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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.

This is How to Pray

Sermon on Luke 11:1-13 for Pentecost 10C at Trinity Lutheran Church in Toledo, Ohio

Colossians 2:6-15 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Luke 11:1-2, 13 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father … 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

howtoprey

This past week I had the honor of representing assistant and emeritus pastors of our Ohio district at the LCMS convention in Saint Louis. Although I enjoyed the company of some old friends and our own Elder Dan Gibson who was representing you and the rest of our circuit, I missed my wife and children terribly. It was pleasantly pointed out to me upon my return by my lovely wife that I had missed 25% of Caleb’s life. Ouch. I have been making it up by holding him as much as possible since my return.

At the convention I received a great view of a difficult way to get something accomplished. Questions were asked, resolutions were sought and, yes we even had a gavel knock from time to time. I heard it said a number of times that there is proof we are God’s Church – in that we are still “in business” after years and decades and centuries and millennia of us “sinners” making decisions to run the Lord’s Church. The will of man is evil continually and our best ideas are often paces away from being abused and perverted into the worse offenses. It is only by the grace of God and His guidance that we could continue and survive and work for him through all our weaknesses. Getting 1200 people representing over 2.2 million people to agree on a decision and direction at one time is a monstrosity of a way to accomplish something.

Thanks be to God we have been granted a means of accomplishing things via prayer to God. And asking, seeking and knocking are the means by which we can communicate our wants needs and desires to the Lord. It doesn’t take any floor committees, resolutions, ⅔ majority, points of order or anything of that sort to bring our prayers to God. All it takes is us approaching His throne of mercy as he graciously invites us through His Son.

“God is more willing to give than we are to receive.” Saint Augustine
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus gives us a glimpse of prayer that seems to be too good to be true. Especially in comparison to our human machinations for making decisions and requests. Ask, seek, knock. That’s all it takes? If it were so easy, then why do we spend so much time desiring more than we have? Why do we groan through the pains of trials and tribulations if our heavenly Father is waiting to answer our asking, waiting to be discovered by our seeking and waiting to open doors at our knocking? This can’t be all there is to prayer? Not only does it seem too good to be true, but our experience doesn’t bear it to be true. Or does it?

God is our Heavenly father and in these verses we get a clear indication from Jesus that this is how we should talk to God, as dear children talk to their father. Through baptism we enter the family of God and in that family we have the privilege of being able to ask of our father as children ask their fathers, boldly and confidently. As His children we know that our perfect father will not give us a stinging scorpion when we ask for an egg. As his dear children we know that our perfect Father will not give us a venomous snake when we ask for a delicious fish. And this all begins when we enter God’s family through baptism.

Baptized for this moment was the theme for the convention and has been a theme of sorts for the year here at Trinity and in our Church body. Wet with the water and steadied by the Word that we remember daily in our Baptism, we are equipped with all the grace and mercy and God given strength we need to face the world. And along with this grace comes the privilege to ask, seek of God to knock on His door. In this washing of rebirth and renewal comes the ear of our Father waiting to give us all things that we need to support this body and life… and more.

So how and what are we to ask for.

  • Well we have to make sure we do it in the perfect manner or our prayers will be thrown into the invalid category? Right?
  • We have to be in the right frame of mind with the least amount of distractions possible before we come to the Lord in prayer. Right?
  • We have to seek out strength in numbers, the more people praying the same prayer the same way the better chance God will hear and answer. Right?
  • We need to use the proper words and to say them in the proper order. Right?

All these are wrong and more. Not that we shouldn’t seek to be away from distractions, surrounded by fellow Christians, and respectful of God in our prayers, these are good things, but these do not make or break our prayers. They may make or break our prayer habits but they will certainly not put our prayers on top of God’s answer pile. So then how should we pray?

Jesus answers this question for us today. Actually he answered that question for the disciples and the words ring true for us. When you pray, say: “Father…” And so the most important word of prayer. Not Amen, not just, not some other pious word but that simple name we are gifted to call our God, Father. And that simple word brings with it so much good.

You see we have a perfect father, not just a really nice father or a really fun father or a really good father, but a perfect father. And a perfect father knows what his children need before he is asked but a perfect father also enjoys hearing and answering his children’s requests.

There are two ways parents can respond to the news and questions that children often bring to them. Take parent one, perhaps his name is Ryan. Ryan’s children approach him and tell him something they have learned for the first time. Ryan responds as an adult who has been highly educated, far traveled and well read responds without flinching, “of course child, that is the way the world works…” before carrying on with a personal example or further information along the same topic. Parent two, perhaps her name is Kati. Kati’s child approaches and tells her something they have learned for the first time. Kati responds in a completely different way. Her mouth drops open and her eyes widen. It’s as if she has never heard this kind of thing before. The kid’s face brightens, and they feel as if they have truly connected with their mother.

It may seem to be a dishonest reaction to pretend to not know the information brought by a child, but in many ways it is not completely a rehashing of old information. The information through the child’s eyes is being interpreted and experienced in a new fresh way and being shared with one who cares deeply for the child.

So it is with God when we bring our prayers of praise and need to Him, we are talking to the one who knows all. We are talking to the one who suspends the stars in the sky and who keeps our atomic particles sticking perfectly together to keep us from dissolving into space. He knows not only the past and present perfectly, but he also knows what the future holds. And yet he loves to hear us. As perfect parents love to hear their children.

Luke 11:13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Another thing the name father brings to mind is that we are part of a family. And in this family is the Son of God and when we pray we pray like him. We even pray in the name of Jesus so that as God’s children, He doesn’t see our evil nature standing before him, (as Jesus knows us to be and calls his disciples in the lesson today) but rather than evil us, He sees the perfect died and risen for you – Son Christ, speaking the words we pray.

Colossians 2:6-7 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
In Colossians 2:6 we are told by Paul: “Since you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” We are instructed to walk in him, and it would make sense that we can extend it to how we pray. We are to pray in him. Rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as we are taught and with abundant thanksgiving. What a great checklist for our prayer life. Pray in thanksgiving, pray in what we learn of Him through the word, pray rooted in our faith. Pray in Him walk in Him and in doing so our lives become a prayer keeping His name holy. We know God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Our dear father in heaven certainly helps us to do this!

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
On the contrary though anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Our heavenly Father also protects us from this. Paul warns us against this and encourages us to be protected from these things when he goes on to warn against walking in the ways of the world, there are dangers for us to pray according to the world. We are continually facing the traps of “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” These things would have us pray to a God and in a way that make rational sense. Our evil minds can grasp many things as God has gifted us to do, but we cannot rationalize and understand God. What our minds can fully fall for though is the temptations of this world the desires for health and comfort and things of this world consume us and overwhelm us and overtake our prayer life. Yes God does give us health and comfort and he does give us things of this world, but these things are not what we need.

We could have perfect health and abundant, comfortable living and all the gizmos and gadgets and things our finest minds and fullest wallets could dream up and purchase but they will not last. And they will not give us that which we need the most. These things will never give us the forgiveness of sins life and salvation that our evil ways require. All we need is Jesus. And Jesus is what you have. As a redeemed child of God, even when we pray for things we don’t need, your sins are forgiven and your prayers are answered. Always.. It is in Him and through Him we pray. Always.

And in Him, through Him and because of Him, praying is as easy as asking, seeking, and knocking. Because you are washed in baptism, buried with Him in baptism, you are now cleansed, with the water and the blood — and you are able to stand and with new life, with Him, with His words to ask as a dear child asks a father, knowing he gives perfectly.

Saint Augustine wrote: “God is more willing to give than we are to receive.” How true it is, we will never know this side of glory. Go to him in prayer and continue to receive his abundant blessings.

In His name. Amen

1 Corinthians 13 Sermon “More Than a Feeling”

What is love?

It is a question that cannot roll off the tongue for most of us without an echoing “baby don’t hurt me, baby don’t hurt me no more” following through our brains. We spend much money, much time, much tears asking this question and searching for the answer in our lives. Love is a word that we toss around carelessly — and carefully. I love a summer day. I love finding money in my pockets doing laundry. I love steak and potatoes. I also love my wife. Careless love and careful love and all the loves in between threaten to cloud out and water down the true meaning of the word for us. Worse yet loose use of the L word can lead us to forget the source of perfect love.

When Paul was writing to the believers in Corinth, they were forgetting the source of perfect love. The Corinthians were so busy throwing around the works of God that they forgot the source of love. They forgot why they were doing what they were doing. They were making so much noise doing so many things that they forgot forgot whose they were. They were like clanging gongs Paul said, or maye they were so busy “loving like Jesus” they forgot why they needed to be loved by Jesus. The Corinthians were so divided among themselves that in chapter 12 Paul even had to remind them, stop removing yourself and others from the Body of Christ! You can’t get separate yourself from the body of Christ, the Church in order to do God’s work. That is not what perfect love is at all. Perfect love does not come by removing a hand, or a foot, the head, or yourself from the heart of the body of Christ. The Corinthians had forgotten what perfect love is. Instead of perfect love, God’s love they were going around doing things with this thing they had called “Not love.”

One good way to determine what perfect love is, what true love is – is to look at what love is not. What is not love? Three times in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians 13 we hear Paul saying that there was a problem of people having “not love” What is not love?

Paul talks about this not love when he encourages them to examine themselves. He says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but I have not love, I gain nothing.” – All these outward things he calls them to examine.

An interesting thing about these points though is that they all seem like pretty good actions. Speaking in the tongues of men and angels, or we might say: eloquence beyond our even the best commentators. To be a better speaker then Jim Nantz or Phil Simms? (who voices you will hear in mere hours announcing the super bowl…) Prophetic powers of speaking God’s word, knowing the future, understanding everything?! Faith to move mountains?! Giving all possessions to the poor?! Self sacrifice?! These are all highly laudable actions and qualities even to this day. Even in our life as 2013 American Christian Lutherans, people under this roof. We would all brag about these things if we were doing them, but Paul calls for a check. Why are you doing it?

What is not love? What is the not love that Paul is talking about?

Not love is self serving. When we do great things but have not love, we are doing them not out of love but of self serving. A not love situation is when something benefits ourselves more than helping others. God has not called us to love ourselves by loving our neighbors but to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mark 12:31) He has called us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matt 5:43) He has taught us to turn the other cheek. Not love is looking out for number one and forgetting who has won — victory over all things. “Take heart!” Jesus says, (meaning don’t forget!) “I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 – There is no greater benefit you can have than the life I give…

Not love is based on our feelings and emotions. When we do great things because we have a feeling of guilt to do something for someone else, or when we do great things because they make us feel better about ourselves and our situations, we are not doing them out of love but for a serotonin release. God has not called us to listen to ourselves and do what we think is right. NO! He has called us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him. (Luke 9:23) He has called us to be his disciples by holding to his teaching. Then are we truly his disciples. (John 8:31) Not love is listening to our heart more and before God’s word. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.” – You want to do acts of love? Stay connected to the greatest love of all.

Not love is what we think is best. When we do great things because they make sense as part of our plan for the future, they are not love. When we do great things because they add up on paper and will leave us comfortable, or even uncomfortable in the long run they are not love. Jesus convicts us with his words when He says, “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) We are not taught to pray, my will be done, but rather thy will be done. (Matthew 6:9-13) Not love is worshiping our plans instead of trusting in God’s plan. Psalm 33:11 reminds us: “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” – Our plans will fail they will fall, but God never changes.

Not love is Not God.

While Paul was calling out the Corinthians for Not love issues, we needing the same, also need to focus on what perfect love is. In order to see what perfect love is, the world would tempt us to find out what love feels like. Love is more than a feeling. Trust me. The winds of change will blow your feelings all over the map. But perfect love does not change. Instead of asking what does love feel like. We need to ask, what does love Look like.

Our culture is obsessed with the feeling of love. Some people are labeled as and even admit to being addicted to being in love. The feeling of love burns hot and then oftentimes burns out. Leaving the love addict searching for their next fix. They call them teenage crushes for a reason because those immense feelings often smash the ones who bear them. We fall into the trap of focusing so much on what love feels like that we forget the more important, concrete, and God given sense of sight and task of observation. It is ironic that our society which so highly exalts the sciences and praises empiricism holding it over and above and without God, yet when it comes to love defines it and finds it only in the butterflies and gushy rushy feelings. We forget what love looks like.

We know what love looks like and we know where to see that perfect love. We see perfect love described in the pages and ages of history and scripture and life of God’s people.

Love is the fulfillment of the law. In Romans 13:10 Paul tells us: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” We learn in the confirmation classes here at Trinity that the 10 commandments God gives us are not for us to follow so that we can get into heaven. Rather they are the guidelines God gives us for the life he intends us to live. The first three commandments are all about loving God and the 4-10 also known as the second table of the law are all about loveing our neighbor. To do these commandments perfectly we would be perfectly loving. We would have the love that paul describes in 1 Cor 13:4-6 where he says the famous words “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”

Reading onto the next verse is where people get the false impression that love is stupid. True love is blind, the world will tell you. The cheating lover in the soap opera or sitcom will sooth his romantic partners scorned feelings asking, “but I love you baby, don’t you love me?” And Hollywood writes the wonderful endings where the spurned lovers are blind to their lovers faults. This is not the kind of love that God gives us in perfect love when Paul says: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This is not a blind bearing, naieve believing, ignorant hoping, or callused enduring, of all things that attempt to destroy love. Rather this is a perfect love that will never fade and never pass away as paul says: “              Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”

Perfect love is found given and shed for you in the redemption and perfect love of Christ. In His life and death He embodied this love– bearing burdens without limit, faithful without wavering, hoping without despairing, suffering all things–the via crucis is the via caritatis–the way of the cross is the way of love. And it is a love that conquers even death itself.

The way of the cross is the way of love and the way of love is the way of the cross. We see the ultimate love in the work of Christ, the perfection we could not accomplish, the death we were not worthy to die. The love we have is not a love that starts with us. It is not a love that comes from within us. If the love starts with you it starts in the wrong spot. Thanks be to God, that “This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” And we see in Christ no greater love than the greatest of all loves when he doesn’t just lay down his life for his friends, but he lays it down for his enemies. He lays down his live for you and for me – to make us his friends.

That friendship with Christ, that union with him is yours this day and it’s a glorious picture of an even more glorious day. Love is anything that brings the future into the now. By being buried with Christ through baptism into his death, and rishing with him again daily in the washing of renewal and regeneration. We are broken and repaired and the future is brought into the now. Paul talks about this repared brokenness we live in in the end of the passage when he says: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away… For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

In our Gospel reading today, even the demons know who Jesus is. Knowledge of the savior is not the grace of the savior. The grace is even easier than the knowing. But the grace of God comes through Jesus the Holy One of God. The one who has been set apart, from the sinful muck of this world, and set apart from the love of the father on the cross so that we would not have to be set apart anymore. We can now be with the Son of God, sons of God as the Holy one, the Son of God leads the way.

The way he has led is the way to the place and time and perfection that awaits us all. He has risen from the dead and is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. Those who have died in the Lord and gone before us await us and that perfect union with no more sorrow and no more pain breaks into the day to day here and now through the acts of Love that the father gives us to do as his Son lives in us.

Christ living in us is God’s greatest love for us. Christ living in us means death no longer has any dominion over us. You are loved to love. Let us love one another and not forget that love is from God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Daily remember your birth. Daily remember to know.

In the love of God which is shown to us in Christ Jesus. Amen.

More Than a Feeling Bulletin Insert

Graphic by Brian Cole from CreationSwap

Audio available here.

Funeral Sermon: Ecclesiastes 3

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Family, Friends, and Neighbors (who have reshaped my definition of friends and neighbors over these past couple days), and especially you wife. God is with you. Always. Even as he is with him. Even as God is with you, may grace, mercy and peace also be with you through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Amen.

The text I have chosen for our mediation today on the occasion of his funeral are the words of Solomon from Ecclesiastes 3. Hear again some of the selected lines:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

If you turn on the television today you will not see or hear people mourning the loss of the great man we have gathered today to mourn. Trust me they are missing out on a great story of a great life and a great reason to weep good tears of joy at a life well lived. Instead you will hear the talking heads going on and on about time. Time is running out. We are almost out of time. These words will be a refrain up until tomorrow when the lines may very well turn into, we ran out of time, there wasn’t enough time, time got away from us.

Of course the time that the media outlets are talking about is the dwindling hours remaining before new tax laws can be passed to prevent the falling off of the fiscal cliff. Time is running out before taxes go up.

Come quickly Lord Jesus. Thankfully he is done fighting the battle here with us in the church militant. And along with that peace he now has, he never has to hear about how difficult it is for congress and our other leaders to straighten out our tax system and other systems.

Time is a favorite topic of people though. This is not new. In Ecclesiastes 1:9 Solomon tells us there is nothing new under the sun. Since the dawn of time, people have been obsessed with time.

22 times in the first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon uses the word time. Often we spend so much time talking about time, we run the danger of forgetting the one who has created time and who has ordered our days and our lives. This one who created and ordered all things has decided his time was up.

A time to be born was 91 years, 5 months and 7 days ago for him. 33,394 days later, the Lord had determined it was his time to die. In between were so many times worth remembering. 65 years of marriage, 29 months serving our country, 91 year of learning of our Savior’s love, more than a lifetime’s worth of faithful work as the detail man who had so much useless information that was so useful to his coworkers and supervisors; years of faithful membership at Trinity Lutheran where he strengthened so many of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ by being a devout and righteous man. Through those years there were times to laugh and times to mourn.

Not everything was glimmering for him. His battle here on earth was fraught with temptations. Fraught with doubts that Satan attempted to thwart God’s good plan with. But the time of war has ended for him and he is now enjoying a time of perfect peace.

He would want me to remind you today where that perfect peace came from. It was so comforting and encouraging to be studying the story of another devout and faithful man of God last week as I met with his wife and sat with her and a neighbor and him praying. Simeon was a man who like he didn’t receive much media attention the day he died. But Simeon is a man who’s story has been recorded in the Bible, just as his and his names have been found in the book of life.

Simeon was told that he would not die until he had seen the Christ child. Forty days after Jesus was born Simeon was in the temple when that moment came when he saw and held salvation in the baby boy who would grow and die on a cross for him and for you.

His time has come. Your time is coming. But you are in good hands as you hear the words of God that he has loved you and sent his son to die for you so that you might live forever.

I regret not spending more time with him as I am sure we all do. But I look forward to seeing him again in glory, in perfected glory as he looks back with his perfectly recreated eyes. I cannot wait and I know he is eager waiting with all the saints who have gone before us for that day when we will all be made new and there will no longer be any time for war, but together in the Church triumphant there will only be time for peace and for love and for laughter and joy and dancing.

In the name of Jesus who has won the victory for him and for you.

Amen.

Holding Jesus

Luke 2:25-32 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

 

Simeon holds in his heart of hearts all of the anxious anticipations of the Old Testament Israelites. He is the waiting people at their best. After over four hundred years of silence, following centuries of sin filled angst, the fullness of time had finally come and it came forth in a child to be held by a wrinkly, righteous, devout, old man.

God keeps His promises. In the child of Christ we see so much anticipated, answered. In Jesus the God child, we see God acting to save His people. The fullness of time had finally come and we see him delivering his people from their sins.

In the Christmas story we see the promises to Joseph and Mary fulfilled when they are indeed able to hold the child in their arms. Joseph was able to hold the Christ child, the one that God promised through angel who would be called Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

In the Christmas story we see many promises fulfilled, Isaiah foretold of a virgin bearing a child who would be called Immanuel, which means God with us. Mary was able to hold God. Able to hold her child, the son of the most high, the one who would receive the throne of his Father David; the one who reigns over the house of David forever. The one with a never ending kingdom was held in the arms of the young Mary. God fulfilling his promises while filling the arms of a mother and a surrogate father.

In the Christmas story we see many promises fulfilled. The Angel’s again were promise bearers when they brought glad tidings of great joy, which were for all people, and this news was that the savior was born. Christ the Lord! We don’t know if the shepherd took turns holding the newborn baby boy who would be their salvation. I am going to guess Mary declined to let that happen.

The Christmas story does not end in the manger though. The gift that keeps on giving went forth and did great things. Today our Gospel lesson has fast forwarded us forty days into the future, past the circumcision of Jesus where his blood was first shed as he bore the burden of the law on the eighth day of his life. Yet again, the burden of the law drives the parents of the pure one to the temple to sacrifice on behalf of the greatest sacrifice. Mary and Joseph came to bring a sacrifice on behalf of the one who makes all sacrifices perfect.

From our Old Testament lesson’s day on, Israelites were required to make a sacrifice on behalf of the first born child on its fortieth day of life. They were to bring two birds. Two turtle doves. Not six geese a laying, Not five golden rings, four calling birds, or three French hens but two doves, or pigeons were brought according to the Law of the Lord. Christ was born under the same law that had guarded the paths of the Israelites for ages and Christ did not come to abolish the law to fulfill it. The sacrifice on behalf of the perfect sacrifice is a beautiful irony of God.

The small sacrifice of the two small birds leads us to yet another promise fulfilled by God in the Christmas story. The promise we see fulfilled is such a small personal promise but it echoes for us in such huge resounding ways. This devout man Simeon, had received a special promise from God. Through the Holy Spirit it was revealed to Simenon that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Anointed one, or as our translations say, the Lord’s Christ.

Simeon was a great man of faith. The Bible gives Simeon a discription that is simple and to the point. Simeon was righteous and devout. Great adjectives to describe what must’ve been a great man. And as righteous and devout as Simeon was, he was still not perfect, there was still something missing for him It says that he was awaiting the consolation of Israel. He was waiting for something to come and make things better. He was waiting for the savior. Another way we know that the righteous and devout Simeon was not perfect is that he was to die. He was nearing his end and God had decided that Simeon’s death would follow his holding of Jesus. The day portrayed in our Gospel lessons, forty days after the birth of Christ was the day for Simeon; the day that meant the end; the end of waiting and the end of life. For Simeon, Holding Jesus meant his death. But for Simeon holding Jesus also meant his life.

Simeon has a pretty good one line description in Luke 2:25. If Dr. Luke, was writing a one line for you, what would it say? Righteous and devout are pretty high bars to rise to. On our good days we definitely can seem righteous and devout. Today is definitely one of those days, Sundays usually are. We get on our best clothes and put on our best face and slap on our smiles to face the crowds and bend the knees as we gather to sing. Righteous and devout is easy to pull off for a bit.

But once that façade falters what we are really holding onto begins to be seen again. Underneath our righteous and devout fronts we are holding onto so many things that we need to let go of. Simeon too had things that he needed to let go of. We are all holding onto things we need to let go of. We hold onto our sins, our faults and our failures. No matter how hard we try we cannot drop them. There is an ancient proverb that says “your past can rob your present if you let it.” This is a real danger that Satan would love you to be ensnared by. He loves it when you dwell depressedly on what was, what could’ve been what should’ve been, what you have done. We have a hard time letting go.

And just as dangerous, there are more things that we hold onto, sometimes even more desperately, grip our pride, self sufficiency’s, and desired futures holding them so hard and so tight that we are consumed by them, by ourselves. There is a not so ancient proverb that I coined which says “the future can rob your present if you let it.” Again, this is another danger that Satan loves to see people trapped in, the idea that you are able to do it on your own, that you are good enough to merit righteousness, the idea that you are devout enough to make it, the idea that your vision of your future is the best. These are all things we are all guilty of holding onto too tightly.

There is something that is difficult to hold when we are too busy holding onto these things. When we are holding onto our sins, faults, failures and our pride, self sufficiency’s, and desired futures, we cannot hold Jesus. We cannot hold Jesus when we are holding onto ourselves.

There is good news though. Just as for Simeon, holding Jesus meant his death was coming, holding Jesus means a death to sin. And Just as for Simeon, holding Jesus meant eternal life, holding Jesus means life, salvation, freedom from your past, freedom from your sins, freedom from your pains, freedom from your failed yesterdays, your flawed plans and your failed tomorrows. Holding Jesus means your death, holding Jesus also means your life.

Throughout the earthly ministry of Jesus there were many opportunities for people to hold Jesus. Those opportunities have not left us completely. But nothing held him tighter than the nails that fastened him to the cross; to your cross. It wasn’t Simeon, that held the cross as it was moved to Calvary’s mountain, but another footnoted figure from the Bible, Simon, carried the cross that would hold the sins of the entire world.

Just like the cross held our salvation. God gives us the gift of holding Jesus still. We can still hold Jesus in his word as we hold God at His word when He promises that he will never leave us or forsake us. We hold Jesus when we hold our breath remembering the drowning of our and evil desires, as we daily remember our baptisms. When we pick up the words of God we are holding the word made flesh. Even when we embrace a brother or sister in Christ, we are holding Jesus as Christ lives in his redeemed. In the words we behold, in the water that washes us, in the bread and wine that we hold when we take in eat, we hold Jesus. And just like when Simeon knew his death had come after holding the Christ Child, when we hold Jesus we die to sin.

But our death to sin means life. Because eventhough the cross held Jesus fast, the grave could not hold him. There was no holds barred on the road to the cross, but there was no death grip that could keep Jesus from rising again. The death we die in Christ, we die to sin and the life that is born in us each time we behold God’s forgiveness is life as certain as Christ’s resurrection.

Holding Jesus is what we do when we gather in this place. Holding Jesus does something to us. It kills us and makes us alive. And in this new life we become Christ bearers. We become Christ sharers. Simeon is a great example of this for us. In his words after holding Jesus we hear him say, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Immediately upon holding Jesus, Simeon speaks words that we recount week after week in the words of the nunc dimmitis. Following our holding of Christ later in this service as we receive his body and blodd, we will sing the words of simeon. Immediately upon holding Jesus, Simeon does something marvelous. Speaking prophetic words of joy and then to Mary, prophetic words of pain.

Simeon goes on to say to Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

It was to Mary that Simeon’s prophecy was spoken. Her child was also a sign of her falling and rising. Mary had to learn that she had a son, yet she did not have Him. He really had her. As much as we try to hold onto, to grasp, to handle, to hang onto Jesus, we really in all actuality are never holding him on our own at all. Even when we take and eat, it is as he holds us in his hands. As he never lets us go.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, holding Jesus today as you come forth for His body and blood, and going forth this day, holding Jesus, know that you are being held.

In the name of the one who continually holds us yet humbles himself to be held by us,

Even Jesus,

Amen.