Sermons, Uncategorized

Holy Assembly: Holy God & His Holy Things

Ash WednesdayClick here to listen to this sermon.

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people (Joel 2:12-15).

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

We find our identity is very much tied to our family—for better or worse. Healthy families do lots of different things together that bind them as family. Some families work together. Other families play together. But one of the things that binds together families the most is when they gather to share a meal. Hence, those family meals at Christmas, and at Easter, at Thanksgiving, and at other holidays, birthdays, and so on. When we gather together and we experience something as a group, it is far more profound than to do something or experience something by ourselves as individuals. That is why God gave family to begin with, with Adam and Eve and their children. Families are a great gift of God!

We come to problems, though, when we begin to see our family as the end itself. Like other great gifts of God, we can turn our families into idols, putting them ahead even of our relationship with God. We can so easily forget that we’re really part of a bigger family, the family of God, the people of God gathered around the holy things of God—His Word and Sacrament.

You and I are a part of the wonderful thing known as the Church, and we are family who gather around this central focus point where God gathers us and calls us. And it is this shared experience and shared journey that defines us as family.

What is a family all about? Your earthly family at home is about nurture and encouragement and love and support; but let’s be honest: it can also be a place of pain and sorrow and brokenness because of sin. Arguments and disagreements arise between spouses and between parents and children. Unresolved conflicts fester. And there is still all that history that has shapes us for better or for worse.

It is no different in this communion of saints of which you and I are a part. We come here also with a great amount of baggage, not much different than any family. What are we a part of? That is the interesting thing about family.

Looking at your own family, there are perhaps some of your siblings who kind of skirt along the outside of the family perimeter either because of some past perceived slight or sin or some present offense that keeps them at arm’s length, or they don’t really want to involve themselves. Or maybe it’s just because of the rest of the family is highly dysfunctional! Who knows?

This is where dysfunctional people gather, isn’t it? This is where dysfunctional families gather. This is where imperfect husbands come for repentance and forgiveness and imperfect wives come for repentance and forgiveness. This is where children who did not honor their parents come for repentance and forgiveness. And parents who laid such high and lofty goals and expectations come for repentance and forgiveness. This is where brothers and sisters who have not always put the best construction on things with other brothers or sisters come for repentance and forgiveness, as well.

In the Old Testament text, Joel was exhorted by God to gather all the people: the elders, the children, even nursing infants, the bridegroom and his bride. No one is to be excluded from this holy assembly, this family get-together. That’s no different than it is at your home, is it? You want everybody to be there, from grandpa and grandma to the newborn, gathered around that table to rejoice, and to sometimes talk and discuss, to give blessing and to receive blessing.

In coming here to this holy assembly, we come as people set apart from the world of which we are merely pilgrims and wanderers, and who are not, though the temptation is great, setting roots in this world. Our Lord Jesus makes that very clear in the Gospel: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He exhorts us to lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven. But is that exhortation only for you and Jesus, or is that exhortation for you as a brother to encourage someone else, as a sister to someone else, as a father or mother in the faith to someone else?

When it comes right down to it, there is only one thing we can bring with us beyond this life—that is our fellow believers, our loved ones in the family of God. And we need to repent, for we haven’t always put the best construction on the actions and words of others within this holy assembly. We have not given grace as much as we’ve expected it from others within our communion of saints here. We have not been willing to step up and encourage one another as fellow redeemed in this solemn assembly whom God has called together, whom He has marked as dust to remind us that we are all the same and that there is only one hope.

The dynamics of family life are fascinating to watch, aren’t they? Moms and dads get stuck in a rut of viewing their children still as children and not as adults, forgetting they have made great strides and accomplishments. Even though they’ve grown up and moved out, they still see them as kids. And the kids can so easily forget that their parents have gone through life and are wise, imperfect though they may be, but at least wise in experience. They’re not always ready to listen to their elders. Sisters and brothers vie for attention and for those accolades from parents, and are still seeking it even though they have their own children.

These kinds of dynamics occur within a parish family, too. In any parish family, there are those who have longstanding status in that parish family and those who are newcomers. This can prove to be a challenge. There is not always a great nurturing of newcomers by the longstanding ones. There isn’t always an appreciation by new individuals within the parish family for the traditions that the longstanding ones have established, the achievements they have sweat for, and challenges they have sacrificed to overcome.

Sometimes the congregation can be seen merely as a way station and not an investment of our heart. But in a normal and healthy family, you have to sacrifice and give of your emotion in order for it to be a healthy family. You have to do it in a church family as well. And just like you may have gotten burned in your own family, you will get burned in a church family. But that is the nucleus around which God has deemed us as His children to gather.

We are not to neglect the communion of saints to which we have been called. And yet there are those who have, and our job is to call them back to the family. We are to invite them back, bring them back, encourage them back. And those who are still licking wounds of years gone by, we are to help them bind up their wounds, receive forgiveness, and grow forward.

Satan’s desire is to splinter God’s family, not only ones in your own home and house, but in this house, too. And he wishes to splinter it by creating individuals and depressing the concept of belonging to something bigger than individual. Why do people drift away from the church? Because Satan has gotten them to thinking that they don’t need this communion of saints, or they’re too sinful, or that we’re too hypocritical. Satan is a prowling lion, and he wishes to split you off from the herd, because that makes you more vulnerable to his attacks.

You, by virtue of your baptism, have been born into a family that you didn’t choose, but you will spend eternity with. What a great a comfort! As you and I gather in this holy assembly to commune, we are confessing that we will spend eternity with them. And we are saying, “This is my family. Dysfunctional, sin-scarred though it may be, this is my family, and I declare my allegiance to my family, and I will be a good member of my family, faithful and not on the fringe.”

But this is profoundly above and beyond that analogy. That is why Joel was encouraged by God to tell the people to gather together. “Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, and make not Your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.”

We repent. We reflect upon our own sin and our mortality: “From dust you came and from dust you shall return.” And we remember the promised Seed of the Woman, who would crush the serpent’s head, who would defeat sin, death, and Satan with His atoning sacrifice. That is what we do when we gather here on Ash Wednesday. That is our life every day, a life of repentance. And it’s not that one needs to repent more than the other. We all need it the same.

That is why gather in this holy assembly. Here, we all come to hear the same Word of God—the Law that shows us our sins and our need for repentance. And the Gospel, that tells us how God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus lived the perfect life that you and I could not live. Jesus died to pay the penalty for the sins of the world—your sins and my sins. Jesus rose again from the grave giving us the certain hope of our own resurrection to eternal life.

This is why we gather together in this holy assembly. That is why we come to hear the same absolution from the mouth of God’s called and ordained servant. That’s why we join together in the liturgy and singing the great Lenten hymns. That’s why we all come here and kneel at the same altar to receive this same body and blood with the bread and wine, that we may feed upon the same thing that binds us as the Body of Christ…the Body of Christ! How profound that the very thing upon which we feed is the very thing we are and are knit together in.

That is laying up treasures for yourself in heaven. It’s returning to the only place where you are family, and that which binds you as family shall not be severed by death, by divorce, by abandonment, by hurt feelings, and by pains of differences that are on an earthly level and not on a spiritual plane. Here is where we return to be bound up and unified again in this family. And just as it is a very big sin within your own earthly family to miss a big family gathering and meal, and just as it is as affirming and unifying to be at that meal, so it is here.

Obviously, not everyone is here tonight. That is why, as we leave here tonight, forgiven and refreshed, we go out in faith in God and in service to our neighbor. We go to be a good family member, loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, them and encouraging them to come back to the family gathering, back to Bible study and Sunday school, back to church and the holy assembly of God.

For here, in this holy assembly, is where we lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Here, we build up one another in the faith and admonition of the Lord. Here, our Lord calls us to repentance that we might confess our sins and receive His absolution. Here, our Lord promises to be with His good gifts—forgiveness salvation, and eternal life.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your brothers and sister joyfully. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit. 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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Preparing for Departure

moses-sees-the-promised-land-from-afar.jpg!LargeClick here to listen to this sermon.

“And behold, two men were talking with [Jesus], Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).

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

Moses’ long life was marked with mountaintop experiences. At the age of eighty, God spoke to him out of the burning bush on Horeb, the mountain of God, and called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1ff). On Mount Sinai, the Lord spoke to Moses out of the thick cloud and gave him the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19-20). When Moses came down from the mountain, the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (Exodus 34:29-35).

In today’s Old Testament reading, Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. The mountain traditionally identified as Mount Nebo is located about 12 miles east of where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea, and it rises more than 2,600 feet about sea level. The Dead Sea is the lowest spot in the world, 1,300 feet below sea level. What a dramatic view the Lord gave of this land that Moses longed to see for many years!

By inviting Moses to view the extent of the land, the Lord showed one last act of kindness to this special leader of His people. But maybe it was more than that. Biblical precept, as well as later Roman law, let a man view land he was about to possess. Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of giving Moses a legal guarantee that the men and women he led for so long would really inherit the land, though he would die before it happened.

The Lord had a far better promised land in mind for Moses. The writer to the Hebrews included Moses among the believers from the Old Testament era who saw the Lord’s promises fulfilled by faith, not by sight:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth… But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13,16).

The account of Moses’ death is simple but mysterious: “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, and He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-Peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:5-6).

The final measure of Moses’ long life was that he was the Lord’s servant. What better epitaph could be placed under a man of God’s name on his tombstone than “Servant of the Lord!” As Jesus defines true greatness for His disciples: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

Regarding Moses’ departure, there is much mystery. It’s not clear whether we should translate “He buried him” or “He was buried.” Some have proposed that the Lord Himself buried Moses; that’s possible, but it can’t be proved definitively by the text. There’s an additional air of mystery in the words, “no one knows the place of his burial to this day.” If the Lord buried Moses, some have suggested that his body may not have suffered the physical decay that unavoidably follows death. In his epistle, Jude makes a passing reference to a dispute between the archangel Michael and the devil over Moses’ body (Jude 9). According to legend, when Moses died (by the kiss of God), the Lord delegated Michael to bury his body, but the devil tried to claim the body for himself. At least one version of the legend adds that Moses’ body was later “assumed” into heaven, accompanied by angels.

However intriguing this notion may be, we can’t speak with certainty. And anyway, Moses also wrote Psalm 90, and it’s more likely that the death he described as the common experience of all people was what he suffered too:

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away (Psalm 90:3,5,6,10).

Moses lived well beyond eighty years. Yet even at 120 years, his eyesight was keen and his physical strength unimpaired up until the day that he died.

Moses’ service to the Lord was unique because he enjoyed a more intimate relationship with the Lord than any Old Testament prophet before or after him. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11). The Lord explained this special relationship to Moses and Aaron:

If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all My house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:6–8a).

Before his departure, Moses spoke of a prophet who was to come: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to Him you shall listen” (Deuteronomy 18:15). Little did Moses realize that the climb to the top of the mountain on the day of his death would be the precursor of another climb up another mountain to proclaim the departure of that even greater Prophet for the salvation of the human race.

That’s where we find him in our Gospel. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John along as He goes up onto a mountain to pray. As Jesus prays, He is transfigured and appears in heavenly glory. Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Him. We don’t know much about the specifics of the conversation. Luke doesn’t give us a verbatim account, but he does tell us they spoke concerning “His departure.” The Greek brings more to mind. They talked about His “exodus.”

This was not the first time Jesus talked about His departure in Jerusalem. Earlier in the same chapter Jesus spoke of His death and resurrection (9:21-22). He also spoke about the death of all who would follow Him (9:23-25). The connection between these departures and the Old Testament Exodus are obvious and worth noting. As God’s central act of deliverance before Jesus, the Exodus from Egypt meant liberation from bondage and hope for a future. Jesus’ departure in Jerusalem accomplished this and more for all who depart in faith in Him.

Which brings us back to the conversation on the mountain on the day of Transfiguration. What do you suppose that Jesus spoke about with the prophets? While we can’t be sure, I think that we can imagine the types of things they may have discussed. Perhaps Jesus told them about the difficulties He was preparing to endure in His passion. Maybe they asked Jesus how He was going to do it.

Perhaps Jesus was telling them about how the disciples—including the three with Him—would all run away. About how they would promise to stay with Him, but then how their fears would rise up and about how He would suffer alone.

Perhaps Jesus was telling them about why He was willing to endure the coming sufferings: Maybe He spoke of His love for creation, His love for all people, His great desire to restore all things. Maybe He let Moses and Elijah in on the secret—that by dying and rising He would conquer death for all time. Maybe Jesus was helping the two of them see this had been His plan from the beginning and how they (Moses and Elijah) were part of a much larger story.

Or perhaps Jesus was speaking with Moses and Elijah about how His departure—His death and resurrection—would affect our departure.

Most of us probably do not like to think about our own departure—our exodus—very often. We are too busy living to spend much time thinking about dying. But death has a way of forcing its way into the conversation. Sometimes it sneaks up on us suddenly; other times it lingers, slowly sapping life away. A few, like Moses enjoy a long vigorous life. But death always enters the picture.

Which makes this Sunday a good opportunity to prepare to not only enter the season of Lent, but also to die well. In three short days, we will be reflecting especially on our own death on Ash Wednesday.

As your pastor, my most important duty is to make sure you are ready for the day of your death. So, I must ask you: Are you prepared for your departure?

I’m not talking the practical aspects of getting your day-to-day affairs in order like purchasing enough life insurance, updating your will, or pre-planning your funeral. Those are all important details, especially for your loved one, but they’re not near as important as having your spiritual affairs all in order.

Death is inevitable. You and I must prepare for death, so we may meet it without fear and the danger of eternal ruin. It is a sad truth that we can get so wrapped up in ourselves and the attainment of our own goals, that we not only fail to take our coming death into account, but actually invite God’s wrath by the way we act and live. And day by day, month by month, year by year, we think and talk and live having no concern for the eternal consequences. And one day it’s too late.

The hard truth is: We are not able to make the preparations necessary to enter into the promised land of heaven and into the eternal Paradise that God wants us to have in His presence. Each one of us is a sinful human being who daily sins much in thought, word, and deed… by what we do and by what don’t do… by what we say and what we don’t say… by what we think and what we don’t think. Hour after hour, week after week, year after year, the burden of sin builds and there is terror as we consider what we deserve from the holy, just, righteous God. No, the Lord God must make all the preparations if we are to be with Him forever.

The Good News to you this day is this: God has done it. God the Father sent His Son into this world to take your place on the cross by enduring the penalty for your sinfulness and for all your sins… every one of them. With His holy precious blood, His innocent suffering and death, Jesus has made all the preparations for your departure from this life and into the promised land of heaven.

God baptized you into His death on the cross and your death became His death and His death became your death. You died on the day of your Baptism. You were crucified with Christ and from that moment on, it was no longer you have lived but Christ living in you; and the life which you live in the flesh, you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself up for you (Galatians 2:20). On the day of your Baptism, the Lord was preparing you for your departure.

Please remember, the Lord God must make all the preparations if we are be with Him forever. The Good News to you this day is this: God has done it. In order to accomplish your salvation, Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day. Neither death nor devil nor grave could hold Him. He has defeated them for you.

God granted you your first resurrection when He baptized you with water and the Word. You were buried with Christ through Baptism into death, that just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so you also have walked in newness of life from that moment (Romans 6:4). On the day of your Baptism, the Lord was preparing you for your departure from this world, for your own resurrection, and for eternal life in His presence.

The eternal blessings of God because of His Son’s life, death, and resurrection are yours by faith in Christ. Salvation is by God’s gift of faith and not by mans’ good deeds. Faith itself is God’s work that the Holy Spirit gives through the Word. The Lord works faith in your heart as you hear the proclamation of the Gospel. God grants you faith to believe in Him.

The Lord, through Word and Sacrament, sustains and strengthens the faith that He began in you throughout your life. As you receive the very body and blood of your Lord Jesus Christ, you are strengthened in faith toward God and in service to your neighbor. Each time you leave, fully prepared for your departure, that is, to depart in peace, knowing that for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.

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

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Last Enemy Is Destroyed: Sermon for the Funeral of Veva Mae Baden

Veva BadenClick here to listen to this sermon. 

“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. 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. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:20–26).

Randy, Rhonda, other family members and friends of Veva:

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

This weekend we observed the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. The “war to end all wars,” it was optimistically, if not naively dubbed. At first idealistic, the term has become quite ironic. In the 100 years since the Armistice was declared with Germany on the 11th hour of the 11th month, our own country has fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and is still involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It seems that the moment one would-be dictator is deposed, another takes his place on the world’s stage. Another war begins in the futile attempt to end all wars.

But there’s a much deadlier war going on. A spiritual war that has been going on for centuries—ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. It’s the battle of the Seed of the woman and seed of the serpent. Good vs evil. God vs Satan. And the toll that it has taken is enormous. Thousands of years with 100% casualty rates. For as we know, the wages of sin is death. And all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All have followed the path of Adam: From the dust of the ground you came, in the ground to dust you shall return.

The fact that death is our spiritual enemy has immense significance for us Christians, especially on a day like this. Sometimes at funerals, one hears comments such as these: “We shouldn’t be sad; we should only rejoice. God blessed her with many years. Her suffering is over. This is a victory celebration.” To be sure, there is a sense in which this is true. But death, the last enemy and sign of sin’s universal dominion over fallen humanity, will not be swallowed up until the Last Day, and Christians are free to grieve at the death of their loved ones.

Even the 90 years that God granted Veva to serve her family and community, to share her joy of music by teaching piano and playing in church are a drop in the bucket compared to our Creator’s plan for us. God never intended the pain of separation and the heartache that attends death. That sharp pain of grief can be an entirely appropriate manifestation of the biblical understanding that death has not yet been fully overcome. And so, Christians may and should mourn at funerals—but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

But there’s Good News on the battle front!

The fight is over. The battle won. Christ is risen. Death is defeated.

Oh, I know, it doesn’t look that way on a day like today. The evidence suggests otherwise. The flowers in the nave. Veva’s mortal remains lie in the casket before us—one of the latest casualties in the conflict of the ages. In less than an hour, we will be committing her body to rest in the ground. But God’s Word clearly declares that death has been defeated!

That victory was won about the 9th hour of the Friday we Christians call Good. In the darkness, when Jesus drew His last breath and shouted, “It is finished!” Again, it didn’t look victorious at all, but that was the end of death’s reign. The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law. Jesus absorbed the power of sin by becoming sin. Jesus took the sting of death into His own flesh. The Law is fulfilled. Sin is judged. Death lies defeated.

Easter is not the victory. Good Friday is. Jesus’ death is the decisive victory when death swallowed up life and lost. But without the resurrection, the victory remains hidden. Without the resurrection, we wouldn’t know Jesus from Adam. But Christ is risen, the firstfruits of the dead. He unbarred the gates. He broke the chains. He threw open the prison doors. The stone is rolled away. The burial clothes are folded neatly. The tomb is empty. Jesus has risen.

Every harvest has firstfruits. The first strawberries of spring. The first tomato of summer. The first wheat and corn and soybeans of the harvest. Firstfruits mean more to come. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. He’s the first of the dead to rise. But there’s more to come. Many more.

For Christ, the resurrection took place almost 20 centuries ago. For those who have believe in Him, the resurrection will take place when He returns in glory on Judgment Day. The first sheaf was from a grave outside Jerusalem on the first Easter morning nearly two thousand years ago. The harvest will be from graves all over the world when our risen Lord will appear on clouds of glory, and His own will rise from their graves and will be caught up to meet with Him in the air.

“As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” When Adam fell, humanity fell. When Adam sinned, humanity became a sinner. Death came into this world through one man, Adam. His death was the death of us all. His sin is our sin and our captivity.

That is why Christ had to come as man. That is why the Word had to become flesh to dwell among us. Humanity needed a new head. A new Adam. A second Adam who was like the first and not like the first. Like us in every way except for sin. A sinless Adam who would do what the first Adam did not do and what we in Adam cannot do.

When Christ died, humanity died. When Christ rose, humanity rose in Him. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

The battle is won, but the war is not yet over. There are still border skirmishes, pockets of resistance, enemy soldiers lurking. Even after the Armistice was declared, the battles continued as generals tried to take more territory before their troops were withdrawn. We still get sick, still have accidents, still grow old, and we all die. We are born of Adam, children of Adam. We are conceived and born with Adam’s inherited sin. Birth is one hundred percent fatal. Everyone enters this world with an expiration date.

But Christ has conquered death on behalf of fallen humanity. Christ is humanity’s new head, a humanity that is destined to rise on the Last Day. That doesn’t mean that all rise to eternal life. It does mean that all rise. Those, like Veva, who trust in Christ and His merits rise to eternal life. Those who trust in themselves and their works rise to eternal condemnation. But all rise. All humanity is caught up in the victory of Jesus and no one is left behind.

What Christ has won for all, He gives in Holy Baptism. Through the water and Word, Veva was adopted into the family of God, made a co-heir with Christ of all the treasures of His kingdom, including forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. In Baptism, she was declared by God dead to sin but alive to God in Christ. She was buried with Christ in His death and raised to new life in His resurrection.

What happened with Jesus in His death and resurrection is now made yours in Baptism. You are dead and you are alive. Dead in Adam and alive in Jesus. Jesus’ victory over death and sin and the Law are yours. God has granted it in His name. The last enemy has been conquered!

How pitiful it is when Christians talk as though Jesus was nothing more than a crutch to lean on. How pitiful it is when Christians live in cowering fear of death and the grave in full view of Jesus’ open and empty tomb. How pitiful it is when we act as though our puny hold on this life is all there is and all there will ever be. Jesus’ resurrection proves that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you!

Christ is risen, the firstfruits of the harvest of the resurrection!

“Firstfruits” means more to come. A future. A destiny. A hope. For Veva. For you. Though you die, yet in Christ you live. And living and trusting in Christ, you never die forever. There is now and there is not yet. Now we live by faith in the Son of God. Now we live trusting God’s promise of life in Jesus. Now we live believing that we no longer live, but Christ lives in us.

But there’s a coming day, a great day, a glory day, when we will see with resurrected eyes what we must now believe and take God at His Word. The end, the Last Day, when every temporal rule and authority and power will be destroyed, when every dead will rise, and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father.

“He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” Christ has enemies. The war still rages on. The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh still tempt us, causing us to doubt, to disbelieve, to wander from the flock. We forget the open, empty tomb and live in servile fear of death. We bargain with false religions and quack cures trying to cheat death. We live in denial, as though death were an illusion. We forget the promises God has made for us in Jesus Christ.

The victory is won, the outcome is guaranteed, but war rages on. It is not a war against flesh and blood. It is not a war fought with bullets and bombs. It is not a war fought by power and might. It is not a war that we fight, but one that Christ fights seated at the right hand of the Father. He is restless to put all His enemies under His foot along with the head of the serpent. And He fights that battle with the Word of His mouth and the fiery breath of His Spirit. That’s how this war is fought. Word and Spirit. Word and Sacrament. Baptism. Body. Blood. Forgiveness. Holy Church. Holy Ministry. That’s how the Son of God fights His war against every rule and power and authority. And that’s why it’s important for you to come to the place where He promises to give these things—the Church!

At the end of World War II, there were Japanese soldiers on isolated islands in the Pacific who did know the war was over. They did not realize they had been defeated. They were still fighting a war that had ended years before. Someone had to tell them, and it wasn’t always safe. They were at war.

That’s what you and I do in the world. We tell the people we meet that the fight over sin and death is over. The battle is won. That’s why we gather here in the Lamb’s foreign embassy, the Church to hear it again, over and over and over again. To be reminded, that this fallen world and this broken life is not all there is. To be encouraged to stay strong and ready to the end. The best is yet to come.

The last enemy, death, is destroyed. Christ is risen! The grave has lost its sting! On the Last Day, all the dead will rise, and Christ will bring Veva, Gordon, you, your loved ones, and all who die in the faith to be with Him forever in the new heaven and the new earth. Amen!

The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. 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.

This sermon is based upon an Easter sermon by William C. Cwirla.

 

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Out of the Depths: Sermon for the Funeral of Dorothy Brockberg

Out of the DepthsClick here to listen to this sermon.“Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (Psalm 130).

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

Our text begins at the place where a man’s life is being overwhelmed, inundated, and flooded. We might imagine being in a small boat on a lake when high winds strike and the waves consume the craft in an instant. One minute you’re safe inside the boat, and the next moment you’re swept away.

While drowning is not a particularly pleasant death, it is generally quick. You don’t have a lot of time to ponder death. But imagine an overwhelming death that takes a long time, as your stranded boat floats nearly submerged over a period of years. The water up to your nose. There you are, right at death’s door, but never quite going through it. And while you wait, what do you say to God?

That’s what it must have been like for Dorothy in the last few years of her life. Only instead of it being water that rose to overwhelm her, it was Alzheimer’s. That dreadful disease took away her ability to do the things she enjoyed—serving people and volunteering. Eventually it took away even those basic things most of us take for granted—eating, drinking, walking, and even the ability to engage in conversation.  That was frustrating for everyone involved, I know, but it had to be especially frustrating for Dorothy because she lived with it all the time.

About two months ago when I visited Dorothy, she surprised me. I asked her if she would like me to read some Scripture. “Yes, I would,” she said. Somewhat shocked to find myself in a two-way conversation, I could only say, “Okay.” I would have to say that that’s the only time in the last few years that Dorothy ever had more words to say to me than I had to say to her.

Sometimes, Dorothy would join me in the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer—voicing some of the words and mouthing the rest. It still amazes me how often God can use His Word to give voice to a confession of faith in one who is usually silent. But even when she could not speak, Dorothy would blink her eyes and indicate she understood and believed. She would firmly hold my hand as we prayed, giving it an occasionally squeeze as if to say, “Thank you for saying the words to God I can’t say aloud myself.”

During my visits, I reminded Dorothy that, no matter what, she could always talk to God with the thoughts and prayers in her mind. I told her even when we didn’t know what was on her mind and heart, that the Lord heard her silent prayers and her cries for help. I reminded her how the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with groanings too deep for word. And I reminded her that the Lord loves her. He would never leave her nor forsake her. He had promised to be with her always, and the Lord always keeps His promises!

Trapped inside a failing body and mind, Dorothy Brockberg knew well what the psalmist meant: “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”

But this psalm is not primarily about slowly drowning in the depths of a lake or even being overcome by the awful effects of a debilitating disease. The condition this psalm addresses is a spiritual one. It deals with a soul being overwhelmed with sin and the effects of sin. “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Or in other words, “If You, O God, should keep a list of all the sins that are charged to me, how could I remain standing? If You marked off not only the sins I do, but also the things I don’t do that I should do… If You kept track, not only of the things I said that were sins, but also those times when You required me to speak and I kept quiet… If You marked the sins of my heart… O dear God, if You kept track of all these things, could I still stand?”

The answer is a firm, “No!” No one could stand. I couldn’t. You couldn’t. Dorothy couldn’t. Not one of us could stand in the Judgment by ourselves. We’re all sinners and deserve to be consumed, overwhelmed, and drowned in the depths of the eternal Lake of Fire. And that’s a whole lot worse than any physical affliction any of us will ever experience.

The psalmist points us to the only solution to our problem of sin, “But with You there is forgiveness.” Dear friends, Jesus, the Son of God, brings us that forgiveness. In love, He takes the guilt, the shame, and the punishment of all our sins to the cross. Jesus endures all the shame, pain, and grief that others have laid on us. There, on the cross, Jesus pays the eternal price for all our sin as the wrath of God is released upon Him instead of on you and me.

The shed blood of God’s Son cries out for our pardon, and we hear His Word from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The broken body of Christ hangs on the cross, and out of the depths of hell He says, “I thirst.” Denied and crucified by man, assaulted and tortured by the forces of evil, and abandoned by the Father, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Out of the depths, Jesus cried, and His question was answered with only silence from God. That, dear friends, is what our sins cost Him. That is what our salvation is worth to Him. This is Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). What a blessed privilege for us to confess with the psalmist, “But with You there is forgiveness.”

To those like Dorothy, and you, and I, who know the Savior, and who trust in Him, the message of forgiveness becomes ours through Baptism and the Word. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we live in daily contrition and repentance. Invited to the Lord’s Table, we receive His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine, to strengthen and preserve us in body and soul unto life everlasting. Having been forgiven our many sins, we forgive those who have sinned against us. Having been adopted as God’s dear children, heirs of His kingdom, we gratefully look for ways to serve our heavenly Father and His kingdom now. Trusting Jesus’ promise that He has gone to prepare a place for us, we patiently wait for our Lord to bring us home one future day.

For what seems to us to be a long time, with her body continuing to deteriorate, but with her soul healed and cleansed through Word and Sacrament, Dorothy waited for the Lord to bring her home. No doubt, it was not an easy wait. She waited like the psalmist “more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

Yes indeed, “more than watchmen wait for the morning,” Dorothy waited for the Lord to bring her home. And her loving Savior was by her side all the time. And then when it was just the right time, on Friday morning, Dorothy became the beneficiary of the same promise the repentant thief heard, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.”

The psalmist urges, “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord.” At all times, but especially at times such as this, the Christian’s hope is in God and in His Word. The Word of God’s promises in Christ are what will sustain us with the hope that does not disappoint. Though we mourn Dorothy’s passing from this earth and will miss her dearly in the days and years ahead, “we do not grieve as those who have no hope.” We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that for His sake, we will also have eternal life.

On the Last Day, the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, and Dorothy and all the dead in Christ, will rise, and we will be caught up together to be with the Lord forever. Then Dorothy will be able to say all those words she’s wanted to say to you during the past few years of silence. You’ll have eternity to catch up. And together Dorothy, you, I, and all believers in Christ will be able to give praise and glory to God forever. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. 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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All the Preparations Are Ready: Sermon for the Funeral of Sarah Jane Morman

Morman-Sarah_oval-232x300Click here to listen to this sermon. 

In the sermon text, Jesus was Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Dear Patricia and Richard, members of Sarah’s family, friends, neighbors, and members of Our Saviour’s congregation,

At times like this, we are reminded of two days that are particularly and especially before us. One of those two days is the day of the funeral—today. As you well know, there have certainly been a great number of things to do and decisions to make since a week ago Friday when the Lord took Sarah to Himself in heaven. There have been numerous preparations in order that the grave site committal could take place and for this funeral service.

Fortunately, Sarah had been preparing for this day and service. She wrote most of her own obituary (although since she was much too modest, Patricia had to add a few things like the variety of sports she played: tennis, bowling, and an industrial baseball league just a step below the one like in “A League of Her Own.”) Sarah chose some of the pictures she wanted to share and indicated she wanted to be buried at Fort Snelling with her husband, Ray.

More importantly, Sarah helped to prepare for our worship service today. She selected the hymns she wanted us to sing, the readings that you have just heard. She wanted all this worship service to focus on Jesus Christ—Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. Though it is never easy to plan a service for a loved one, this certainly made it a lot easier for you to get all the preparations ready for this day.

The second day we all face is much more difficult to prepare for. In fact, it is an impossible day; and to make it even more frightening, no one can tell you what day it is. It is, in all likelihood, a different day for each one of us here. For Sarah, it was a week ago last Friday, the day of her death. What day will it be for you?

What is your death day? I can’t tell you. It might be today; it might be ten years from now. Left all alone, with only yourself and your death day ahead of you, … well … there is no way to prepare for that portal called death which leads to eternity. Indeed, without God there is only eternal destruction and condemnation on the other side of your death day. In the darkness of this day at hand and that day ahead of us, such thoughts are more than troubling … they are terrifying!

The preparations for the funeral service are easy when compared with the preparations for the day of death. Truly, not one of us here can prepare for the day of death. Those preparations must be made for you by God. That’s why, on this day, Sarah wanted you to hear a sermon based on a section from John 14:1-6, and to do so that you may know of the preparations that the Lord has undertaken and brought about for your death day. Please listen to the words of Jesus once again:

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.

We are not able to make the preparations necessary to enter into heaven and the eternal Paradise that God wants us to have in His presence. Each one of us is a sinful human being who daily sins much in thought, word, and deed … by what we do and by what we don’t do … by what we say and what we don’t say … by what we think and what we don’t think. Hour after hour, week after week, year after year the burden of sin builds and there is terror as we consider just what we deserve from the holy, just, righteous God. For those who take their sinfulness and their sins seriously, to say that our hearts are troubled is an understatement. If left to ourselves and our own devices, our outlook would be hopeless. The Lord God must make all the preparations if we are to be with Him forever.

The Good News to you this day, whoever you are, is this: God has done it. Let not your hearts be troubled. To accomplish your salvation, God the Father sent God the Son into this world to take your place by enduring the penalty for your sinfulness and for all your sins … every one of them. Jesus paid the debt that was yours. Listen to Jesus, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God; believe also in Me.”

Jesus is God, just as the Father is God. God prepared your redemption when He died on the cross. His words, “It is finished!” indicate a complete payment and accomplished salvation for you. Truly, truly, I say to you, Jesus is our Redeemer and He has made all the preparations for you to be with Him in Paradise.

God baptized Sarah into Christ’s death at Oak Grove United Presbyterian Church in 1930 and her death became His death and His death became her death. Sarah died that day of her Baptism. She was crucified with Christ and from that moment on, it was no longer she who lived but Christ living in her; and the life which she then lived in the flesh, she lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved her and gave Himself for her (Galatians 2:20). On the day of her Baptism, the Lord was preparing Sarah for a week ago Friday, the day when she entered Paradise.

Please remember, the Lord God must make all the preparations if we are to be with Him forever. The Good News to you this day, whoever you are, is this: God has done it. Let not your hearts be troubled. In order to accomplish your salvation, Jesus rose again from the dead on the third day … on what we call Easter morning. Neither death nor the devil nor the grave could hold Him. He has defeated them for you.

God granted Sarah her first resurrection when He baptized her with water and the Word. She was buried with Christ through Baptism into death, that just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so she also walked in newness of life from that moment (Romans 6:4). On the day of her Baptism, the Lord was not only preparing Sarah for a week ago last Friday when she entered Paradise, in that first resurrection of Baptism, the Lord was also preparing Sarah for the Last Day and the resurrection of her body to live everlasting.

The Lord worked faith in Sarah’s heart in Holy Baptism. Attending worship regularly, she heard the proclamation of the Gospel and God granted her faith to believe in Him and His promises. The Lord, through His Word and Sacrament, sustained and strengthened the faith that He created in Sarah throughout her life. You need only look at one of Sarah’s Bibles to see how much she treasured the Word of God—there you will see evidence of how she prayed for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren each day in morning and evening devotions.

A few days before her death, Sarah partook of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for the last time here on this earth. A week ago Friday, the Lord who had prepared a place for her at His banqueting table in Paradise, received her unto Himself that where He is, there she is also now. So she and Ray are together once again and their voices hymn among the angels, the archangels, and all the company of heaven singing the never-ending liturgy of the Church Triumphant. Therefore, let not your heart be troubled.

preparing His followers for what was ahead for Him—for His awful suffering and His cursed death on the cross. He knew that His disciples would need hope in the days that followed. Therefore, He tells them about His ascension … about not only dying and about not only rising from the dead, but also for His ascension in and to heaven. Thus Jesus speaks to you and thus did Sarah want you, this day, to hear these words of hope and comfort.

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.

But you know something: On the day when Jesus spoke these words, not everyone knew what He meant. At least one person among those hearing the Word that day did not know what Jesus meant. At least one person in the congregation did not know what was being said, did not understand, was not at all certain what this meant. Thomas said to Jesus, “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.”

“No one comes to the Father except through Me.” That is neither threat nor law. It is a promise. That, dear people, is pure Gospel … pure Good News. Everything of God has its source in Christ and is reached through Christ. Jesus is the Way, the only Way to the Father. Jesus is the Truth. 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 Life, the source of physical and spiritual life. Whoever believes in Him has eternal life.

The Son of God, in His becoming one of us, in His sinless life, in His sin-atoning death on the cross, in His victorious resurrection, in His majestic ascension and in His life-giving and sustaining Word, has made all preparations for you to be with Him in Paradise. Live in His Word and grace each day. 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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“Fear Not!” : A Sermon for the Funeral of Pat Beyers

20180629_091902Click here to listen to this sermon.

But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3a).

Cheri, Scott, Brendon, Cyndi, and other members of Pat’s family, her friends, and Our Saviour’s congregation:

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

When I speak at a funeral service, there are often younger people, and maybe some not so young, who are trying to find the place for religion in their lives. They’re asking themselves, “Does this mean anything to me? Is this just something my parents cared about?”

But then, at some point, everybody faces something he or she can’t handle, something that scares us. Maybe it’s the biggest stress we’ve yet faced in this life, maybe it’s an unexpected diagnosis of a dangerous disease, or maybe it’s the eventual realization that we have to face the end of this life. And suddenly we wish there could be some place to turn—or Someone to turn to—outside ourselves.

Then maybe those who’ve gone before can teach us something after all—like how they dealt with those fears themselves. Turning to their example we see that as they learned and grew, their faith became absolutely foundational.

Pat, I think, is one of those people from whom we can learn. We can learn from Pat because she knew where her Christian faith fit into all this. She knew she could face fears because her Redeemer promised to deliver her from them all. In Pat, God illustrated His assurance that we need not fear.

Our text begins, “But now thus says the Lord.” This is important. There are many philosophies, ideas, and different ways to live life out there in the world. There are many ways to handle fear. You can be crippled by it. You can try to act as if no problem exists. You can try to face it on your own strength. Or you can turn to the Lord. As Christians, we want to know what the Lord says, so when we hear, “But now thus says the Lord,” we listen, we turn to the Lord.

Isaiah continues, “He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel” That’s how Hebrew poetry works: say something, and then say it over again with a little twist for emphasis. In this passage, God says: “I have created you,” but then adds, “I have formed you.” That’s a closer relationship. “I didn’t just bring about some great cosmic force that ultimately produced you,” God is saying. “No, I ‘formed’ you. Like a potter with a piece of clay, I have lovingly and skillfully molded you and shaped you to be who you are. From the time of your conception, while you were yet in the womb, I have been actively involved in your life.”

Then come two great words that are the theme of our text: “Fear not.” Literally, “Stop being afraid.” The same thing the angel said to the shepherds at Christ’s birth and to the women on Easter morning. Fear not. That’s what God tells us through Isaiah; and then He tells us why: “For I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.”

Life is full of fears. Pat went through most of them. Growing up—that’s terrifying for everybody, isn’t it? We each struggle to find our own identity. We wonder what our life will be like, where we’ll work, if we’ll ever get married and have a family. When we do tie the knot, there’s the fear and tough business of making it work, facing the fears and worries every couple experiences: finding jobs, making a home, planning for the future. And when it doesn’t work out as we expect, there are the worries of what to do now, how to carry on and begin anew.

With children in the equation, there’s a whole host of new fears! There’s worry about paying the bills, keeping the kids fed and healthy, about the friends they hang around with, and the choices they’ll make as they establish their own way in the world. In addition to juggling family responsibilities and a job at the Pipestone County Star, Pat somehow still found time for also serving her church and being actively involved in the Pipestone community.

After her children were grown, Pat entered a new phase of her life. It had to be scary as Pat moved away from Pipestone and began a career in economic development in Northfield, MN. But she was up to the challenge and advanced as new opportunities arose in Manchester, Iowa and Granite Falls, Minnesota. Then she returned to Pipestone in retirement—a move Pat called “the best thing she ever did.” And God opened the doors to new adventures and challenges.

Finally, in life, Pat, like each of us, had to deal with her own shortcomings, her own insecurities, her own sinfulness, her health issues, and ultimately, her own mortality. And that can make any of us afraid, too.

No doubt, there were times when Pat was scared. But she heard the Lord say, “Fear not. I not only made you, but I was born that I would experience everything that you can experience. I understand. Don’t be afraid. I redeemed you on the cross when I took all your sins upon Myself. I want you to look at that cross and know that every bit of punishment due you ended right there. I redeemed you, and in the resurrection of Jesus you know that even the last enemy—death—has been defeated in Me. Fear not.”

As the Lord said to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, He also said to Pat: “I have summoned you by name.” That happened many years ago when the pastor put water on Pat’s head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. At that moment, God said, “Pat, you are My child. You are Mine. I called you by My name. No one shall ever pluck you from My hand.”

And to make sure Pat stayed in His flock, the Lord fed her regularly in the worship service with His life-giving Word and His own true body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith.

Our text from Isaiah goes on: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” The first word there is interesting. Maybe we think God should say “if.” If you pass through the waters.” If hard times come.

But the text does not say “if”; it says “when.” We have somehow taken it for granted that there ought to be a way to get through life without difficulties—some medical breakthrough, some fitness program, some perfect planning will help us avoid trials and troubles. But the Bible says, “No. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” In this fallen world we can expect, we must expect difficulties, troubles, and trials to come. Because of sin, such things are inevitable.

Even so, the Lord promises, “The rivers… shall not overwhelm you.” Oh yes, they will bother you; they will try you; they may make you want to give up. But fear not. I will be with you. When you walk through fire, the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Pat believed these verses. When asked if this were her true confession, she affirmed again and again to the time of her death: “Of course. Of course, God made me. Of course, God redeemed me. Of course, by the power of the Holy Spirit He will watch over me no matter what happens. Of course, He will raise my body on the Last Day that I may have eternal life with Him and all of His people.”

It probably won’t surprise those of you who know her best, but when I visited with Pat a few weeks before her latest stay at the hospital, she wasn’t interested in talking about herself and her weakening condition for very long. She preferred to talk about how much God had truly blessed her. She wanted to talk about her life, her children, her grandchildren, her hobbies and interests.

You know why? Because she believed God’s promises. She wasn’t afraid of her final moments because she knew her final destination was to be with the Lord.

Yes, there’s sadness today, certainly, and there is going to be more sadness I’m sure. You can’t lose someone you love and not feel a sense of emptiness and loneliness. But I pray that in the days to come, you will also feel a sense of peace.

Think of a rainbow. Rainbows don’t appear on clear days. Rainbows come on rainy, drizzly days. You come here today with the storms of your grief. You come here with the grayness of your thoughts. You come here with a sense of emptiness and sadness—but God gives you a rainbow.

Part of that rainbow is God’s work in Pat. Pat’s life lets us see one band of color in God’s whole beautiful promise also to us. In Christ Jesus, who redeemed you by His death on the cross, in your Baptism, by which God called you by name, you have the whole spectrum of His whole bright, many-colored promises. This is why the Lord, your God, the Holy One, your Savior, the One who created you and formed you, says to you today: “Fear not!”

By God’s grace, may you, like Pat and other saints who have gone on before us, find comfort and peace in Him and His Word. May God continue to work in you through His powerful Word to drive away all worries and fears with His forgiveness and love.

I close this message with the Irish blessing Pat wished you to hear:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand. 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.