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Funeral Sermon: Acquainted with Grief. June 4, 2018

jesus man of sorrows durer.PNGIn Memoriam Kim J. Kinzler

Fred C. Dames Funeral Home

Isaiah 53:1-6; St. Matthew 11:25-30; 1 Cor. 15:20-26

June 4, 2018

“Acquainted with Grief”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the name of Jesus.

 

John, Michael,

Kim’s sisters, family, friends, loved ones:

 

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

 

It says Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”  (Is. 53:3)

 

It’s hard to think this way about God: “acquainted with grief.”  The defining characteristic of God is that He is all powerful.  If you are all-powerful, you shouldn’t suffer.

 

I think just about all of us here went to catechism or CCD or Sunday school.

 

If you learned anything there, you learned that Jesus is God.  So how can God be “acquainted with grief”?  As though He sat down with grief, got to know grief personally?

 

This is why most of the people who saw Jesus and heard Him did not believe He was God.  God should not be broke and hungry.  He should not be beaten when He did nothing wrong, or die a death of shame and great agony, suddenly ripped away from life, His mother, His friends.

 

And we think: if God is with you, if He loves you, these things shouldn’t happen to you either.

 

Yet here we are this morning.  Kim, a man loved by many people, who showed love to many people, a man who confessed his faith in Jesus Christ, suddenly gone.  Grief gone over our heads.  Where there is grief, guilt is never far away.  Anger is never far away.

 

When a man dies there are things that feel unfinished.  There is regret, not only for him at the things he wishes he would have done better in his life, but also for those who loved him.  There is anger or regret simply at the opportunities that were never there—maybe at God, maybe at the people who never gave those opportunities and could have.

 

Death holds up before our faces all that is wrong with us, with those close to us, and with the world itself.  There is so much in the world that is good and beautiful.  It seems as though things could turn out differently, happily.  You can see it in the pictures of Kim’s life over there.  You can see glimpses of it in your happy memories of him.  The picture of Kim with his two young sons over there.  The pictures of him with Lora, whom he loved.  Yet there are so few things in this world that have a clean ending, that end “happily ever after.”

 

So we try to make things right.  We try to make the pieces fit, to solve things.  To assign reasons for our grief.  We make judgments and assign guilt.  But it doesn’t work.

 

The Lord God, who has all power, speaks to us in the midst of grief, guilt, and death.  But who believes what He says? Isaiah asks.  Who recognizes the arm of the Lord, God the Father’s strong arm working a solution to our grief?  Working rescue, salvation?

 

My dad, John and Mike, was different from your dad.  My mom was the one who did just about everything for me, yet it seems like I have never gotten over my dad, and he died more than ten years ago.  But when I was young, I always wanted my dad to come out with a strong hand and make everything right.

 

God the Father has done that—He has made bare His strong arm to deliver us from all that is broken and can’t be made right.  But no one has recognized it.

 

Because He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.   He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.  Is. 53:1-3

 

Nobody thought anything of what God the Father did to rescue us, because what He did was give His Son to become one of us, and live in our confusion and grief.  He looked like one of us and made Himself one of us.

 

How is that going to help us?  Two thousand years later, we still don’t see it, even though it has been preached to us and our fathers before us for centuries.

 

It helps us because He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.  We all like sheep have gone astray.  We have turned, every one, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  Is. 53:4-6

 

The sin and failures of our first father, Adam—laid on Jesus.  The sin and failures of Kim, from his birth until death—laid on Jesus.  Your sins and failures—God the Father placed them on this man, who was well-acquainted with grief—with the grief we have suffered because others have done us wrong, with the grief that comes to us or waits for us because of the wrongs we have done.  All of this guilt, this grief, the Father laid on His Son, and He was crushed, He was punished with stripes, He was crucified, He died in our guilt and our grief.

 

This brings us peace.  It is a peace we cannot accomplish for ourselves.  It is peace with God—that our sins have been paid for, forgiven, and removed, no matter what grief falls on us in this world.  With God Jesus has made peace for us with His blood.

 

And so Jesus says, Come to Me, all who are laboring and straining and pressed down by burdens—and I will give you rest.  (Matt. 11)  He will give you rest from the burden of grief because He has already carried it and made an end of it in His wounds.

 

He does not just give relief in this life, but He gives you a life that swallows up the grief, guilt, and confusion of this one.  Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  (1 Cor 15:22)  When you were baptized, when Kim was baptized, the new life in which Jesus broke forth from the tomb on Easter morning was put into you and into him.  We walk away from it, but Jesus invites us back to it.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  He means—trust in Him for your salvation; trust in Him to heal your wounds and carry your guilt and your grief.  Learn from Him.  Hear His Word, receive His body and blood that give you forgiveness and life.

 

And the peace of God that passes understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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Set Your Mind on Things Above. Funeral Sermon, May 3, 2018

ezekiel wheelFuneral Sermon for JoAnn Sallese

Blackburn-Giegerich-Sonntag Funeral Home

1 Corinthians 15:12-26; John 11:25-26

May 3, 2018

Set Your Mind on Things Above

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Tony,

Mary, Margie, and Tony,

All of JoAnn’s loved ones and friends, including her sister Genevieve, who was here only a week ago and is prevented from making the journey across the country again:

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

There are over 43 thousand radio stations across the world.  Each day, they broadcast their message into people’s ears as they work, drive, and sleep.  Each year, they produce 290 million hours of programming, and of that programming, 35 million hours are commercials, ads.

 

Those 35 millions hours of advertisements are designed to persuade listeners to set their minds on obtaining material things so that they will have happier and more fulfilled lives on earth.

 

But what the advertisers advise us to set our minds on is totally opposite what God’s Word, the Bible advises us.  Set your mind on things above, God exhorted Christians through the apostle Paul.  Set your minds on things above, not things that are on earth.  (Colossians 3:2). 

 

Why?  Because however good things are on earth, the things above are better, and the things that God promises us in His Word through faith in Jesus Christ are forever.  But the things on earth are only for a time, both the good things and the bad.

 

According to Bible scholars, one sixth of the New Testament is focused on the joy of heaven and eternal life at the return of Jesus Christ.  It was the hope and the joy that filled Christians throughout the two thousand years since Christ died and rose again.  Because they believed in Him, that He had died for their sins and risen again, they had a hope that extended past the pleasures of this life, and also its pains.

 

Although we live in this world where death still seems to rule over everything, and we are tempted to snatch pleasure while we can, where we can, God wants something better than that for us.  He wants us to have the certain hope of eternal life, of reunion with Him and with all the people we love who were united with Him on earth by faith in His Son.  He intends for that hope to give us joy in the midst of the worst pains of this life, and to give us a pleasure that is greater than the pleasures that may be found in “setting our minds on things below.”

 

It’s hard to think about all that right now.  It’s quite possible today that it’s hard to think or set your mind on anything.  Sometimes at funerals people sob and feel like they are about to break apart with grief.  But just as often there is a blank look on people’s faces, a look of lostness, of emptiness, shock.

 

That is the way people act when their loved ones die.  And also, sometimes, there is more.  Sometimes, guilt—they feel that they did not love or treat their loved one as they ought to have, or appreciate them as they should have.  Sometimes it’s anger—anger at the doctors who may have failed in treating their loved one, or anger at other people in the family for not doing more.  Maybe, even, anger at God for taking someone they loved, or allowing them to be taken away.

 

Christians grieve like this too.  They have the feeling of loss, of being lost.  Going to church doesn’t take that away when a loved one dies.  Yet I have noticed something in a decade of being a pastor in which I have ministered to many grieving families—usually those who are grieving who have stayed near to Christ, near to His Word when it is preached and taught, near to His altar where He gives us His body and blood—as they weep, they are held up, as though there were an invisible rock underneath them.  They are sustained by a life that is stronger than death.  In the midst of their tears they have an assurance, beneath their own weakness, that does not come from themselves.  They have an assurance that they have a gracious God, who is for them, and who loves them, who forgives their sins and takes them and their loved ones to heaven, and who in the end will raise their bodies from the dead so that they are like the glorious body of Jesus after He rose from the dead.

 

JoAnn was a beautiful woman in her youth, as anyone can see from her picture, and her husband of 29 years summed her up using that word: she always did things to appreciate beauty and practicality.  Which is a rare combination.  Quite often the poetic personality that notices beautiful things is not the person you count on to mow the lawn or paint the garage.  But JoAnn was the type who did both; who was ready to do anything the American Legion asked her to do, was willing to do the tasks necessary to have an organization that supports and honors veterans.  She opened her home to her step-children and when her mother was old she cooked her dinner and brought it to her every day.  And she did all this even though she had health difficulties and pain that would have made it easy to think of herself only.

 

Those who received these blessings through JoAnn can rightly give thanks to God for the blessing she was to them.

 

But what now, as you experience the feeling of loss and separation, the feeling of being torn from her or having her torn from you?  What will end that pain, console that pain, that feeling of loss, today, the next time you are confronted by death?

 

Maybe alcohol, temporarily, or getting busy with work or a project.  These can help temporarily.

 

But the only lasting answer is to Set your mind on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  To be able to say, I have a place in heaven with God, where there will be no more crying, no more death, no more grieving.

 

But why don’t people do this?  Even Christians don’t do it well.  Why not?  Because we can’t see heaven.  And even worse, who can be certain that if it exists, they will go there?  Who knows if I have done enough to have a place in heaven?

 

People say this all the time.  “I hope God forgives me, and I go to heaven.”  There aren’t many people who say with confidence, “I am going to heaven, and I know that God forgives my sins.”  And when people do say it, most people think they sound arrogant.  Because we think that such people are bragging about how good they are, or how strong their faith is.

 

But God tells us to set our minds on things above because He has promised the “things above” as a free giftto the world.  He has promised eternal life because He has already taken away our sins.

 

This is what Paul kept saying in the reading we heard earlier.  Because Christ was raised from the dead, we also will be raised from the dead.  Christ’s resurrection from the dead is the proof that God has forgiven the sins of all human beings, beginning with the first one, Adam.

 

Mary told me that she and JoAnn traced JoAnn’s family tree and took pictures of headstones for a genealogy website.  I signed up for that website too, but I didn’t take that many pictures.  But to do it you have to spend a lot of time in cemeteries.  We think of cemeteries as places of the dead.  But the word actually is similar to the word “dormitory”—it refers to a sleeping place.  Christians named them that because of their faith that the dead in Christ would rise again to eternal life.

 

To rise again and live forever means your sins have been forgiven.  When the first man died and was buried, it was not the way it was supposed to be.  It happened because the first man disobeyed God and bought into the lie that if he took the one thing on earth that God had forbidden, he would be happy.  He would be “like God”.  Instead of becoming a god, he became mortal.  But if you rise from your grave, it means that God has forgiven you, set you free.

 

When Jesus rose from the dead, God was publicly announcing that He was forgiven.  Not that Jesus sinned.  But when He died on the cross, He was dying for the sins of the whole human race, from the first man on down.  That’s why Paul says that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead, we are still in our sins.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, God was announcing that He had forgiven the sins that Jesus died for.  And if He has forgiven the sins that Jesus died for, it means He has forgiven the whole human race.  And if He has forgiven us, we too will rise from the dead like Jesus and live forever with Him.

 

But this is not the end of it.  The eternal life that will belong to us when Jesus returns also belongs to those who believe in Him in this life.  When Jesus went to visit his friends Mary and Martha, their brother Lazarus had been in the grave for four days.  You heard what He said to Martha: Your brother will rise again.  She said, “Yes, I believe He will rise again on the Last Day, when God will raise up all the dead and judge them, and give eternal life to the righteous and eternal damnation to the wicked.”

 

But Jesus doesn’t let it rest there.  He says, 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.  He is saying, “Whoever believes in Me shares in the life I will have in My resurrection.  On the last day everyone will rise from the dead, but whoever believes in Me shares my resurrection and my life.”

 

That is how we receive a certain hope in this world of death—that one day we will have life and no more crying and no more death, but that even now that life is ours.  We have it through believing in Jesus—not merely believing the fact that He was crucified and rose from the dead.  But believing that His death and resurrection is, as He promises, for us.  He died and paid for our sins.  He rose again as the certification that God accepts the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for our guilt.  That He settled our account with God.

 

It is not possible to make yourself believe this so strongly that you are confident in the face of death.  It takes divine power for anyone to believe it.  But God works His divine power in the word that I am preaching today, in the words of the Scripture when they are read at home and proclaimed and taught in the Church.  Through the preaching and teaching of this Word He makes us recognize that death comes as a result of sin, and that none of us is free from it, no matter how well we live in our own eyes or in the eyes of others.

 

And through the preaching of His Word He also gives us eternal life.  He causes us to believe that through Jesus, and through Jesus alone, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God and He to us.

 

JoAnn heard this word from God when she was young.  When she was six years old or so, she was also baptized, and God took His powerful word and joined it to the water of Baptism, so that she was joined to Jesus by faith.  She entered into His life.  When she was older, after being taught more of His Word, she professed her faith in Jesus and received the bread and wine that are joined with His Word, and she received the body and blood that He gave on the cross for the forgiveness of her sins.

 

A lot of time has gone by since then.  Those words of Jesus that sustain our faith in Him, that make us believe in Him and share in His life—it has been a long time since she received them last.  That is the favorite trick of the devil and our sinful nature—to separate us from the words of Jesus, because those words communicate to us His divine life as a free gift.  They tell us that heaven is ours when we die, and that God forgives us and gives us eternal life now in the midst of this life.

 

The devil has a long history of this, of deceiving us into setting our minds not on the things above, where Christ is seated, where He suffered to make a place for us, but on things below.  But Jesus overcame Him for us.  He took away our sins.  He gives us life as a free gift, now and forever, through His death on the cross.  He proclaims this free gift to you now in your grief, and encourages you to come with your grief to His house, where He will give you life and wipe away your tears through His Word, until He does so with His own hand when You see Him on the last day.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Peace with God. In Memoriam Janice Uffelman. Romans 5. Feb. 23, 2018

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

cranach crucifixion 1In Memoriam + Janice Uffelman

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Romans 5:1-6 (Job 19:21-28, Luke 2:25-32)

February 23, 2018

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Keith, Brad and Mayme, Rachel and Aaron,

Jan’s friends and family,

Members of her church,

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

 

The word of God for our comfort comes from the fifth chapter of Romans: Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:1-2).

 

Peace is rare in this world.  In the little world of people’s hearts, there is seldom peace.  In the little world of our homes peace is often missing, or the peace is a cold war where certain topics are just not discussed.

 

Even those unusual people like Job and Simeon in the readings, who are visibly godly and upright, do not escape this.  Their peace is disturbed by pain or by persecution.  For some reason, not explained in the book of Job, God allowed this righteous man to be tormented, and everything but his life to be taken from him.  Job’s friends said, “Surely you must have sinned.  God is just and would not punish you for no reason.”

 

And in a sense they were right.  Peace is missing in this world for us because peace with God has been lost.  That is the testimony of the Bible.  The reason why there is suffering and the reason why there is death is not simply because this is a necessary part of the grand plan.  It is because the peace between human beings and God has been destroyed by sin.  That’s why we suffer.  That’s why even the righteous die.

 

And yet in the midst of his turmoil Job confessed a bold hope: I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last He will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”  (Job 19:25-26)  After I die, says Job, my rescuer will come and bring me out of the prison of death.  He will raise me from the dead, and in my body I will see His face.

 

It is a brave thing to say, a bold thing to live your life by, especially when it seems as though God has abandoned you to suffer, when it appears to your eyes and everyone else’s that God is indifferent to you, or that He is against you.  Not just because it goes against what we see, but because it is a brave thing to claim about yourself.  Even if God will give eternal life to holy and righteous people, how do you know He will give it to you?

 

That’s not the way most people are accustomed to think anymore.  Only fundamentalists of one sort or another worry about how God will judge them.  The general idea is that God gives eternal life to everybody, as long as you do your best.  Yet we see all the time how the best we can do is not enough to bring about peace on earth, or peace in ourselves.  Our best doesn’t prevent us from disappointing or hurting the people closest to us.  Why would we think our best would be sufficient to stand the judgment of God, who is true and holy and pure?

 

Even the saints in the Bible recognized this clearly.  David, the man after God’s own heart, wrote, in the 130th Psalm: If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  And even Job didn’t say he would stand in his own righteousness when God judged the earth.  He said, I know that my Redeemer lives.  He was hoping for the day when the one God promised would come to redeem him not only from the world’s suffering and from death but from their cause—sin.

 

That day arrived.  Simeon saw it when He saw a little child brought into the temple courts.  Now, Lord, you let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people—a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.  The glory of Israel is Israel’s God, the Lord.  The baby Simeon took up in his arms was not merely a human child, but the maker of heaven and earth.  He had come to make Himself known to the nations who were ignorant of God, and to redeem from death, as Job had hoped for thousands of years before.  His coming was what made Simeon able to die in peace, with confidence that God was pleased with him.

 

Jan might not have been Job or Simeon.  But she had the same hope, the same faith, and the same God.  She had a redeemer.  She still does.  He has taken her to Himself in peace.  And at the last He will stand upon the earth.  And then in this body she will see her God.

 

Jan experienced lots of things in life that disturbed her peace.  Yet she had peace with God that was not based on whether or not she felt it.  It was established by the person that Simeon held in his arms, the one who gave that saintly man peace, the one who upheld Job in his agony.

 

St. Paul explains: For at the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Jesus, God incarnate, became a man not simply to teach what God wants us to do, but to die for us who are powerless to fulfill His will.  To die and pay the penalty for our guilt.  To die and settle the record of our debt to God.  To die and destroy death.  To take away its power so that it does not hold us after we die in eternal death.  Instead through Jesus it must let us go into the reward of the righteous.

 

By His death for our sins He justifies us; He makes us to be righteous before God, since by the sacrifice of His life He atoned for our sins.  And the way this justification becomes ours is without cost, without price.  It is a free gift.  Paul says, Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

 

This is the glory of God’s grace toward Jan and toward all who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  He does not keep a record of sins.  He has torn up that record, pierced it through when Jesus, His Son was pierced on the cross.

 

And now, believing in Him, we are righteous in God’s sight.  We stand in His favor.  We can boast and rejoice in confidence, like Job, that on the day when the Lord judges the earth, we will see His face in righteousness.

 

Jan had peace with God during her life.  She also took up the person that Simeon held in His arms, the Savior of the world, when she knelt at this altar.  But more importantly, He took her up.  He took her up and made her His own.  In great pity He died for her sins when she was powerless in them.  He drew over her whole life as a covering the sacrifice He made for her when she was baptized at a few months old.  Now her soul is sheltered with His presence, and her body rests awaiting the day when she, in her flesh, will see God.

 

Now the peace that was hers in Jesus she enjoys away from the suffering of this world.  This is not an uncertain hope, but the hope God Himself gives.  Jan’s righteousness was Jesus’ righteousness, her peace was established by His suffering for her.  May you also take hold of this peace in your grief that He offers you freely.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Not Alone. Susan Landerman Funeral Sermon. Dec. 10, 2017 John 12:23-26

February 9, 2018 Leave a comment

sue landerman.PNGIn Memoriam + Susan M. Landerman

Dames Funeral Home, Joliet

St. John 12:23-26 (27-33; Rom. 5:1-11; Job 19:21-27)

Dec. 10, 2017

“Not Alone”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

Michele, Joe, Julie,

Sue’s brothers and sisters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,

All her family, friends, loved ones,

And members of her church family at St. Peter:

 

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

 

The Word of God for our comfort this afternoon is from St. John’s Gospel: Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Amen, amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will My servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.  (John 12:23-26)

 

Beloved in Christ:

 

A few years back I used to read from a book called Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer for devotions at meetings of the church council.  Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany who became famous because he was involved in the resistance against Hitler, and right before Germany surrendered the Nazis hung him in the prison where he had been kept.

 

I vaguely recall that Sue liked what we read from Bonhoeffer.  As a pastor I couldn’t recommend Bonhoeffer to her without qualifications; not everything that he wrote was faithful to God’s Word.  But I thought of how what we did read resonated with her as I read another book of his recently called Spiritual Care, which is composed of lecture notes for a class he taught on pastoral care at an “underground” seminary during the years when the Nazis controlled the protestant church in Germany.  He described how German churches had a tradition of ringing the bells for prayer when a member of the congregation died and wrote: Even in death, the Christian is never alone.

 

Sue lived her life surrounded by other people.  She invested her life in other people.  Hers was certainly a “life together” with others, not lived in seclusion from the sinful world.

 

Another word for “life together” is communion, which we sometimes translate with the word “fellowship.”  Fellowship, life together, communion, is so important to the Christian faith that we confess it in the Apostles’ Creed: I believe in the communion of saints.  What the creed means is not just that Christians try to share in one another’s joys and pains in a human way, but that we participate in a shared life together, like members of a body.

 

We believe that God the Son joined Himself to human beings.  He shared all that was ours; He received our sin, death, and misery as His own, and He died for our sins.

God had communion with us, and the saints all have communion with Him. We eat His body and drink His blood.  As we share in His death, we share a common life together.  This is why the new testament is always exhorting Christians to love one another, and to have one mind, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).  The apostle isn’t saying to act like we have communion with one another, but to live out the reality that we are joined to one another in Christ.  It’s a reality that has been brought about by Christ, not by us.

 

The sad reality is, though, that this common life is something we believe.  What we see of the communion of saints is very weak and imperfect.

 

But with Sue I felt like I did see the communion of saints, at least glimpses of it—in the way she treated me, the way she treated other members of the church, the way she cared for her family.  And she brought it out of us too.  When she was sick, the members of the church were concerned as we would be for ourselves or members of our own families.

 

Still, the communion of saints is hidden in this world.  The perfect communion that exists between members of Christ’s body is not visible.  We still do leave each other often to bear our sorrows and sins, our grief and death, alone.

 

But Jesus never leaves His Christians alone.  He is always with us, even when we die.

 

Life Together, the title of Bonhoeffer’s book, could also be a title for the book of Sue’s life.  She was always “together.”  Not just “together” in the sense that she was hardworking, organized, but “together” with others, always working for other people’s good as though she were working for herself.  She came from a family with a lot of brothers and sisters; she always had grandchildren with her at her house.  In church, after receiving new members’ instruction, she went back again to serve as a sponsor to other new members.  She was the face of St. Peter in places many of us were afraid to go, serving as a tutor to the kids at Evergreen Terrace, and going down to the projects to work in the community garden.  When she did that, she showed Christ’s communion with human beings, His readiness to not leave us alone, but bear our burdens—to have fellowship with us.  To be together with us.

 

Jesus said: Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

 

Death is necessary to the fruit of life together.  But it is more than we are willing to give.  Working to help other people is something good people are willing to do, but that is not quite the same as giving your life (though it may feel that way to people who don’t have Sue’s work ethic.)

 

Dying for other people is too much for any of us.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would even dare to die, St. Paul said in the reading from Romans.  It was true in his day as it is in ours.  It is a rare person who will dare to die for someone else.

 

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).  For while we were still weak, Christ died for the ungodly.  Such is the love of the God Sue believed in.  A rare human being will die for a good person, but God showed His love by dying for us while we were still sinners, by dying for the ungodly.

 

He did this so we would have life together with Him.  He died so we would not be alone.

 

Sin isolates us.  It separates us and makes us alone—from other people, from God.  It does it in life and finally reaches its conclusion in death.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it well in another one of his writings: He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone.

 

But God the Son came to live together with us.  He shared our life and our weakness and had fellowship with sinners.  And on the cross He bore the punishment stored up against the sins of the whole world and took it out of the way.

 

As a result He did not remain alone, but…bore much fruit.  A seed that dies produces others like it.  Jesus died that He might be the firstborn of many brothers (Rom. 8).  He became sin for us, so that whoever believes in Him would be justified, counted righteous by God, and become a son of God and an heir together with Him, and inherit the glory that is His.

 

Jesus became the one who was truly alone with our sin.  From the cross He cried out that He was forsaken by God.

 

So Christians are not alone with their sins, not alone when we die, when it appears that we are most alone.  Christ is with us.  And those who mourn are also not alone.  Jesus lives together with those who mourn.  He shares our grief and will replace it with joy.  And because He shares His life with us, all who believe in Him and are baptized into Him live together in Him with the saints who are with Him in heaven.

 

We have life together with Jesus through His death.  But the Lord had more to say about this.  To have this life together in Him we must also share in His death.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

 

This part is the part we struggle with.  We are justified by faith in Christ, not by our works. Through Jesus alone we have peace with God.  But faith in Christ makes us follow Him and go where He goes.

 

And where did Jesus go?  To give his life for sinners, enemies, for the ungodly, for us.

 

Christians also must die with Jesus.  To quote Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  We die with Jesus when we are baptized; and we continue to be put to death with Jesus as we are convicted of sin through the law of God, acknowledging that we have earned nothing by our lives but God’s punishment now and forever.

 

Then God’s grace raises us up throughout our lives.  He proclaims the good news of the forgiveness of sins to us, out of pure grace, solely for Jesus’ sake, and we are given peace with God as we believe it.  We are raised to a new life lived by faith in Him.

 

Then we go with Jesus to learn to give our lives for others.  Like Sue.  As she cared for her kids, her brothers and sisters, grandkids, people in her church, people in need.

 

This is not easy.  It isn’t paradise.  We follow Jesus carrying a cross, into death.  Sickness.  Troubles at work.  Heartache.  We carry the cross with Jesus until we finally die and are placed in the grave with Him.

 

This happened to Sue when she was baptized into Christ and was given life together with Him.  She was crucified with Christ and raised with Him.  Today her death with Jesus is completed.

 

She is not alone here either.  He has made her grave holy by His own three days in the tomb.  Her soul He has taken to Himself, but this body will be raised as His was raised. I know that My Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth.  And after my flesh has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God (Job 19:25-26). 

 

By faith in Jesus we follow Him and serve Him—in dying, in laying down our lives for others.  And for us the sting of death is removed.  We are not alone.  We have life together with Christ, even when our following Him is imperfect.  We have perfect communion with God through Him and with the saints—those still on earth, and those who are victorious.

 

When Bonhoeffer was led to the scaffold where his life ended, witnesses said that his last words were these: This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.

 

And so for Sue we rejoice, knowing that her life has just begun.

 

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

Soli Deo Gloria

All The World is God’s Own Field. Funeral Sermon Jan. 27, 2018. 1 Corinthians 15:20; John 20:1-18

January 28, 2018 Leave a comment

rembrandt jesus resurrection gardener magdalene.PNGIn Memoriam + Harold Dhuse

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 Corinthians 15:12-26, John 20:1-18

January 27, 2018

“All the World is God’s Own Field”

Iesu Iuva

 

Roger, Karyl,

Ryan, Alec, Kara,

Darlene, and all of Harold’s family,

His friends,

Members of his church, St. Peter:

 

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

God’s Word for our comfort this morning comes from the reading from the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians: But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Cor. 15:20)

 

In the name of + Jesus.

 

All the world is God’s own field, Fruit unto His praise to yield;

Wheat and tares together sown,  Unto joy or sorrow grown.

First the blade and then the ear,  Then the full corn shall appear.

Lord of harvest, grant that we  Wholesome grain and pure may be.  (LSB 892 st. 2)

 

It’s probably pedantic to quibble with Mr. Harvey about the day on which God made the first farmer, but I think it’s right to say it was earlier than the 8th day.  The very first man, Adam, was a farmer.

…Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  (Gen. 2:7)

 

At the very least he was a caretaker of the garden of Eden.  And the second Adam, through whom the human race was reborn, was also a caretaker of a garden, a farmer.

 

[Mary] turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?”  Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  (John 20:14-15)

 

Jesus was not the caretaker of the garden where his tomb was.  But He was raising a harvest, and still is.  He is the planter and the tender of His crop.  But the Bible also refers to Him as part of the harvest:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor. 15:20-21)  He is the firstfruits of the harvest God is raising.

 

God the Father is raising a harvest—raising the dead, raising our bodies to be like Christ’s glorious body.  Jesus is the firstfruits of this harvest.

 

Harold, like most farmers, was not, I don’t think, very interested in poetic talk, symbolism, but in realities.  This probably had something to do with farming; you either have a crop at the end of the year or you don’t. And you will not have a crop if you don’t work.

 

God, while He appears to appreciate poetry and beauty for its own sake, is also interested in realities.  When He said, “You will surely die,” this was not a metaphor.  When He proclaims the resurrection of the dead, He doesn’t mean this in a spiritual sense, but a literal, physical resurrection of the body.

 

This is offensive to human reason and wisdom, just like the account of the creation of the world and of human beings is offensive, just like the resurrection of Jesus in flesh and bone is offensive.

 

Paul doesn’t attempt to make this easier for our reason; the Corinthians struggled with the idea of the resurrection of the body.  They were Greeks, and Greek philosophy taught that the body is a prison for the soul, which they said was a spark of the divine mind or reason.  When a person died, the soul was set free from the body to reunite with God.

 

That is what people believe today, more or less.  Paul says, No.  Human souls are not part of God.  They are created by God.  And both human souls and bodies are alienated from God by sin.  When body and soul separate in death, the soul does not automatically reunite with God.  The souls of righteous people go to the Lord to rest; the souls of the wicked to the place of torment, apart from Him. And both wait for the last day, for the resurrection when their souls and their risen bodies will be reunited and hear the final judgment pronounced by Jesus.  Then the righteous will enter the joy of the Lord in a new heavens and a new earth; the wicked will be cast into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

 

We don’t simply return to God when we die, as if there were no judgment.  God will judge between the righteous and the wicked.  But God is not raising up a crop for eternal death.  The crop He is raising is a harvest of sons of God who are like Jesus.

 

Adam and Eve did not immediately die when they sinned.  They continued to live, but now in an earth that was cursed.  Adam’s work as a farmer was made painful.  But Adam and Eve had hope, because before they had heard God’s curse, they heard His promise, His comfort, about the coming seed of a woman, who would take the curse away.

 

Harold experienced what God said to Adam.  He lived by “the sweat of his brow.”  He got up in the morning at 4 am and worked till dinner.  Then often after dinner.  He knew what it was to work hard and see your best efforts result in thorns and thistles.  But he worked anyway.

 

Then he worked at his church too—countless hours he gave to this place, and these people.  He probably didn’t think about this consciously, but his hard work was for the good of others, who came to this church and heard God’s Word.  That is what God does.  He works, and his work benefits others.  And Harold did this willingly.  He didn’t grumble about it.

 

He was a farmer, and he understood that no matter how great your ideas may be, nothing will be done without labor.  And if you don’t labor your kids don’t eat.  If you don’t labor in the church, people suffer too.

 

But there are things our labor can’t do.  Our labor, if God blesses it, can raise a crop from the ground to nourish this temporal life.

 

But it can’t bring the dead back.  It can’t take away sins.

 

But God the Father is raising a harvest—raising the dead, raising our bodies to be like Christ’s glorious body.  Jesus is the firstfruits of this harvest.

 

This is work that God alone does.  Only He can bring the dead back, raise them to life in body and soul

 

When the church in Corinth doubted the third article of the creed “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” Paul reminded them of the 2nd article: “The third day He rose again from the dead.”  Jesus is a man just like us.  He truly died, and He rose again.  To not believe in the resurrection of Christians is to not believe in the resurrection of Jesus.  It’s to overturn the whole Christian faith, which rests on Jesus’ resurrection.  If we don’t rise from the dead, Jesus didn’t rise either, because He was one of us.

 

Jesus does the work of raising the harvest of God.  He raises up human beings out of death into eternal life; out of our fallen, broken, corrupt image into the image of God the Father, into His own image.  He raises up sons of Adam to be sons of God.

 

He did this by the hard labor of becoming truly man and suffering for our sins against God, dying on the cross.  He shared our curse, our death.  Then on the 3rd day He rose again from the dead.

 

Paul says that Jesus is the firstfruits of the dead.  The firstfruits was the offering made to God of the first portion of the harvest.  He stands before the Father for us as a pledge to us of our resurrection.  He is the first human to emerge from death and stand before His throne as a righteous man with God’s approval.

 

The person who believes in Jesus, that God raised Him from the dead, that He alone has freed us from our sins and death, is “in Christ” as Paul says, and has a share in the resurrection of the righteous to eternal life.

 

But this is another thing that no amount of work can accomplish—for us to believe in Jesus.  Everything in us is against faith in God’s Word.  We are not good soil which God’s seed can grow, apart from a miracle.

 

He must also work in us so that we believe in Christ and not in our own work.  It is a work of God when a person believes the Creed we say all the time—a work that only God can do, just like resurrection, Creation, the forgiveness of sins.

 

Yet God wants to do this work in us.  So He sows His seed that grows up to eternal life.  He has His Word preached, like a farmer in the old days casting his seed onto the fields he has plowed.  The same Word that created the world, that proclaims pardon and forgiveness from Him, that will one day cause the dead to come out of their tombs.  His Word miraculously creates faith in us.  It makes us believe that we are actually sinners against God and that we cannot free ourselves; and it makes us believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who was made man in the womb of the virgin, who truly suffered and died for our sins, and was raised on the third day to be our righteousness before God.  His Word is like a kernel of corn that contains within it the plant that will later appear and bear many ears of corn with many kernels.  The kernel of corn contains the power to bring forth the full grown cornstalk; God’s Word contains within it the new man in the image of Jesus who will rise from the dead on the last day.

 

This hard work is not our work but God’s.  And he did it for Harold and in Harold.  On March 9th, 1924, God joined His life-giving Word to ordinary water, let it be poured out on Harold, and Harold became Christ’s.  Jesus planted the seed of His Word in Harold’s heart.  He nourished this divine seed so that it grew up and bore fruit, Sunday after Sunday, like a gardener watering a seed.  No one may have seen it growing except God and we will not see it full grown until the last day.  But God who began this great work and saw it through to the end of Harold’s life will surely bring it to completion before our eyes.

 

It’s interesting how Harold listed among the works of his life the time he spent caring for the cemetery, tracking down the records of names that had been lost.  A lot of people might wonder why this was worth the effort.  The city apparently doesn’t consider it high on its list of priorities, because nearly every springtime that cemetery is underwater.  This was not probably what anyone will remember Harold for.  People stopped being buried in our cemetery sometime in the 1950’s or 60’s.  Fewer and fewer remember the names on the gravestones there.

 

Harold was the caretaker of that cemetery.  I don’t know how much he thought about what it meant for him to do that.  Harold was focused on doing the work that needed to be done, not writing poems and making sermons.

 

Yet Harold was like Jesus, or like Adam.  He was the gardener there, the caretaker.  Mary mistook Jesus for the caretaker.  But He is a gardener and a caretaker.  He gardens and cares for human beings and raises up from us a harvest for eternal life.  In caring for that cemetery, Harold was doing Christ’s work—remembering and honoring the saints who have died, whose bodies will be raised immortal.  Even when the world has forgotten Christians who have departed, Jesus remembers each one.  He tends and cares for the departed saints because they are His crop, His harvest. Their bodies, like seeds that have been planted, after they have decayed, will rise up imperishable, incorruptible, full of the glory of God.

 

Nobody may remember the folks buried at that cemetery for very much longer.  But Jesus remembers them.  He has made their death holy.  He is the firstfruits, but coming soon after is the harvest to eternal life.  Then that cemetery that has been mostly forgotten will be the garden of the Lord, as Is. 61 says, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.  From that almost-forgotten graveyard the sons of God will emerge, and He will gather them into His house.

 

Harold is part of that planting of the Lord.  He will join them when death is swallowed up in victory, when the earth gives birth to its dead at the return of the Lord.  And the Lord Jesus, whom Mary in her grief mistook for the gardener, will watch over and tend this body, because it is holy.  He has set it apart for Himself to share in His glory.

 

The Gospel reading said that when Mary Magdalene was at the tomb, she kept looking in after Peter and John left.  She saw two angels, and yet was so grief-stricken she didn’t know that she was seeing angels.  Then she turned around and saw Jesus, and thought He was just the gardener.  “Why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?”  Mary didn’t realize that what she wanted to see but could not see had happened.  Her greatest grief had been turned to joy and she didn’t know it.  Jesus had risen from the dead, but all she saw was a tomb with grave clothes, and the caretaker intruding on her grief.

 

It was always the Lord who was caring for you, taking care of you, through your dad, through your mother, through the food you ate, the air you breathed, through the teachers who taught you, the pastors who told you your sins were forgiven.  Every good gift is from the Father of lights, even though He usually gives to us through intermediaries.  We don’t see Him, but He cares for us, whether we believe Him or not.

 

Harold has gone to rest.  He’s been taken away from calamity.  We can’t begrudge him rest.  And as much as he enjoyed working, I am certain that he is not sorry to enter into His Savior’s rest.

 

Harold rests, but your caretaker is still with you, the one who called you by name when you were baptized.  Mary recognized Him when He called her name.  He also calls you by name; He knows you by name, as He knows the names of each one of those who sleep in Christ, awaiting the resurrection.  We can trust Him to take care of us, awake or asleep, in life or in death, in darkness and in light.  We can trust Him not to fail us.  He is the firstfruits, and we who are joined to Him in baptism will follow Him through death into His resurrection.

 

Even so, Lord, quickly come  To Thy final harvest home;

Gather Thou Thy people in,  Free from sorrow, free from sin,

There, forever purified, In Thy garner to abide:

Come with all Thine angels, come;  Raise the glorious harvest home.

 

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

 

Soli Deo Gloria

A New World. Funeral Sermon–Job 14:1-17, 1 Cor. 15:20-26, Matt. 27: 33-60

February 26, 2017 Leave a comment

In Memoriam + Kathe Schroeder

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Job 14:1-17, 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, Matthew 27: 33-60

February 25, 2017

“A New World”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Sandi, Ron, John,

All of Kathe’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren,

Her family and friends,

Members of her church family at St. Peter:

 

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

 

God’s Word for our comfort today comes from all of the readings we just heard, and in particular these words from first Corinthians: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.  Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.  (1 Cor. 15: 22-24)

 

Beloved in Christ:

 

In the old version of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism that I had to memorize, the fourth commandment was longer than the one the kids learn now.  Honor your father and mother, we learned.  But it used to have more, a promise: that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth. 

 

I want to start off by saying that I have not seen, in ten years as a pastor, a family that honored their parents (and grandparents) more than you have shown honor to Reiner and Kathe.  I have seen quite a few families that loved and honored their parents at St. Peter, don’t get me wrong.  But in a day when people no longer do this, your family has been exemplary—even the grandkids.  The promise of blessing God attached to the fourth commandment applies to you.

 

Frequently when loved ones, particularly parents, die, people feel guilt that they did not show enough love and honor to them when they were alive.  Perhaps some of you feel this way today.  It is true that before God even the best fall short of keeping this commandment like we do all the others.  Before God we can’t brag that we have done all that He asks even when we’ve done our best.  But God covers our sins; He blots them out with the blood of His Son, and covers us with Jesus’ perfect righteousness, just as now Kathe’s body is covered by a white cloth emblazoned with the cross.  She always expressed to me her feeling that God had blessed her and Reiner by giving her children and grandchildren that loved and honored them.  So I hope that this will be a comfort to you—your care for Kathe was an example, and wherever you failed, God has covered your failings, just as Kathe’s whole life was covered with the perfect life of Jesus when she was baptized.

 

Kathe was blessed in many ways in this life, and she always said this when I visited her.  She was blessed with a husband that was the love of her life, a gift which is not given to everyone.  She was blessed with three children that she loved and that loved her; then with a similar relationship with her grandchildren.  She had a beautiful family, a beautiful home.  God gave her a good character, an ability to work hard and do good for others, which she passed on to her children and great-grandchildren.  Above all, she was blessed in a way that so many are not.  She was baptized into Christ as a baby and taught to know Him as her only Savior from her sins and from death.  And she remained in this faith which was given to her in baptism until her end.

 

For all these blessings she received, and for the blessing her life was, we give thanks to God today.  You remember her, and you rightly feel grief that this woman, with all of the little things she did, will not be present in the rest of the years of your life on earth.  You are right to feel grief about this and even to express it to God.  For years when I would come to visit she would make me tea and give me those pieces of sugar that looked like ice; when I put them in the tea they would make cracking noises.  She would put a plate of cookies and pastries in front of me.  I will remember those times, but I will not experience them again in this life.  You have other memories.  One that was in her obituary that made me laugh was that she never let her grandkids win at any board games!  You have many memories like this, and it is a loss over which it is right to grieve that during the years of this life you will no longer see her or hear her voice.

 

I say this not to rub it in, but because we try to deny the loss to make the pain go away.  But it is in facing the reality of the pain of death that God’s comfort comes to us.

 

Kathe’s life was filled with a lot of happiness.  But in a way it was happiness snatched out of the hand of great powers that loomed over her and the whole world.  She had many griefs.  She just didn’t talk about those—at least not to me—or dwell on them.  Her father died when she was a child, leaving her family in poverty.  She was confirmed in 1942, when the world was in the middle of a terrible war and her country was a police state.  And when the war was over, it only kind of got better for her country.  Half of it came under the control of another police state from the other side of the political spectrum.  The world sat on the brink of a much worse war in which the whole world could be destroyed.  No one was sure when that might happen.  And Germany was right on the border.

 

People kept on living.  They got married, like Kathe and Reiner, and started families.  Yet it could have all come crashing down.  They were lucky and moved to the United States where it was a little safer.

 

But even now, this world is under the control of dark authorities and powers.  We live in their shadows.  It is the darkness of the shadow of death.  In this world, God appears remote and absent.  When we want to come near to Him, there is a barrier—that in thought, word, and deed, we break His commands.  Pain, sickness, and hardship come to all of us, and also death.  And for many people, at many times, the sense arises that these bad things are happening to us because God is against us.  People don’t say this usually, but the feeling lingers.

 

That was what Job was saying in the first reading we heard.  Why do you keep such close watch on my sins, God, he asks, that you are punishing me so intensely?  I’m only on earth a little while—then I’m gone.  I was born in sin, and when I have done my best, I still am a sinner in your sight.  He expresses longing that God would bury his sins forever, deal with him as a father, give him life in place of the death that comes as a result of sin.

 

Then we heard another apparently depressing reading.  Jesus was led out to “the place of the skull” and crucified.  And while he hung on the cross by nails in his hands and feet, Jesus cried out in agony, My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?  A few hours later He let out a loud cry and gave up His spirit in death.

 

Then something happened that doesn’t usually happen.  The earth shook.  Rocks split open.  The curtain in the temple that closed off the holy of holies, the place where God dwelt on earth, ripped from the top to the bottom.  Almost unbelievably, graves were opened and a bunch of holy people who had died rose and appeared to many people.  The event was so overwhelming that even one of the Roman soldiers who was there, who probably didn’t believe in the God of the Jews, said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” 

 

This was not an ordinary, natural event.  Jesus was and is the Son of God.  When He died, God tasted death.  The punishment of death, the penalty for rebellion against the God who made us, was experienced by God.  Jesus took our sins as His; and He took the punishment for them.  He experienced being forsaken by God.  He died.  And the result was—the earth shook, as if the world itself was being moved, changed.  The way into God’s presence was made open.  The dead rose to life again.  The dark powers that have controlled the world were thrown down.  And the way was paved for a new world to being—a world in which there is no death, where God is near, and the darkness over our world and in our hearts becomes light.

 

That all happened in a moment when Jesus died.  But then everything seemed to return to normal.  Jesus was taken down off the cross and buried, just like everyone else.  That seemed like the end.

 

You know what comes next.  If not, Paul reminds us.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Even though the world seemed like it had gone back to normal, to darkness and death, it had not.  Things had changed. Jesus rose from the dead; his followers came out on Sunday and found an empty tomb.  Then He appeared to them, told them what was going to happen next, and forty days later ascended to heaven.

 

What was going to happen next was His disciples would go out into the world and proclaim that Jesus had risen from the dead.  They would also say what this means.  It means that the sins Jesus carried on the cross have been paid for.  God released Jesus from them into resurrection and eternal life.  And everyone who believes this shares in Jesus’ release from sin and death and His eternal life.

 

People often say to grieving friends, “Don’t worry; she is in a better place.”  For those who die believing in Christ this is true.  But people seldom believe that this world will be the better place.

 

Jesus is the firstfruits.  He rose from the dead.  And all the people He died for will also rise from the dead in the same way when He returns.

 

It will be a new and better world.  It won’t be a world where our happiness comes in the shadow of the powers of darkness that run this world, where we enjoy what we can while we can, and God seems far away.  It will be a world where the powers of darkness are thrown out forever, and the darkness of our hearts is also gone, and God will be all in all.

 

Kathe became a citizen of this new world in 1927 when she was brought to the baptismal font in Firrel, Germany.  She was baptized into the risen Jesus, with His righteousness, life, and victory over death.  Her sins were forgiven.  That is why now the Easter candle burns in front of her body.  The life of Jesus, risen from the dead, became her life.  The perfect righteousness of Jesus, and His atonement for the sins of the world, was drawn over her infant life.  Today it still covers her like the white pall with the cross covering the casket.  We do not know what she will look like when the day of resurrection comes exactly.  We know that just like the image of Adam was on her when she suffered, when she got old, when she died, the image of Jesus will be evident in her body when she rises—the image of righteousness, joy, victory, everlasting life.  There will, beyond all shadow of a doubt, be a smile on her face—of gratitude, of joy, of victory.

 

Jesus died and rose again and claimed the whole world—all people who share His flesh and blood—to live in that new world.  You as well—whoever you are, whatever you have done, whatever you believe.  Everyone is in, no one is out, except those who refuse to be in, who won’t believe it, who insist on their right to remain in the darkness, in the shadow of the dark powers running the world now.  He claimed you with His blood, and when you were baptized He put on you the garments of righteousness of the new world that He will reveal when He returns.  Don’t throw it away.  Daily take off the old clothing of slavery and death and put on, by faith, the new man, risen from the dead.

 

That is where we get peace and strength to live in this world where the darkness overshadows us.  We receive the life of Jesus—in His Word, in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins, in the sacrament of His body and His blood given and shed for us on the cross.  We receive in those things the assurance that we belong to Him and His new world which enables us to come near to God without fear and ask for the strength and peace we need to continue until the day when we will no longer be without the visible presence of our loved ones who have died in Christ—the day when we will see Kathe and Reiner, happy forever—and when we will see the God who made and redeemed them and us, face to face.

 

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

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

I Tell You a Mystery. Martin Laufer Committal Sermon, August 30, 2016.

HolySaturday-JesusLaidInTheTomb-OBrien-01In Memoriam + Martin Herman Laufer (Committal)

Abraham Lincoln Nation Cemetery

1 Corinthians 15:51-57

August 30, 2016

 

Iesu Iuva

 

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.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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