Sermon for the Funeral of Clarence Graphenteen

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Denny, Ron, Deb, and Randy, members of St. John’s congregation, family and friends of our departed brother in Christ,

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

Most anyone who attended worship services at St. John’s Lutheran Church over the last decades probably knew Clarence. Ever since moving back to Trosky, Clarence was our head usher and greeter. He welcomed everyone when they came to church and checked out any visitors. You might say Clarence was the doorkeeper of our congregation.

Clarence was baptized into Christ at St. John Lutheran Church in Villard, MN on July 9, 1929. He confessed his Christian faith publicly in the Rite of Confirmation here at St. John’s on April 2, 1944. His confirmation memory verse was Matthew 10:32, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven.” Clarence married Lois here at St. John’s on July 7, 1951. Though moving around several times for work, Clarence, Lois, and their four children faithfully attended the local LCMS congregation.

When I first came to St. John’s almost ten years ago, they had long been retired, but Clarence and Lois were always the first ones at church. Lois got the egg coffee going and Clarence would turn the lights and fan on, make sure the furnace was going in the winter and the windows open in the summer. If it snowed, he made sure the sidewalks were cleared. If there was a funeral or visitation, Clarence would be the one contacted by Hartquist Funeral Home to make sure the doors were open, the church was ready, and people were there to help.

When Lois passed away, Clarence faithfully continued those duties until his health no longer allowed it. I can still remember the day when Clarence announced he would be stepping down as trustee and usher. It was one of the most bittersweet days I’ve had as a pastor. Sad because I could imagine how hard it would be for such a faithful servant to realize he could no longer fulfill the duties he enjoyed. Joyful, because here was an example of where I could almost hear the Lord saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

On this day when we have assembled to praise God and to give thanks to the Lord for Clarence’s life and the eternal life which he now is enjoying with those faithful Christians who have preceded him, we look not to ourselves for comfort, not to our good deeds for assurance, not to human reason for answers, not to vain philosophies for theories. Rather, we look to the changeless and eternal Word of God. Therefore, based on selected verses of Psalm 84, I would speak to you this day concerning “The Doorkeeper, the Door, and the Knock.”

“How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in Your house, ever singing Your praise! … They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion… For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:1-4, 7, 10). Thus far our text for this day.

A couple of years ago, I was reading Psalm 84 for daily prayer. As I read it, the verse about the doorkeeper reminded me of Clarence. So, I printed his name in the margin of my Bible thinking that someday it would be used at just such an occasion as the one for which we are assembled this day. For you see, Clarence was the doorkeeper for our congregation.

If you look in your Bible when you get home, you’ll notice that fittingly, the dedication of Psalm 84 indicates this was “a psalm of the sons of Korah.” The Korahites were the priestly family known to be the gatekeepers (or “doorkeepers”) of the temple in Jerusalem. The psalmist expresses an intense longing to return to the house of God, where the Lord is rightly worshiped. It seems that war or some other circumstances made it impossible for him to join with his fellow believers in Jerusalem for the religious festivals. It doesn’t seem fair to the psalmist. Even birds who build their nests in the temple have access to God’s house, but he’s excluded.

Similarly, many homebound and shut-in Christians long for worship in God’s house, yearning for the days when they were strong enough to go. Meanwhile, many other Christians, those in the height of their strength, neglect the worship of the Lord to their own detriment. God gives strength to His people (Psalm 84:5-7) through the hearing of His Word, specifically through His Gospel promises of salvation on account of Christ, His Anointed One.

Clarence loved this house of God. He missed it very much when he could no longer drive himself here. It was so nice when you, his family, brought him here from time to time. And for those other times when Clarence could no longer make it to St. John’s, we brought St. John’s to him. First, with weekly men’s Bible study, chapel, and Holy Communion at Ridgeview, and then chapel and Holy Communion at Edgebrook, and visits from church members. It could never replace actually being in the church building, but it was still his connection to the congregation and, even more importantly, to His Lord Jesus Christ. In my mind, Clarence will always be the doorkeeper of St. John’s Lutheran Church.

If Clarence was the doorkeeper, what of the Door? A door is used to get from one place to another place. And the biggest and most important door that anyone will ever go through is the one that stands at the end of life. Today we are quite conscious of the fact that Clarence has left this one place and gone to another. He has passed through the valley of the shadow of death and has passed through the Door at the end. But where did he go and where is he? And what of this Door?

In one of our readings—the one from the Gospel of John—we hear about the Door. Do you remember it? “So Jesus again said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the Door of the sheep… If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved’” (John 10:7-9). Because of the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, there is a great separation between this world and the paradise that the Lord God intended for all people to enjoy with Him eternally. Every person is separated from God and would, at death, go from this world to everlasting death and torment in a place which is totally and completely separated from God and His blessings. But just as it was not the Lord’s intention that people should sin and be separated from Him, so also it was not His wish that anyone should die eternally. In His grace and mercy, He wanted to provide the Door which would lead from this fallen and decaying world to eternal paradise in His presence. For you see, Jesus is the Door to heaven.

We could not come to God, so God came to us. At just the right time God sent His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to live and die for everyone. The Christ’s death on the cross paid for all sins for all people for all time. The punishment we deserved because of our sins was charged to Jesus and when He declared from the cross, “It is finished!” the sufficient, total, and complete payment had been made. And those who believe and trust in this Jesus—the only Savior—are saved. He said it Himself, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” For you see, Jesus is the Door.

The Lord, however, does not force people to believe in Him. He wants all people to be saved, but He does not force it. During this earthly life, people are capable of resisting God—of telling Him “No”—of not worshiping Him—of staying away from His Church—of resisting the attempts of people trying to speak to them about the Good News in Christ. How sad!

Jesus, when looking upon the city of Jerusalem, showed us His compassion, love, and desire. With tears in His eyes, He stated: “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Matthew 23:27).

In our other reading, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Revelation 3:20). The Lord knocks at the door of our hearts in order that we might have all the blessings and benefits that He has earned for us. You may keep the door to your heart shut, but Jesus is knocking. He wants your attention and even today (and especially today), He is knocking.

Sometimes the knock is quiet—a temporary sickness which reminds you of your fragile mortality—perhaps a more serious condition which makes you think that your sickbed may be your deathbed. Sometimes the knock is louder—like last Friday when a father died, like last Friday when a grandpa died, like last Friday when a doorkeeper walked through the Door. Sometimes the knock is heard when a pastor brings a simple message of God’s inviting love to a group of people assembled at the funeral of a loved one. And let’s face reality. Perhaps for some, today will be the last knock. The Door is standing in front of you. He leads to eternal life and salvation. Will you turn your back to Him as He knocks?

Truly, it would be better to follow the example of Clarence. The psalm declares what Clarence believed and did while he was here on this earth, and what Clarence understands and is experiencing right now in heaven: “How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God… Blessed are those who dwell in Your house, ever singing Your praise! … For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:1-2, 4, 10).

The Apostle John was given a view into heaven. Through the book of Revelation, we also gain a glimpse into Paradise by listening to his words. John writes: “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here’” (Revelation 4:1). Last Friday, the Lord spoke to Clarence, “Come up here,” and Clarence did. No longer is he a doorkeeper on this side of the Door.

O Lord, “Blessed are those who dwell in Your house, ever singing Your praise!” (Psalm 84:4). Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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