Saturday, December 3, 2011

Homily for the Christian Funeral for Fred Rosenbergen 6/9/1933–11/29/2011


John 6:27-40; Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 43:1-3a, 25

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

If we Americans are anything at all, we are pragmatists. We fervently believe that if a man works hard and does good he should be rewarded. We believe that we reap what we sow. We believe that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. We believe that after working 30 years or more that we ought to be able to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We believe that what we have invested in our children should be paid back to us in our old age, in their care for us and in the joy we experience in our grandchildren. That’s what we believe, isn’t it? That’s only good, fair, and right, right? That’s practical, isn’t it? Then why do things so often seem to go so very, very wrong?

I remember having many conversations such as this with Fred; maybe you do too. In many ways, Fred was a tailor-made example of an American husband and father. He worked hard as a chauffeur in New York City. As a mid-westerner myself, for me Fred was an example of New York’s legendary grit and toughness, but with a great sense of humor and irony, a warm heart, and a genuine joy and happiness for other’s blessings and a genuine pity and sorrow for other’s misfortunes. Fred took a lovely bride, Raeann, established a home in which he took great pride, and he began building a family, three children who were the joy of his life. What more could any man want? He moved to Pawling in 1974 and became a member of The Lutheran Church of Christ the King where he served as an Elder and as a member of the Church Council. Fred was immensely helpful to me when I received the call to be Pastor of this congregation almost ten years ago. And then his babies started to become adults, and then there were his precious grandchildren. Yes, life was good.

Hard work and good deeds should be rewarded. We reap what we sow. Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. But, they do, don’t they? You know that they do. Despite all the good things in Fred’s life, despite the joy of family and the pride of hard work and owning a home, there was a specter of fear that accompanied much of Fred’s life and that from time to time made brutal assaults upon him, and Raeann, and their children. That fearsome specter was cancer, an enemy that far too many of you know personally as well. Cancer first struck Fred in 1988. He escaped that battle minus a lung. But, other health issues continued to assail him, and Raeann too, so that the good life was always tempered with the fear of the unknown: Will the cancer return? What did I do wrong? Why did God let this happen to me? Why do bad things happen to good people?

When Fred asked me questions like that I sometimes would smile meekly at him and answer, “There are no good people, Fred.” Now, before you bum-rush me outta here, you have to understand that I said that to him with love, because I wanted him to understand that, ultimately, life isn’t about all the things that this world and our sinful flesh values, but life, true life, is about living, truly living, eternally with Jesus. For, the truth is, bad things happen, diseases happen, cancer happens, death happens, because of sin – your sin, my sin, Adam and Eve’s sin, and, yes, even Fred’s sin. As St. Paul has said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And, that’s the truth. Sin separates us from God, the source of true and eternal life, and thus, the wages of sin is only and always death.

I said this to him in love, because a man needs to know that God doesn’t want him to suffer, God doesn’t want him to die. God didn’t create sin and God didn’t create death, but God created everything good, and He created man very good. It was man’s choice to sin. Adam succumbed to the devil’s temptation. He chose to rebel against God, and the fruit of his disobedience was sin and suffering, sickness, and death. And, a man needs to know that he was not created for this, but that he was created for life, eternal life with God. And, for this reason, God sent forth His Son, Jesus, to die in man’s place. He made Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

God has done all that is necessary to restore us to Himself. At the cost of His own Son He has redeemed us from sin and death. There is nothing for us to fear, not sickness or disease, not cancer, and not even death. So the Lord has spoken through the Prophet Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” But do observe that the Lord has not promised that you will not encounter trial, tribulation, and suffering. Indeed, Jesus has said that if you desire to be His disciple, you must take up your cross and follow Him. For, to be sure, the life of a Christian is a life of faith, trusting in your Lord even when the way is dark, dangerous, and uncertain. But you are not like those without hope, for we have a God who has laid down His own life for us and has taken it back up out of death so that even that dread enemy has had its fangs torn out and has lost its sting.

We have a God who is for us. And, if God is for us, than 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? I can’t say that I ever remember Fred to laugh at these things, but they are truly laughable. How can you not laugh at the bold confidence such words proclaim? Even though we are being killed all the day long, counted as sheep to be slaughtered, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Ha! For I am certain 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. Ha! Ha! But I do believe that Fred laughed the last time I saw him in the hospital before he died. Yeah, I know he thought there were spiders on the ceiling and he kept seeing plastic spoons everywhere, but he had his wife and his kids around him and his Pastor was there with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His precious body and His holy blood with words of courageous comfort and hope that came, not from his mind, or his reasoning, but from Jesus Christ Himself.

Fred worked hard during his life. He tried to good and often did much good. He certainly loved you Raeann, and you children, Charlie, Sherylann, and Chris were, and are, precious and dear to him. There were times when Fred likely thought that all he had was the fruit of his own labor, we all think that way at times, but in these last years, months, and days I think he began to count it all blessing. I do recall Fred sometimes asking if the bad things he might have done, or the good things he should have done but didn’t, would keep him out of heaven. I would ask Him, “Fred, do you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins and is raised from the dead?” “Yes, Pastor, I believe that.” “Then don’t ask such silly questions.” Ha! Ha!

Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 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.”

What perfect love, perfect love that casts out fear. Even while he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, Fred feared no evil. And, you don’t need to fear either, for the Lord is with you now even as Fred is with Him in paradise. But, while you still walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Fred has passed through and dwells in the house of the Lord for evermore. Yet, there is one place on earth where those in the valley may gather with the saints in the house of the Lord, and that is at the communion table of the Lord where you may kneel with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven and receive a foretaste of the feast they enjoy now in the presence of the Lamb of God Jesus Christ and His Father in His eternal kingdom. Do not be afraid. You will see Him again. Christ’s peace be with you until that day.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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