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Sermon for the Funeral of +Robert Hedges+

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

April 15, 2014

 

The text for this sermon is 1 Corinthians 15:51-57.

The audio for this sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below.

 

Resurrection by Raffaelino del Garbo, 1510

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

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’ 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

St. Paul, the author of this passage of Scripture, was writing to a group of Christians that were confused about what happens when believers die.  They lived in a world where various pagan ideas about life after death swirled around their heads competing with one another and thus taking away any comfort that God would have for his people in the face of the power and pain of death.  The whole of chapter 15, the resurrection chapter, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is really this climactic “Hallelujah Chorus” kind of movement for the whole letter.  If we tune out the competing voices of the world around us and listen closely to what is happening today, we can be assured of what God has done for Bob and what God does for us all in Christ.  Just a moment ago, we said together that line in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe… in the resurrection of the body.”  And we heard in this reading that the perishable puts on imperishability, the mortal, immortality.  And just before that we heard in the Gospel that resurrection has already happened once, for Jesus.  His body was raised and changed to a new glorified body.  And the promise from Romans 6 is that what God has already done for Jesus in His resurrection, He will do for Bob, and He will do for all those who hear these words and trust in them.  If chapter 15 is that great “Ode to Joy” movement for this letter, then the last lines of chapter 15, is really the last full-throated “Hallelujah!” of the chapter.  As such it makes for an excellent text for our meditation today at the service of Christian burial for our brother in Christ, your husband, father, brother, and grandfather Bob.

I’ve only been here at Heavenly Host a little short of a year but in that time I came to know Bob a little, enough to know what he was like and what was important to him.  One of the first home visits I made was to the then president of the congregation, as Bob was at the time, even though he’d just endured a very long hospitalization and had recently returned home.  We chatted for as long as his strength held out that day.  He was still very concerned about the congregation even from a hospital bed at home.  Before long he and Barb were back in church siting in the back, and the elders and I would bring communion to them in the seat.  Receiving the Lord’s Supper was very important to Bob.  After he had the feeding tube put in, it was really the only thing he ate, a little corner off the host and just a touch of his lips to the little cup and the wine carrying the blood of the risen Christ into his still very visibly mortal body.  The rest of the nourishment his body needed came by a tube.  But medicine of immortality still came by the mouth God gave him.  Bob cared about more than just the life of this organization called Heavenly Host Church, he cared deeply about the life of faith as a committed follower of Jesus Christ.

If we do anything wrong in the Church, and I don’t necessarily mean just here I mean in the broader Christian Church, if we do anything wrong especially at times like this when we lose someone very near and dear to us all, what we do wrong is we probably don’t grieve properly together.  Instead of enduring together the tidal waves of pain as they come, we try to jump over them too quickly to say things that sound comforting but don’t really do justice to the reality of our pain.  Along with Barb, Bob was an active Stephen’s Minister, a program for deeply caring for others in the midst of great need, often that need is a time like this.  Grief.  Stephen Ministers receive many, many hours of training to learn to stand with others and hold their hands as they endure the waves of stinging pain that come in the wake of a death and hold on to them so they are not swept out to sea when the flood of pain recedes.  A Stephen Minister is trained not to say the glib cliché that sound like comfort.  They are trained to help share the burden and endure the reality knowing that our Lord Jesus Christ endured it all, even the pain of death itself to provide a victory over death for us all.

And the broader Church today is not really that much different from that little congregation in ancient Corinth.  We are tempted to believe that this funeral service is just the Christian way to celebrate the life of someone we loved.  We are tempted to believe that this service, this ritual is just a way to wrestle with something that is beyond our comprehension or a way we can find some closure.  That is what the psychologists and the anthropologists say but it’s not what God says.  Do you ever notice when you read the Scriptures that death is never treated like it’s the natural order of things?  God did not intend for Adam and Eve to die.  It’s not part of the circle of life.  Death was the curse they brought on themselves for their rebellion against God’s goodness.  And so when Paul trumpets God’s victory over death in Christ Jesus, he makes sure we know that what he says is in line with the whole of the Scriptures.  And just as God had given glimpses of His victory over death as the enemies of His people were defeated, the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and many others, now the ultimate enemy of God’s people, death has been swallowed up in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  So here, Paul quotes two passages from the prophets Isaiah and Hosea.  But the truth of Jesus’ resurrection is bigger than two proof texts.  The whole arc of the narrative of God’s revelation to His people was given to confirm the action of the creator God to destroy the power of death, in Christ Jesus, for Bob for us all.

That’s the message of Christian faith in the face of death.  Death claims a victory and the pagan world shrugs its shoulders and calls it part of the circle of life.  The Christian claim is that God has already done a new thing in Jesus Christ, and that God will do it for all Jesus’ people.  And in that new thing, death and decay will be gone, swallowed up forever.

I’ll tell you the truth.  Bob was a good man when measured against men but he would be the first to tell you, he was a sinner like you and me.  We know that’s the case because, as have it here, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”  Sin is the way death works.  And sin is that darkness that entices us to rebellion, to turn away from the life-giver God.  But through our Lord Jesus, God has given us the victory over all the powers that drag us down, he will give it to us in the future, and He is giving it to us here and now. [1]

Here and now.  This is probably the other area where we in the Church have messed up, really for a long time.  Paul talks about how this Good News of Jesus victory over death is a present reality and how do we talk?  “Oh, this is a wonderful thing we can look forward to, some day when we get to heaven.”  No.  The truth of the resurrection of the dead is not just about a future hope.  It’s about the present significance of what we are and do.  If it is true that God is going to transform this present world and raise even our bodies to new life in it, then what we do in the present time with our bodies and with our world matters.  For too long, Christians have been content to separate future hope from present responsibility, but that doesn’t hold because Jesus came to bring the Good News to this world not just news of a future world.  I don’t know if Bob would have fully articulated such a theology but that theology was articulated in him by the Creator and Redeemer of this world because of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him.

Perhaps here is one of the greatest encouragements for all Christians who do what they do in the name of the Lord, that all the God-given tasks they do ‘in the Lord’ during this present time matter, will stand for all time in the mind of God.  How God takes our prayer, our act of kindness, our love toward Him and one another, our daily work, our whole selves, how God will take it and work it into the other strands of the beautiful tapestry of His new creation, we can at present have no idea.  THAT He will do so is part of the truth and transformative power of the resurrection.

So we will grieve Bob’s passing and we will grieve our loss and grieve along with you Barbara and Kristi, and Jim and Kim.  But we will not grieve as those who have a false hope.  For “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  That’s the message of this Holy Week.  I know that death looks sure and certain.  But surer and more certain than death is Jesus.  The death that could not hold Jesus, cannot hold Bob.  That death cannot hold us.  Don’t fall for death’s tricks and traps as we walk into that cemetery on the way to the grave.  Whenever there is anything that tempts you to despair, to think that God has quit, that He doesn’t care, that all of it finally amounts to a grave marker and some fake flowers—between that and you stands the Lord Jesus, crucified for you and risen for you.  Before they can destroy you, they have to destroy Him first, and they’ve already done their worst.  You will know how sure, how true, how freeing, and enlivening those words are in the doing and living and telling of them even if it may be painful to do so.

It may be a couple days early, but today it’s warranted.  “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!”

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Amen.

 

[1] I am especially indebted to Tom Wright for this and the next two paragraph’s ideas.  I adapted them from Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (London: SPCK, 2004), 226.

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Sermon for the Funeral of Linda Ritchie

February 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Easter 020

Note:  As always, click the link for mp3 audio  15 Sermon for the Funeral of Linda Ritchie.mp3

Just a side note, thanks to all the folks who helped feed the family and friends after the funeral.  It’s such a nice thing to do for a grieving family; I’m glad so many folks got together and made it happen.

Also the photo here is one of the “east” window at Augustana.

 

 

February 8, 2013

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

Jerry, Brenda, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In 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?  3And 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.”

Jesus is speaking privately with his disciples as he did often.  The special occasion for these words is Holy Thursday, the night when Jesus gave us his Supper.  The picture for our minds is Jesus gathered at the table with his disciples and this is what He’s saying to them.  Jesus is saying some very encouraging words.  What become Jesus’ last words before he died.  He promised them the Holy Spirit and he kept on teaching until it was time to go out and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and He began His last steps to the cross.  Jesus’ last words, at his last supper shortly before his last steps to the cross.

Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for what they were about to experience over the next two and a half days—a whole lot of misery and suffering, denial and guilt and grief.  Not too much unlike what we feel as we grieve the loss of our dear sister, Linda, today.  Linda’s passing was quiet and peaceful but the hole left in our hearts is just as big.

There was one dimension that was simply lost on the disciples throughout the entire episode of the Last Supper.  They had watched Jesus take Passover and turn it into something completely new but they did not fully understand that the eating and drinking of his body and blood would be the way in which Jesus would abide with them until the end of the age.  They missed out on the cosmic significance of Jesus washing their feet, of his humble ministry to them in this way.  It had never been done that way before and therefore they didn’t know what to make of it.  And so when Jesus says, of course you know the way to the place where I am going on ahead of you, they did not understand and Thomas blurts out, “how can we know the way?”

We are all tempted to be a little like Thomas today. We are tempted to think that this is just a nice way to say goodbye to someone we loved.  We are tempted to think that this service, these words we say, this ritual is just a way to wrestle with something that is beyond our comprehension, some measure of closure, they say.  But Jesus’ words here in John 14, on the very night that he was betrayed, will not let us settle for something so trivial.  Jesus speaks on the night before his death..  From the other evangelists we know he said at that table that whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim my death until I come.  Jesus said these words about going on to prepare a place for us in his father’s house not just for our comfort as though he could simply teleport to His Father’s house and start making beds and setting out fresh towels.  No, he said these words to them so that they might know not only was he going to prepare a place for them but that he was going to do it by His dying, by dying on the cross for us.

Many years ago, God spoke to Linda and called her by name and declared Linda Diane to be a daughter of the Heavenly Father.  At holy baptism, Linda died in those waters.  She was crucified with Christ and buried with him.  That’s why we read that passage from Romans 8 at our funerals.  Because when Christians die, they know they have nothing to fear, they have already died once, they have nothing to fear by dying again.  Jesus said, I am the way the truth and the life not to show that we must follow his example and say the right words to receive eternal life.  We are often tempted to think that we can make our own way through this world and that we can search out and find our own truth.  But if we are to go to the Father’s heavenly house we do it only by dying and only by dying through the death of Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” to show us the way.  We know he came and suffered so that all people might come to know him and be saved.  And he did this not so that we would think that the way to heaven is acting like him, or that the way is being able to correct expound certain theological truths.   If salvation is dependent on our being able to say the right words, believe the right things, we are still lost.  We cannot even believe rightly and purely.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by Him, most specifically through His death on the cross.

Those of you who knew Linda, knew that she was a little different than the rest of us.  She had a different set of abilities.  She was very talented with her hands.  She could sew.  There are two dolls over in the parish hall that Linda made by hand.  She was an accomplished baker.  I’m a cook and I know that baking is quite a bit more difficult than cooking.  Even in the midst of her injuries and illness over the past three and half years or so, she was still ever so very kind.  She never became embittered by what she was going through.  And Linda was given a strong faith in Jesus Christ.  Linda believed when Jesus spoke, “Let not your heart be troubled.”  And she didn’t.  She believed.

Linda confessed that faith with her mouth when she was confirmed here and she confessed that faith in her home and among her co-workers and her family, specially her parents before they passed and with her brother and sister.  That’s what a Christian life is, a daily living out of what is believed in the heart and confessed with the mouth.  A couple weeks before she died, I made a call on Linda at Bryan Center.  She didn’t know who I was but knew I was the pastor at her church, Augustana and she was happy for my visit.  It was the first time in several visits that I had found her awake and talkative so we had a lovely visit.  I read Scripture and we prayed.  And we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together.  It turned out to be my last visit with her awake. Not two weeks later, Linda had what appeared to be another stroke and I went to visit again and she was not the way I had seen her.  She’d stopped eating.  On Saturday she was close to dying and I went and we prayed the commendation of the dying.  For one last time we heard together those comforting words from the Lord, Psalm 23, comforting words of the Lord from the Gospels, Revelation 7, those deep sources of our strength from the Lord and we prayed, at last, to commend Linda into the hands of her Lord, Jesus who had gone before her through this valley to prepare a place for her in His Father’s house.  And I gave her the blessing of the Lord for one last time and she was gone in less than a day.  A last visit, a last word, a last blessing from the Lord.  But there was one last thing happened.  Mid-morning on Sunday Brenda was at the bedside and Linda was struggling a little to breathe.  And calmly began to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  Linda’s breathing became less labored and soon she had breathed her last, at was rest with her Lord to awake the Day of Resurrection on the Last Day.  Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”  “I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

I want to make something perfectly clear this afternoon.  We’re here because Linda was not perfect.  Jesus loved Linda not because she was so sweet a lady in our eyes but because that’s what he does and that’s why he was born.  Jesus did not come down from heaven and wave a magic wand to forgive people’s sins.  He came to suffer on the cross and die for the penalty for sin, for Linda’s sin, for your sin, for my sin, for all sin.  And because death is what it is, no matter how we might like to dress it up, death is not something we can quietly let pass.  It won’t let us.  The pain is too great, the grief too deep.  The message from the Lord today is stronger than our pain and greater than our grief.  Today in the face of death, do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in the God who sent His Son to save the world, to save Linda, to save you, purely out of His divine fatherly goodness and mercy, His great love.  Believe in the One He sent, Jesus His Son, who died to sin, who died to death.  He knew no sin, who should not have died and yet allowed Himself to die.  He died to cancel out death, to nullify death for you.  Believe in that God.  Believe in that God who cancels out death by dying to it.  Believe in that Jesus.  Linda did, by the gift of the Holy Spirit through the Word.

I know that death looks sure and certain.  But even more sure and more certain than death is Jesus.  The death that could not hold Jesus, cannot hold Linda, cannot hold you.  Don’t fall for death’s tricks to despair as we walk into that cemetery today on the way to the grave.  Whatever tempts you to despair, to think that God has quit, that He doesn’t care—between that and you stands the Lord Jesus, crucified for you and risen for you. Before death or illness can destroy you, they have to destroy Him first, and they’ve already done their worst.  Jesus has the last word because He lives, and by His true Words and Spirit puts death to death and His life into you just as he put his death and life into Linda.

“Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In 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?  3And 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.”  Amen.

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

Funeral Homily for Brownie Good

June 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Augustana, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 40 Funeral Homily for Brownie Good.mp3

Pat, Steve, Lee Ann, gathered family and friends, grace and mercy from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

There are more than a few standby passages in the Scriptures that we turn to in hours saddened by grief but there are perhaps not too many that are as straightforward in their clear confession of Christ Jesus and His victory over sin death and the power of the devil than the ones you have chosen to be read and heard by all here today.  Job, a patriarch like Abraham and Lot, perhaps even the richest man of his time, a man who suffered not as a result of his sin, but rather he suffered so the mercy of God could be shown through suffering.  He confesses very clearly the resurrection of all flesh on the last day, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.  26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25–26)  And from Saint Paul here, “If God is for us, who can be against us?  I am certain nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  And Simeon’s Song from Luke chapter 2, holding the eight-day old baby Jesus in his arms he cried out in prayer to God, “I can now go to my rest in peace, my eyes have beheld my own salvation.”

Three men from the Scriptures confessed the steadfast promises of the Lord God.  There might be a tendency to think that these men Job, Simeon, and Paul are Bible men, just sort of soft men.  You know the type, men who don’t know how to work hard; they have soft hands and softer heads.  If anyone thinks that about Job, they certainly haven’t done their homework.  Simeon’s background is a little tougher to determine but he was more than likely not a priest.  He had received the consolation from the Lord and typically one doesn’t receive such consolation, such comfort from the Lord, without truly needing it.  And Paul too was not just an academic but a trained tent-maker and earned his living with His hands and on top of that he suffered, like all the apostles he truly suffered for the sake of the Gospel, the message of Jesus Christ.  “If God is for us,” Paul asks, “who can be against us?”  Paul should know.  Just about everybody was against him.  As it turns out, Paul was asking a pretty important question because if we’re attuned to world at all we know we have a few enemies out here and even a few we cannot see too.

Try to look at it any which way you can and the impediments to faith and life in this world are still there.  Condemnation, government oppression, being hard pressed on every side, persecution for the sake of the faith, hunger, nakedness, dangerous circumstances, or threat of the sword.  These are the things Paul was talking about.  Add to that list, injustice, discrimination, prejudice, lack of work.  Then throw in a measure of nature conspiring against us in wind and violent storms, and the failures of our own bodies whether they just wear out or there’s a flaw in the genetic code so that they don’t work right or look right so that our own bodies actually work against us.  And don’t forget the more subtle enemies like fear and doubt.  And those are just the enemies we can see.  There are the powers and principalities, the powers of the devil, the demons allied against, seeking to drag us away from the glory of God.  And I read the papers and I watch the news and they seem to be winning.  On days like today it looks like they’ve already won.

Brownie was certainly no stranger to suffering.  He suffered the loss of four of his brothers and four of his sisters.  He suffered the painful loss of a son, Barry.  I used to visit Brownie about once a month and bring him the Lord’s Supper but I’ve only been here four years, so I don’t know Brownie outside the sun porch with his oxygen.  When I came over we’d sit and chat for a while.  Brownie would always ask about me and my family and about the church, of course.  And sometimes we’d swap sea stories as sailors often do.  And I don’t think he was happier than when I was telling him about going hunting a couple of years ago or a house project I was involved.  And we’d sit and fuss about the politicians, of both stripes, we weren’t partial.  And when we’d had enough of that we’d have the Lord’s Supper.  And afterwards, when I stood up to go, I shake his hand and he’d light up, grateful for the visit, and smile and thank me for coming and wish me well.  A pastor could get used to making calls like that.  Well enough of my musings; let us meditate on God’s Word.

Job, in the midst of having lost everything, all his wealth, his family, even his health, still he wants it recorded for all history that he is innocent.  “His spirit soars to his only hope: his Redeemer, God Himself.  The divine Redeemer will stand on the earth on the Last Day and Job knows he will receive his vindication in his resurrected body, from which he will see the Redeemer with his own eyes.  What great news that today, the Redeemer sees you in your helpless state.  A true Redeemer who buys back His kinsman from bondage, Christ Jesus has won you for Himself at the cost of His own flesh and blood.” [1]

And Paul was well acquainted with “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword.”  He was imprisoned many times, beaten many times, shipwrecked, he was left adrift for a night and a day in the open sea, on frequent journeys and journeys those days were always dangerous.  He was in danger from rivers, in danger from robbers, in danger from my own people, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposed to the elements.”  (2Co 11:26-27)  He could testify from experience that that nothing could keep you from the love of God in Christ Jesus has for you.

Simeon trusted the Lord’s Word of promise that he would not die until he had seen the Lord make good on that promise to redeem Israel.  And the Spirit of the Lord brought him to the temple that day and there he was face to face with little Mary and Joseph and little eight day old Jesus.  And the Spirit of the Lord prompted Him to speak as a prophet from the Old Testament, “I have seen the salvation of Israel.”  He held Jesus in his own arms, the long promised one, the salvation of Israel.  Like Job, like Paul, like Simeon, Brownie was certain of his salvation.

I remember praying for Brownie over the years and wondering how hard it must be for a fellow who seemed to like people so much to have to be so isolated from them for fear of getting sick.  I remember thinking about the cruel irony that a guy who loved talking with folks and telling stories had so little breath to do it.  And I remember him being rather gracious about it.  He always seemed to be one of those guys who truly received each day as gift, as a gift from God.  I loved seeing those pictures because they showed so much more than the sun porch and oxygen tank, they showed such a full life, a life of blessing and love.  And what’s more, Brownie confessed with his mouth and believed with his heart these Words from the Scriptures that fill our ears and hopefully console our hearts this afternoon.  “I know that my redeemer lives.”  “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”  “I can now depart in peace, I have seen my salvation.”

As I said, these are not the mutterings of mad or soft men, but men who were tested by life and forged in the hot furnaces of trial.  They know that of which they speak and yet they knew the promises of God.

It is not just coincidence that in our church we sing Simeon’s song after the Holy Communion when we have beheld the body and blood of our savior Jesus Christ promised us under the bread and wine.  Despite what many may think the Christian faith is not Pollyannaish.  We are well aware of the “tribulation, and the distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword” in our world and when we’re at our best we work hard to mitigate the effects of that suffering and feed the hungry and clothe the naked and sow the seeds of peace because of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace.  And that happens because we are truly at peace.  And we know this peace, we know this rest from all our enemies allied against us only through Jesus, the consolation of Israel and the light to the Gentiles, Job’s Redeemer, Simeon’s salvation and Paul’s love of God.  It was Christ Jesus who was born into the world seek and save the lost, to rescue the world from sin, death, even Brownie, and to loose us from the power of the devil.  And look what He has done.  He has come and stopped the mouth of the old accuser, Satan.  Job is not only vindicated, Satan can’t accuse you of your sin.  He died on the cross punished under the Law as a fulfillment of it.  Simeon not only holds in his arms the salvation of Israel but the Savior of the world, he holds your consolation and your righteousness.  And Christ Jesus was raised to new life by God the Father as a proof, think about that, Christ Jesus came back out of the grave, out of the tomb as a proof that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God’s love.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for [you] all, how will he not also with him graciously give [you] all things?”

This is the summary of the Christian message that Jesus came only for sinners, sinners like you, sinners like Brownie, sinners like me.  He came to save us from sin and to help us to stand.  It was God’s plan all along and you will stand in your own flesh with Job and with Brownie, and be vindicated before God with Christ your Redeemer.  You will stand in the eternal temple of God and before Him and behold your salvation for all eternity.  You will live forever, even now from now on, in the love of God which in Christ Jesus.  This is God’s promise to you, just as certain as God made it Brownie, He makes it to you.  Amen.

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


[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 807.

Homily for the Memorial Service for Don Honkala

April 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Homily for the Memorial Service for Don Honkala

March 19th, 2010

MP3 Audio file here

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon is the Gospel lesson for today, John 14.  Jesus begins with these words, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  John alone records these words for us.  It was Holy Thursday night and Jesus was speaking with his disciples in the upper room.  The great Bible scholar A.T. Robertson in his Harmony of the Gospels, put this immediately following Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper.  If he is right, then these are the next words Jesus says after announcing to them, “this cup is the new testament in my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  Maybe there’s a pause, maybe not, and then, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”  He is preparing them for what will come—really for what he knows will come in just a few short hours—his betrayal by one of them, his arrest and trial and his crucifixion, for the pain and sorrow over his death and the guilt over his betrayal.  To all of that Jesus speaks these words of encouragement, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  Countless generations of Christians have received comfort from these holy words and it is appropriate that we hear them again today for us and for our comfort.

This text is a good one for us today not only because through it our Lord brings us comfort but because I think this passage was a good example of the kind of trust in God Don had.  Over the past couple of years, he really fought hard, off and on.  I would visit and in the course of my visit, I would ask, are you worried about anything?  And invariably he would say, “No.  I went and saw him last Tuesday to pray with him before the surgery and I asked him the same question and he had the same answer.”  I am convinced Don knew his Savior, Jesus and he trusted in Jesus and he trusted this word from Jesus for him.  “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? 3 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.”  Don trusted this words and he trusted the one who spoke them.

This passage is full of comfort from our Lord and in times like this, these words of comfort seem to speak more loudly and clearly to our deepest fears and our greatest worries.  Remember that Jesus is probably speaking after Supper, the Last Supper.  But he is not speaking like one condemned to death.  He is speaking in another manner entirely.  Have you ever watched an old movie with a friend who hasn’t seen it?  You know the ending but they don’t.  You know your friend, she’s gonna love the end of this movie but you sit tight and don’t say a thing.  And instead of watching the end of the movie, you watch your friend as she watches the end of the movie to see how much she enjoys it, how much she enjoys the same thing you do.  That’s similar to how Jesus is speaking here.  He knows the end of the story.  He knows that Friday morning is coming but he also knows that Sunday morning is coming too, and on that morning he will be resurrected and not just him but his dear disciples and the rest of the world with him.  Sitting there at the table after supper, he had already begun his journey to the cross and to Easter morning.  And that is what he did with the promise that if he goes, he will come back and take you to be with him where he is.

One of the great blessings of ministering to Don over the years has been taking the Lord’s Supper to him.  He lived some distance from Hickory and when he went to the hospital or to rehab it was always closer to him, but then I think even a little farther for me.  But Don always deeply appreciated receiving the Lord’s Supper and I don’t think it has as much to do with the distance I traveled as much as it was the receiving of Jesus great gift there in the sacrament.  Don would hunger and thirst for the sacrament.  When we were all finished he would often say, “Thanks.  I needed that.”  Instead of like many people who are embarrassed by their need, he was happy to say it.  He was happy to receive the assurance of forgiveness in Jesus’ body and blood.  After we communed I could see in his face and hear in voice that his heart was less troubled.  This is the assurance Jesus gives to us today in the midst of our great loss.  “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”

Perhaps, that is our greatest fear.  It all sounds good right now, here in this place with the preacher talking and the sunlight filtered through the stained glass but what about out there in the real world?  Why does it always feel so different out there?  When we’re out there why do we feel so alone, and stranded?  If Jesus was really able to help us he would do it out while were out there where we need it.  And so we worry, “Maybe he’s not really talking to me.  Maybe he’s just talking to the good people, to the nice people.”  But that’s not true because just then, the most extraordinary thing happened.  One of the good people, one of the nice people, one of the disciples, one of the twelve apostles spoke his fear, “Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Thomas!  Thank God for Thomas, right?  He’s like that guy in class who doesn’t even know what a dumb question is so he just goes ahead and asks it.  Everyone else was thinking it but they thought that by now they should know what Jesus was talking, but they didn’t.  “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Thomas’ question is a good one.

Regardless of all the details, in situations like these I think most people start looking at their lives and their unmet goals, and their unfulfilled dreams and wonder about the paths their lives have taken.  We are forever caught up with what hasn’t happened yet, with what we thought we’d have accomplished by now, with what remains unfulfilled in our lives.  We seem trapped in thinking about our lives, our ways, and our perceptions of the world and everything in it.  And then Jesus taps us on the shoulder and says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  In those four simple words Jesus has given us great comfort.  He reassures us that he isn’t judging us for not being there yet.  Jesus tells us that our goals in life are not the true way.  He tells us that his way—the way of vulnerability to the world right up to the point of crucifixion—is the true way, the way of life.

But that way of life goes through the way of death for Jesus.  I mentioned earlier that real world was out there, outside these walls, outside these stained glass windows.  But what if it’s not?  What if this is the real world?  What if this is the real world and all that out there is just a mere shadow of the way things are supposed to be?  What if the real world is supposed to be about truth and life—real truth and real life—not the lies and death that lie in wait for us out there as soon as the music fades and the door opens?  Because Jesus’ truth is real truth and his life is real life.  Death tried to grab hold of him, but it could not.  Death could not hold Jesus and death cannot hold Don and death cannot hold you.  So don’t fall for death’s lies.  Whenever there is anything that tempts you to despair, to think that God has quit, that He doesn’t care—between that and you stands the Jesus Christ the Lord who died for you and was made alive again for you.  And so before they can destroy you, they have to destroy Him first, and they’ve already done their worst.  This isn’t just head stuff; it’s not even church stuff; it’s the real stuff.  This is what’s real and what true.  “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

You know how sure, how true, how freeing, and enlivening those words are even as you hear them now.  They are surer and truer and more enlivening in the in the doing of them because Jesus doesn’t just talk, he does them.  We trust them even if it may be painful to do so.  Jesus lives, and by His true Word and Spirit He puts His death and His life into you just as he put his death and life into Don.

It’s frightening how much of our lives are driven by what we’re afraid of and what we’re trying to prove.  Jesus takes all that away.  Take away all of those things blur our vision and the one true thing we have to live for finally stands revealed.  Jesus said, “I am the life.”  We have life itself in Jesus.  Jesus loved his life because he knew his life came from God, was lived in God, was going back to God and he was therefore a blessing to everybody.  Every minute of every day you and I have the opportunity to live a life that comes straight from God.  We’re wasting it if we live it for anything less.  When we live it consciously in God, however, we have absolutely everything we could possibly need.  Amen.

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

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