Saturday, June 18, 2016
Homily for the Christian Funeral for Robert Rhea Franke
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.