Sermons, Uncategorized

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.

 

Sermons, Uncategorized

“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.

 

Uncategorized

The Resurrection and the Life Have the Last Word at the Cemetery

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“The Resurrection of Lazarus” by James I. Tissot

Click here to listen to this sermon.

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

Each of you here today has a special connection to Jerry and/or his family. That’s why you’re here. You’ve loved him, liked him, lived with him. You’ve worked with him in his role as City Finance Officer; he has been your neighbor or friend or family. For over forty years, I had the privilege of calling Jerry my friend, one of my best friends.

The first time I met Jerry was at South Dakota Agriculture Youth Institute in Brookings. We were assigned as roommates. The first thing Jerry said to me was “I need to tell you that I’m a diabetic so that if you walk in here and see me with a syringe you don’t think I’m a junkie.” A couple of years later, we were roommates as we attended the ag program at Mitchell Vo-tech. When I was foolish enough to binge drink tequila the night of my twentieth birthday, Jerry was one of the only ones to stay at the hospital until my parents got there.

We served as attendants in each other’s wedding. And he was a godparent for my youngest daughter. As the years went by, Jerry and I didn’t see each other much, (too often it seems that when we did it involved doctors or funeral homes,) but whenever we got together, it didn’t take long to pick up right where we left off.

Jerry and I saw each other at our best; we saw each other at our worst. And I suppose from a worldly perspective this must be about the worst. I was surprised, but not totally shocked, to receive the call from Chelsea that Jerry had died. After all, Jerry had battled with health issues for most of his life. But I didn’t realize just how ill Jerry was, and I feel bad about that because it would have been good for us to have another visit—to catch up on life, and to catch up on things eternal. Now, I feel a little like the disciples and Mary and Martha thought of Jesus when His friend, Lazarus, died; that it seems like I’ve shown up a few days too late.

But I’m thankful that Jerry requested me to lead this service. Through the years, Jerry and his family have been in my daily prayers, and I pray that God would use this time so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. While I no longer have the opportunity to speak with Jerry, I do have the opportunity to speak with you, to share the only words that can bring true comfort in a time like this.

What words? Words like Jesus’ words in our text from John 11:25, where He meets His grieving friends at the cemetery and says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

“Do you believe this?” He asks Martha, looking for an extemporaneous confession of faith. But a cemetery is a hard place to confess. It may be an easy place to open your eyes and weep, to open your mind and reminisce, to open your arms and embrace. But it’s not an easy place to open your mouth and say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” A cemetery is a hard place to confess.

Why is that? Is it simply because our emotions get the best of us? Is it because we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, so we don’t say anything at all? Perhaps. But I suspect there’s more to it than that. I suspect a cemetery is a hard place to confess because that place, more than any other, seems to be the enemy’s public trophy case. Every tombstone appears to be another plaque on death’s wall. There it seems that no matter how valiantly we fight for life, death always comes out on top. He always throws the knockout punch. He always wins the gold. A cemetery itself seems to confess, “You, O mortal, have lost.”

At least, that is the way it seems to be, the way it looks to the naked human eye. Looks, however, can be quite deceiving, can’t they? The naked human eye sees the cemetery, the coffin, the corpse, and man is easily deceived into thinking death has won once again.

Ah, but therein lies the problem: the naked human eye. What that naked eye needs is clothing, that kind of clothing that will enable it to see through the deceptions of death, to see beyond the cemetery, the coffin, and the corpse, to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. What that naked, human, easily deceived eye needs is to be clothed with these words from the mouth of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” A cemetery may be a hard place to confess, but with that simple confession, a cemetery is no longer seen as a place of defeat, but a place of victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just ask Mary and Martha. These two sisters, also friends of our Lord, sent for Him when their brother Lazarus fell ill. They waited and they waited, and finally He came. But it was too late (at least it seemed that way). Lazarus was already dead. The sickness had moved too quickly, and Jesus had delayed coming until Lazarus was not only dead, but buried and in the tomb four days.

When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, it seemed that everyone was pointing an accusing finger at Him. Three times Jesus was told, “If only You had been here, Lazarus would still be alive.” Martha, at least, held out a tiny hope that Jesus might still do something, anything, to help. She said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.” When Jesus told Martha that her brother shall rise again, she responded, “I know that He will rise again in the resurrection on the Last Day.”

In saying this, Martha confessed the truth, but she did not confess the whole truth. For the whole truth of the Christian faith is not just in something that will be, but in someone who is; not just in a distant hope, but in a present reality; not just in a future salvation, but in a salvation here-and-now. The truth of the Christian faith is an embodied truth, a flesh-and-blood truth in the one who says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

“Do you believe this?” Jesus asks. Martha responds, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” Martha doesn’t know what that all means, but she trusts that Jesus is the Savior.

Jesus goes to the tomb, deeply moved and weeping. Behold your Savior, the God who cries at funerals. Even though He knows He will raise Lazarus from the dead in just moments, He hurts with Mary and Martha because they hurt. Please be assured: As we gather here today, Jesus hurts with you as well in your grief.

Who Christ is will become clear in that cemetery near Bethany. Martha didn’t want the stone rolled back; Lazarus had been dead four days. But at Jesus’ insistence, she relented and the tomb was opened.

Truth be told, amid that crowd gathered at the cemetery, the only one who completely believed in Christ’s power over death was the dead man. He alone truly heeded the voice of Christ. Mary had heard, and the crowd had heard, yet their hearts were still crowded with doubt and grief. But the dead man, he believed; Lazarus heeded the Word of Christ. “Lazarus, come forth,” Jesus called out. And so he did. He, who is the resurrection and life, who is resurrected, raised Lazarus. The man who had died came out of the tomb. That dead man who now lived was a living trophy of Christ’s victory over the enemy called death.

A cemetery is a hard place to confess, unless standing beside you is the One who stands triumphant upon the neck of death. That place of graves is a hard place to confess, unless He who rose from His own grave lives within you and within the one whose body is laid to rest. This is true, not just in a cemetery, but in any place in this fallen world in which we see with the naked human eye only loss, heartache, and defeat. In those places, that naked, human, easily-deceived eye needs to be clothed with these words from the mouth of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25).

You are mourning right now. And some of you will be mourning for years to come. When a man like Jerry Jones goes out of your life it leaves a hole. But I pray that this text gives you comfort. Christ has died and Christ is risen from the dead. He is not the resurrection and the life only in the past, as if He retired from that after raising Lazarus from the dead. He is not the resurrection and the life only in the future, on the Last Day. He is the resurrection and life, now and forevermore.

Where Jesus is, life is. And whenever He is present forgiving sins, He is also present giving life. By His forgiveness, He already declares that eternal life is yours, for He has done all to accomplish it by His death and resurrection. In baptism, Jesus declares, “Come out! Come out of the bondage of sin, for I make you My beloved child this day! Come out of death, for I am the resurrection and the life—and I make you alive forever by water and the Word.”

The resurrection at the font is a greater miracle than the one of Lazarus at the tomb: Jesus gave physical life back to Lazarus’ body, but that life would be lost again—Lazarus’ body would die again. Jesus gives eternal life to you in the water and Word. Unless the Lord returns, your body will eventually die. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, your soul will not: you are alive forever, and the Lord will raise your body up, too, on the Last Day.

This true for you. It is also true for those you mourn who died in the faith. Those who died in the faith are not dead, because the Lord is not the Lord of the dead but of the living. Their bodies rest in the grave for now, but they live even now with Christ in heaven. You have His promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

Do you believe this?

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.