Funeral Sermon: What to Say

Today, Trinity and the church at large along with the family and friends gathered to remember Pastor Landskroener’s Savior. The texts for the day were Isaiah 61:1-4, Romans 8:17-31, and for Mark 9:2-8

God’s grace mercy and peace be with you from Him our heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this day. Amen.

I am told Pastor Landskroener’s favorite joke was this: “I sang through a screen door and strained my voice.” It’s no secret that John couldn’t carry a tune very well but today all is perfect and on this the anniversary of his birth into this world, he is singing in the heavenly choir with all the angels and saints who have gone before.

I did not have the honor of knowing John as long or as well as most of you here today. But I thank the Lord for the example of an undershepherd he was to me in my brief time of knowing him. One thing that sticks in my mind about John is his loud confession, even from his quiet demeanor. I don’t remember for sure but I would not be surprised if his first words to me ever were “God is good.” How are you Pastor Landskroener? “God is good.” How’s it going John? “God is good.” All the time, every interaction I had, except for one, “God is good.” And He is. God is good. All the time.

Our good God in His goodness has allowed that John be delivered from this valley of the shadow of death. Our good God in His mercy has granted faith to this sinner and gave him a washing of rebirth and renewal. Our good God in His wisdom has clothed John with robes of righteousness and granted him a place beyond what we can see today. But we know by faith, where all those in faith go. And we thank God for John’s life this day.

But it is not all rosy. Death is not good. The sins John committed were not good. The sinful condition he bore was not good. The sufferings of this world John endured were not good. The failing of his mind in his last months was not good. His body lying before us lifeless is not good. And so for us, we are not good. Our broken existence is but a heartbeat away from the wage that our sins have earned us. Death awaits us all because of the sin that infects the world. The pains we feel in our bodies and in our emotions oppress us at times. Our reason and all our senses are a mere illness or concussion away from being useless to us. Our deathbeds, coffins, and graves await us.

And from this reality we need deliverance. We need hope. Otherwise we would be hopeless! But we are not hopeless! God in His goodness has provided that John and his fellow believers could know good news in the midst of this impoverished existence. In Isaiah 61:1 the Lord’s Servant says through the prophet Isaiah “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”

God in His goodness knows our need for His good and He reaches out to us through His Son into this broken world and brings good news. God has anointed Christ to be and bring this good news to the world. And God had ordained his servant John to be an undershepherd of Christ. John’s lifes work was about this good news. It was John’s place to speak this good news in place of Jesus who has given His Spirit for the binding and loosing.

Our hearts are broken today but the good news which was John’s work is that we are comforted with a future hope and promised deliverance. Our captivity to sin is not lasting and able to hold us away from the love of God. Vengeance has been shown for our sins when God poured out his wrath against the one who brings this good news only. Jesus paid the price in His death on the cross to bring you into the year of the Lord’s favor. Our chains are released the prison of sin is flung wide open in the empty tomb. John’s life work was more than just a job its message was John’s deliverance. This is your deliverance: Jesus work, His death and resurrection. His message of peace is comfort for us as we mourn. His words and promises are what we cling to when we don’t know what to say.

Death is not good. It causes families to come together; It triggers an outflow of support; It can even be a relief when you know your love one is ready to be with Jesus, but death is not good. The peculiar feeling we have around death and funerals isn’t because we aren’t used to it. The strangeness of death is a demonstration of the fact that death is not good. Death is unnatural and unexpected and it has a powerful way to keep us from knowing what to say.

Peter at the mount of transfiguration gives us an example of speechless floundering. The three disciples were brought away with Jesus to pray only to see the Lord is transfigured before them. He is changed to an intense whiteness. This stunning site becomes more powerful as Moses and Elijah are seen to be talking with Jesus. This was unnatural. This was unexpected and it kept Peter from knowing what to say.

My last visit with John was a brief visit, maybe ten minutes or so. It was a hard visit as they were for many who saw him in his last months. Not hard in the sense of this person is near death, but hard in the sense of this is not the person I know. John didn’t recognize me and when I spoke with him he listened but didn’t seem to register. At the end of the unnatural visit, I asked him if he wanted to pray. In response John said something unexpected. Perhaps it was unfair because he didn’t quite know what to say. When I asked him if he wanted to pray, he said “no.” I said, “well I am going to pray the Lord’s Prayer” and so I did and so did he. Clear as I’d ever heard him speak, he prayed with me the words the Lord had taught him to pray.

John’s last months serve as a reminder of our helplessness. This man of the cloth, this man of God whose life’s work was proclamation good news had his reason robbed from him. It’s a good thing we are not saved by our reason. Were it not for Christ speaking for us we would have nothing to say. Faced with our condition in the presence of the glory of God, we are like Peter. Left to ourselves we would say the wrong thing, we would point to our lives we would make excuses. Facing our end we are like John our words may fail us, but the word will never fail us. The beloved Son of God bears listening to. Jesus not only speaks to us today, but in the presence of the Father He speaks for us.

And so does the spirit. In the midst of our weaknesses when we don’t know what to say, we are also unsure of what we should pray. But the Spirit is interceding for us. And with Christ speaking in place of us and the Spirit praying on behalf of us we are comforted to know that our hope is not in vain. God is working all the things of this world together for our good.

God is good. God is for us. With this we have all we need. John’s sins have been paid for. This pall that covers his body in the casket is a reminder that his sins have been washed away. He has been clothed with Christ’s righteousness in the waters of baptism. He has both stood and knelt at this altar to distribute and more importantly receive in his body — the body and blood of our savior for the forgiveness of sins. He has heard from this chancel even as he was blessed to deliver Christ’s absolution. John is no longer tempted. He is not longer grieved. He is no longer faint in spirit, he is wearing that garment of praise. He is no longer mourning, instead he is comforted with the soothing oil of gladness. And this coming Ash Wednesday when we gather to receive ashes John will not. His time of repentance and preparation is over. He has instead a beautiful headdress.

And for you this day. You are flawlessly clean through the waters of baptism, you are completely fed in the meal of Christ. You are in your hearing forgiven of your sins. You have eternal life. Yet you face temptations, may you be strengthened by God in them. And still you are grieved, may you be comforted by God who promises you a beautiful headdress, oil of gladness and garments of praise.

When we don’t know what to say may we be confident in Christ that we may be still and hear him speak for us. Today and always.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

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