Home > Funerals > For Vain is the Help of Man. Funeral Sermon.

For Vain is the Help of Man. Funeral Sermon.

In Memoriam + Shirley S

Woodlawn Funeral Home

Psalm 108:12 (Job 19:21-27, 1 Cor. 15:51-57, St. Matthew 27:45-54; 28:1-6)

June 23, 2014

“Vain is the Help of Man”


Iesu Iuva!


Richard, June,

Shirley’s relatives and 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 are these words from Psalm 108, which Shirley had underlined in her Bible:


Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.


What a word for this woman of few words to leave behind!

What a marker to leave behind for us on the journey which she has now completed!


Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.


I wish I could preach a sermon on this text to all the people I know who have wandered away from God and His church, considering Christianity no longer relevant to them, perhaps.  A distant memory from their youth that can no longer be reclaimed.


I wish I could preach this text to them all.  Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.  I know that while Christianity may no longer seem relevant to them, they still have trouble.  Sometimes they are even conscious of having trouble that is beyond human power to help.


They may not be able to imagine sitting in church or going to Sunday School anymore like they did when they were kids.  But who that has known trouble and pain is beyond wishing that there is a God who can be counted on to hear prayer and to help in trouble?


Most of us endure many troubles while we are alive.  Shirley had some.  She wasn’t one to talk about them a lot, I think.  But the old spiritual we heard at the close of the visitation is a quiet witness to the fact that she endured her share of trouble on earth.  Just a few more weary days and then I’ll fly away.  To a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.


We can fly away from many of the troubles we experience in this world into the company of loved ones or into the bottom of several stiff drinks.  But those troubles are just shots across the bow.  Today God reminds us of a trouble that we all have from which we can’t fly away.  If we avoid facing it today, it will be back to visit until, finally, it comes for us.


The great trouble we share is death.  It’s a trouble that no human power can help.  Nothing makes it go away.  No human power can make it tolerable.  The best we can hope for from the help of man is that we forget about it for awhile.  But it remains.  It is a relentless reminder that we live in this world under God’s judgment, that we must reckon with God.


Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man.


God has answered that prayer of David the Psalmist which was also Shirley’s prayer.  He has given us His help where the help of man is vain.


It is help that relieves in the distress of death.  It not only gives relief to the soul, as it did to Shirley as she was dying, but it gives release from death itself.


It is the help of God that overcomes and destroys death and sin.  It was pictured before us in the Gospel reading today.  God’s help from all trouble is the death and resurrection of Jesus.


What we sang about as children in Sunday School is God’s help from the trouble of death.  When we grew up and became strong we turned to human strength to save us.  We put our trust in the help of man, whether it was money, or career, or love, or possessions, or pleasure.  But these turn out to be vain.


Then there is Jesus’ agony and death on the cross.  The sky is dark and He cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  That doesn’t seem like any kind of help at all.  It seems worse than simply dying.  And the people who stand looking on can’t understand it.  They believe that if God is going to help Him he must have to come down from the cross, even if it’s at the eleventh hour.  They fill a sponge with sour wine and sit and watch to see whether Elijah will come down from heaven and save Him.


Elijah doesn’t come.  Jesus cries out one final time and dies.  There is an earthquake.  It looks like God has utterly abandoned Him.


He has.  That is God’s help for us, as strange as it seems.  That is the help that melted the hard Roman soldier so that he said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”


Jesus was abandoned to death.  That is God’s help for us.  There death’s power over us was broken.  That’s why Paul in the Epistle reading gloats over death: O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting? 


That’s why Job, in the midst of his agony, says,  I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.


Jesus was abandoned for us.  He tasted death for us.  And then death let Him go, because it could not hold Him.  Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  Death let Him go.  The place He lay is empty.  And now death has lost the power to hold us, for we are flesh of Jesus’ flesh, bone of His bone.


Vain is the help of man.  All of man’s attempts to make death not so bad, to escape from the shadow it casts over our life, are vain and empty.


But this is not the help of man.  It is God’s help.


He gave this mighty help to Shirley when she was baptized into Christ.


He strengthened her to believe in Jesus’ victory for her by preaching His cross and resurrection into her ears and into her heart.  He strengthened her heart by giving her the very body and blood of Jesus that destroyed death.


Today He also gives His help to you in your trouble, as you grieve and walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  He proclaims Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and His rule over all of our trouble.


Soon He will return to destroy death entirely, the final enemy.   The same word He speaks today will summon those who are in the graves to rise and live as He arose and lives forevermore.


While we wait for that day He speaks life to us and declares our sins forgiven, so that even while we are dying we live.  He declares life is yours as a free gift through His suffering and His resurrection.


Man’s word might give temporary consolation, but this is the word and help of the living God.  Man’s word delivers no one from death.  But this is God’s Word that created life, that is life.  It declares you free and it frees you from the trouble of death.  Because of it Shirley rests with Jesus Christ. And one day soon in her flesh she also will see God.


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


Soli Deo Gloria

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