Sunday, September 25, 2016
Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Those were Jesus’ final words last Sunday, spoken to a bunch of Pharisees who wished to condemn Him for healing a man on the Sabbath. The Pharisees despised the man with dropsy because they were proud and self-righteous. They considered the man beneath them, socially and spiritually; therefore they thought themselves justified in not extending to him love, mercy, and compassion. The Pharisee’s pride had enslaved them, for pride is in continual need of maintenance to keep it high and lofty and full. Pride is insatiable and will not bear the slightest diminution. And, because pride must be maintained, satisfied, and protected, the proud are inhibited from loving others. Pride is the epitome of self-love, selfishness, and self-righteousness. The proud will not, and cannot, enter the kingdom of heaven, for the kingdom of heaven cannot be obtained by effort, decision, or choice, but it must be received as a free gift by grace through faith.
And so today we heard Jesus’ disciples question Him about greatness in heaven. It was a wrong-minded and backward, though innately human, question. Our fallen humanity’s predilection to selfish pride, self-justification, and a belief in the merit of our works is definitive of our fallen nature, the Old Adam in each of us. Try as we may, we simply cannot shake off the beast entirely or crucify our flesh and its desires and passions. And yet, that is precisely what Jesus calls you, exhorts you, and commands you to do, every day of your life. Every day you awake, remember your baptism by making the sign of the cross “In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Confess your faith by praying the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. And confess your sins and pray for God’s absolution and protection throughout the day using Luther’s Morning Prayer. And then, at the end of the day, before you retire, remember your baptism by making the sign of the cross once again, “In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit,” confess your faith and your sins, and pray for absolution and protection through the night using Luther’s Evening Prayer. Bookending each day of your life in remembrance of your baptism, in repentance for your sins, and in the confident assurance of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ helps you to crucify your flesh and its sinful pride. It keeps you humble. It keeps you in Christ. It keeps you in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus answered His disciples’ wrong-minded and wrong-hearted question about greatness by teaching them about the necessary Christian virtue and fruit, humility. Jesus placed before them a child, a paidion, that is, a young child, a helpless child, maybe even an infant. Such a child, like the widow, the unclean, Gentiles, or known sinners had absolutely zero social standing in the first century Jewish culture and religious community. Such a child was the epitome of humility. And yet, Jesus taught His disciples that, if they did not become like that little child, they could never enter the kingdom of heaven. This was a continual theme in Jesus’ teaching. He told Nicodemus that he must be born again, and Nicodemus was confounded asking, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” However, Jesus was talking about baptism, being born again of water and the Holy Spirit. Truly, being born is the most humble human experience there is. You did not decide to be born. You did not deserve to be born. You had no right to be born. You did not choose your sex, your race, your parents, your nationality, your financial or social status. Being born is not a decision or a choice, but it is something that happens to you in which you are completely passive. Jesus would have you understand that this is how you are in relation to your God. This is how it is that you come to faith and are saved: Passive. God causes you to be born again by the creative work of His Holy Spirit through His Word made flesh Jesus Christ. No one comes to the Father except through Him – period.
You must humble yourself like a little culturally and socially and spiritually irrelevant child. You bring nothing to the table with God, not a one of you, which means that you are no better than anyone else when it comes to your standing before your Creator. Therefore, you must view your brother and sister in Christ, you must view your neighbor, the stranger, and even your enemy as being no less than yourself. You must receive them and respect them and love them and forgive them as God, in Christ, has received, respected, loved, and forgiven you. Only when you humble yourself and repent of your sinful pride, selfishness, and self-righteousness will God declare you great in the kingdom of heaven.
God’s holy angels look after His humble, repentant, little children. That is why there is rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who repents. God’s mighty, powerful, holy angels guard, protect, and defend His children from the Evil One and his demonic horde. And, woe to you, therefore, if you cause one of His little ones who believe in Him to sin. Woe to you if you present before them a stumbling block by your arrogant, prideful, selfish, and self-righteous treatment of them. So serious is the Lord about this that He says to you, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away,” and “if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” “See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” Jesus says, “For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”
Yes, God’s majestic angels, so mighty and powerful and holy, were created to serve Him and, perhaps surprisingly, they were created to serve you, His humble children. And, that was something one particular angel, Lucifer, could not handle. As I suggested last Sunday, Lucifer’s immense pride was, in large part, the cause of His fall. Lucifer could not accept the fact that God had placed Adam and Eve and all humanity above him and the holy angels. Lucifer perceived this as a slight to his pride and he was filled with anger and hatred for God, and for you whom God loves so very much. Therefore, since he could not harm God, his wrath was poured out against the object of God’s love, you His precious children. Truly, Satan hates you because he hates God. He doesn’t care if you worship him, but all he wants is for you to reject God and His Christ. He wants to destroy you, to murder you, to see you suffer the pain and eternal torment that he suffers. He knows that this is the only thing that can hurt God, to cause you to reject Him and burn in hell forever. Therefore, Satan tempts you. He tempts your pride, so that you look down upon others and judge and condemn them. He tempts you to selfishness and self-righteousness, to lovelessness and lack of mercy and compassion. He tempts you to justify yourself in your anger and hatred against others, to be merciless and unforgiving, to harden your heart so that you cannot love and, consequently cannot receive love or be forgiven. You will become like the hard packed soil of the path, and Satan will snatch the life-giving, faith-creating Word of the Gospel from you, and you will die.
There was a war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the great dragon Satan and defeated him. But he was thrown down to the earth in a great rage where he now afflicts the children of God. He is filled with great and desperate wrath because he knows that his time is short. He is a liar and a deceiver and a murderer. But he is defeated. His power to keep you in death was destroyed when the sinless Son of God Jesus Christ died in your place. Then the “Seed of the Woman” crushed the head of the seed of the serpent. Therefore, do not fear the one who can kill the body, but fear only the One who can kill both body and soul in hell. That One is NOT the devil, but that One is God.
There was a war in heaven, but now that war has come down to earth, and your soul is the battlefield. The truth is, your Enemy has been defeated, but still he tempts you and deceives you to despair that he is the victor and to destroy your faith in Christ. Do not give into him by being fearful and prideful and unmerciful and unforgiving. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Pray. And, repent, daily, in all humility. Return daily to your baptism and put on the armor of God by which you may withstand the fiery darts of Satan. Do not be afraid. You are not alone, but God’s holy angels watch over you, protect you, and defend you. God commands His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. And, do not, by your pride and arrogance, selfishness and self-righteousness, and lack of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness despise any of the LORD’s little ones who believe in Him. But, come, now, and be cleansed and forgiven, nourished, strengthened, equipped, and sent in the precious and holy body and blood of Jesus Christ that you may persevere and endure. To God alone be all glory, praise, and honor.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
John 14:1-6; Romans 6:3-10; Isaiah 43:1-3a, 25
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Nanny and Hassel, Anita and David, extended family and friends of our departed brother in Christ Lars Snellman: Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember and to give thanks for the life and faith of our brother Lars, and to give thanks to our Lord and God who purchased Lars from sin and death in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ, and has promised forgiveness and life everlasting to all who trust in Him: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God redeemed Lars from sin and death when Jesus died on the cross for his sins, and for the sins of all men. But, Lars received that forgiveness and life personally when he was baptized fifty-seven years ago. Then the old evil nature he was conceived and born with was drowned in those cleansing and purifying waters and the Holy Spirit took up residence in Lars and created and sustained faith in him throughout his life until the day his soul was taken to Jesus. In Holy Baptism, God made His covenant with Lars personal, and He named him and claimed him as His own son with the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you. I am with you always, even unto the end of the age. And, nothing can separate you from my love which is in Jesus Christ.” Therefore, you who grieve and mourn, take comfort and find peace, not in empty platitudes like, “Lars was a good man,” but in the rock-solid, objective love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ. God made a promise to Lars, even as He has promised you, that even a mustard seed of faith will receive sonship to the Father, the entirety of the Kingdom of Heaven, and life everlasting in Jesus Christ. God is good. God is love. God is truth. And, God is unchanging. Therefore, do not fear, but give thanks to the LORD and glorify His Name by trusting Him and clinging to Jesus in faith for forgiveness, life, and salvation, and show and share His love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness with others to the glory of His Most Holy Name.
Listen again to the words of the Prophet Isaiah from the Old Testament reading you heard just a moment ago: “But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’.” Do you see how the LORD is not kidding here? What He has spoken in His Word, what He has promised you, cannot be revoked. The LORD’s Word and Promise is irrevocable, immutable, and eternal. The Word has truly gone out from His mouth and it will not, it can not return to Him void. For the Word of the LORD became flesh and Has made His dwelling with you. Jesus took up your flesh and blood as a man, was obedient to the LORD for you, as your brother, and has died for your sins, enduring in His own body the penalty of the world’s sin, death. And, He has been raised from death and the grave in His flesh and blood body and eternal soul, the sign, seal, and promise of your own flesh and blood bodily resurrection when He returns on the Last Day. This Word and Promise is for you, as it is for Lars. It is true. It will happen. You can take it to the bank and bet your life, now, and then, on it. For, He “is the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” He has blotted out your transgressions for His own sake, and He remembers not your sins.
Like His Lord Jesus, Lars was a carpenter. He used his hands to build, to serve. This was his vocation – His God-given, Spirit-equipped, vocation. Lars did excellent work! He restored antique barns from top to bottom. He labored carrying heavy wood and climbing to heights no one else wanted to. When David and Anita moved into their home in Wingdale, it was Lars who climbed a tall tree near the house to remove poison ivy so the family would be safe. Often his work was tedious and laborious, yet he did it patiently and carefully with much attention to detail. Lars was a carpenter. That was his God-given, Spirit-equipped, vocation.
However, Lars wasn’t perfect, was he? How about you? I recall that Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” and that “There will be rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.” In truth, Lars struggled mightily with addiction to alcohol. What false gods and slaveries are you tempted to submit to enslave you? Beware of trying to take specks out of your brother’s eye while you have a log in your own eye. There’s another saying worth remembering: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Let us all humble ourselves before the uncompromising grace and mercy of our God in Jesus Christ. Lars was clumsy. He loved fishing, but would invariably end up in the water himself before taking his catch home. One time he bolted down his friends planter so that, the next time he tripped over it, he wouldn’t knock it over. There’s a man who knew his weakness and tried to do something about it. No, Lars wasn’t perfect. If he was, he wouldn’t need God’s mercy and forgiveness, he wouldn’t need Jesus’ blood to cleanse him of his sins. No, Lars wasn’t perfect, but he was forgiven. And, thanks be to God, so are you.
Dearly beloved, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Lars believed in God, and Lars believed in his Savior, Jesus. Are you tempted to examine his fruits? That is fine, for Jesus taught that you will His people by their fruits. However, be careful to examine them in humility and in repentance at the paucity of your own fruit-bearing, and do not be tempted to examine them too critically or narrowly. Your LORD desires mercy, not sacrifice, and your love covers a multitude of sins, not least of all your own. Jesus went to heaven to prepare a place for Lars, even as He has prepared a place for you. And, Jesus will come again to take you and Lars to Himself that, where He is, you may also be. Remember that even faithful Thomas – you know him as Doubting Thomas; isn’t that comforting, since you undoubtedly have your doubts at times – remember that even faithful Thomas replied to the Lord, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus’ answer to Thomas is His answer to you and to Lars and to all men: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is most certainly true, but it is not intended to exclude, but to encourage, for Jesus has blazed the way for all of His sheep to follow Him, and even now He leads the way through this valley of the shadow of death that is our lives in this world, guiding us with the rod and staff of His Word, leading us through the cool waters of Holy Baptism, and feeding us with His body and blood, even in the presence of our enemies. And, Jesus has destroyed the gate at the end of that valley that would keep us in death and has made it an open passageway into heaven for those who trust in Him. When He proclaimed from the cross, “It is finished!” it was. Believe it, for Jesus’ sake. If you have been united with Jesus in a death like His, you shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. This is our hope, our comfort, and our peace. This is why, along with the tears, there is also hope. We are not like those who have no hope. God keeps His promises. God will raise Lars from death to new and eternal life even as He will raise you who trust in Jesus.
Therefore, today we remember God’s promise made to Lars in Jesus Christ, a promise that He has kept. And, we look forward to that day when God will raise our bodies from death and the grave and reunite them with our eternal souls in heaven in life and joy and glory that never ends with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom be all glory and honor in our lives, in our deaths, and in our resurrection, world without end.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Luke 14:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-6; Proverbs 25:6-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” That is the Third Commandment. That is why we are here today. No, it’s not Saturday. It doesn’t really matter what day it is, but we gather on this day because it is the Lord’s Day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Sabbath doesn’t mean Saturday. Sabbath means rest. The Sabbath Day is a day to rest in the Lord. Yes, it is true that the LORD commanded His people, and you, to not work. There is even an account of a man who was caught gathering sticks on a Sabbath who was put to death for His contempt. That is why some sects of Judaism are prohibited to even flip on a light switch or to punch digits into a microwave oven on a Sabbath. To perform any labor, regardless of how menial, is thought to be a violation of the Sabbath law. Therefore, you can plainly see why Jesus fell so quickly out of favor with the Pharisees. Jesus regularly helped and healed people in need on the Sabbath. He encouraged His disciples to pluck grain and eat on the Sabbath. But, should we therefore conclude that Jesus had contempt for the Sabbath? Did Jesus have contempt for the LORD? No, of course not. But, once again, we see that the Pharisees believed that they practiced the letter of the law, which they truly didn’t, while they knew nothing of the spirit of the law, which is love. Love is the fulfilling of the law. Doing the loving thing is always the lawful thing.
The man who was executed for gathering sticks on the Sabbath was doing so, not out of loving service, but out of contempt for the Sabbath and for the LORD. Those who willfully neglect taking rest in the LORD, time to hear His Word and receive His gifts and return to Him thanks and praise do the same. Thus, Luther explains the Third Commandment in His Small Catechism saying, “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.” You see, there is absolutely nothing in this commandment about not working, not serving, not doing what needs to be done to care for yourself and others, but the Third Commandment is all about receiving – about setting aside sacred time to rest in God’s Word and Gifts, to thank and to praise Him. If your ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, by all means, help the poor beast and pull him out! And, if anyone has need and you have the means and opportunity to help them, even on a Sabbath, not only are you not prohibited by the Third Commandment, but you are actually commanded to do the loving thing, to do the lawful thing, and to help that person. As Jesus taught, “Just do it!” J
And so it was that Jesus was dining with the Pharisees in the home of a Pharisee on a Sabbath day. You can be certain that some goy (Gentile) prepared the meal, lit the lamps, and even opened the door for the guests. The Pharisees were watching Jesus carefully. That is to say that they were hoping to catch Him in some transgression of the law that they could accuse Him and condemn Him. It was a trap. “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” Dropsy would be called edema today, a swelling of the limbs due to excess water. One who suffered from dropsy in the first century would have been considered to be especially unclean, both due to the disfigurement it caused and due to the assumption that dropsy was a result of immoral behavior. St. Luke introduces the man with dropsy saying “And behold!” It almost sounds as if he miraculously appeared before Jesus; and maybe he did. The Pharisees would not have permitted him in because of his uncleanness. Perhaps Jesus saw him outside the window or passed him on his way in. However he appeared there, the man with dropsy became an object lesson by which Jesus would catch the Pharisees in His own trap.
When the man with dropsy appeared before Him, Jesus turned to the lawyers and Pharisees and He asked them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” They could not answer Him a word, so they remained silent. Though they wanted to say, “No, it is not lawful to heal on the Sabbath,” they could not, for the law that was written on their hearts and in their conscience convicted them. They knew that the spirit of the law was to love, that love is always lawful. This was an opportunity for the lawyers and Pharisees to repent, to be changed in their hearts and minds, and to be cleansed, healed, and restored from their sin-sickness-unto-death. And, over the course of Jesus’ ministry several did including Nicodemus and Saul. However, most did not, but they hardened their hearts against Jesus and against God’s law, against God Himself. In the end, they stood in firm opposition to the LORD, even though they knew in their hearts that He was right and true and innocent. They condemned Him and sent Him to the cross and murdered Him rather than risk losing their power, wealth, and influence among the people.
Jesus did not hesitate. He was not ruled by fear and coercion under the law, but was free in the spirit of the Law and the grace of the Gospel that He embodied and which He was proclaiming to all who felt the burden of their sins and uncleanness and cried out for mercy in humility and repentance. “He took him and healed him and sent him away.” Then Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of the lawyers and Pharisees by reminding them how they would without hesitation help their son or daughter or a beast of burden that was in distress on a Sabbath, but they would not lift a finger to help the man with dropsy, claiming obedience to the law of God as an excuse for their lack of love, mercy, and compassion. Once again they had nothing to answer. They remained silent, convicted by the truth and righteousness of the Word of the LORD.
However, this incident wasn’t about the law at all, at least, not for Jesus, but it was about the Gospel. That is why Jesus quickly turns to teach about humility. Jesus knew the hearts of the lawyers and Pharisees. They were filled with pride and self-righteousness. Their reading of the law permitted them to judge and condemn others and to justify themselves. They believed that they kept the law exceedingly well, and they did in some respects, but, in truth, they had lowered the bar of the law in order to make it more do-able, and yet kept that bar high enough that most others fell short. It’s rather easy to keep the Sabbath if all it means is to sit on your butt and not lift a finger to do anything or help anyone. However, that is NOT what the Third Commandment commands. The Third Commandment, like all the Commandments, commands love for God first and, consequently, love for the neighbor – for all neighbors, at all times, without exception or discrimination, even on a Sabbath, perhaps especially on a Sabbath.
Jesus knew that the lawyers and Pharisees enjoyed and coveted the honor and prestige they had among the people. Therefore He told them a parable about not seeking the highest places of honor when invited to a feast or a banquet. Jesus instructed them to take the lowest place that they might, perchance, be invited by the master of the feast to move up higher, and then be honored in the presence of others since that means so much to them. Jesus doesn’t care about the honor of men, but He knew that the Pharisees did. Still, there was a barb in Jesus’ parable, for the entire situation placed the Pharisees in a passive and receptive position: They were invited to a feast. They might be invited to move up to a higher place. This was not the way the lawyers and Pharisees imagined themselves. They were proud. They assumed that they merited and deserved the invitation, that they merited and deserved the place of honor. Their pride blinded them. They couldn’t grasp the concept that, before the LORD, they were no more worthy, meritorious, or deserving of honor than were notorious sinners – tax collectors and prostitutes – or the unclean – lepers, Samaritans, Gentiles, the woman with the flow of blood, or even the man with dropsy whom Jesus had just cleansed and healed before them on a Sabbath. Indeed, that man was not invited to the feast by the lawyers and Pharisees, but he was welcomed and honored by Jesus in their presence and given the highest place – the love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, healing, and cleansing of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, the fulfillment of the Law of God, the Lord of the Sabbath and of us all.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” I suppose this is a law statement to those whose hearts are proud and hard like the lawyers and the Pharisees, but to those who are humble and broken, to those who confess and acknowledge their sinful weakness and unworthiness before the LORD, it is pure, beautiful, glorious, and liberating Gospel. And, that is what the invitation is in Jesus’ parable – Gospel. You do not get into the Wedding Banquet of King Jesus by your merit and worth, but you are invited by grace – grace alone, received through faith alone, in the Word of God Jesus Christ alone. And, though you do not merit a place of honor, you are honored with a place – a place Jesus has prepared for you in His Father’s House, to which He will come and raise you from death to reside forever with Him on the day of His return in glory.
It is said that the cause of Lucifer’s fall from grace was his pride, hence the phrase, “Pride goeth before the fall.” I suspect that there was more to it than that, but there is no doubt that pride was a significant part of his fall. However, pride takes many forms: Self-righteousness, self-importance, selfishness, arrogance, rudeness, insensitivity and lack of compassion and mercy, impatience, lack of self-control, wrath, intolerance, lovelessness. Therefore St. Paul exhorts you to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This begins in your home with your husband, wife, and children, and in the church, your family of faith in Christ. Here is where you are given to love and endure and forgive, so that you may be a light, leaven, and salt when you leave this place and witness to Christ and the glory of the LORD in the world. Right here, in this place and in your homes, more than anywhere else, you must humble yourself and serve your brother and sister in Christ so that you may be equipped to love and show mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to your neighbor in the world, be he friend or foe. For, “there is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” The man with dropsy, the lawyer and the Pharisee, the tax collector and the prostitute, the homosexual, the tax cheat, the liar, the divorcee and the adulterer, the petty thief, the gossip and the backbiter, the fearful and the hateful, the unforgiving, and, yes, even you, are invited to the Wedding Feast. However, do not come with your prideful and arrogant expectations of self-worth and self-importance, but come in humility, in broken-heartedness, contrition, and repentance and you will be honored. You will be honored with forgiveness and healing and restoration and life that never ends with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For, all are one in the LORD, “there is no distinction: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This is His gracious invitation to you. As you have received, so must you also share, for this is the fruit of repentance and love to the glory of God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
John 14:1-6; Revelation 21:1-7; Isaiah 25:6-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Kristine and Kevin, Thomas and Caroline, Barbara and Joseph, Ryan, Connor, Kayla, and Alex, and all of Granny’s beloved grandchildren, and extended family, neighbors, and friends of our departed sister in Christ, Virginia Mikalsen: Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember and to give thanks for the life and faith of our sister Virginia, and to give thanks to our Lord and God who purchased Virginia from sin and death in the holy, innocent shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ, and has promised forgiveness and life everlasting to all who trust in Him: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God redeemed Virginia from sin and death when Jesus died on the cross for her sins, and for the sins of all people. But, Virginia received that forgiveness and life personally when she was baptized seventy-five years ago. Then the old evil nature she was conceived and born with was drowned in those cleansing and purifying waters and the Holy Spirit took up residence in Virginia and created and sustained faith in her throughout her life until the day her soul was taken to Jesus. In Holy Baptism, God made His covenant with Virginia personal, and He named her and claimed her as His own daughter with the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you. I am with you always, even unto the end of the age. And, nothing can separate you from my love which is in Jesus Christ.” Therefore, you who grieve and mourn, take comfort and find peace, not in empty platitudes like, “Virginia was a good woman,” but in the rock-solid, objective love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ. God made a promise to Virginia, even as He has promised you, that even a mustard seed of faith will receive sonship to the Father, the entirety of the Kingdom of Heaven, and life everlasting in Jesus Christ. God is good. God is love. God is truth. And, God is unchanging. Therefore, do not fear, but give thanks to the LORD and glorify His Name by trusting in Him and clinging to Jesus in faith for forgiveness, life, and salvation, and show and share His love, mercy, grace, compassion, and forgiveness to others to the glory of His Most Holy Name.
Listen again to the words of the Prophet Isaiah from the Old Testament reading you heard just a moment ago: “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” This is true now for you in Jesus Christ, and yet the fullness of this truth you do not yet experience. But, Virginia does. Likewise, when St. John proclaims in the Revelation, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away,” this promise is both now, and not yet, for you, but Virginia is experiencing this peace and comfort right now. As Jesus promised the repentant thief who was crucified with Him saying, “Truly, this day you will be with me in paradise,” even so Virginia, and you, and all who die in the Lord, are with Jesus in paradise.
The Lord is your Shepherd as you make your way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. That valley is not something you pass through only when you die, but it is your life, right now. From conception to death, you traverse through that valley. And, as you make your pilgrim way, you are not alone, for your Lord Jesus is with you caring for you, guiding you, and protecting you, feeding you with His body and His blood, leading you where He Himself has already trod, out of death and into life everlasting in His Father’s house. What comfort and peace this Word and Promise should bring you even now, even as you grieve and mourn the death of Virginia.
Therefore, let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in your Lord and Savior Jesus. In His Father’s house are many rooms. Jesus has gone before you to prepare a place for you there. And, one day, He will come again to take you to be with Him forever, to be with Virginia forever. Until then, be comforted in the assurance that Virginia is with Jesus. However, even more, rejoice, that one day, you will see her again. You will see your mother and grandmother, your friend and your sister in Christ once again, with your own eyes. You will hear her voice with your own ears. You will hold her real flesh and blood hands and throw your real flesh and blood arms around her real flesh and blood shoulders. The way it was once is the way it will be, only forever, and without cancer, without pain, without suffering, sorrow, grief, or tears, but only perfect peace, contentment, happiness, and joy. You can scarcely imagine, now, what it would feel like to have no want. But, Virginia knows. Virginia feels. Virginia experiences, now, that perfect fulfillment that comes only from being in the presence of Jesus without any dimness, darkness, or impediment.
The selfless love that Virginia showed to you and to others throughout her life is now being showered upon her in the fullness of God’s grace without any impediment of sin. Truly Virginia was concerned more about others than herself. She would do anything for anyone, but especially for her children and grandchildren. Virginia loved and cared with a seemingly boundless love and care. Truly it was boundless, for she shared with you what she herself had received from the Lord: Grace, mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness. Virginia loved and cared for her husband Arthur, visiting him daily at the nursing home, bringing him his favorite strawberry milkshake. Virginia loved and cared for her grandchildren with whom she lived this past decade. She was such an irreplaceable part of that family that, now, no one can find anything anymore! Granny always knew. And, Virginia loved all of her grandchildren the same. She would, literally, give you the food off of her plate if you needed it, if you wanted it. And, if you were a furry, four-footed creature, well, you held a special place in her heart. If an animal was injured or in need, she could not let it suffer or go unaided. And, dear Lucy, surely there was never a dog so adored and pampered and spoiled. Even the neighbor’s pets were cared for by Virginia. And you, you wanted to help her, and God knows you tried. But Virginia wouldn’t hear of it. She would find some way to turn it around, and there she was loving you, and serving you, and caring for you, and providing for you. Just like Jesus.
However, none of that is surprising. That was Virginia. And Virginia was that way because she had received such blessings herself from the Lord. Virginia loved with Jesus’ love. She gave with Jesus’ gifts. She forgave with Jesus’ forgiveness. And, she served in Jesus’ selflessness and sacrifice. And that is what we are all called to do, to share the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness we ourselves have received from the Lord with others, without feeling slighted, without resentment, without counting the cost, and without any sense of loss. No, that wasn’t surprising at all, for you could see Christ in her – you knew that she was Christ’s disciple by her love. Perhaps the best way that you can honor Virginia and remember her is by extending the love that she showed you to others. You know how that would make her feel. She was so very proud of you. She loved you. And you loved her. And, that is why her death hurts so very much.
Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Jesus. You will see Virginia again and your hearts will rejoice. And no one will be able to take away your joy.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.