Perfect Comfort for Troubled Hearts: A Sermon for the Funeral of Bill Carstensen

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Scot, Patti, Mark, Todd, other family members, and friends:

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

Our Gospel for today is one that you will frequently hear at funerals. In fact, Bill was sitting here with many of you about a year-and-a-half ago and we all heard the very same words that Sandy had chosen for her funeral service:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to Him, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:1-6).

So, why do you suppose Bill chose this same Gospel for his service?

Now, we can’t get into someone else’s head to see what they were thinking, and Bill is not available to ask directly, so we can’t know for sure. But I think knowing Bill, and knowing his Christian faith, and his love for you, we can make a good guess. I would suggest that one reason Bill chose this verse is because it brought him great comfort. And a second reason being that he prayed that it would bring you the same comfort. What comfort? Comfort in dealing with the death of a loved one. Comfort in facing the reality of your own death.

It was in that context that our Lord Jesus first spoke these words as they gathered in the Upper Room that night. Jesus’ disciples were understandably upset and confused. A promising week began with Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem as King to the joyous shouts of the crowd and the Father’s voice from heaven thundered approval. Now everything was coming unraveled. Jesus spoke of judgment, “being lifted up,” and dying. He had declared that one of them would them would betray Him, another would deny Him three times that very night. So with the brief time left with them before His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus sought to calm their fears, to bring comfort to their troubled hearts.

Jesus pictured His Father’s house, with “many dwelling places.” He was leaving His disciples soon to prepare a place for them in the Father’s house. Furthermore, He would come back and take them to the place He had prepared, so they would be together again. Then He added, “You know the way to where I am going.” Having the benefit of hindsight, we can understand Jesus’ meaning by remembering what He was going to do, namely, die on the cross and rise from the dead. Human beings, by nature, have no place in God’s house because sin has barred the way. Jesus’ death would atone for sin and prepare the rooms. His resurrection would signal that all was ready.

Jesus insisted that these disciples already knew the way. He had been showing them for three years, but they were slow to catch on, as we often are. Thomas, devoted but slow to understand, was still perplexed. How could they know the way when they didn’t even know the place to where Jesus was going? Thinking geographically, he missed the spiritual impact of Jesus’ words.

But Jesus taught His disciples patiently, telling everything we need to know, doing all we need for our salvation. He answered Thomas: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Everything of God has its source in Christ and is reached through Christ. We can approach the Father only through Jesus. We can trust Jesus because all that is real and true is found in Him. He is God the Word, and through His Word He reveals His salvation. Jesus is the source of physical and spiritual life. Whoever believes in Him has eternal life.

God made Bill His own dear child in the water and Word of Holy Baptism on March 28, 1937 at Zion Evangelical Church in Pipestone. Bill confessed the Christian faith and the gifts given to him in Holy Baptism publicly as he was confirmed here at Our Saviour’s by Rev. Otto Misch on April 11, 1960.

Baptism is God’s work, and what He does is sure and certain. Nothing is more certain in all the universe than the name that God has placed on us in Baptism—the name by which God reveals Himself to us. Baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we have God’s pledge and promise that He has forgiven our sins and delivered us from death, hell, and the devil. This is perfect comfort for troubled hearts. In times of doubt, temptation, or failure—and especially in the face of death—we can boldly say, “I am baptized into Christ,” and be certain that the comforting words of Romans 8:1 are true: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus comes to His own in, with, and under the bread and the wine with His true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of our bodies and souls unto life everlasting. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, God gives us His compassionate and focused attention. There is no stronger personal relationship with God than when we receive the body and blood of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is a meal that never ends. It nourishes and gives us strength to continue with life.

But there is more comfort for troubled hearts to be found.

When you eat and drink the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, God bestows His gift of forgiveness upon you. Our lives are full of moments of confusion, need, and hurt, but He makes us holy again. He does not forgive us based on the good actions we do, they are filthy rags. Instead, He gives us the perfect and holy life that Jesus lived. Our faith receives this gift.

But there’s even more comfort for troubled hearts to be found.

Not only does Jesus give His body, blood, and forgiveness, but He also brings everyone in heaven to be one with the believers on earth as we gather at His Table. It is a family feast with so many children that we cannot count them. At the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we rejoice in the reality that we are worshiping Christ together with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” That includes our loved ones who have died in the faith. The Sacrament of the Altar is heaven on earth, a foretaste of the eternal feast to come.

Through His Word God speaks to us. His Law shows us our sin and our need for His forgiveness. The Gospel tells us the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life that none of us could live. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, exchanging His obedience and righteousness for our sin and disobedience. Then He rose again from the dead proving His Word is true and giving us the assurance that we, too, shall rise. Now ascended to the Father’s right hand, Jesus comes to us through His means of grace.

In all of this, Christ is preparing His people for the home that He has prepared for us when He returns to raise the living and the dead and take all believers to live with Him in the new heaven and new earth.  And so, we find perfect comfort for our troubled hearts, even on days such as this.

We know that God prepared a place in His heavenly home for Bill and He has called him to be with Him forever. Bill is now in glory with Sandy in a heavenly reunion where there is no pain, no suffering, no sorrow, and no tears. Indeed, the only tears being shed now are ours. They are the ones we have as we grieve at Bill’s passing, mixed with the tears of joy as we rejoice at his victory.

In addition to the sobriety of that thought, we are confronted with the truth that death can come at any time. Who knows which one of us will be the next one to enter eternity? Who knows when it will be? I don’t and you don’t either!

So, to those in attendance this afternoon who are Christians and who have remained faithful in their worship of and their service to God, the Lord Jesus reminds: “Let not your hearts be troubled… Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

To those of you here who have never known Christ as your Savior, or who have dropped out, have drifted away, or have wandered from Him, the Lord Jesus states as a fact: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Do you belong to Christ? Do you confess Him as your salvation? Are you a child of the heavenly Father? It is my prayer that when that great and glorious day comes, everyone in this room will, along with Bill, Sandy and all the saints in heaven, hear the voice of the Son of God welcome us “in [the] Father’s House!”

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