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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.

Sermon for Easter Morning

April 8, 2013 Leave a comment

easterNote: This is the sermon preached at the Festival Divine Service on Easter morning.  As usual you can click here for mp3 audio 31 Sermon for Easter Morning.mp3

Augustana, 2013

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia.  Amen.

Every winter folks complain about the war on Christmas, where is the hue and cry about the war on Easter?  There are far more bunnies and eggs in the shops than icons of the resurrection.  Why aren’t the stores playing Easter music?  There are far more March Madness stories than there are Easter stories in the news.  I think it’s a conspiracy, a war on Easter.

Okay, so it’s not a conspiracy.  And the war on Easter is something I just made up but for how many of you is March Madness more than Lent and Easter?  Or if college basketball is not your thing, pick something else—shopping for the new Easter dress rather than preparing your heart to celebrate the paschal feast with sincerity and truth.

Do we even acknowledge today for what it is?  Yes, Easter is the highest day in the Church Year, but that’s faint praise.  Easter is truly only second to the Last Day.  Think about that for a second.  Easter, truly, is second in significance, really, only second to the Last Day and we might be able to make a case that it’s even more important because it is on account of Easter that we will stand and be blessed on that great day, on the Day of the Lord.  It is on account of the Lord’s resurrection from the grave on Easter morning that we will stand on the Last Day and be blessed by God.  That first Easter morning, and all the ones that have come after it, is the sole basis for our hope that when we are buried we will not stay in the grave.  The angel’s message is, “He is not here; He is risen.”  Easter is not just about celebrating some vague sense of something new and springlike; Easter is about the end of death.

I’m struck this year by the loss of so many loved ones so many of you have suffered this year.  We’ve not lost many of our congregation but many of you have lost so many of your  people, brothers and sisters and other family members.  Easter is personal for you because the Easter message is Christ Jesus’ victory over death and what is true for Him is true for all who believe in Him, who have been baptized into His death and into His resurrection.  Easter is about the end of death.

I know what it looks like.  I know what it looks like all too often.  Death looks like it has won.  We make trip after trip to this funeral home or that one.  That’s how the first Easter morning began.  The women were taking the spices they had prepared to the tomb.  They were going to the funeral home.  Preparing a loved one for burial was a much more hands-on affair back then.  But back then, death was far more real and less funeralfied, you know what I mean?  They even put astroturf over the dirt pile.  Funeralfied.  Jesus had spoken about resurrection prior to His death, twice actually, but the disciples didn’t understand what He meant by it.  In Jesus’s day, resurrection was something that would happen on the Last Day for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and for all the righteous of God.  There would be no mistaking that Day when it came and so the women were not expecting resurrection when they went to the tomb that morning to finish burying Jesus.  Nobody had ever dreamed that one person would die and be bodily raised again on the other side of the grave while the rest of the world carried on much as it had before.

Usually about this time in an Easter sermon I thump on about how there are many Christians today who don’t believe Jesus was raised in His body that day.  They are spiritualists, we might more accurately call them Gnostics, but few know what a Gnostic is, so “spiritualist” makes a good handle.  They don’t believe they will be raised in their body on the Last Day either.  They’ve turned the Last Day into something else entirely—their own Last Day.  And when they die they think their soul just flies up to heaven forever.  They don’t believe Jesus was raised in His body and they don’t believe they will either.  Even though that’s not what the Scriptures, Old and New, say.  Although I really shouldn’t blame them, they’re not that much different from the women and the rest of the disciples on that first Easter morning.  But Easter morning really does change all that.  There really is a resurrection of the body; Jesus was raised.  Next week we’ll hear the account of the week after Easter when Thomas put his finger in the place where the nails were and his hand in the place where the spear was.  And if Christ was raised in His body, that’s your promise that you will too.  Death will not have won because, we know, death has not won.

The mood of Easter morning then, is one of great astonishment, confusion, maybe even, but as the Good News begins to sink in, great joy.  “He is not here but has risen.”  The Good News of Easter morning is that death no longer has the power it once had.  Jesus Christ, eternal Son of God and true man, the one who was crucified Friday for the sins of the whole world, had not remained in the grave but has shown us the way through death and the grave to the resurrection from the dead for us and for all who believe.  “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”  Remember?  “He is not here; he is risen just as He said He would.”  It is the certainty of Christ’s resurrection that gives us strength and confidence in the face of loss and tragedy whether in our own lives or in the wider world.

From the beginning, the message of Easter was the message of Christ’s victory over death.  That’s the Good News—the conspiracy of sin has been wiped out; the madness of death no longer reigns.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!  One of the oldest easter hymn texts in our hymnal is from John of Damascus, from the late 7th century.  He writes:

The day of resurrection!

Earth, tell it out abroad,

The passover of gladness,

The passover of God.

From death to life eternal,

From sin’s dominion free,

Our Christ has brought us over

With hymns of victory. (LSB, 478:1)

Alleluia.  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  Amen.