Sunday, June 26, 2016
Luke 5:1-11; Romans 8:18-23; 1 Kings 19:11-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fishing is a very different sport than most. It doesn’t require great strength or even physical fitness at all. While knowledge and experience are most certainly helpful, they do not guarantee success. You simply cannot make a fish take the bait and swallow the hook. No, rather, in fishing, you must have extreme patience. The fish must come to you. The fisherman offers an enticing bait and lure, and then he waits. There is no work to be done. Indeed, what you need to do is be still, watch, and wait until a fish takes the bait.
It might surprise you, then, that Jesus uses the example of fishing and fisherman to teach about how people are brought into the kingdom of God. It shouldn’t, however, for Jesus as a teacher continually calls you to see ordinary things in a new way. Fishing is so common that you likely take it for granted. Therefore, he catches you by saying that the kingdom of God is somehow like fishing. And, not fishing with bait and lures, mind you, but fishing with a net. You see, the difference with net fishing is that you don’t even cleverly lure the fish to the net, or trick them, but you simply let down the net and then pull it up, enclosing good fish and bad fish and seaweed and branches and whatever else there might be. There is no real human skill involved. Again, experience and wisdom will surely help, but sometimes you’re going to catch very little, and sometimes you’re going to catch a lot. And, when we’re talking about the kingdom of God, it is the Holy Spirit who does the catching through the net of the Gospel. All you have to do is let down the net, be patient, and let the fish come to you whom Holy Spirit calls.
Shortly before this Gospel account Jesus had announced, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” And, so, that was precisely what Jesus was doing when He encountered some fishermen busy washing their nets. They had toiled all night fishing and had caught nothing at all. They were exasperated, disappointed, and exhausted. Jesus came to them with the Good News of the kingdom of God. He got into one of their boats and asked Simon to put out a little from the land. Then Jesus sat down and began to teach the people from the boat. Jesus was letting down His Net for a catch, and He caught Simon, James, and John, His first disciples. However, when Jesus told Simon to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch, Simon and the others must have thought He was nuts. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Simon protested. He was right. And, that was precisely what Jesus wanted Simon to confess. Even our best efforts must fail without the Word of the Lord and faith. But, Simon had faith, if little faith. He had been caught in Jesus’ Gospel Net. “But at your Word I will let down the nets,” he replied.
And so, out they went, into the dark and into the deep, hopeless and tired, on faith and in trust in the Word of Jesus alone. They went, likely not expecting anything, but simply because of Jesus’ Word. So too, this is why we preach the Gospel. We do not use the Gospel like a tool that we skillfully manipulate to achieve out goals, but we proclaim it in faith and trust that the Holy Spirit will work through it when and where He pleases to catch new believers in Jesus to the glory of God. This Jesus taught also in the Parable of the Sower: The Sower simply sows His Gospel Seed without any concern as to the condition of the soil. Though only one quarter bears fruit, it bears a hundredfold. When it comes to the Gospel, you must put aside all human wisdom, ingenuity, skill, craft and cunning, programs, business models, and all other things of the world and the flesh and you must trust in the Word of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. No man, be he a preacher, a teacher, an evangelist, or anything else has ever converted a soul to faith in Christ, but the Holy Spirit alone calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps those whom He wills to the one true, living, and fruitful faith. As one of my favorite bands, The Avett Brothers, puts it in their newest song released just this week, “There ain't no man can save me. There ain't no man can enslave me. Ain't no man or men that can change the shape my soul is in.” Only the Holy Spirit can do that through the Word of the Gospel. Glory be to God alone for faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ.
“And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” While all their natural efforts came up empty and fruitless, at a Word from the Lord the nets came back filled to the point of breaking, a hundredfold. At the Lord’s command, the hopelessness of sore backs and empty nets gave way to the greatest catch of fish they’d ever seen! Labor and hope. God desires these two things from us. This is why He says to Simon, “Put out into the deep and cast out your net,” as if to say, “Do what is required of fishermen.” “Labor and hope,” says the Lord, “and let me see to your sustenance.”
When Simon Peter saw it, however, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Jesus’ miracle had caused Simon’s conscience to open up, so that he became aware of his sins – his lack of fear, love, and trust in God. However, Jesus did not chastise Simon, He did not preach the Law to Him, but instead He absolved His sins and comforted Him saying, “Do not be afraid.” And Jesus gave Simon and James and John this charge, “From now on you will be catching men alive.” You see, fish die when they are caught, but the Gospel net brings men out of death and into life eternal.
By His Word, you were drawn from the waters of the baptismal font alive, reborn, forgiven, and into the Ark of the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. The Net of the Gospel never breaks – men are saved by believing until the Church is complete. And just as, by the Word of Christ, the net brought so many fish that it could not contain them, so now by the preaching of Simon and his fellows would the fish of the world, that is, people of the world, be brought in to the Net of the Holy Christian Church by that power alone. As Luther teaches us to confess in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. [Even as] He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”
That’s how it works. It’s not by gimmicks. It’s not by catchy melodies. It’s not by changing the liturgy to be more user-friendly to the culture. It’s not by the best-laid plans of men, who try to make things just so to bring people into the Church by their best efforts. It is in spite of man’s best efforts that the fish of the world are drawn into the Net and that men are drawn into the Church. It is in spite of us, not because of us. It is because of the almighty Word of Christ and that Word alone. The Lord calls pastors to fish for men with the Net of the Gospel and bring them into the boat of the Church. However, once a fish has been caught he becomes a fisherman also. That is your Christian vocation in this world, to cast the Gospel Net far and wide, without discrimination, through the unique vocations the Lord has called you to: Husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, teacher, student, engineer, salesman, cook, waiter, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. Out there in the world, in your lives, through your vocations, you are the hands, the heart, and the mouth of Jesus for all who will believe, not because of your efforts, but in spite of them, when you are forgiven, fed and nourished, equipped and strengthened for service in the Word and Sacraments of Jesus Christ.
“And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” “Now, Pastor,” you say, “that sure sounds like they left their fishing vocation and entered full time ministry with Jesus, doesn’t it?” Well, there are two things to keep in mind here: Simon Peter, James, and John were called to be disciples and, later, after their training was complete, Apostles, Pastors to care for the Church after Christ’s Ascension until His Parousia on the Last Day. They, literally, were called to leave everything and follow Jesus. However, countless others were called to discipleship, but not to Apostleship, not to the Office of the Holy Ministry. And, their callings, their vocations, are no less important and necessary. The world still needs fishermen, and tax collectors, and tent makers, and butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. What we are all called to leave behind is our love and idolatry to worldly and fleshly things – to mammon. In other places Jesus teaches that you must hate you mother and your father, that you must hate your own life. Again, the point is that you must not love anyone or anything more than or above the LORD. This is nothing other than the First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. No, Jesus does not call you to forsake your vocations, for they are holy vocations, necessary for life in this world and precious in the sight of the Lord when lived and worked in faith, hope, and love. Indeed, this is the work that you must do, not to earn merit or favor before the Lord, but as an extension and conduit of the Lord, His grace, compassion, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Labor and hope. God desires these two things from us. Do what is required of fisherman, what is required of Christians. Have mercy. Show compassion. Give. Forgive. Love all. Just do it. Labor and hope, and let the LORD see to your sustenance.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Luke 6:36-42; Romans 8:18-23; Genesis 50:15-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In 1972 a psychologist by the name of Walter Mischel conducted a study at Stanford University that has come to be known as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. In the experiment a child between the ages of four and six was seated at a table alone in a room while a tray was placed before him containing one marshmallow. The child was instructed that he could eat the marshmallow immediately if he wanted to or he could wait until the researcher returned and then he could have two marshmallows. The researcher then left the room and the child was videotaped as he sat and pondered his decision.
As you can perhaps imagine, the behavior of the children was often humorous and sometimes torturous. Some children would cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they could not see the tray, others started kicking the desk, or tugging on their pigtails, or stroking the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal, while a few would simply eat the marshmallow as soon as the researcher left. The Marshmallow Experiment has been repeated several times and recently a video has made its way around the internet and has become viral (extremely popular) because of the near torturous facial expressions and the humorous behaviors the children in the study exhibited as they attempted to resist temptation and forgo immediate gratification for the promise of a reward after a period of waiting. While a few children would eat the marshmallow immediately, of the over 600 who took part in the experiment, only one third could defer gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.
It can be hard to wait, even torturous, and the devil and our own flesh, desires, and passions continually war against us so that we give in to temptation and reach for immediate gratification rather than wait for the promised reward. This is why we are in debt, we give in to the temptation to charge what we want and take it home today rather than save up our money over time to buy it later. When we are children we cannot wait to grow up and to be adults, and so we give in to the temptation to do adult things before we are ready, or legal, and we find ourselves in trouble. And, when we are treated unjustly by others, when bad things happen to us and to those that we love, when we see poverty and hunger, war, and pestilence in our cities, our nation, and our world, we become impatient with God’s timeline and we curse Him for not acting quicker or we take action ourselves, even against His Word and His will to right our perceived wrongs, often causing greater suffering and affliction for ourselves and for our neighbors.
Waiting is a test of our faith. In fact, the Holy Scriptures speak of faith in terms of waiting. The Psalmist David sings, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” And he exhorts you, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” And the Sage Solomon warns, “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you.” And the Prophet Jeremiah comforts you saying, “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”
For, so much more than the promise of man do we have the promise of God: “I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply.” “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” And we have the promise of our Lord Jesus, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." And, so much more than the promise of a marshmallow, or a new TV, or even physical health or peace in this world do we have the promise of True and eternal life, peace, and fulfillment in communion with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In today’s Gospel lesson our Lord Jesus exhorts you to be merciful, just as God your Father is merciful. Jesus exhorts you to not judge your brother and your neighbor but always to forgive them and give to them what they need. To be sure, this is often hard to do, and sometimes it seems impossible. Indeed, it is impossible to be merciful, to refrain from judging, but forgive, give to, and love your brother and neighbor unless you first have received mercy, forgiveness, and love from God your Father through Jesus Christ.
And, in our Old Testament lesson you heard how Joseph forgave his brothers all the evil they had done to him. In his mercy and forgiveness Joseph served as an example, even an icon, of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love in Jesus Christ. Joseph even confessed that, though his brothers meant it for evil, God used their evil and his own suffering for good. So too does God use the evil and the suffering that you and your loved ones experience for good. So too does God use all the evil and suffering in the world for good according to His mysterious and holy wisdom and will. Joseph knew God’s love for him, and with God’s love he loved his brothers who meant him harm. So too you, knowing God’s love for you in Jesus Christ, can love your brothers and neighbors, even when they mean you harm, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things.
And this is how mercy, reserving judgment, forgiving, and giving are related to patience and faith, hope, and trust. These are all the fruits of ἀγάπη, God’s divine, selfless and sacrificial love. We love God because He first loved us, and we love one another because we are loved by God. And because God has loved us, we trust Him to be faithful and to keep His promises, knowing that He works all things for the good of those He has called in Jesus Christ. This is why St. Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” for God has promised that He will see us through all sufferings, crosses, and persecutions, even death, to the resurrection to eternal life. He has given His own Son unto death and has raised Him to life and seated Him at His right hand in power and glory as living proof of the trustworthiness of His promises.
So, for now, we live our lives to God and to His glory in selfless and sacrificial love for our brothers and our neighbors in faith, hope, and trust in our gracious God and LORD for a glory yet to be revealed. And while we wait patiently for the redemption of our bodies, the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh war against us, tempting us to judge and to condemn our brothers and neighbors, to seek revenge, and to satisfy the desires and the passions of the flesh. When we resist these temptations we make a sacrifice and we experience suffering, but these sacrifices and sufferings are precious to God and they are sanctified in the sacrifice and sufferings of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
And, with the measure that you give it will be measured back to you. For, what you give consists of what God your Father has given you. When you are merciful, it is God’s mercy that you show to your brother and neighbor. When you refrain from judging, it is because you have not been judged by God for your trespasses and sin. When you refrain from condemning, it is because you are not condemned. And, when you forgive, it is because you have been forgiven and it is with God’s forgiveness that you forgive your brother and neighbor. For, you are a manager and a steward of God your Father’s mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love, and with the measure you use of your Father’s gifts will it be measured back to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.
And, your Father is ready here today to pour these gifts into your ears and your mouths and your hearts that you may be filled with His mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love so that not only are you filled to the brim with His love, but your hearts will overflow in abundance as you serve your brother and neighbor in love to the glory of God the Father.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Lady Wisdom has built Her house. It is a palatial dwelling, even a temple, having seven pillars. For, indeed, Lady Wisdom is none other than the glorious presence of God dwelling amongst men, first in the Garden, later in the Tabernacle and in the Temple, and lastly and consummately, in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Likewise, the seven pillars are the Holy Spirit of God in His seven-fold gifts – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, holiness, and the fear of the Lord – through which He calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps in the true faith those who do not reject Him.
Wisdom has slaughtered Her beasts; She has mixed Her wine; She has also set Her table. And, now, “She has sent out Her young women to call from the highest places in the town, ‘Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks sense She says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and live, and walk in the way of insight’.” That is to say, “The feast is prepared. Come to the Lord’s Table.” For, everything is accomplished for you. It is finished. There is nothing to do but to come and to receive what Wisdom has prepared for you.
The invitation is offered to all. Let us not get hung up on the order or the ranking of the invitees – first to the A List, then to the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, and then to the highways and the hedges, indeed, to all the world. In the end, there is no one who does not receive the Lord’s gracious invitation to His banquet. All are invited, unconditionally. The only way to miss out on the feast is to reject the Lord’s gracious invitation.
Sadly, many do just that; many reject the Lord’s gracious invitation. Concerns for this world and life cause them to make excuses. But, there is no excuse, for this is the Lord’s banquet, and He is the King of kings and Lord of lords; He is God, the Creator of all that is. You would not reject a personal invitation from your boss, let alone the President of the United States, but will you reject the invitation of the Lord and giver of your life? Nevertheless, you are free to do as you please. The ability to reject Him is God’s gift to you. If you will not come, that’s a real shame, for a place is reserved just for you, and at a premium, the shed blood of God’s Son. The invitation is extended to all. It’s as simple as that. But, those who reject the Lord’s gracious invitation will not taste of the banquet He has prepared for them. It’s as simple as that.
Yet, the Lord’s banquet hall will be filled. It will be filled by all those who do not reject the Lord’s gracious invitation, but who receive it in faith and who come and eat. They are the poor and the crippled, the blind and the lame – literally, but also metaphorically – for, they are all those who are not so proud so as to reject an invitation, and they are those who have not so many fleshly and worldly distractions in their lives to get in between them and their Lord. Indeed, when Jesus taught that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, He was not passing judgment upon wealth and riches, or even upon those who possess them, but He was acknowledging how easy it is for those who have much to become slaves to their possessions, thus making them idols by permitting them to get in between themselves and the Lord. By definition, the poor, including those poor of body, mind, and spirit, have much less in the way of fleshly and worldly possessions to get between themselves and the Lord, and so it is easier for them to receive and to believe than it is for those more deeply enmeshed in worldly trappings.
Indeed, the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame are, in many ways, like children, whom Jesus repeatedly holds up as an example of faith. They are simple – not in the sense of being stupid or foolish – but they are simple in worldly ways, and they are open to instruction and learning, as they are not yet set in their ways. These simple ones are invited to receive insight, even wisdom and life. Jesus taught that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it”. It is not that those who are wise in worldly ways cannot enter the kingdom of God, but rather it is that they will not, for they make excuses, they refuse, or they consider God and His kingdom to be foolishness. They have not the fear of the Lord, which is to say that they are not in awe of God and they do not offer Him worship, they have no personal confidence in God or knowledge of His character, and their sense of morality is not rooted in obedience to His Law. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom because it is a return to a simple and childlike faith that is open and receptive to the Word of the Lord, His ways, and His Truth.
But, the Lord’s Wisdom stands in opposition to the wisdom of the flesh and the world. Thus, those who receive the invitation and do not reject it have passed out of death into life. Therefore, they are hated by the world. You must not be surprised by the world’s hatred of you, for so the world hated Jesus, your Teacher, who came before you. Likewise, He is your model, your guide, and your example that you may love others, even those who hate you, as Jesus loved all and died for all, that all might be forgiven and live. Scoffers will come. Show them love. They may turn in repentance, or they may hate you and persecute you – it matters not – for you have died to the flesh and to the world and you live to God, therefore you must love your brother and your neighbor as God so loved this world of sinners, sin, and death in His Son Jesus Christ. You children of Wisdom, called out of death to glorious and eternal life, give life to your brother and to your neighbor by loving him in deed and truth as God so loved you in Jesus.
For, the invitations are out, to the highways and the hedges, even to the ends of the earth, and the Lord is well past simply asking people to come, He’s now compelling them to come, so that only those who reject His gracious invitation will miss out on the banquet. Therefore, you who have received His gifts must share them, in love, with all, that they too will receive the Lord’s gracious invitation and live. And, to equip you for this mission of love, and to keep you in and to strengthen your faith, the Lord has provided you a foretaste of His heavenly banquet in this feast of the body and blood of His Son Jesus. The feast is prepared. Come to the Lord’s table.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
John 5:24-30; Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 25:6-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. John the Evangelist and Apostle ends his Gospel testimony of the life and ministry of Jesus saying, “Now there are also many other things Jesus did. Were everyone of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” Well, I have to confess to you that I feel very much the same about Rob. All the books in the world could not contain the stories that could be told of Rob Franke. His interests were so varied. His friends were so many and so diverse. His personality was simply immense. And, yet, here I am, and here we all are, attempting to capture Rob’s life, and his faith, and his impact upon all our lives in but an hour’s time. The truth is, to use another Biblical analogical exaggeration, it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to capture and to contain Rob Franke in the little time we have together this day in which to remember him. However, that may just be a good thing, for this service, here in this Christian sanctuary, is really not about Rob Franke. No. This service is about Rob’s God and Savior, and about your God and Savior, Jesus Christ. And, yet, it is about Rob also, and it is about you as well, for our God and Savior Jesus redeemed Rob from sin and death and gave Him His own sinless, holy, and eternal life – a life that brings us comfort, peace, and hope – even great joy – now, even in the midst of this terrible grief, sorrow, and pain – a life that is free, and for free you as well.
What shall we say then? What can we say when a robust man, having a strong heart and strong lungs, a loving, protective husband, son, and brother, a supportive, encouraging, and doting father, a compassionate, loyal, and trusted friend is struck down in death so suddenly when none of us could have expected it? What shall we say? Well, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” comes to my mind. However, I’ll acknowledge that, because of my vocation, I am perhaps a bit more in touch with my mortality than the average bloke. But, I believe that Rob shared that view of life and death with me. No doubt his friends in the Shave Club have heard him what Karen told me just the other day, “Life is short. You might as well spend it smelling good.” You see, it’s true; life is short. Now, we rightly consider 49 years to be too short, and yet many do not make it even that long. Rob shared with me, and no doubt with many of you, his outrage at the fact that just under a million children die each year in the United States from abortion. Ever poetic, Rob had a simple reply, “Stop killing babies!” However, what about those who live into their 60’s, their 70’s, their 80’s, their 90’s? Is that long enough? I say, only if your estimation of life is what happens between birth and death.
Rob didn’t hold that view. Rob believed, he knew, that there was more to life than this mortal coil of material existence. Whether he was coming at it from an Odinistic viewpoint, or a Judaic viewpoint, or from a Christian viewpoint, or something other, Rob believed and knew that there was more to his life, and to the lives of those he loved, and to all human lives, than this crude matter. In fact, Rob believed and knew that we are created by a personal and loving God who created all living things for life, not for death. That is why he was passionate about defending life, all life, but human life in particular. Yes, Rob knew that there was a difference between human life and animal life and plant life – most preschoolers do! – unlike many in our culture today. We were not created to die. Rob was not created to die. Death was introduced into this world through sin – through our First Parent’s sin, through our sin, through my sin, and yes, through Rob’s sin. Therefore, the answer to the question, “Why did Rob have to die like this, so young, so unexpected?” is sin. Not Rob’s sin in particular, but sin in general, all our sin, original sin, actual sin, unintended sin, sins of commission, sins of omission – the wages of sin is death, only, and always, period. But, that’s not the end of the story, far from it.
For, God has swallowed up death. That is why Isaiah describes death as a covering or a veil cast over all people. You see, death is not essential to being human, but it is something that covers us up like a veil, obscuring our vision, keeping us from the Light and the Truth. We could not escape the veil of death that enshrouds us, but the LORD has removed it from us. God has swallowed it up, has taken it into Himself, so that it is no more. When did He do that? How did He do that? When He sent His Son Jesus Christ to take up our human flesh and become one of us, born of woman, to live and to die for us, yet without sin. Jesus swallowed up death forever in His own death, and in His bodily resurrection He has won eternal life for all humanity who will be baptized into His death and resurrection and trust in Him for their life and salvation. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, family and friends of Rob, Rob believed this Gospel truth, and he trusted unequivocally in Jesus Christ for his forgiveness, his life, and his salvation. As a matter of fact, in one of Rob’s always colorful YouTube videos dated only January 10 of this year, Rob was reflecting poignantly upon his Uncle Ed who had been like a father to him after his father died five years ago. Uncle Ed had died on New Year’s Day. In his video, Rob confessed his belief, his knowledge, that his Uncle Ed was in heaven with Jesus saying, “I know that through my faith in Jesus Christ and in His sacrifice on the cross.” Those are the words, the testimony, the confession of Robert Rhea Franke. Look it up for yourself. It’s right there, as clear as day, for all the world to see. And, that wasn’t the first or the only time that I heard Rob confess his faith in Jesus, but it’s a great blessing to hear him confess his faith publically, and boldly, before the world. Jesus promises, “He who confesses me before men, I will confess before my Father in heaven.”
You see, that is why I could so boldly and confidently share words of comfort and hope with Karen and Linda and Rachel in the ICU as Rob slipped away from us – words like you heard just a moment ago from St. John’s Gospel, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed over from death to life.” Did you catch the emphasis and the point there? Already, now, while Rob was still alive, before that afternoon in the ICU this past Monday, because of his faith in the Word of God, because of his faith in Jesus, Rob had already passed over from death to life. And, so have all who have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection and who trust in Him for their forgiveness, life, and salvation. Rob had already died to sin, died to the flesh, and died to the world, and he had already been raised up to new and eternal life in Jesus.
What happened Monday was the death of the body – which must still come to us all – but, Rob’s sin-corrupted spirit died long ago, and a new man was raised up in Holy Baptism that can never die. That new man, Rob, is with Jesus right now. It is Rob’s body alone that we will soon place into the earth. However, it is the promise of Jesus, proven in His own bodily resurrection from the dead, that Rob’s body, and all our bodies, will be raised up and will be made new on the day our Lord returns. While we take great comfort that Rob’s soul is with Jesus now, we persevere in expectant hopefulness and joy in the resurrection of the body and the reunification of the eternal soul and the glorified flesh that can never die. What this means is that, though we will be separated for a time from our dear husband, father, son, brother, and friend, we will see Rob again. We will see Rob with our real and true eyes. We will hear him with our real and true ears. We will hug him with our real and true arms. This is the Gospel promise of Jesus Christ, my friends, for all who trust in Him. This Rob believed. This Rob knew. And, this is our comfort and hope now, in these saddest of days.
Are you surprised that Rob believed this? You shouldn’t be. What did Rob believe in that he didn’t believe in passionately and with unswerving conviction? For Rob it was, “If you’re going to be a Sox fan, then be a Sox fan win or lose,” “If you’re going to cook, then cook exquisitely, all the time,” “If you’re going to shave, then shave with the finest hand-crafted soaps and the sharpest of blades,” “If you’re going to game, then game with the best of them wherever they are,” and “If you’re going to be a Christian, then be everything that being a Christian means. Be bold in your confession, even if your friends think you’re nuts. Speak the truth, even when it’s unpopular, especially when it’s unpopular. And love unconditionally, everyone, even those whose views you disagree with and despise.” Doesn’t that describe Rob? I believe that it does.
I know that some of you will think this the strangest funeral sermon you’ve ever heard. I’m okay with that. But, I told you at the beginning that this wasn’t really about Rob, but this is about Rob’s God and Lord Jesus Christ. But, then again, it is about Rob, in Jesus, and it is about you as well, whether you are in Jesus or not. Everything that Rob believed, trusted in, and confessed about Jesus is true for you too, whether you believe it or not. However, if you do believe it, if you simply trust in Him, you, like Rob before you, you will have “passed over from death to life,” now.
Karen described Rob this way: “No one could label Rob. He couldn’t even label himself. But, there was no need. He was his own, great person.” Truer words could not be spoken. Rob wasn’t false with anyone. What you see is what you get. What I mean to say is that Rob would tell you the way he saw it. While he would not intentionally seek to offend, he wouldn’t couch the truth in order to prevent offense. If the truth is offensive, it is still the truth. The Yankees are cheaters. Bernie’s a communist. Hilary’s a crook. Abortion is murder. Dave Matthews sucks. Anyone got a problem with that? It’s ok if you do. Rob still loves you. But, you’re wrong. You’ve got to respect that. Many do not today, but we’re a bunch of entitled pansies, aren’t we? We are saying goodbye to a great man today. Karen and August, you know how he loved you and protected you and would die for you again and again. Linda, Rachel, John, and all Rob’s family, you know how he loved you even when he disagreed with you and told you plainly that you were wrong. And, all of Rob’s friends, in the church, in the gaming world, in the shaving forum, and in all the other social interest groups that Rob was a part of, you know how he respected each of you and would defend you if you were spoken against, and how he was so powerfully passionate in whatever he pursued. Our Lord Jesus once chastised the church in Laodicea saying, “I would that you were hot or cold, but because you are lukewarm I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Suffice it to say that Rob could never be accused of being lukewarm. That is a big part of what we love about him. And, because he was hot in faith and trust in His Lord Jesus, that is why we can have comfort, peace, hope, and even joy today in the midst of grief and sorrow and loss.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? […] “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” My dear brothers and sisters, that time is now. Now is the time for you to hear Jesus’ voice and cross over, with Rob, from death to life. Life, now. Life, then. Life, forever. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.