I am the stench of death
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ…Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, bur our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. 2 Cor. 2: 14-17, 3:5-6
I got a phone call today about doing a funeral for someone. I recognized the last name, but I couldn’t remember it very well. It wasn’t the name of a member. Was this a person I had visited in the hospital once? At any rate, I wasn’t all that thrilled about it. Please forgive me if that seems un-pastoral to you.
It’s expected by most people that you will do funerals for whoever asks you. On the other hand, my pastoral theology books say you should not bury someone who did not give evidence of being a Christian.
Of course that will win you no friends. But it really makes sense. If you preside at the funerals of people who never went to church, your presence at the funeral tells people, “It doesn’t matter if you despise the preaching of God’s Word. You can never go to church and still go to heaven.”
Barring deathbed repentance, that is not true. What is the third commandment? Remember the Sabbath Day, by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
However, I’ve done many such funerals. Usually they were for people who were still members of the church, although they may not have been to church in years. Others were people I provided spiritual care for at the hospital or the nursing home.
I looked around and found that I knew the name of this person because I had buried his wife many years ago. I remember this, because she could not talk or give any sign that she knew what was going on. But one time in the hospital I sang “Amazing Grace” with her (and her kids were there), and all of a sudden tears filled her eyes and I knew that she was hearing me. And more importantly I believed she was hearing Jesus.
Amazing Grace by no means makes my top ten list of favorite hymns. In fact I really hate it that the one hymn everyone seems to know is a hymn that never once mentions Jesus or the cross. It talks about what God did in somebody’s heart but not about what He did on the cross.
However, many blackshirted Lutheran pastors have probably never had the experience of singing “Amazing Grace” with a woman who could not talk and had not been to church in God knows how long and having tears come to her eyes a few days or weeks or months before her death. Her kids got to see it too. Mom was there for a moment responding to Jesus’ voice which perhaps she had not heard in a long while.
I could not find the sermon I preached at her funeral. But I did see that in her obituary there was a woman’s name listed as a friend of the family whose own mother would die a few years later.
I preached at that funeral and buried her mother too. And that was another happy and blessed story.
I had gotten a phone call asking me to come visit her mother. She had cancer and was receiving hospice care. She had been a member of the church a long time ago, but had been dropped from membership.
Note to churches: it isn’t loving to “drop” people instead of excommunicating them. For one thing, they take it the same way. For another thing, they usually don’t read your letter, or they don’t understand it. You have to do the hard work of visiting them. And if you can’t seem to get that done, then you have to do the hard work of praying for them.
I went out to visit this lady. I don’t remember how the talk went, but I was fairly blunt in asking her whether she recognized that she had sinned by staying away from church and whether she was sorry for it. She was and received absolution, and I was going to return soon and give her Holy Communion.
But then she died suddenly, and the family asked me to officiate at her funeral, which I did.
And the beautiful thing that came from this was that the son in law of the lady, whom I only met once, was baptized and confirmed about a year later (he was 50 or so), her daughter was reinstated into membership. They had two kids, both around thirty. One was autistic and I baptized him immediately. Their daughter was baptized and confirmed this year.
This was a beautiful thing.
That is the kind of work the Lord has done through me in the office of the ministry. They were beautiful things. But they were at the fringes of things. Maybe it would be appropriate to say they were done “outside of the camp”, out with the unclean and the castaways. Outside of the precincts of the holy place.
The congregation largely didn’t see them happen. Attendance on Sunday and morale continued to falter. Money continued to be a problem. Many people went from looking at me as a disappointment to treating me like a failure or a fraud or a leper or a piece of excrement stuck to the bottom of their shoe that they were trying to scrape off with a stick.
Even kind and supportive people really can’t do much more these days than look on with sadness and pity.
Yet I look at things like these and see that the Lord has done marvelous things. The church still remained under the cross. I couldn’t and can’t brag as though I did anything. In all these cases I was just there, doing what I had been taught to do. I just didn’t fail to show up that day.
I decided to post the sermon I preached at the funeral that led to three baptisms and give thanks to God for His mercy. Initially I posted it in this post, but the sermon should get its own post to itself.
The Lord shames Satan through me and this congregation. The devil robs us of all visible harmony and success, stirs up all kinds of hatred and disrepute and shame. And then God takes a miserable, sinful weakling like me and effortlessly snatches away souls from him with water and His name spoken by my lips.
Choke on it, Satan. My shame was worn by the Son of God. Look at this sermon, and let’s both remember how Jesus glorified me in Him and put you underneath my feet.
And you who read it, remember that the Lord has put Satan underneath your feet. As Jesus leads you behind Him in His triumphal procession, with you as His captive, it may look to you and all the world like a march of humiliation and defeat. But remember that in your weakness He is treading down Satan under your feet. He is shaming Satan through you and giving you His victory. When He was led as a captive to shame and death, He was conquering Satan. And when He leads you through shame and suffering and even death, He triumphs over Satan again in you. (Colossians 2:8-15)
He is strong in us when we are weak, and He is glorified in us when we are cast down but not overcome. And whatever sin Satan may cast up on us, whatever people may say about us (rightly or wrongly), we have the Son of God speaking in our defense.
“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God Who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One Who died—more than that, Who was raised—Who is at the right hand of God, Who indeed is interceding for us.” Romans 8:33-34
- Your Father is Merciful – trinity 4 sermon – presentation of augsburg confession (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Judge not – unless you’re a parent, ruler, or pastor. Luther. (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Dealing with Anger – Don’t fight it! (123allin.wordpress.com)