Friday, July 25, 2008

The One Whom Jesus Loved

Here following is the sermon preached at the funeral home this afternoon for one who was baptized and raised Lutheran in Germany, but had not been a practicing Lutheran for many years. At her insistance, the family called a Lutheran pastor to do her funeral. Though I did not think I would end up doing the service, I did see this as an opportunity to visit them and to speak the truth in love to a family who very well might never have heard it so plainly before.

The short story is this:
I met with the family in order to speak the truth to them about what a funeral is and isn't. I told them it could not and would not do anything to the eternal benefit of the departed. I told them that though she did many wonderful and loving things, none of these made her worthy of God's love or His kingdom. I told them that she and they were sinners, particularly in separating themselves from God by separating themselves from His church and the Word spoken there. I also told them of the love of God in Christ that conquers in an instant all such sin and unbelief. And I told them that the only way I could do the service is if I were to proclaim these very things to all in attendance.

To my surprise -- along with not a little bit of consternation, and yet still a measure of joy -- they did indeed desire my services.

Here is the Word this pastor was blessed (and maybe cursed?) to proclaim:

"The One Whom Jesus Loved"

Grace mercy and peace to you in this time of great sorrow and loss of your dear wife, and mother , and friend - from God our Father and Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord.

Dear Eldridge;

Dear James, Michael and Richard;

Dear friends and relatives of your beloved Helga:

Toward the beginning of our service we prayed --
O God of grace and mercy, we give thanks for your loving-kindness to Helga and all your servants who, having finished their course in faith, now rest from their labors. Grant that we also may be faithful to death and receive the crown of eternal life.

By all accounts Helga was indeed a servant of God as a wife, mother, and friend.
+ devoted wife to you, Eldridge, for almost 43 years
+ loving mother to your triplet sons James, Michael, and Richard
+ loving, giving, stubborn, a fantastic cook
+ nursing James to health after his terrible electrocution accident
+ kept serving even as she suffered through her own health troubles

She was, as you told me, the glue of your family that kept you together, unifying you even in her death.

And yet for all of that, for the great blessing that she was to you in these many earthly things, her death reminds you of something else - her sin, and yours . . .

. . . and the fact that all of these earthly blessings, as well as the one through whom God gave them, do not last forever according to the flesh and this world.

"For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Rom 3:22b-23

"For the wages of sin is death." Rom 6:23a

This not just because sin displeases God, which of course it does. But it is because our sin separates us from God and His Word, which is life. This goes back to Adam and Eve, whose first sin was to ignore and remove themselves from the hearing of God's Word -- and thus from the blessings of the Garden and the very presence of God.

This is what God's commandment, Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, is all about. In other words, we should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

Again, not for God's sake -- not for His entertainment so that He can manipulate us like so many chess pieces or characters in a Sims game -- but for your sake that you might have life and that forever with Him.

All of God's commandments --
+ from having no other Gods apart from the One who sent His Son Jesus Christ,
+ to Remembering to keep His Sabbath day holy,
+ to not murdering, to not committing adultery of any kind,
+ to not coveting what is not yours
-- these all speak of the way God created life to be. And to part from these ways is to die.

"But -- being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Rom 3:24, NKJ) -- the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 6:23b, NKJ) -- who is the very Son of God, His Word made flesh for us, to win back for us what we have lost by our sin.

Yes, when John calls himself "the one whom Jesus loved" in recording this Gospel of our Lord for the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, he did not mean it as if he was the only one of the disciples Jesus loved. He meant it in the sense that Paul too was talking about - being unworthy of the task of writing the Gospel, yet justified and sent by Christ to do so. Remember, John is also the one who recorded the words of Jesus in John 3:16-17: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (NKJ)

This service here today can and will do nothing for your dear Helga. For it was at Helga's Baptism that she received the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. In that Baptism God promised to be with her always even to the end of the age - and that by the proclamation of His Word, Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. It was by this hearing of God's Word and being baptized by God into that Word, that God was giving her the kingdom of heaven.

Apart from this there is no life -- any more than apart from God's "let there be" could there be a creation, a world, a Helga, a you -- at all.

While Helga was a sinner until the day she died, as her not keeping the Sabbath Day and her very death itself prove; and while you too will be sinners until the day you die -- God the Father who created Helga and you; God the Son who suffered, died, was buried, rose and ascended to purchase you back from sin, death, the grave, and hell itself ; God the Holy Spirit who is today and wherever the Word of Christ for the forgiveness of sins is delivered via its proclamation, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper - this one and only true God is faithful even when you and I so often are not.

So hear His Word today! Believe it! And keep hearing it often -- so that you will never be separated from your Lord and Savior; and so that you might always believe and be kept by it in Christ Jesus. For apart from this saving Word there is no salvation and no life with God. But with this Word is the power, the authority, and the certainty to give that which it speaks - the forgiveness of sins that overcomes our lifetime of sin in the instant it is heard and gives with it life now and forever - in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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