Friday, May 17, 2019

Why We Can Both Grieve And Rejoice At Funerals

The following 'Funeral Sermon' is posted with family permission.  May the Lord give to the family of Bill Braun, and all who mourn, comfort in their grief and a sure confidence in the Lord's loving care.  

Text: Isaiah 61:1-3, 10

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

In our day and age, many people struggle with death and especially funerals.  And so, many modern-day funerals attempt to steer the focus away from death.  In other words, rather than focusing on the death of a loved one which may cause sorrow, heaviness, and grief, these modern-day funerals, rewind the clock to focus on more joyful times when the deceased was alive.  Now, let it be said that there is nothing wrong with rejoicing over the wonderful memories of the past, especially with our loved ones who have died.  In fact, these memories are precious; may the Lord bless these memories.  However, it becomes problematic when too much attention is put on the person’s life resulting in a funeral service ignoring the person’s death.  A whole funeral service filled with uplifting stories, funny memories, and poems that do not address the fact that a person has died, accomplishes very little, except to ignore the reality of death. 
With all of this in mind, though, what shall we say about Bill today? 

Well, dear friends, Bill has died. That is painful to say, as I am sure that it is painful to hear.  In fact, it should make us cringe.  Right about now, we might even be tempted to want to change the subject of death and focus on something more joyful and positive. 

But what if I told you that we do not have to steer the focus away from Bill’s death today and that we can still have joy?  I am not referring to a manufactured joy – the type of joy that you plaster on your face when you pretend that you are happy.  But I am referring to real joy – a genuine joy amid death.  Yes, what if I told you that we do not have to navigate our attention away from death this morning but can still have joy? 

Think about this for a moment with me. 

We do not obtain joy from death.  The Lord takes no pleasure in the death of His saints, like Bill.  Death is our enemy.  However, for us as Christians, things are different with death – there is joy amid death.  You see, we do not need to ignore Bill’s death this day and try to pretend that he is not dead.  And we do not need to downplay the seriousness of death by trying to convince ourselves that Bill is holy enough for the pearly gates of heaven by a bunch of things he accomplished. But instead, we can boldly acknowledge that Bill died because of sin.  Bill, like you and me, was a sinner.  He sinned in thought, word, and deed.  And Bill is in the grave because the sting of sin is death.  However, in spite of all of this, we can and should have joy this day. 

But why should we have joy, especially when death has struck Bill?

We have joy this day, because of what the Lord has done for Bill.  The Lord has clothed Bill with the garments of salvation.  The Lord has covered Bill with His robe of righteousness.  Indeed, Bill was suited in salvation – he was outfitted in righteousness.  Jesus fashioned a robe from the threads of His perfect life.  Then Jesus wove this robe on the cross and colored it with His red blood.  And then the Lord God freely gave this robe of Jesus’ perfect life to Bill, so that Bill would be covered in salvation.[1]

And so, when we look at Bill, we grieve; however, when we consider that Bill is clothed in Christ’s robe of righteousness, we rejoice.  Yes, we rejoice because the Lord God covered Bill and Bill’s sin with the robe of righteousness in baptism, and the Lord preserved Bill in life and even into death. 

In case you did not notice it, this is the reason why Bill’s casket is covered today.  The garment that is draped over Bill’s casket represents Bill’s suit of salvation.  The garment represents this robe of righteousness.  The garment represents and reminds us that Bill is baptized!  Therefore, we see the casket, and we grieve.  But then we see the white garment over the casket, and we rejoice!    

Dear friends, rejoice this day for we know that the Lord Jesus Christ claimed Bill as His own, marking Him with the sign of the cross.  We know that Bill belongs to Jesus because He has been clothed in the robe of righteousness – Bill was baptized into Christ.  All of Bill’s deepest stains of sins are covered by Jesus’ robe. 

And so, at the great resurrection, Bill will stand before God dressed in this robe.  And God will see Bill clothed with the perfection of Jesus – and the Lord God will welcome Bill into His presence.  And just as the Lord will raise Bill from the dead and welcome him into His presence, the Lord welcomes Bill’s soul into His presence right now, as Bill awaits the resurrection. 

It is quite remarkable!  All of our rebellion, all of our sins, and all of our guilt are covered by the robe of righteousness, which is what Christ accomplished at the cross and delivers to us in Holy Baptism.  Truly, the robe of Christ’s righteousness is long and wide enough to cover every twisted human thought, word, and deed. 

So, today, we see death, and we grieve.  However, we do not grieve as if we do not have hope, for we surely do have hope – and joy!  We have joy that our sin, and Bill’s sin, are no longer visible before the eyes of God.  By the gift of baptism through faith, we know that Bill is wearing the spotless robes of Christ – He is guiltless, righteous, and a saint in Christ!  Rejoice, dear friends.   

Dear friends, let the preached word and promises of God wrap you up in assurance, hope, and joy.  For by the promises of God in His spoken Word, as well as in baptism, you are clothed with a robe of righteousness, so that death cannot end your gladness just as it cannot end Bill’s gladness and joy. 

Isaiah chapter 61, verse 10,

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…”

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] John Braun, People’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah 2 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 335.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Stop Looking Inward; Look Outside Yourself

The following sermon is for Confirmation Sunday at St. Paul's Lutheran Church of Minot, ND. 
Text:  John 10:11-16
In the name of Jesus.  Amen.
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, in confirmation this year, we watched a segment from the old popular TV show, “E.R.”  If you recall, there was a man who was dying from cancer.  Now, this man was not at peace but was afraid of what waited for him in death.  He also had a tremendous amount of guilt – the kind of guilt that weighed heavy on the conscience – for he had caused the death of an innocent man earlier in his life.   
Now, in this segment the man was visiting with the chaplain in the hospital, wanting answers.  He was seeking just a sliver of hope for his burdened conscience.  He wondered if forgiveness was even possible for him before death and what God wanted for him.  Well, as you know, she responded by suggesting that the dying man needed a new reason to live and to just let go of the guilt and ‘feel’ forgiven.  She also went on to tell Him that it was up to each person to figure out what God wanted by looking ‘inside.’  Yes, right there on the man’s death bed – in his helplessness – the foolish chaplain had the audacity to direct the dying man inward to himself for answers and hope and comfort.      
It should be no surprise to us that the chaplain’s answers infuriated the cancer-ridden man.  Indeed, he was quite justified when he started yelling at her that he wanted a real chaplain who believed in a real God and a real hell because she was not dealing with reality but with mere feelings, opinions, and what can be called Hallmark theology – the kind of theology that wanna-be-chaplains get from sentimental card clich├ęs.       
You see, the man needed real answers, and all the woman’s uncertainty and spiritual gobble-gook made things worse.  He wanted someone to look him in his eyes and tell him where to find forgiveness.  He was running out of time and needed to cling to something other than himself.  But all she could do is point him back inward to himself. 
The scene ends with him yelling at the chaplain to get out, get out, to get out. 
Now, the reason why I mention this is that this TV episode shows us what is being told about in our day and age.  And what are people being told?  They are told to look inside.  They are told that the Truth about God is inside of us waiting to be uncovered.  JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, you will be told to look within to find God and to just make it up as you go – whatever you find comfort from, well… let’s go with that.    
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, this is a lie of the wolf – Satan.  You and I cannot discover what God wants by looking inside.  The idea that there is the Truth of God just waiting to be discovered within, if we only look hard enough or ask ourselves the right questions is complete nonsense. 
So, what do we find if we look inside ourselves? 
Well, it is not good. 
What we find within is layer upon layer of sin. We do not find gems of greatness within or nuggets of Truth, but sin, wickedness, and deceit. 
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, Truth does not lie within you.  It is not an untapped resource buried within.  But instead, within is a wicked heart.  As the Prophet Jeremiah correctly stated,
“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” 
This deceitful heart is not something that we all acquire through time but is how we are born.  We are born with hearts infected with sin.  That is what we carry around and try to cover up and manage every single day of our lives.  In fact, it could be said that the majority of the problems in life are not ‘out there’ somewhere, but right here in our hearts.  The problem is much closer to us than we might think.     
And yet, this does not deter the Lord God from seeking you and me out.  In the Old Testament reading from today, the Lord speaks through the Prophet Ezekiel that the Lord Himself will seek the lost and bring back the strayed and He will bind up the injured, and He will strengthen the weak. 
And in our Gospel reading, we hear how Jesus declares Himself to be the Good Shepherd.  Jesus says that He is the one who came down from heaven to rescue you and me from sin, death, and the devil.  He is the One who has words of never-ending life to speak to sinful mortals like you and me so that we might listen to Him and not our hearts.
It is interesting, isn’t it?  Notice how our readings from Ezekiel and the Gospel of John show us that Truth, salvation, and hope are not within us but outside of us?  That is right; Truth is from the mouth of the Lord who speaks to us as His very own sheep. 
But what does this mean? 
It means that you and I do not listen to our hearts but listen to the words of the Good Shepherd.    
And those words from the Good Shepherd? 
They are words that tell us that Jesus is the One who laid down His life for the sheep – that is you and me.  He is the One who laid down His life before the wrath of God in your place.  He is the One who takes the real Truth of who we are into Himself and bears it all before God and the world. 
And so, JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, this absolute forgiveness from the punishment of our sins before heaven is not found by looking inside ourselves or examining our heart.  To have the assurance that we are forgiven and to face death is not accomplished by an inward turn. 
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, do not waste your time and energy looking inward to your feelings, opinions, and speculations.  It is a waste of time to dig around in deceit.  Instead, look away from yourself.  Look to the one outside of you and listen to His voice, not the voice of your heart.  Listen to Christ.    
But do not listen just one time, for that does not do you or anybody else any good.  Listen regularly and believe regularly.  Yes, the Good Shepherd has seen to it to continually proclaim His Word to you so that as His sheep, you will continually hear His voice.  As sheep, you live by His Word.  You are captive to the Word of God, not your feelings, not your opinions, and certainly not the talking points of the world.    
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, the Lord proclaims His Word continually through pastors and Christians that what He did on the cross of Mt. Calvary might be poured into your ears.  Yes, listen to the voice of Jesus – the sweet news of the Gospel – again and again and again:
“It is finished – for you!” 
It is like this: the Lord gathers sheep – Christians like you, together into churches like St. Paul’s.  He gathers us together so that we won’t be stumbling around in trying to find solutions in our dark hearts.  But instead, He gathers us together as His sheep to hear His voice.   In fact, He even brands us sheep making us as His own on our heads and hearts in Holy Baptism.  And He prepares a table to feed His sheep in the face of the enemies of the world, the devil, and death.  Yes, He does not turn us inward, but turns us outward to Him to receive the real food of forgiveness of sins that He gives in  His wounds of flesh and blood fed into our mouths.
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, do not look within.  But instead listen outside of yourselves and hear Jesus’ voice in His Word – the Bible.  And as you listen and hear His Word, know Him and follow Him.  Yes, constantly hear Jesus’ Word again and again, for in Jesus’ Word is Truth.  In His Word there is forgiveness.  In His Word, He preserves you until the end, until He comes back to take you out of the grave unto Himself for all eternity. 
JayDe, Elizabeth, Ella, Jason, and Holden, you Christ’s sheep.  Listen to His voice for His Word is for you.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.

CLICK HERE to Subscribe on iTunes
CLICK HERE to Subscribe on Podbean