Sermons, Uncategorized

Fish Stories: A Sermon for the Funeral of Gary Vos

“The Miraculous Draught of Fishes” by James Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. (John 21:3-8)

Leann, Toby, Shane, family, and friends of Gary,

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

This week as I was talking with Cole, I asked him if he had any stories of fishing with his Grandpa. I was thinking he might talk about a day when they caught their limit of walleyes in less than an hour, each one of them landing a fish over thirty inches. But he told me about a day earlier this year when they went to Dead Coon Lake. It was on a Friday. It had been raining hard all day. They only caught one fish in three hours. But it was worth it because they caught that one fish. Some days you don’t catch anything. Cole didn’t say it, but I suspect part of what made it worthwhile was the time he could share with his Grandpa.

Fishermen have a reputation for telling fish stories. Most of the time, fish stories are a bit embellished. The fish get a little bit bigger each time the story is told. The big one gets away just as you’re netting it. I like Cole’s fish story because it is true. It doesn’t focus so much on the fish but on a larger truth.

The Bible has fish stories, too. They’re all true, and they focus on a larger truth, but I must admit they do strain credulity. That’s because most of the time that fish are mentioned they are associated with miracles, which are, by their nature, rare supernatural events. We have the miraculous catch of fish where Jesus calls His first disciples (Luke 5:6). The miraculous feedings of the five thousand and the four thousand, using a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21; 15:32-38). Then there’s this interesting tale: The collectors ask Peter if his Master pays the temple tax. Jesus tells Peter to “go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for Me and for yourself” (Matthew 17:24-27).

Now that’s a fish story!

In our Gospel, John 21:3-8, we have another miraculous catch of fish. It happened during the forty days after Jesus’ resurrection. Some of the disciples were sitting by the lake. Peter spoke up and said, “I’m going fishing.” The others agreed, “We’ll go with you.” They went out and got in the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just as day was breaking, they saw a man on the shore. “Do you have any fish?” He asked. “No,” they said.

Now, all of this sounds true to form. Fishermen are going to fish if they have the time and are anywhere close to the water. Those on the shore are going to ask if you’re catching anything. But then this fish story departs from our normal experience. The man tells them to cast the net off the other side of the boat—as if those few feet were going to make a huge difference. But it did! And the net was so full of fish they couldn’t haul it into the boat. That’s when they realized it was the risen Lord. Peter threw himself into the water and hurried to Jesus. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net to shore. It was full of fish, 153 big ones!

Now that’s a fish story!

Which brings us to another fish miracle that has comfort and hope for this day. When the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus to give them a sign to prove His authority, He reminded them about a story they might have learned in Sunday School. Jonah and the big fish. You remember the story. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and to preach repentance. Jonah refused and ran away, taking a ship that was headed as far away from Nineveh as possible. Realizing it was his fault the storm was about to sink the ship Jonah told the sailors to throw him overboard. God sent a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spit Jonah out onto dry land.

Now that’s a fish story!

The Pharisees had demanded a miraculous sign. Jesus replied that only one sign would be coming, not that it would change their minds. In due time, He would give them “the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, and then he was cast up on the shore and enabled to go about the task that God had assigned to him, proclaiming God’s call of repentance to the people of the heathen city of Nineveh. Similarly, Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day, showing that He has satisfactorily completed the task for which the Father has sent Him into this world, namely, the redemption of the world.

Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the ultimate proof that He is who He claimed to be. Several times during Jesus’ earthly ministry, the heavenly Father had introduced Him to the world, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Father showed His pleasure and acceptance of Jesus’ work by raising Him from the dead, thereby declaring to the world that this man from Nazareth was truly His Son who brought forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Everything Jesus claimed about Himself is true. All that He said He would do, He has done. His resurrection renders it all valid.

That’s why we say in Easter and on days like today: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

So, what does that mean for you today?

For starters, the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead declares that He did, in fact, die. He has paid the price for the sins of the world by His suffering and death—and He has been raised from the dead for your justification. You need not ever wonder if God the Father has accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for you. You know that the Father is well-pleased with His Son, for He has raised Jesus from the dead. And if the Father is well-pleased with His Son’s Passion and death, then you can be certain that forgiveness is yours—because Jesus is risen from the dead.

Christ is risen from the dead: The Son of God who became flesh and dwelt among us died indeed. But He was also raised from the dead—body and all. This is an important point: there is a subtle false teaching, even it seems among Christians, who believe that Jesus rose from the dead in soul and spirit, but not in body. Thus, when we die our soul and spirit rises, many believe, but the body is gone for good.

Why this is attractive, I don’t know, but beware the danger. To say that there is no resurrection of the body is to say that Jesus didn’t fully conquer sin; rather, He conquered it enough to free our souls, but didn’t have the power to restore our bodies. This is to say that Jesus failed in His work to redeem us, that sin and death and devil still have some power. But Christ is risen from the dead—body and all. His victory over sin, death, and devil is complete.

Christ is risen from the dead: therefore, He is present with you in His means of grace. His Word here is not just information, but living and active: because Christ—the living Word made flesh—is present in His Word. Holy Baptism is not just a splash of water and a nice thought. Rather, Christ is present there, to join you to His death—and to His resurrection. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper is not just an inadequate meal in memory of one who died. Rather, it is the Lord’s Supper because the risen Savior is there, to give you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of your faith. Thus, the Lord walks with you. Risen, He fulfills His promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

In addition, the altar is the one place on earth where God has promised we can join with our loved ones who have died in the faith and are now in the presence of the Lord. Here, in Holy Communion, we worship, just as we sing, together “with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.”

As we have begun to live with Christ here on earth in the Church through His Word and Sacraments, so we will continue to live with Him after we die. Death is not an interruption of this fellowship with our Lord. Our life with Christ continues, even after death, even before the resurrection. Our departed friends and family members who lived with Christ here below by faith in His cross for their forgiveness even now live with Him and are comforted. Because our life with Christ is not interrupted by death, death for the Christian may be sweet and joyful, even in the midst of tears and sorrow (TLSB, p. 1750).

On the day of the final judgment, Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. The redeemed souls in heaven will be reunited with their own (now glorified) bodies and will begin to enjoy the bliss of everlasting life in both body and soul. Those who are alive at the time will be changed, this perishable body will put on the imperishable, and this mortal body will put on immortality, as death is swallowed up in victory.

Christ is risen from the dead and we rejoice that He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. He has walked through the valley of the shadow of death so that He might guide you through to the gates of heaven. For now, you and I will witness and suffer grief and separation and mourning, eventually our own death. But you do not mourn as those without hope—Christ is risen from the dead, the firstfruits. He has not risen for Himself, but for you. He is the beginning of the harvest—and you can be sure that He will raise you and Gary—and all who die in the Lord—on the Last Day. And you will live with Him for eternity.

This is your comfort and hope: Your faith is not in vain. Christ is risen from the dead! He is risen indeed! 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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found: Sermon for the Funeral of Carl Holmgren

“Wheat Field in Rain” by Vincent Van Gogh

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:6-11).

Tammy, Kari, family and friends of Carl:

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

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near,” our text begins. The problem is that none of us has the natural ability to seek the Lord. In fact, left to ourselves, none of us wants to seek the Lord. Like Adam and Eve after the fall into sin, we run away, we hide from Him. By nature, we are enemies of God. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We want nothing to do with a holy God. But it is this very Gospel invitation that enables to seek the Lord.

We confess in the explanation to the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”

God can be found by humans only as long as He makes Himself known, that is, whenever and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed and heard. In the Gospel, the Lord comes near. Through the means of grace—God’s Word and sacraments—the Holy Spirit invites us to seek the Lord and call upon Him in faith.

The Lord is a God of extreme patience and grace. He urges sinners to turn away from their wicked ways and to turn to Him. He pledges to have mercy on the sinner and to pardon him freely. These words hold out the bright jewel of forgiveness for the grimy, stained hands of every sinner to grasp. What a comfort! God looks tenderly upon sinners and, because of Christ, He forgives them.

The death of a loved one, without fail, triggers every emotion in the human existence in very short order. For people of faith, the question also arises concerning the eternal welfare of the departed. And too often, our thinking becomes fretting in light of what we knew or thought we knew. It is difficult for us, in such a time as this, to reflect and focus our concerns with what God knows.

Our Lord spoke to His people through Isaiah the prophet and had to remind them that He operates in ways that we cannot always understand, and He points out the arrogance of man in presuming to know all things. We don’t like to admit it when we don’t know the answer. It pesters us to no end when we are confronted with things that are beyond our limited human comprehension. We find it difficult to place the knowledge of all things with God alone and leave it in His hands.

But there is much we do know, from which our Lord would have us receive strength and comfort, especially in times like this. We know, according to the Scriptures, that it is the Lord alone who searches the heart and the Lord alone who has the power to save. We know that the Lord does not wish that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. We know that God works through His Word. And we know He has promised that His Word does not go out into the ears of His hearers in vain.

God makes contact with sinners through His Word. The Word comes from God, who authors it and sends it across time and space to the sinner. God assures us in this text that His Word is effective and powerful.

Through His prophet, God also tells us how His Word works. Clearly and simply, God presents a striking comparison. His Word comes down from Him like rain and snow from heaven. Any gardener knows that when rain and snow come down, they water the ground and make it bud and flourish. When God’s Word comes to sinners, it works in the same way. God’s Word works when and where He pleases, simply by His grace.

The free gift of eternal salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is just that—a free gift. And the Lord has told us in His Word how it is that He gives us this saving faith. He tells us in Titus, chapter 3, that He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

This washing He granted Carl when he was baptized at Zion Lutheran Church in Hardwick, for our Lord declares that as many of us as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. This blessed gift our Lord gave to Carl and buried him in the death of his Savior Jesus. In his Baptism, Carl was buried in the death of Christ with the promise that He would raise him again.

Our Lord never forgot or reneged on His promise to Carl, and Carl was brought up in the faith that was once delivered to the saints. He confessed his Christian faith publicly in the words of the Creeds, in which he stated his belief in God the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ his Lord, and in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. He further acknowledged God’s gift to him in one Baptism for the remission of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

A little over two years ago, I started going to Falls Landing twice a month for chapel services. That’s when I met Carl. I could tell right away that he was a friendly man. I found out that we had many things in common. He had been in the grocery business for many years; for a couple of years I was overnight grocery support manager at Walmart. He was also a Viking fan, a lover of music and fishing. And I could tell his family was his greatest joy. The last couple of times I saw him, Carl was excited about a planned trip to see his family in Washington.

More importantly, we talked about Jesus. Carl told me that he was a Christian, but it had been a long time since he had been a member of a church. A lifelong lover of music, Carl was always eager to pick most of the hymns that we would sing that day. You’ve just heard two of them that seemed to be among his favorites: Just as I Am and Amazing Grace.

After a couple of months of getting to know Carl better, I asked him if he would like to have a church home. I told him I realized he may never be able to make it to the church building, but I said that we would love to keep bringing the Church to him. After a short period of instruction, we welcomed Carl as a member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Pipestone through reaffirmation of faith.  

With his fellow saints at Falls Landing, Carl confessed the Christian faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Carl confessed his sins and received Christ’s absolution. Carl received Jesus’ very body and blood for the forgiveness of his sins. Carl heard Christ’s Word of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. The COVID lockdown has prevented me from visiting Carl, but I tried to keep in touch, sending him monthly newsletters and copies of my sermons each week.

God promises that His Word does not return to Him empty, even when we can’t measure the results with our limited human minds and sinful hearts. Sometimes it takes root and flourishes continuously. Other times in takes root for a season and then the busyness of the world choke it out, or the troubles and trial seem to dry it up. But His Word does bear fruit.

The Lord Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. He came to His people to redeem them. Our heavenly Father sent Jesus, His only Son, and through His passion, crucifixion, and glorious resurrection, Christ reconciled the whole world, Carl included, to Himself. He bought him back from sin and the power of the grave not with gold or silver, but with His own precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. Through the power of Christ’s death, He has forever destroyed death, and all the dead will be raised on the final day.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and died for Carl’s sins, as well as the sins of every person here. Though the wages of sin is death, as we are grimly reminded today, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. He died for you. He died for me. And He died for Carl. He paid the price for all of our transgressions, and He gives the promise of everlasting life to all who would believe in Him.

May you continue to find comfort and hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ until the day you are reunited with Carl and all who have died in the faith, in the presence of our Lord. In the Name of our crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ. 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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Sermons, Uncategorized

Blessed Indeed: Sermon for the Funeral of Bonnie Muller

Click here to listen to this sermon.

“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit. ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:13).

Randy, Greg, Daniel, Mitchell, family and friends here today, and those watching livestream: Grace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

I pray that you will find comfort and hope in the Word of God we have before us today. For, in times such as this, that is all we really have. There are no human words that can be said, no human actions that can be done, that can give you hope and comfort outside of the Good News of the resurrection of our Lord. And that is simply fine, for Christ promises, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The Word of the Lord that I’ve chosen to share with you today is based on the Gospel reading from Matthew you just heard a few minutes ago, the portion known as “The Beatitudes,” or blessings, and one verse of the Book of Revelation. Both passages speak of Christians being blessed.

I’m sure today you don’t feel very blessed, but to be blessed has little to do with our feelings and is actually based on the actions of God in Christ Jesus. As often happens, Jesus works from an entirely different perspective of what it means to be “blessed” than you or I normally do. And I think it’s quite safe to say that when Jesus seems to have a different understanding about something, it is we who need to learn and correct our understanding, not He. So, let’s look first at what it really means to be blessed.

A new family has just joined the church. The father had a job promotion to the corporate office. The family now has a high enough income that they have bought a home in a nice neighborhood and the mother can stay home and care for the kids. Upon meeting them, they cannot help but share with you how “blessed” they are by God. A young woman gets accepted to a prestigious medical school. She is about to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor and she cannot help but tell everyone how “blessed” she is by God. After two years of terrible weather and low prices, the farmer is asked by his pastor how this year’s harvest looks. He can’t help but say, “Pastor, it’s our best crop ever. The Lord has really blessed us!”

Reading her obituary, you and I would likely say that Bonnie, for most part, lived a very blessed life. Raised in a loving family. Married for 30 years to Randy. The mother of her three boys—Greg, Daniel, and Mitchell—who loved to pick on her. A successful career at Citibank for 38 years. Teacher of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Community volunteer. Duet partner with Ed Dock. Loving daughter and good friend. Bonnie was blessed in many ways and you have all been blessed to have her in your life.

Indeed, God does work many material blessings in the lives of people—all people. It is good to give God thanks and praise for such things. The problem, however, is when we limit our thanks and praise only to those situations. God’s blessing becomes something that looks a lot like the America dream… and not everyone experiences that blessing.

What about the young woman who did not get into medical school and now lives with her parents and works part-time at a convenience store? What about the father who was passed over for a promotion or lost his job and the family now needs to downsize? What about the farmer who is unable to plant half of his acreage because of unprecedented rainfall and flooding? What about the husband and sons and mother and others who mourn the death of their loved one at so young an age? Can such people be blessed? Is God still at work in their lives?

The way we usually use the word “blessed” would lead us to say, “No.” But then Jesus comes and radically changes our view of how God works. He does it through His opening words of our Gospel, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

These are the people who have nothing to offer God. The publican who hides in the corner of the temple and will not dare raise his eyes to Heaven. The widow who walks out of the city taking part in the funeral procession of her son. The demon-possessed man who lives among the tombs and knows he does not belong in the city. Blessed are these people. The people who have nothing, who can do nothing, who are nothing, blessed are these people. Why? Because Jesus sees them, comes to them, and promises them that they have a God who makes something out of nothing.

Jesus continues: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This mourning expresses sorrow over sin, one’s own sins and over all the consequences of sin in this world. This includes the troubles and tribulations of this life and finally the just wages of sin, namely, death. Sin deserves both temporal and eternal death, and there can be no greater sorrow than this.

But those who mourn can now be comforted. As Christians, we do not mourn like those who have no hope, for God has given us hope. He promises and provides comfort and hope in every tribulation and finally eternal life for Jesus’ sake. “He will wipe away ever tear from [your] eyes” (Revelation 21:4).  

I know it’s hard to believe on a day like today. Comfort seems so far away. Today, tears and weeping are perfectly acceptable. They are a natural response to a great loss. Jesus wept at the death of His friend, Lazarus, even though He knew He was going to raise him back to life in a few moments. As you sit here today, everything has happened so quickly, you haven’t had much time to process it. The days of mourning for Bonnie will go on for a long time, perhaps until the day you die. But you have this promise of the Lord: In the resurrection, “death shall be no more, neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” and Bonnie, and you, and I, and everyone who has ever lived and died in the Lord will live in His presence for eternity.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” With these stunning words, Jesus turns everything right-side-up. Jesus looks upon people, real people, just as we are, amid the suffering and complexity of this life and He brings God’s blessing.

Jesus breaks through our barriers in His Beatitudes. He shatters our conceptions of the blessed life and opens the Kingdom of God to all believers. Why? Because the favor of God comes freely, graciously, to all people in Him. Jesus took the cross, an instrument of shame and torture, and transformed it into the gate of Heaven. All sin is forgiven in Him. All suffering is overcome by Him. All death is swallowed up in Him. All the promises of God are and will ultimately be, “Yes,” in Him.

What a blessing it is today to remember what it means to be blessed! The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see how God comes in Jesus into the sinful and suffering messes of our lives and works to bring about His new creation. And in Christ, you are and ever will be eternally blessed.

Which leads us to confess the final beatitude of the day, perhaps the hardest to believe from Revelation 14:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit. ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”

Just as the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount challenge us to look at things from God’s point of view, so also this blessing challenges us, in the face of death, to see things from God’s perspective. At the moment of death, the Lamb’s followers have His victory. The victory of the Lamb is given to all who die in faith. For now, to us left here, that victory is an article of faith, something not seen but quite real and true. But Bonnie is now experiencing that victory in the presence of the Lord and will share it fully—body and soul—on the Day of Resurrection with you and me and all who trust in Christ as Lord and Savior.

Bonnie was baptized and raised in the church. She trusted in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She confessed that faith publicly in confirmation and continues to confess that faith up to the day she died. And now she rests from her labors. She was and is blessed indeed. You are too. All are blessed who live and die in the Lord.

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.

“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit. ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:13).

Randy, Greg, Daniel, Mitchell, family and friends here today, and those watching livestream: Grace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

I pray that you will find comfort and hope in the Word of God we have before us today. For, in times such as this, that is all we really have. There are no human words that can be said, no human actions that can be done, that can give you hope and comfort outside of the Good News of the resurrection of our Lord. And that is simply fine, for Christ promises, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

The Word of the Lord that I’ve chosen to share with you today is based on the Gospel reading from Matthew you just heard a few minutes ago, the portion known as “The Beatitudes,” or blessings, and one verse of the Book of Revelation. Both passages speak of Christians being blessed.

I’m sure today you don’t feel very blessed, but to be blessed has little to do with our feelings and is actually based on the actions of God in Christ Jesus. As often happens, Jesus works from an entirely different perspective of what it means to be “blessed” than you or I normally do. And I think it’s quite safe to say that when Jesus seems to have a different understanding about something, it is we who need to learn and correct our understanding, not He. So, let’s look first at what it really means to be blessed.

A new family has just joined the church. The father had a job promotion to the corporate office. The family now has a high enough income that they have bought a home in a nice neighborhood and the mother can stay home and care for the kids. Upon meeting them, they cannot help but share with you how “blessed” they are by God. A young woman gets accepted to a prestigious medical school. She is about to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor and she cannot help but tell everyone how “blessed” she is by God. After two years of terrible weather and low prices, the farmer is asked by his pastor how this year’s harvest looks. He can’t help but say, “Pastor, it’s our best crop ever. The Lord has really blessed us!”

Reading her obituary, you and I would likely say that Bonnie, for most part, lived a very blessed life. Raised in a loving family. Married for 30 years to Randy. The mother of her three boys—Greg, Daniel, and Mitchell—who loved to pick on her. A successful career at Citibank for 38 years. Teacher of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. Community volunteer. Duet partner with Ed Dock. Loving daughter and good friend. Bonnie was blessed in many ways and you have all been blessed to have her in your life.

Indeed, God does work many material blessings in the lives of people—all people. It is good to give God thanks and praise for such things. The problem, however, is when we limit our thanks and praise only to those situations. God’s blessing becomes something that looks a lot like the America dream… and not everyone experiences that blessing.

What about the young woman who did not get into medical school and now lives with her parents and works part-time at a convenience store? What about the father who was passed over for a promotion or lost his job and the family now needs to downsize? What about the farmer who is unable to plant half of his acreage because of unprecedented rainfall and flooding? What about the husband and sons and mother and others who mourn the death of their loved one at so young an age? Can such people be blessed? Is God still at work in their lives?

The way we usually use the word “blessed” would lead us to say, “No.” But then Jesus comes and radically changes our view of how God works. He does it through His opening words of our Gospel, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

These are the people who have nothing to offer God. The publican who hides in the corner of the temple and will not dare raise his eyes to Heaven. The widow who walks out of the city taking part in the funeral procession of her son. The demon-possessed man who lives among the tombs and knows he does not belong in the city. Blessed are these people. The people who have nothing, who can do nothing, who are nothing, blessed are these people. Why? Because Jesus sees them, comes to them, and promises them that they have a God who makes something out of nothing.

Jesus continues: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This mourning expresses sorrow over sin, one’s own sins and over all the consequences of sin in this world. This includes the troubles and tribulations of this life and finally the just wages of sin, namely, death. Sin deserves both temporal and eternal death, and there can be no greater sorrow than this.

But those who mourn can now be comforted. As Christians, we do not mourn like those who have no hope, for God has given us hope. He promises and provides comfort and hope in every tribulation and finally eternal life for Jesus’ sake. “He will wipe away ever tear from [your] eyes” (Revelation 21:4).  

I know it’s hard to believe on a day like today. Comfort seems so far away. Today, tears and weeping are perfectly acceptable. They are a natural response to a great loss. Jesus wept at the death of His friend, Lazarus, even though He knew He was going to raise him back to life in a few moments. As you sit here today, everything has happened so quickly, you haven’t had much time to process it. The days of mourning for Bonnie will go on for a long time, perhaps until the day you die. But you have this promise of the Lord: In the resurrection, “death shall be no more, neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” and Bonnie, and you, and I, and everyone who has ever lived and died in the Lord will live in His presence for eternity.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… who hunger and thirst for righteousness… the merciful… the pure in heart… the peacemakers… those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” With these stunning words, Jesus turns everything right-side-up. Jesus looks upon people, real people, just as we are, amid the suffering and complexity of this life and He brings God’s blessing.

Jesus breaks through our barriers in His Beatitudes. He shatters our conceptions of the blessed life and opens the Kingdom of God to all believers. Why? Because the favor of God comes freely, graciously, to all people in Him. Jesus took the cross, an instrument of shame and torture, and transformed it into the gate of Heaven. All sin is forgiven in Him. All suffering is overcome by Him. All death is swallowed up in Him. All the promises of God are and will ultimately be, “Yes,” in Him.

What a blessing it is today to remember what it means to be blessed! The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see how God comes in Jesus into the sinful and suffering messes of our lives and works to bring about His new creation. And in Christ, you are and ever will be eternally blessed.

Which leads us to confess the final beatitude of the day, perhaps the hardest to believe from Revelation 14:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit. ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”

Just as the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount challenge us to look at things from God’s point of view, so also this blessing challenges us, in the face of death, to see things from God’s perspective. At the moment of death, the Lamb’s followers have His victory. The victory of the Lamb is given to all who die in faith. For now, to us left here, that victory is an article of faith, something not seen but quite real and true. But Bonnie is now experiencing that victory in the presence of the Lord and will share it fully—body and soul—on the Day of Resurrection with you and me and all who trust in Christ as Lord and Savior.

Bonnie was baptized and raised in the church. She trusted in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She confessed that faith publicly in confirmation and continues to confess that faith up to the day she died. And now she rests from her labors. She was and is blessed indeed. You are too. All are blessed who live and die in the Lord.

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.

Sermons, Uncategorized

A Lamb of the Good Shepherd: A Sermon for the Funeral of Elaine Rieck

“The Good Shepherd” by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Click here to listen to this sermon.

[Jesus said:] “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep… My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:11-15, 27–30).

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

Given what is going on in the world, the death of Elaine Eva Lou Rieck might be considered just another statistic. But those of you gathered here today know better. Elaine was much more than just a statistic. She was the faithful wife of Ray for 65 years. The loving mother of Rosalyn, Lynette, Gerald, and David. Grandmother. Great-grandmother. Neighbor. Friend.

Elaine was proud to be a pioneer—the first female bus driver in Edgerton way back in 1962. She loved dancing, sewing, crocheting, gardening, playing pinochle, and jigsaw puzzles. I knew that if I couldn’t find Elaine in her room, she was probably at one of the tables putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Elaine liked to talk about her family, farming, fishing and how much she loved this little church whenever I visited her over the last seven years.

But more important than all that, Elaine was a child of God, a beloved lamb of the Good Shepherd. Many of the most important days of her life happened right here at St. John’s. Elaine was baptized here into the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on July 7, 1929. She publicly confessed her Christian faith in the Rite of Confirmation here on April 18, 1943. She was united in Holy Matrimony to Ray here on November 16, 1945.

And for many years, Elaine came here to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd through His Word and to receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith. When she could no longer get herself here, her pastor brought the Church to her. So, it is fitting that we be here today, even as we mourn her death, to speak of Elaine’s faith and, more important, to hear of her Good Shepherd and His work of salvation even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of her death.

The body of Elaine lying inside this casket is precisely the reason Jesus was sent into the world. Now death was not a part of God’s good creation. But death entered the world through sin. When the first man and woman ate of the forbidden fruit, the curse of death corrupted all of creation. Man, who was made of the dust would die and return to the dust from which he was created. And the mortality rate for all humans since that time has been 100%. Death needs a cure; but where is one to be found?

Science cannot cure death. There is no technology, no miracle drugs, no vaccinations capable of preventing, stopping, or reversing death. There are no magic formulae, no mystical incantations, no enigmatic talismans, no alignment of stars that can cure death. There is no passionate human love nor lily-white personal sincerity nor Herculean individual effort that can cure death. Elaine held on valiantly to life here for 91 years, but she could not defeat death. You cannot defeat death. Neither can I.

Only One could cure death. Only One could make right that horrible first human death, righteous Abel, and every death in between, right down to this one before us today: the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who laid down His life to defeat death.

It is written, though little believed in the world, that God the Father said to the very first human, “In the day that you eat of [the fruit] you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And it is written, and even less believed by the world, that God the Father’s promised cure for death came from “the Seed of the woman.”

And so it came to be in the passage of time, that the cure for death was born of the Virgin Mary. This Seed lived a life of perfect obedience and love, and then He willingly laid down His life on a cross, exchanging His righteousness for our sin, and rising to life again on the third day.

Jesus’ death and resurrection defeats death. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep to take it up again. That’s how death was defeated. That’s how Elaine gains eternal life. That’s how Elaine never perishes. That’s how Elaine cannot be snatched from the hand of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

He who has no faith in Jesus, the Good Shepherd, could look at this casket, this body, these family members with their tears and sorrows and ask, “Who is your Good Shepherd in whom you believe that you shall never perish?”

You answer simply, but boldly: Jesus. There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved. The Father has put all things under Jesus’ feet. That includes death. Death is now a footstool to Jesus.

But then, why the reality of what we see here? This casket? This lifeless body? Sin. Sin still ravages the body. Sin still has its teeth in our flesh. But you must not put your eyes on your sin. Put them rather on Jesus. Indeed, hate your sins, detest your sin, curse your sin, but fix your eyes on “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How? By becoming sin for you. By taking on your punishment. By dying your death. A death that did not have dominion over Jesus. A death that could not hold Jesus in the grave. Three days after Jesus laid down His life, the Father vindicated the Son. He was raised from the dead.

St. Paul reminds us: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God” (Romans 6:9-10).

You and I must still live in the flesh for now. Elaine has put hers off. On Saturday, the Lord Jesus said to Elaine, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (cf. Luke 23:43). Her soul is with all the saints, awaiting the resurrection of her body when it will be fashioned to be like the Lord Jesus’ glorious body (Philippians 3:21). Since Elaine believed in the forgiveness of her sin in this life, she now has new life, eternal life, Jesus’ life. Elaine has new life because of her Good Shepherd, and she shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20–21).

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

Depart in Peace: Sermon for the Funeral of Melvin Brockberg

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1skddtLleyX_RGiVZIy_9UZiNFyhtwEce/view?usp=sharing

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

Now that he now longer is here on this earth, we have only our memories of him. We close our eyes and can almost picture him, can’t we? No flashy, fancy clothes, no big, expensive car, no excesses of luxury, no political aspirations. He was an ordinary man, devout in his faith, humble in his attitude. You didn’t read about him in the newspapers all the time, but his name was written in the Book of Life. He knew of his salvation—that it was not something he could bring about. Like each of us, he had broken God’s commandments. He had failed to do the good he should do and had often done what he shouldn’t. But, by God’s grace, he had heard the good news of the Savior and believed it. He did not look to himself for his own righteousness or eternal salvation. Rather, the Lord was his hope; the Lord God was, and is, his future, his eternity.

We know for certain that he was a righteous man, though we also know that his righteousness was not from himself. Rather, when he was brought into the Church through the Word of God, then the Lord’s righteousness was given to him as a gift. Forgiveness of all sins, eternal life, salvation from death, and deliverance from the Evil One are all part of the blessings that God had declared to him. He became an heir of heaven and all the riches of the Lord God Almighty.

As he faced an uncertain death, he might well have agreed with the Apostle Paul as he thought about continuing to live in this world of disappointment and suffering, or to simply die. Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain… Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23).

How many times had he thought of the 23rd Psalm? How often did he recall and rely on the part where the writer speaks, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me?” How often had he awakened in the night thinking of his life and thinking of the Promise of God, which had been given to him?

We don’t know, do we? For those thoughts of his are like yours and mine—very personal, known only by oneself and by the Lord. What we do know is that the Lord was with him during his travels through all of the valleys, at his bedside when he had bad dreams, with him when he received news that was less than comforting, and keeping him close even at the moment of his death.

Dear family and friends of our departed brother in Christ, Melvin: the only thing that is able to keep us going in tough times is the promise of God given to us in His Son. That promise was given to that man I’ve been speaking of, the man from the Bible named Simeon, the man who is now with the Lord in heaven. And it sustained him during his entire life. It is his story in Luke 2:25-32 that provides our text for today under the theme: “Depart in Peace.”

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now You are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.’”

In a special revelation given by the Holy Spirit, Simeon had been given the promise of God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. That special day came for Simeon when Mary and Joseph entered the temple with the Christ Child. Simeon was given the wonderful privilege of actually holding Jesus. What the universe could not contain was held in the arms of one man. Simeon embraced his Savior, his Salvation, his Redeemer, his Lord. He held eternity in his hands.

Dear people, is a baby able to be that and to do that? Well, this was not just any baby being held. This was the Baby—the Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity and the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary. The Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head. This little One would grow up to tell you that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life … that no one is able to come to the Father except by Him … that He came to lay down His life for you.

This Baby held in Simeon’s arms, would grow up for the specific purpose of taking his place and ours upon the cross. No, He did not look forward to His own death. Unlike you and Melvin and me, Jesus knew exactly how He was going to die. Jesus knew He would experience hell itself. Why, He even prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Jesus lived a perfect, holy and righteous life in our place. He died our death and atoned for our sins. He suffered hell so that we might not have to. He rose up from His grave as He defeated death. The tomb could not hold Him; nor will it hold those who fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. He promised to be with us, always, even to the end of the age, as He ascended into heaven to His rightful place as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

From there, in Paradise, He awaited Simeon. He awaited Melvin. He awaits you and me. The Lord looked down from above and knew that Simeon would not see death until his eyes had seen the Lord’s Christ. Having stood in the Temple and seen Him, Simeon could depart in peace. And, no doubt, one day Simeon did depart in peace, according to the Word and will of the Lord.

Simeon reminds me of Melvin. Here was a quiet, unassuming man, so inconspicuous that few but the closest to him really knew that much about him. If you look in his scrapbook, you can see that he made the newspaper a few times in his life: when he got married to Dorothy, when he moved a big dairy barn to his farm, and when he sold a cow that had an image of Mickey Mouse on its side to Disney World. Melvin was a private man. As far as I can tell not many folks even knew he was going on the Midwest Honor Flight last week. But we do know this most important thing about Melvin: As with Simeon, the Lord looked down on Melvin and knew he would not die until he had seen the Lord.

And Melvin did see Him. Through the Word of God at his Baptism, Melvin saw the crucified and risen Christ. Having received the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, Melvin could’ve departed in peace as a tiny baby. But that was not the Lord’s will. Through the Word of God, Melvin peered into the manger and saw the Good News of great joy—the Savior of the world. He saw the sinless Son of God hanging on the cross for his sins. Having seen the Lord, Melvin could have departed in peace after his confirmation day, or when he served in the United States Army during the Korean War, or the day he married Dorothy, or during one of his bouts of pneumonia, or any time in between. But that was not the Lord’s will. None of those times were the right time for Melvin.

When would it be? Not one of us knew until last Thursday. Of course, God from on high knew when it would be all along. And He knew that Thursday was the day for Melvin to depart in peace and spend eternity in Paradise. God, in His great mercy and love, permitted Melvin to die suddenly, without lingering illness or incapacitation such a short time after some of us had joined in worship in the chapel service at Falls Landing and he told us how he so looked forward to the Midwest Honor Flight.

For Melvin, there is now, no pain, no sorrow, no suffering. No more earthly hurts, conflicts, or grudges, no more struggle with sin, no more guilt over past mistakes. He has departed in peace according to the Word of God. The promise had been given and Melvin believed and trusted in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Last Thursday all things were ready in heaven and on earth for Melvin to depart in peace.

From there in Paradise, Jesus awaits for the Last Day, when He will raise the bodies of all the dead. He’ll take all believers with Him to the new heaven and new earth, where they’ll live forever in glorious, resurrected bodies, with clean hearts and sinless souls. This promise is good whether you believe it or not. The heavenly riches are there whether you believe it or not. Jesus died for you whether you believe it or not.

For those who do believe in Jesus, trust Him, and follow Him, well, you may depart in peace because your eyes have seen Him. Oh, it’s not that Christians look forward to dying. Christians do not especially want to die any more than anyone else. I know I don’t. But a very wise Christian woman said something like this: “It is not the dying that bothers me, it is the struggle to keep on living that is so hard.” So from God’s point of view, the view that both Simeon and Melvin now have, any day is a good day to die. The Christian may, indeed, depart in peace.

Sadly, for those who never knew Jesus, or who no longer believe in Him, or who’ve wandered away from Him, there really is no good day to die. Because on that day Jesus will say to them, “Depart…. depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the Name of the God’s one and only Son.

Isaiah the prophet gives good counsel to each of us: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near.” The Apostle Paul encourages the same: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

According to God’s Word, Melvin believed and was baptized. No, like each of us he was not perfect, he was not without sin. But by the grace of God, Melvin was declared righteous and having salvation for Jesus’ sake. With the Word, Melvin lived his life of faith in the Church. Through the Word of God, Melvin received Christ at Holy Communion. He received the very body of Jesus born of Mary—the very blood of Jesus shed on the cross. And for perhaps a thousand times after the Lord’s Supper, along with the entire congregation and all the company of heaven, Melvin sang Simeon’s song: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Thy people Israel.”

How about you? Will you depart in peace like Simeon or Melvin? You can, you know! Those of you who seek the Lord, who have heard and believe the good news of our Savior Jesus Christ can depart from this sanctuary in peace, knowing you have been declared righteous, knowing that those sins and offenses you’ve suffered at the hands of others have been redeemed in the blood of the Lamb, knowing you have salvation and eternal life because are forgiven of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 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.