.  Our flesh would never want to leave this world, even though it is sinful, we are sinful, and there is much heartache and pain here. 


God’s will is to bring about the final victory and make it so that we rejoice over our enemies forever.


“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; listen, I tell you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  When the perishable has put on the imperishable, and the mortal has put on immortality, then will come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.”


We are still living in perishable, mortal bodies that can die, and will die, unless Jesus returns first. 


But our Lord Jesus, into whom we were baptized—will never die again.  Death has no claim on him.  He paid for sin forever; He lives and reigns forever.  He shares human flesh, but His human flesh can no longer die; it is immortal.


God has prepared for us a body like Christ’s.  We will be resurrected and wear that glorious body forever.   Then death will be gone forever, and misery.  But first we must take off  the mortal body. 


Our flesh is sinful—it constantly pulls us to sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.  It is subject to death.  But in baptism it was crucified with Jesus, and the risen Jesus, the new man, came to live in us.  Yet we still daily are in a fight with the old flesh until it finally is put off.


But today Esther is no longer fighting that fight.  Instead her soul rests with Jesus and sees His face.  Her eternal joy has begun.  All that remains is the day when the body will be raised and put on eternal life, immortality, the glory of God.


Christ has baptized us for that same day; and all who believe in Christ, have the Holy Spirit, and live by faith in Christ, daily putting off the old Adam with its evil desires—we have eternal, everlasting union with Jesus, and with all the holy ones who have finished the race and begun to taste the joy of our Lord.


Esther rests.  She is not  a ghost, who you should pray to; let her enjoy her rest with her savior.  But she is not separate from you, if you are a Christian.  Because she is united to Jesus.  And all of us who by the Holy Spirit believe in Jesus alone as our righteousness, and who fight against the sinful flesh and desire forgiveness for the sin still remaining in them—we are also united with Jesus.  That is what the funeral pall shows.  We have his righteousness covering us, because we were put into Him in Baptism—into His death for our sins, and also His victorious resurrection over death.

When we come to receive Jesus’ body and blood at this altar, we don’t just come ourselves, the 100 plus people of this church.  We come together with the whole family of God, the Holy Christian Church in heaven and on earth.  We can’t see them, but they are with us, because they are with Jesus, who comes to us in His body and blood and gives us a foretaste of heaven.


That is why, even though we grieve, we can boast over death and the devil.  It is not boasting in ourselves but boasting in Jesus, God and Man, our friend and the deliverer of helpless sinners.


 In the midst of tears and grief, and the recognition of your own helplessness, know for certain that the almighty power of God is for you.  His victory over sin and death is for you. 


So you have the right to comfort yourself and to rejoice even as you go on in a world that is broken by sin and death.  Simeon said, “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace…for my eyes have seen your salvation.” The Lord’s salvation was a little, poverty stricken baby that he held in his hands. 


Jesus hardly looked like the world’s salvation then.  And compared to the power that death seems to have, it’s hard to think that the Jesus who speaks to us in His Word, who baptizes us, who feeds us His body and blood under bread and wine—it’s hard to see that those humble gifts give us the world’s salvation and the blessing of the Lord of the whole earth.


Yet Jesus promises.  So may God grant you comfort and strengthen your faith, and mine, and the whole church to look at Jesus’ resurrection, and His baptism, and taunt death, saying, “Where is your victory?  Where, O Death, is your sting?”


Look at Jesus Christ crucified, and risen.  He is for you.  He is your Savior.  And He gives you the victory already over death.


The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.



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