In Memoriam + Martin Herman Laufer (Committal)
Abraham Lincoln Nation Cemetery
1 Corinthians 15:51-57
August 30, 2016
Behold! I tell you a mystery.
The words of Paul the apostle are some 1950 years old. What he wrote was something that defied human reason when he wrote it to the Greek Christians in Corinth. A mystery. Today we experience the weight of that word: “mystery.” Christians say the words of the creed every Sunday, but seldom do we confront the weight of what we say we believe like we do here, in a cemetery, with a casket before us holding the body of one we loved. “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
It should not come as a surprise that many people simply don’t believe it, and even we who say that we do
believe it do so with trembling, fear, and weakness. Who has the ability to believe this mystery? No one. This kind of faith is itself a miracle as great as the resurrection. This is not a sentimental faith. It looks at this coffin and says, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Martin Herman Laufer was a gifted man. He lived a long life, nearly a century long. He lived a life of exceptional devotion and service to Christ’s Church. He had the ability to lead and influence people, and those abilities are evidenced by his work in the armed service, as a business owner, a salesman, as a leader of the churches in which he was a member. He touched many people’s lives; many people at St. Peter talked to me about how he was an example to them of how to live as a Christian. My wife and I remember the kindness he showed us when we arrived newly married to St. Peter only a little while before he moved to Litchfield.
Of course, we know all too well that a person’s gifts, abilities, kindness are not enough to overcome death and the grave. “The wise man dies just like the fool” (Ecclesiastes 2:16). So death makes ordinary people out of us all.
Since this is true, how can we listen to these words today and apply them to Marty: “Death is swallowed up in victory”? Surely these words, if they apply to any human being, are beyond the reach of ordinary people?
They are. But there is something that is drawn over the lives of ordinary people that puts this victory shout on Paul’s lips. After a strange experience he had while travelling to Damascus, he spent his life on what his former colleagues considered a fool’s errand or worse. He spent his life preaching a man who had died the way ordinary people do—or really a far worse way. He spent his life preaching Jesus, who suffered and died by crucifixion, a death reserved for slaves and criminal. There was no glory, no beauty, no heroism in a crucifixion—only pain, ugliness, weakness, and shame. Yet, Paul preached, God raised this Jesus from the dead. He went around preaching the shameful death of this Jesus, a death that filled his hearers with horror. And he went around preaching Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, an idea that the Greeks considered ridiculous.
Yet in the suffering of this Jesus, said Paul, God had taken on Himself human weakness, our guilt and our curse. In this death—all too ordinary, this all too familiar suffering, humiliation, and dying—God was present. Jesus was the Creator of human beings now become a human being, sharing our weakness, our shame, our death. In His resurrection the guilt and the death of all people—the noble and the base, the honorable and the shameful, the weak and the strong—was broken. And those who believe in this Jesus preached by Paul, and who were baptized into Him, have their lives caught up in Him and hidden in Him.
Over Marty’s entire life God drew the life of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus. Long ago, Marty’s life was caught up in another life and another death—that of Jesus—when, in 1918, water and the name of the Triune God poured over his head.
Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable…Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.
The hope God gives us today for Marty is the same hope He holds out to everyone here who is a sinner and is subject to death. Our hope is that God has entered into our lowliness, suffered our death, and risen again in righteousness. And that we who are men like any other are victorious, and will be victorious over death, because God drew the life of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, over our lives when we were baptized. Our victory is not in heroic works or achievements on earth, not in our piety or holiness on earth; our victory is the lowliness, the agony and death of Jesus, and His resurrection.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + Robert F. Johnston
Carlson-Holmquist-Sayles Funeral Home
St. John 8:49-59 (Exodus 3:1-15, Revelation 21:1-6)
May 18, 2016
“The Living God and the Story of our Lives”
Nancy, Gail, and all of Bob’s relatives and friends:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we remember Bob this morning and seek to honor his life, I draw your attention to these words from the bible that drew Bob’s attention and were important to him: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58)
The reading from the eighth chapter of John’s gospel which we just heard is not one I’ve ever read at a funeral before. I’d bet most pastors have never used it. I chose it today because Bob mentioned the verse to me on several occasions when I came to visit him at his home to give him Holy Communion. I chose the first reading from Exodus because it helps understand the reading from John, what Jesus is really saying when He says, “I AM.”
This verse struck a chord with Bob. I know that because he mentioned it to me several times. “Hey Rev,” he said (he always called me Rev when I came over to see him), “I heard you on the radio Sunday, and you read that part where Jesus said, “I AM”. That really gets me.” I never really found out why that verse stuck with him. One of the times I saw him this year was the week following the Sunday where that reading is appointed to be read, the fifth Sunday in Lent, two weeks before Easter. I tried to engage him in a conversation about it to find out why it struck him, but he didn’t say. He just said, “That really gets to me.”
When I first came to St. Peter as a pastor, ten years ago, Bob was there every Sunday, sitting up in the balcony. After awhile I noticed he wasn’t coming anymore, so I called him up and put him on the list of homebound people to visit every month. So Bob was a faithful churchgoer, but not a preachy guy, not a guy to quote Scripture a lot. So that made it even more striking to me to hear him talk about that particular verse.
It wasn’t unusual for him to talk, though. Bob liked to talk, as you probably know. Well, he had a lot to talk about. He’d experienced a lot of things in his 94 years that I only read about in books. And I liked listening to him talk. He had a big, resonant voice. He’d talk and paint a picture for me about what it was like to grow up working-class in Joliet during the great depression. He talked about his dad working at a match factory and being unemployed for a number of years and how he started working young. He told me how when he started working at Commonwealth Edison when he was still in his early twenties he made good money and could afford to buy a new car. Listening to him, I heard about a different Joliet than the one I know. In that Joliet you could graduate from high school and get a good job. In that Joliet your parents were married when you were born and almost always stayed married. But while a lot of men grouse about how the country is going to hell when they get old, I didn’t hear a lot of that from Bob. He said it occasionally, but he didn’t dwell on it.
The thing he really liked to talk about was the second world war. Bob, as you probably know, was an MP, a military policeman. He was stationed in England for awhile, and then in Bavaria in a small town south of Munich called Bad Toelz—at least that’s what I understood from his stories. That was the headquarters of General George Patton. He had a funny story about how he was on guard duty and General Patton caught him grabbing some food in the kitchen.
He told me another story about how he was dating an English girl and she took him to her parents’ house in Brighton to meet her family. Her dad had some kind of important job. He didn’t realize at the time that she was hoping that Bob would marry her. “I was just a kid, Rev. I didn’t know anything then.” Bob experienced a lot of things and saw a lot more of the world than you would expect a young man from Joliet to see in those days.
Of course, even though Bob shared a lot of his life with me, there was so much we didn’t talk about. I heard from his great-niece Nancy how her memory of him was the way he doted on her children. He worked at Commonwealth Edison for decades. People who knew him from the Lion’s Club will have different memories. He shared many years with his wife Beverly who preceded him in death sixteen years ago.
The last several months I saw him he also talked about the experience of aging. Bob was 84 when I first came to St. Peter, so he was never exactly young when I knew him. But it was only in the last few months that I heard much about how aging was hard for him. I’d ask how he was, and he’d say, “Nothing works anymore, Rev. I can’t get around.” Then he’d say, “I’m just old, that’s all.” He’d also mention how he talked to God. “He helps me,” Bob said.
One thing we can say is that Bob lived a full life. He experienced a lot. He lived a long life, too. Ninety-four years is more than most people can expect. But his life leaves us with the question, “How do we make sense of it all? How do we tie all these experiences together? What did his life mean?” I’m pretty sure Bob was thinking about these questions in his last months. Most people do.
Maybe that’s why Jesus’ words, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” stuck with Bob. I AM—not, “I was,” or “I will be.” The words tell of a Person who does not change. They aren’t words that normal human beings could say unless they are crazy. We change. We aren’t the same people we were when we were kids. When we get old, we look back at the people we were decades before and in many ways see another person.
When Jesus said this, He had already made another outlandish statement that offended the people who heard Him. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Those who heard him got angry. Look, they said, the greatest people who ever lived died. Abraham, Moses, the prophets. These people heard God speak, but they still died. Who do you think you are?
What they said was true. If you are a Jew or a Christian and believe God spoke to Moses and Abraham, you look at these people as being uniquely favored. They talked to God and knew Him intimately. Even so, they died. And if you’re not a Christian or a Jew the same principle applies. Every religious figure in world history, every great leader, philosopher, every hero still died. They were still men. They were not gods.
Christians say it’s because all human beings, no matter how great their accomplishments, are sinful. They may do great, heroic, even moral things. But they are born with the defect of sin, which means that they do wrong in the sight of God. Their thoughts, words, and actions don’t conform to God’s will. And Christians go further and say that people are born this way. They inherit guilt and brokenness from their parents, and that guilt and brokenness can be traced back to the very first man and woman, who turned away from God and did what He had forbidden. So even when human beings, like Abraham and Moses, know God, even speak with Him, they continue to carry the defect of sin with them. And sin’s result is always death.
When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was born, I AM,” He was making it very clear to those who heard Him that He was the God who appeared to Abraham and Moses. We see this in the reading from Exodus. Moses is herding sheep in the desert and goes to see a strange thing—a bush that burns, but the fire does not go out. It keeps burning. And when he goes over to see it, a voice talks to him and declares itself to be “The God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” The voice tells Moses that he is going to go and bring God’s people out of slavery. And when Moses asks God, “What is your name?” God replies, “I AM Who I AM.”
When you ask another person who they are, they will tell you, “I am so-and-so’s son. I was born in this year. I grew up in this town. I do this or that for a living.” Our existence, our lives, are all conditioned by the existence of other things. Not so with the true God. He simply is.
And there is no one and nothing else like Him. He is who He is.
Everything else that exists depends on this God. We exist because He willed for us to exist. We live because He wanted us to live. He spoke, and the world came to be. Each thing and each person that exists lives because He willed it.
And yet human beings don’t know this Person who gave us life. Like people groping in the darkness for a doorknob or a light switch, we know that this God must exist, otherwise we wouldn’t. But we don’t know where to find Him.
And without Him we do not know who we are. The stories of our lives don’t hold together without Him. We are left to try to fashion an identity and a story for ourselves. Maybe this is the reason for the deep depression that so many people in our time feel. In the past, people used to be born with most of their identity decided for them. They received their identity from their sex, the class into which they were born, the nation into which they were born. But above all, their religion gave them a story that explained their place in the universe. Some of those stories told by religion limited people’s freedom. Many were false. And yet the very fact that people did not have to invent themselves and believed there was order in the universe and in their lives that came from above perhaps gave them more stability than people today, when everyone is expected to make up their own story.
What we need, though, is not simply to find a story for our lives that works for us and makes us happy, but turns out to be an illusion. We need to know the true story of our lives, and to know that we need to know the true God.
When Jesus says, Before Abraham was born, I AM—He is saying, “I am that God. I am the God from whom everything comes. I am the God who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. When you’re looking for the living God, the God of Israel, you will not find Him anywhere except in Me, the Son of Mary.”
This was scandalous to Jesus’ people, the Jews; and not only to them, but also to the pagans who later heard the Gospel from Jesus’ disciples. Jesus doesn’t look like a god, whether you are a Jew or a pagan. He doesn’t appear in a pillar of fire or sitting on a throne. And while the pagan gods were said to visit people in the appearance of human beings or animals, these were only temporary manifestations. But Jesus is a normal human being. He is not just pretending to be one for a little while. He really is a human being, and He lives among normal human beings. He works and preaches among the ordinary mortals whose names are not recorded in history books. Even worse, He even suffers like ordinary people. What God lets Himself be falsely accused and be nailed to a cross, the death of wicked people and slaves?
Even so, Jesus makes the claim that He is the living God, who not only gives meaning to our lives, but who also gives everlasting life—His life—to mortals.
Why would the living God appear as an ordinary man? Partly to make us know Him. By coming as one of us, and appearing like us, He shows His compassion, kindness, love. He is willing to live with us and experience all the pain normal human beings endure, the pain brought on by sin.
But more importantly, to unite us to Himself and His life. He came to take away the sin that separates us from Him and causes death. He did this by assuming our guilt and its penalty, suffering death by crucifixion and bearing the judgment of God against sinners.
Then He rose from the dead showing that unending life had been won for us.
Maybe that’s why that verse was so important to Bob—before Abraham was, I AM. The unknown God who gave meaning to His life and indeed gives meaning to all of our lives was with him. Jesus, who lived among ordinary mortals and became one of us, had entered Bob’s life.
How did Jesus enter Bob’s life? Jesus lived on earth two thousand years ago.
Yes, but before He ascended into heaven, Jesus commissioned His disciples to go in His name and make other disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and by teaching them His word. He promised to be present with His disciples—the baptized who believed His word—until the world ends.
So when Bob was baptized at St. Peter Lutheran Church in the early part of the last century, Jesus was there in the midst of His disciples. Bob was united to Jesus. He died and rose with Jesus, as we heard from Romans chapter 6. As he learned the word of Jesus, He was hearing the words of the living God which impart His everlasting life. As Bob received the Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood, his life received its meaning. He was no longer simply another sinful man born to die and after that face judgment and damnation. He was a man reclaimed from death and judgment by the death of another. As Bob ate Christ’s body and drank His blood, the living God was pledging that Bob had a new story—the story of a man who had been set free from judgment and death to live before God forever.
When Bob suffered at the end of his life and finally died, the story also had a different meaning. Apart from Christ, suffering and death are simply the well-deserved consequences of sin and unrighteousness. They are the prelude to condemnation. But in Christ, they are something else. Because the living God became human and suffered and died for our sins, our suffering and dying are the final act of our sharing Christ’s death so that we might also share His resurrection from the dead. Because the living God died for our sins, our death is not under God’s wrath; it is participating in the new story He tells about us, in which death is swallowed up by life, sin by righteousness, and those who have died are resurrected to live forever and share in the glory of God.
We heard about this in the reading from Revelation; when Christ returns and the dead are raised, this new story will be completed. Bob and all people who believe in the true God revealed in Christ will share Christ’s image. “ Now the dwelling of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
That is what is to come. That is what the Lord—I AM—wills for all people. And it belongs to all people who keep Jesus’ word—who believe in Him.
In that hope we commend Bob to His God, and ourselves also.
In Memoriam +Evelyn Macmillan
Blackburn-Giegrich Funeral Home
Romans 5:1-11; John 11:17-27
February 11, 2016
Dear Gary, Nina, and all of Evelyn’s family 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 the words of Jesus from the Gospel of St. John: I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
It’s right today for us to carry an ache and sorrow in our hearts at Evelyn’s death. It’s true that she lived a long life and that no one can live in this world forever.
And yet when you love someone, you never want to be parted from them. That’s the nature of love. In the Bible it says, “Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13) And again, “Love is strong as death; jealousy is fierce as the grave.” (Song of Solomon 8) It’s speaking about God’s love, of which our love as fallen human beings is only a faint reflection. Yet even our weak human love wants to always have the person it loves.
You loved Evelyn and you received love from Evelyn, each in your own way. She loved Ron her husband. She loved her children, whom she raised and cared for. She loved her grandchildren and her dear friends. She loved her church, which she served faithfully for decades in the Ladies’ Aid.
So even though she lived a long life and her life was difficult in her last years, it is right that we ache at the thought of not seeing her again in this life.
Besides that, death is a fearful thing. People often act like it isn’t these days. “I’m not afraid to die,” they say. But when death comes for them things are different. And when we see people close to us die it begins to make us anxious about our own death.
–What the catechumen told me last night—I asked, what do you think is the hardest thing about dying? What would you be most afraid of if you were dying? A girl said, “That I might not go to heaven.”
–That fear often nags at us. There is the fear of dying and nothingness, but there is also the fear of facing God’s judgment for our many sins.
But we need not have that fear for Evelyn.
In the Gospel reading Martha reproaches Jesus: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She is not far from the truth. Jesus has the power to prevent death (but He doesn’t need to be visibly present to do it.)
But Jesus answered: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live even though He dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Those who believe in Him are alive even when they die, because He is the Life. He is the Resurrection.
Evelyn has life now even though she has died.
Why? She believed in Christ.
Because of Jesus, death and God’s judgment was taken away from her.
Why? Because Jesus atoned for her sins. Romans 5:8-9 But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.
God’s judgment and wrath was taken away by Jesus’ suffering and death in her place, for her sins.
Where God’s judgment and sin are gone, death is no longer death. Because what makes death death—the wrath and judgment of God—are removed. And after death follows the resurrection from the dead.
That is why for a Christian there is “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1) We have peace with God through Jesus’ blood even when it does not appear that we have peace in this world.
There is peace when there is pain and hardship in life, and there is life even while we are dying.
Because our sins are gone and God’s wrath is gone.
That’s why Paul says Christians rejoice in their sufferings—not because suffering is fun, but because God is not against us, but for us in our sufferings. He makes them work for our good.
Evelyn has life now and more life to come. No one can take away the life we have through faith in Jesus.
We have life in Him in pain and sorrow. We have life because our souls are united to Him who is the Life.
We have life on the last day, when He will raise Evelyn and all the dead, and give everlasting life and glory to those who believed in Him.
So she has life now, and we may rejoice for her as well as sorrow.
And despite our fear of death, our doubts and our weakness, there is life for us who believe in Jesus.
We can’t take away our sins nor death.
But Jesus has done it. Nothing remains to be done.
And He did it not in response to anything good we had done but “while we were yet sinners.”
When we were baptized He pledged that His death and resurrection are ours.
So we hold fast to His Word and promise and “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” That is what we hope for. But even now in the midst of our sufferings we possess His life because we grasp Him by faith.
Many times people are uncertain and doubtful about whether they will get to heaven. We should not be for Jesus’ sake. With Paul we should rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. We have a certain hope given in Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection from the dead.
We will see God’s glory through the blood of Christ and we will see Evelyn, whom you loved, sharing in that glory.
The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + Fannie C. Zabel
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 2:25-32
December 18, 2015
“My Eyes Have Seen Your Salvation”
Dear Willard, Fred, Sue, David, Betty Jean, Dean, Sharon, Debbie, and Mark,
Fannie’s brothers and sisters,
Relatives and friends,
Members of St. Peter Lutheran Church:
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 the Gospel of St. Luke: My eyes have seen Your salvation (Luke 2:30).
Those were the words of an old man named Simeon when He saw the infant Jesus being carried into the temple. Imagine, seeing a baby carried in the arms of its mother and praising God and saying, “Now I am ready to die in peace, Lord, because my eyes have seen your salvation!”
They are also words that Fannie sang in true faith. She sang them with the whole congregation at St. Peter each week after kneeling at this altar that she cared for and receiving the bread and wine of which Jesus said, “This is my Body, given for you. This is my Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” “My eyes have seen your salvation,” she sang.
We will also sing those words at the end of the service today. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…” We will be singing them for her, because the Lord has let His servant Fannie depart in peace. He let her come to Him in peace. He declared “Well done, good and faithful servant. Rest from your labors.” Not because she was without sin, not because she lived an exemplary Christian life, although she did. God was pleased with Fannie and let her enter His rest because He provided salvation for her, and she received it by faith. She believed that the baby Simeon held in his arms was her salvation; she believed that her sins were forgiven solely because of Jesus, who gave His body and blood for her on the cross, who gave His body and blood to her to eat and drink at this altar.
But we will also be singing them for ourselves. “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” The salvation that Fannie saw and trusted has also been shown to you. That salvation is Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man.
When Fannie wrote down what mattered most to her in her time on earth, what she wanted conveyed at her funeral, she talked about two things—her family and her Lord. The two were tied together for her, because the Lord gave her the holy calling of being a wife and mother and caring for many children and grandchildren. She wrote down in a booklet a collection of her memories, her accomplishments, her own estimation of her life. Her inspirations, she wrote, were “reading the Bible and singing to my children when they were small and teaching them ‘Jesus loves me, this I know.’” Her fondest memories: “The birth of each of our children—what a miracle! The celebration of our 50th anniversary that our children gave us—we repeated our vows and took communion with all our relatives and friends.” All her cherished memories revolved around being able to show love to her family and friends. And always intertwined with the love of her family was the love God showed her in Jesus.
Fannie was unique. She was a strong person who was able to bear many burdens—not just her own, but those of others. She was also unique as a Christian in the strength of her faith and her zeal to serve God. That was one of the things she wrote down: “I would like the following religious beliefs conveyed at my funeral: ‘How I enjoyed and loved working for my Savior Jesus Christ.’”
But because she was so unique both in the strength of her faith and the abundance of her good deeds, it might be easy for you to think that her peace in the face of death and many kinds of suffering is not something you also can have.
You might think, “Maybe if I lived like her I could be confident that God is with me and that I am going to heaven. Maybe if I read the bible like her, worked like her, prayed like her, then I could also say, ‘Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace.’” But the reality is most people, even in the Church, are not so strong in faith and so abundant in good deeds.
But that’s not why Fannie had confidence in her Savior and why she loved to do His work. It wasn’t because she lived so well and because she never doubted Him, especially when she had pain and saw her loved ones in pain. She would tell you—I am a sinner like everyone else. And I have doubts too. Sometimes I don’t understand why God lets us have one heavy burden after another in this life.
The reason Fannie had confidence and love for her Savior, the reason she persevered in faith in Him, the reason she loved to serve Him, was because of who Jesus is and what He has done, not because of what she was.
Her Savior Jesus is the One who has saved us. He has done all the work and carried all of the heavy burden. He has rescued us. He has made us right with God. He has done it all.
That’s why Simeon rejoiced when He picked up the baby Jesus and why Fannie rejoiced to serve the altar and receive from it Christ’s body and blood. They rejoiced because the Lord provided salvation for them.
He became a human being in the virgin’s womb so that God and human beings would be reunited again.
He grew up and obeyed God’s holy law and will that we transgress in thought, word, and deed.
He was handed over to be crucified and, nailed to the cross, dying a cursed death, He received God’s wrath against all our sins of thought, word, and deed. He fully paid our penalty, erased our debt, covered the guilt of our sins with His blood.
Then He rose from the dead showing that sin was paid for, guilt was removed, the world was forgiven, and death was destroyed.
Jesus is the Lord’s Salvation. He has atoned for the sins of every helpless sinner and made them right in God’s sight.
And His work was not finished there. He ascended into heaven and continued His work. He takes the forgiveness and life that He won and gives it to sinners by preaching His Word, by baptizing babies, by feeding us His body and blood in Holy Communion.
That’s what He did for Fannie. When she was a little baby, born in sin and subject to death, He baptized her in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. He poured out on her the forgiveness of her sins, won by His death, and His eternal life shown in His resurrection.
Our eyes can’t see all of this. When Simeon picked up baby Jesus and said, “My eyes have seen your salvation,” people must have thought he was crazy. How can a little baby save you from death and destruction?
People think Christians today are crazy too. How can we say we are ready to die just because we ate a piece of bread and drank a sip of wine?
The Lord does not do salvation in a way that makes sense to the world. He does His glorious work in a hidden way. He hid the majesty of God beneath the humanity of Jesus. He hid His mighty salvation under the shame and suffering of the cross. Now He hides His presence among us. He doesn’t come thundering out of heaven. He speaks with the voices of human beings, the voices of preachers, the voices of mothers and grandmothers who teach us to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” He gives resurrection and victory over death in baptismal water. He gives the forgiveness of sins with His body and blood under bread and wine at altars like this, altars that are cared for by hands like Fannie’s. Hands that grow old and arthritic but that are lovely and pleasing in His sight because they are dwelling places of His Holy Spirit.
Fannie saw the Lord’s salvation. I don’t think she ever had visions of angels or was caught up into heaven. If that happened, I wish she would have told me!
She saw the Lord’s salvation in her Bible. And she saw it here in this house, where heaven was opened and Jesus came to her in His body and blood. Where heaven was opened and you, her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, were baptized into Christ and your bodies became temples of the Holy Spirit.
Heaven is opened in this place because Jesus makes Himself known here and proclaims what He has done for us. He has atoned for our sins and reconciled us to God.
That’s why Fannie wanted you—her children and grandchildren—to be here each Sunday. Not just because it’s something God commands. But because heaven is opened here, and we see the Lord’s salvation, the salvation that allowed Fannie to go in peace. She wrote: “My unfinished work: ‘Getting my children to go to church regular—Oh how much richer and full their lives would be.’”
We now commend her to her Savior and her God, giving thanks for her. She saw the Lord’s salvation on earth. She now sees Him as her soul rests with Him, together with her beloved Willard and all who died in faith in Jesus. She will see Him with the eyes of her body when He comes again and the dead are raised, when this body we place in the earth rises and puts on immortality, when “death is swallowed up in victory.”
May Jesus, our Savior and Fannie’s, give us comfort now in these days of grief. May He teach us to say, “My eyes have seen your salvation” here on earth. And may He let our eyes see Fannie in His glory and with her her joy and salvation, Jesus Christ.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + Harlow Eungard
Blackburn-Giegrich Funeral Home
St. John 5:24-30
November 2, 2015
“The Word of Jesus”
Dear Sandra, Gwen, Jason,
All of Harlow’s relatives and friends:
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. John’s Gospel, chapter 5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (v. 24)
I watched the video you put together with pictures of your dad and grandpa throughout his life. It made me think of the many joys God gives us in our lives on earth—the joy of growing up, the joy of getting married, of seeing your children born, of seeing your grandchildren growing up. The sad thing is that so often many of us are caught up in the troubles we experience in this life and we forget to be thankful for the joys God gives us, particularly the blessings of family. But today, despite our grief, is a day to give thanks for the joys God gave your father and grandpa, and that God gave to you through him. Today, besides our mourning, we have to give thanks to God for the gift of Harlow and his life, and the gift of one another.
We can give thanks to God especially because it is not His will that death should have the victory and reign over us in grief and despair. Rather God has given what is dearest and most precious to Him to us so that we might have life. He has given His only-begotten Son to become one of us and join the human family. God the Son is a human being, our brother. He joins us in the valley of the shadow of death, where we live, and He calls out to us with these words of authority: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25)
That is a kind of power that is difficult for us to comprehend—the power to give life to the dead with your voice and your words. But Jesus’ words are not the words of an ordinary, sinful human being. They are the words of Almighty God who has come in human flesh and blood. He created the world and gave life to us in the beginning by His Word, by speaking. And now He has come as one of us to speak the word that raises the dead.
You probably remember from Sunday School the story of the fall of mankind. The first man disobeyed God’s Word and took fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because he wanted to be like God. As a result he and all his offspring became subject to death and the curse. From one man death spread to all human beings. The joys God gives us in this life with our families are punctuated by sorrow because of death. We lose those we love to it and every day we grow closer to our own end.
And after this life comes the judgment by God. And no human being can stand that judgment on his own, no matter how good he may seem or how well he may have lived in the judgment of other people. God’s righteous law requires that we be righteous not only in our actions but in our thoughts and emotions. Every sinful impulse, thought, and word that has ever come from us makes us guilty before God, subject not only to death in this world but to eternal death.
But now Jesus comes to us and speaks the words that give life. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Jesus speaks the word that makes us free from our sins, free from God’s judgment. He speaks the words that give eternal life as a free gift. He can do this not only because He is God, but because as true God and man He came to the earth to bear our sin and death. He bore the sins of the world on the cross and was judged guilty by God. He bore the punishment for our sins when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” As a result everyone who believes in Him is set free from the guilt of sin and eternal death.
Because Jesus has redeemed and bought back the whole human race by His death on the cross, at His Word death will let go of the whole human race. It is certain. He says, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:29) The grave will let all people go at the word of Jesus, even those who don’t believe. All people will be raised from the dead, either to be judged or to be given everlasting life and joy.
The only question is, “Which resurrection will I have?” Most people trust that they have lived fairly decent lives and hope that God will judge them to be righteous. But according to the Bible that is a vain hope. It teaches, “There is no one righteous, no, not one. All have turned aside—there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3)
There is a righteousness that stands before God and makes us good in His sight. It is the righteousness that is by faith in Jesus. Jesus has accomplished all that God requires. He has paid all our debt of sin with His blood on the cross. In His Word He freely gives this righteousness so that we are able to stand before Him with joy on judgment day.
That word of Jesus that gives eternal life has come to your father and grandfather Harlow, and it has come to you also. It first came to Harlow on the fourth of July in 1937 when it said through the pastor, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And Harlow continued to hear this life-giving word of Jesus through most of his life. That word has the power to give eternal life and free from judgment all who continue in faith in it until the end.
It is this same powerful word of Jesus that comes to us today to console us in our grief and enable us to give thanks. It enables us to give thanks because it proclaims eternal life and the forgiveness of sins as a free gift. It is the same word that will one day raise the dead and give glory, immortality, and eternal joy to all who receive it in faith.
Stay close to this Word. Hear it preached. Read it. It gives comfort in our grief, promising us that death and judgment are not our end, because God’s Son has tasted death and judgment for us. Draw near to Jesus who comes to you in His Word when it is proclaimed. The same word that will raise the dead on the last day will also raise you up spiritually and give you comfort in your grief and assurance that your Lord, who conquered death, is working out your salvation.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + Thomas W.
Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside, Illinois
St. Mark 10:13-16
September 17, 2015
Beloved in Christ: Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Ryan and Tracy: You would never have allowed anything to keep you from bringing Thomas to Jesus.
So you brought him to Jesus in your prayers, even in sighs by the Holy Spirit. And the Church also added its prayers.
That was really bringing Thomas to Jesus. Prayer is not just a wish or a hope. It is certain that when we pray according to the will of God He grants us what we ask. He says, “Truly, truly, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He will give it to you.” You prayed and the Church prayed with you that Jesus would give the kingdom of heaven to Thomas. We know that that prayer is according to the will of Jesus, because He said, “To such belongs the kingdom of God.” Let them come to me.
So Thomas was brought to Jesus and Jesus gave him the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here on earth and there in eternity.
Thomas was made a believer in Christ. Like John the Baptist, who leaped in the womb at the voice of Jesus’ mother. Proximity to Christ brings joy.
You brought Thomas to Jesus and Jesus gave him the kingdom of God. It says in the text from Mark that Jesus picked up the children in his arms and then placed his hands on them and blessed them. It means that Jesus embraced the little children in his arms. He hugged them to Himself.
That is a comforting thought. John the disciples rested on Jesus’ bosom. Jesus hugs your son to Himself.
When we bring our children to Jesus, Jesus blesses them. But we don’t know how He will bless them.
Some He brings to everlasting blessedness through a long life during which they suffer many tribulations. Think of your own life—how many pains you’ve endured, how many temptations have come your way, how many sins you’ve added to your debt of original sin, with which your conscience is burdened.
Thomas has been spared all that. You brought him to Jesus and Jesus brought him to everlasting blessedness by a shorter road.
He has been spared the suffering of this life and given joy that is really joy, life that is really life. Where there is no sin. Where he is being embraced by Christ.
The thing you want most for your kids is that they go to heaven. Thomas has that now. You can be consoled by the joys that are his. You did your job as parents. You brought your child to Jesus.
But what about the grief and the fear that may come as you go forward in your calling as parents?
Just as surely as we lay this little casket to rest in the earth, you will see your son full grown in the image of Jesus at the resurrection. He will be like Jesus. He will be all grown up—not in the image of the man of dust, but in the image of the man of heaven.
And then we will be all grown up too, into the image of Christ’s glory.
Right now we are being conformed to Jesus’ image on the cross, but when it is over we will share the image of His glory together with Thomas.
We will wear the image of Jesus because we will see Him as He is.
Soli Deo Gloria
In Memoriam + Helen Wheeler
St. Peter Lutheran Church
September 24, 2015
“Washed their Robes in the Blood of the Lamb”
Helen’s family and friends,
Members of St. Peter Lutheran Church:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
God comforts us with His Word this morning, in particular with these words from the Epistle: They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” Revelation 7:9
John begins telling us about the saints in heaven who have finished their race and fought their fight by describing a great crowd, a giant multitude too great to be numbered. Sometimes people complain that they feel lost in the crowd, that they don’t stand out as individuals. How wonderful it will be to be lost in that crowd! That is where Helen is today, lost in the crowd of the numberless multitude of saints gathered before the throne of God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
In reality, no one in that crowd is lost. They are saved, each one of them. And each one is known to God. Each one has every tear wiped away from their eyes by the hand of God.
The fact that it is a great crowd, a great multitude, must have come as a comfort to the first hearers of the words of this book. The first Christians who heard the book of Revelation were not members of big, thriving churches like we used to have several decades ago. They were members of little congregations of believers who met secretly and who were liable to be persecuted for believing in Jesus Christ. We also seem to be coming to days when the churches are becoming small and the believers feel like a few castaways in a boat on a vast ocean. But in this glimpse of heaven from Revelation there is a vast crowd that no one can number. It is a virtual flood of people gathered before the Father and the Son. God reminds us that though our brothers in Christ may seem to be few on earth, in reality we are surrounded by a great multitude of fellow believers, as many as the stars in the night sky or as the sand on the sea shore, as God promised Abraham.
And this great crowd gathered before God is clothed in white robes and carrying palm branches in their hands. White robes signify innocence, righteousness, and glory. Palm branches signify victory and salvation. This great crowd to which Helen belongs is righteous and innocent before God. Because they are righteous they also share in the glory of God and are able to stand before His presence. They are victorious and have salvation as they wave their palm branches before the Lamb of God, who once rode a donkey in to Jerusalem on a road of palm branches to shouts of “Hosanna! Salvation! Victory!”
This crowd is victorious. Victorious over what? Over death. Over hell and the devil. They have conquered and won the victory. They have been judged righteous by God.
But notice that the crowd does not glory in their victory as though it were their own doing. They dry, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” They have not saved themselves or won the victory for themselves. They attribute their salvation to God and to the Lamb, to the Father and the Son. This is their part in the heavenly liturgy, the Divine Service that goes on for eternity. They give praise to God and to the Lamb, on whom their whole salvation depends. And in response all the holy angels who are gathered around the throne of God prostrate themselves and fall on their faces before the Father and the Son, “saying Amen! The blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanksgiving, and the honor, and the power, and the strength, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
This is a glimpse of heaven given to us by the Holy Spirit through John. To the unbelieving world it probably sounds like no heaven at all. But to Christians it is full of comfort. Nothing could be more joyful to a Christian than to hear that one day soon he will stand before the face of the Father and the Son, that he will be righteous before God, therefore not condemned. Nothing could be more joyful than having escaped hell—except the joy of seeing God Himself. Because Christians love God. They love God because He first loved them. They love God because God gave His Son to win victory and salvation for us, by processing through streets lined with palms to the garden of Gethsemane, the high priest’s court, the torture chambers of Pontius Pilate, to crucifixion and death on Calvary. There Jesus accomplished our victory and salvation. There He atoned for our sins with His agony and death. And because they believe that God has loved them in such a way, Christians love God and long to be with Him face to face. The hymn we sang on the way into Church expressed it well:
Lord, Thee I love with all my heart
I pray Thee, ne’er from me depart
With tender mercy cheer me.
Earth has no pleasure I would share
Yea, heav’n itself were void and bare
If Thou, Lord, wert not near me. (LSB p. 708 st. 1)
The joy of heaven is that we will be with the Lord who loved us and gave Himself for us. That is the joy that Helen has. She sees her God and she stands righteous before Him.
But in case we think that entrance into this great company of saints is beyond our reach, one of the elders turns to John and says, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” Then in answer to his own question he says, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
In other words, these saints have not floated into heaven on a breeze. They came out of great tribulation. In that tribulation—in which you and I live now—they were tested. They were tempted by various sins; above all, tempted to give up faith in Christ. When you are part of a little congregation subject to persecution, when the pleasures of the world entice you, when death looms over you, it’s not so easy then to believe that God is with you for Christ’s sake and that you will win the victory. These saints came out of that tribulation. And in that tribulation they were not without sin. They stumbled and sometimes gave way to temptation. Throughout the great tribulation the saints struggled against unbelief and the evil that lives in their flesh. That’s why the text doesn’t say that they came into the presence of God with garments that were already white. It says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
We are born with stained robes, with original sin. Then throughout our lives we add to that stain with sins of thought, word, and deed. We can never get our robes clean so that we are fit to stand before a righteous and holy God.
But there is a soap that takes away the stain of sin from our robes. It is the blood of the Lamb, the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our tears and regrets over our sins are not enough to take them away out of God’s sight. But God laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all, says the prophet Isaiah (ch. 53). “For our sake [God the Father] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) God made His Son to be sin and punished our sins in Him, so that they might be taken out of His sight. That’s why our text says the saints are righteous and innocent—not because they lived without sin, or because they committed less sin than other people. They were innocent because they washed their sin-stained garments in the blood of the Lamb, the Lamb God provided to take away our sins.
The blood of Jesus was first applied to Helen a long time ago, in September of 1924, in this place. Her parents brought her as an infant to Christ, and Christ through His minister poured out on her head the life-giving water of Holy Baptism. The water joined with the Holy Word of God gave her the forgiveness of sins, victory over death and the devil. It washed her robes and made them white in the blood of Jesus; she as a little baby became a believer that Christ died for her.
And throughout her life she heard God’s holy Word. It threatened death and judgment because of her sin. But then it held up Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was crucified to take away all her sin. As often as she heard that word and believed it, her robes were washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.
And not only this, but Jesus the Lamb of God fed her His body and blood which took away the sins of the world. “Take, eat, this is my body, given for you,” He told her. “Take and drink, this is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
That is why we can say with confidence that Helen is in heaven before the throne of God, and why we can say with confidence that all of us who do nothing but believe that Christ took away our sins with His blood will join her in heaven. If it depended on our good works, we could not say for certain. But it does not depend on works. It depends only on faith in Jesus who suffered for us. Helen trusted her Lord Jesus’ blood shed for her. She “washed her robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Therefore we can speak about the good works Helen did, because we speak about them not as her righteousness before God, but as the fruits of her justification. Jesus died for her, forgave her sins, and gave her faith in Him through His Word. AS a result she worked faithfully at her job for decades. She also worked diligently at the Church, teaching hundreds, perhaps thousands, of kids about Jesus and what He had done for them. She served for years at the Ladies’ Evening Guild and then later in the Ladies’ Aid. She was a loving aunt, sister, and wife. She was always hungry for God’s Word, reading the Scripture, listening to it preached, and discussing it with others, including people she lived with at Our Lady of Angels. And because she listened to God’s Word, she was able to speak its comfort and encouragement to others. I know this because I was one of the people she encouraged. She was often an encouragement to me as I visited her at OLA, both by her words and her receptiveness to the Word of God.
Now a Christian’s works do not make him righteous before God. The blood of Jesus alone does that. And yet the good works that God does through us endure for eternity. Jesus says in John chapter 15, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (v. 16). And in Revelation chapter 14 it is written: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (v. 13)
What a wonderful comfort. Everyone who only believes in Jesus has his robes made white in the blood of the Lamb and can stand before God. But he will also produce a harvest of good works that will abide forever. The good work that Helen did in teaching children God’s word will endure forever. Some of those children will be in heaven and that will be in part because of what God did through her. But Helen’s sinful works will not follow her. They are no longer hers. They are Christ’s, and He took them out of the way when He died.
“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Now over Helen and over the great multitude in white robes the Lord has stretched out His presence like a tent, to shield them from everything harmful. There is no hungering and thirsting there for the Lord’s presence as there was on earth during the great tribulation, because the Lord satisfies them with Himself. There is no longer the heat of the sun, because the saints now rest from their labors. They serve the Lord day and night in His temple, but that is not hard labor by the sweat of one’s face but rather joy. For Jesus shepherds the saints to fountains of living water, of the Holy Spirit. He quenches their thirst. “In your presence there is fullness of joy,” says the Psalm, “at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps. 16:11) Jesus shepherds the saints and quenches all their thirst, and the Father wipes every tear from their eyes. That means that the saints in heaven are not burdened by any sorrows. They rest. And they are part of a great, joyful multitude that no one can number, all of whom are freed from sin, death, and the devil, and have the victory and salvation that cannot be taken away from them.
Helen has come to that great multitude. Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” But we are still in the great tribulation. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh harass us, try to lead us into sin and make us despair of ever reaching that great company of saints. But we will attain that glory if we persevere in faith in Christ. Then it will be said of us as well, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
May God grant us consolation about our dear sister Helen and give us confidence that we will also take our place in that great company of saints through the blood of Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria