Sunday, October 26, 2014

Homily for The Festival of the Reformation (observed)

Matthew 11:12-19; Romans 4:19-28; Revelation 14:6-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The purpose of the Law of the LORD is to shut your mouth, to silence you. It does that quite effectively, don’tcha think? Well, truth be told, often you do not see it that way. In fact, your response to the uncompromising Law of the LORD is to, well, compromise it. You attempt to lower the bar of the Law, so to speak, to make it more do-able. You actually convince yourself that you can do the Law on your own, if only you understand in the right way. You see, the way it reads, the way the LORD gave the Law to you, simply terrifies you. You think to yourself, “Surely the command ‘Do not murder’ means only that I am not to physically kill someone in anger or rage. Surely it doesn’t mean things like terminating an inconvenient pregnancy, or assisting an elderly or suffering person out of their misery, or being angry, mean, spiteful, and unforgiving towards another person.” Same goes with the command “Do not commit adultery.” You think to yourself, “Surely this command does not prohibit looking without touching, viewing pictures and videos in magazines, on the internet, or on television. After all, who have I harmed if I haven’t touched?” In these ways you attempt to lower the bar of the LORD’s Law and make it more do-able. But, the Law of the LORD cannot be lowered; it cannot be bent, or revoked. The Law does not apply only at one time or another, but it is unchanging and it is uncompromising. The Law does not pass away.
The Law must be fulfilled. And, you cannot fulfill it. Therefore, if you will attempt to live by the Law, then the Law will crush you. No, you cannot fulfill the Law, therefore, I say to you, let it crush you. Let that weight fall upon you and break you into pieces. For, then, the Lord Jesus can raise you up. Jesus will raise you up from your failing to keep the Law. Jesus will raise you up from sin and death. Jesus will raise you up when you trust in Him, because He has fulfilled the Law of the LORD perfectly for you, and He has suffered and died for you, and He is raised from death victorious for you. The bar of the Law has never been lowered. It can never be lowered. But, better than that, the Law of the LORD has been fulfilled for you. Now your Lord Jesus invites you to share in the freedom and life that flows from the fulfilled Law of the LORD – His freedom and life which He graciously pours out for you, received by you in faith and trust without cost, without works, and without merit.
That is the Gospel, and that is what we are celebrating today on this Festival of the Reformation. We are not celebrating an historical event, a socio-political uprising with religious overtones, or the bravery of a medieval priest-monk-professor. And, we are certainly not celebrating the fracturing of Christ’s body, the Church. But, we are celebrating the restoration of the free proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which had become obscured, distorted, and compromised by men attempting to lower the bar of Law and justify themselves by their obedience, works, merit, and cooperation with God. This is the violence of which our Lord speaks, violence committed by men against the kingdom of heaven.
Men try to take the kingdom by force, that is, by works and by merit. But the kingdom does not come that way. The kingdom comes by grace alone. It cannot be taken by force, by works or by merit. But, now it has been manifested, revealed, uncovered, which means, it was there all along, but men couldn’t see it because their eyes were blinded by sin, their ears were stopped, and their hearts were hard. Some received the Law of the LORD in joy, deceiving themselves that they were righteous and kept it faithfully. Some received the Law of the LORD like a funeral dirge, yet they did not mourn and weep for their lost condition, but they hardened their hearts in pride against a God who set the bar so exceedingly high. They refused to fear the LORD and receive His Law as He gave it, for the purpose He gave it. It was to crush them and turn them to the LORD’s grace and mercy in repentance.
That was precisely the message that John the Baptist came preaching and teaching: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” Our Lord Jesus preached the same message, and so did the Apostles after him. That same message is preached to you still today: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” This is the Gospel, even the eternal Gospel proclaimed by the angel of Revelation “to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” “Fear God and give Him glory,” the angel cried, “because the hour of His judgment has come, and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” What hour was that? It was the hour of Jesus’ death upon the cross, the hour in which the Law of the LORD was fulfilled for you, the hour in which Jesus spoke “It is finished,” and it really, truly, completely, and forever was.
This is the Gospel, the eternal Gospel. This is what had become obscured, distorted, and compromised in Luther’s day. The Gospel was so obscured, distorted, and compromised that Luther himself was enslaved to the Law and could find no escape, no comfort, and no peace. For that is what happens to those who believe that they must fulfill the Law of the LORD in order to make peace with God, they are either pumped up with pride, convincing themselves that they are doing just fine, or they find themselves drowning in a pit of despair believing that, no matter how hard they try to keep the Law they still fall short and can never find peace with God. Again, the Law was not given that you might do it and justify yourself by it, but the Law of the LORD was given to shut your mouth, to silence you. God has given the Law that the whole world may be held accountable to Him. The Law serves only to reveal your sins to you; no man is justified by works of the Law. Therefore, be still, shut up, stop striving, and know that the LORD is God. God has manifested His righteousness, the righteousness that makes you righteous, apart from the Law – “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
In Luther’s day it was believed that faith in Christ was not enough. Guess what, people still believe that today! The Roman Church sold indulgences, and still sells them today – pieces of paper that you can buy with money that forgive sins now and after death in purgatory (another unbiblical doctrine). Yet, no better are contemporary so-called Evangelical churches that preach to you the Gospel out of one side of their mouth and then shackle you under the Law again from the other. Their grace-talk is followed immediately by works-talk. They say contradictory things like, “Jesus saves you by grace alone, all you have to do is this, that, and the other thing. And once you’re saved, Jesus expects you to change, to be better, to make your salvation sure or maybe you weren’t really truly Christian in the first place after all.” Hogwash! “Salvation unto us has come by God’s free grace and favor; good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer.”
While Luther and the Reformers affected many reforms within the Church, it all started with works and indulgences, attempts to do the Law of the LORD or to lower the bar of the Law to make it more do-able. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. Each of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses dealt with the single topic indulgences, the idea that man’s work, merit, or money could pay for sins for oneself or for others. In nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door, Luther did what was customary in his late-medieval college town in order to engage in a theological discourse and debate over this central aspect of our Christian faith and doctrine. However, due to the work of reformers like Wycliffe and Hus, who had preceded Luther, and the advent of the Guttenberg printing press, Luther’s theses were translated into the common tongue and were copied and spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire. Now, one could say that it was merely chance, or one could believe that the LORD had raised up Luther at the right time and the right place to manifest, reveal, and uncover the Gospel once again that those walking in the darkness of sin and death, held captive by legalistic teaching and preaching and false doctrine, could hear the pure, unadulterated, eternal Gospel proclaimed once again and find comfort and peace in the truth that “the righteous shall live by faith (alone).” We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone whom God has put forward as a propitiation by His blood, passing over our former sins.
“The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther claims that it was this passage, Romans 1:17, that cast the scales from his eyes and released the shackles from his soul, freeing him to live, not in a continual and losing battle to acquire righteousness by works, but in the righteousness bestowed upon Him by God through faith in the propitiation that God Himself has put forward, Jesus Christ. Indeed, Luther was so struck and convicted by this Gospel proclamation that he added the Latin word sola, meaning alone: “The righteous shall live by faith (alone).” From this we derive the classic Lutheran solas: sola gratia, sola fide, and sola Christus – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone. And, there is yet a fourth, and appropriate, sola: sola scriptura – scripture alone is the sole source, norm, and rule of our faith, confession, and doctrine.
The purpose of the Law of the LORD is to shut your mouth, to silence you. What bliss, peace, and comfort there is in silence! Close your mouth, and have your ears opened. Listen to the Word of your LORD and God, and the Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Receive Him and trust in Him alone in all the ways He comes to you: Word and water, body and blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, salvation, and eternal life. You cannot take the kingdom by force, therefore, stop trying. But, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Grace alone. Grace upon grace. The righteous shall live by faith.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Homily for The Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity

Matthew 18:21-35; Philippians 1:3-11; Micah 6:6-8

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” You see, the Prophet Micah gets it. The answer to all his rhetorical questions is an unequivocal “No! Nothing!” All that the LORD requires of you is that you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. What does this mean?
This means, don’t try to offer the LORD anything. It’s all already His anyway. Truly, it’s not even thanks and praise that pleases Him, but the thing that pleases the LORD is when you sacrifice of yourself and give to others on account of His sacrifice and love for you. Then you confess the LORD to be God and yourself to be the recipient of His gracious gifts. Then you confess that you fear, love, and trust the Giver of the gifts more than the gifts themselves, when you willingly and freely give them away. Likewise, don’t try to offer anything to the LORD for your sin. You don’t have enough to pay, even if you could, not even your body, soul, and life. Rather, let Him forgive you in His love, mercy, and grace, and then live with Him and walk humbly with Him, always aware that you don’t deserve it or merit it, but that you have your life because God is love and He loves you.
You see, it’s impossible for you to be shorted or cheated, particularly with the LORD’s spiritual gifts, but, truly, with anything at all. Everything is His: Your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses; clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that you have; everything that you need to support your body and life. And this is especially true with the LORD’s spiritual gifts: grace, mercy, love, peace, kindness, gentleness, charity, self-control, and forgiveness. These are the selfless gifts given to you by your selfless God for you to selflessly share and give away to others as you selflessly received them. When you give of these gifts you lose nothing at all, for you are giving of the LORD’s gifts that you yourself have freely received. More than that, you show mercy with the LORD’s mercy, grace with the LORD’s grace, love with the LORD’s love, and forgiveness with the LORD’s forgiveness. Moreover still, you have this promise: With the measure you use will it be measured back to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, filled to overflowing will be poured into your lap. It’s grace upon grace without limit.
That’s what the servant in Jesus’ parable received. The master forgave him his enormous debt because he pitied him – period. The master had compassion on his servant and he released him, he forgave him. The servant was a debtor and nothing to offer to the Master, just like you before the LORD, but the master had pity on him and showed him mercy, just as the LORD has done for you, and he forgave his servant who could not pay him back, just as the LORD forgives sinners like you who are indebted to Him with your life and your soul and have nothing with which to pay Him back for your trespasses – the LORD has pity for you, He loves you and He shows you mercy; more than that, He showers you with His grace and forgives you completely, even paying the debt you owe Himself, in the innocent shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.
However, the gifts that the LORD gives you are living gifts; they are gifts that literally give life, the LORD’s life. That means, the LORD’s gifts do not remain stagnant and lifeless, but they change you and they make you fruitful. When the LORD blesses you with His gifts of life, love, and forgiveness, you will not remain the same. As our Lord Jesus teaches, “I am the vine and you are the branches; remain in me, and I will remain in you, and you will bear much fruit.” That means that you must give of the LORD’s gifts, love with the LORD’s love, and forgive with the LORD’s forgiveness. Not “must” in the sense of works that merit forgiveness, but of works that are the fruit of forgiveness.
The forgiven servant in Jesus’ parable failed to produce the fruits of forgiveness. He took the gift of his master’s forgiveness, but he refused to forgive another who was indebted to himself. He received the seed, but the seed did not produce fruit. There was nothing wrong with the seed, the problem was the soil. The servant’s heart was hard; the soil of his heart was fruitless. The master was angry and he had his pitiless and merciless servant thrown in jail. Jesus concludes His parable with the warning, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Does that sound harsh? It is harsh. Jesus pulls no punches with the Law of God. He expects there to be fruit: Those who have been loved are expected to love. Those who have been given to are expected to give. Those who have been forgiven are expected to forgive. Remember, Jesus told this parable in response to Peter’s question, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him: As many as seven times?” Jesus means to teach you, “Don’t ask such a question.” You simply forgive because you are forgiven. You simply forgive with Jesus’ forgiveness. You bear the fruit of forgiveness because you are a branch connected to the True Vine, Jesus. Bearing fruit is not an option, neither is it something that has a limit. Moreover, you are never out anything, for the forgiveness you give to others is the LORD’s forgiveness. The same is true with anything that you give or show to another. If you are receiving, then you will be giving. This is what James means when he writes, “Faith without works is dead” and “Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” However, the works are always, and only, fruit. An apple tree produces apples because it is an apple tree. A grapevine produces grapes because it is a grapevine.
Still, you must resist the temptation – and that is precisely what it is, a temptation – to attempt to name and quantify your works or the works of another. One of our Synod’s theologians, Norman Nagel, has written: “‘Good works do not have a name,' said Martin Luther. The moment we honor good works with a name, they are no longer good works, that is, they are no longer done in faith. They are no longer within and from the giving hands of the Lord. They are slipping towards becoming a basis for boasting and making demands.” All good works are the LORD’s, thus there is no place for boasting. All good works are the LORD’s, thus He alone, not you, or I, or anyone else, is the measure of the fruitfulness of His branches. “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Nothing. There is nothing additional that the LORD requires of you through faith in Christ Jesus who has done all things well.
Thus, St. Paul exhorts you saying, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” St. Paul’s prayer for you is “that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
The LORD who created you to be fruitful and multiply has redeemed you and forgiven you that you may be fruitful once again, bearing His fruit of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, giving His life to others to the glory of His Name. He who has begun this good work in you in Holy Baptism and faith is, even now, bringing it to completion. You are a fruitful branch, and a work in progress. But, the harvest is coming, the day of Jesus Christ, when you will be complete in Him. Until then, you have the fruits of the True Vine Jesus Christ – His Word and Absolution, Baptism, and Supper – through which He fills you to overflowing with His gifts, that you may freely give to others without counting the cost. Go, and be fruitful.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Homily for The Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity

John 4:46-54; Ephesians 6:10-17; Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is a great temptation and pressure upon Christians today to think of the creation account of Genesis as figurative, metaphorical, or mythological, containing, perhaps, an overarching theme or lesson, but certainly not to be understood as literal, factual, and historical truth. And, sadly, too often, Christians today, influenced by the Enlightenment, Rationalism, and Post-Modern thinking, capitulate and agree and are quick to jettison the traditional understanding of Creation for renderings more compatible with the theory of Darwinistic Evolution and “billions of years” dating for the earth and the universe. Of course, that is for adults over the age of thirty or so. For their children in the public school systems, however, and, sadly, in even many parochial schools, they will simply have never have learned any differently unless you have taught them the truth yourselves.
Too many Christians believe that they are not losing anything essential by jettisoning a literal interpretation of the creation account and imbibing of the waters of the well of Darwinistic Evolution. After all, they will argue, a day to the LORD is as a thousand years, and a thousand year a day, right? Well, yes, that is true. The Holy Scriptures do indeed teach this. But, this passage does not say that a day IS a thousand years, but that to the LORD a day and a thousand years are no different. Thus, what this passage serves to teach is that the LORD sees all time at the same time, that He is outside of time, which He created, and that He is all knowing, unchanging, and ever-present – that is to say, the Lord is God.
You see, the creation account of Genesis communicates much, much more to us than merely the particulars of how all things came to be. The creation account of Genesis is God’s first Word of revelation about who He is, what He is like, and what we can expect from Him going forth. The first thing He reveals to us is that He is, quite simply and plainly, the beginning, the source, the origin, and the sustenance of everything. “In the beginning, God…,” period! What was before the beginning? What was before God? The claim of Genesis is, nothing. Is that preposterous? Well, it is no more preposterous than the Big Bang. Be you Christian, agnostic, atheist, or other, we all observe the same evidence. What colors our interpretation of the evidence are the presumptions and worldviews we hold. The problem with those who insist that the Big Bang and Darwinistic Evolution are the only possible interpretation is that they hold to a presupposition and a worldview that will not allow for anything to exist in the universe that is not comprised of matter, atoms and their constituent particles. That means – no spirit, no supernatural, no soul, no God. Can that be proven? No, of course not. There were no eyewitness testimonies of the Big Bang. There is no way to reproduce and test the Big Bang or the formation of the first cell. And, so, those committed to Darwinistic Evolution and those holding to a strictly materialistic and naturalistic presupposition and worldview have no more certain ground upon which to stand than do Biblical Creationists. In truth, they have less, because Biblical Creationists do have an eyewitness testimony of creation – the LORD God, the Creator Himself.
So, let us consider just a few of the crucial and essential things our LORD God reveals about Himself in the creation account of Genesis. First, as I have already spoken of, the LORD God is the beginning, the source, the origin, and the sustenance of everything that is. Second, He created and He sustains all things by His spoken Word. These two things the Evangelist John writes of in His Gospel saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” This is Scripture interpreting Scripture. Over four thousand or more years later, how did John understand the creation account? John understood the creation account literally, just as it plainly and naturally reads. Further, John makes it clear that the Word of God, by which He created all things, is Himself God; and a few verses later John states that “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” Here, John is referring to the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, becoming the man Jesus. And so, third of all, we see the fullness of our Holy Triune God revealed in the first three verses of Holy Scripture: In the beginning, God created, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters, and God spoke His eternal Word saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Fourth, let us consider the question, “Why?” Why did God create anything at all? Surely, God has revealed the answer to this question as well in the account of creation: “In the beginning God created….” God created because He is a Creator. God’s creative work, and His creation, is a revelation of who He is and what He does. Thus, everything that is is a revelation of our Creator God, just as a son is a revelation of there being a father. There could be no son without a father; likewise, being a father necessitates there being a son. God’s being a Creator necessitates there being a creation. “In the beginning,” God did what God does…, He created.
As with being a father, being a Creator implies certain necessary truths: love, care, sustenance, protection, and preservation. Surely, sinful human fathers at times fail in these capacities, but not our holy, good, and righteous God. And so, in the LORD’s revelation of Himself as a Creator from the beginning we have a revelation of His Fatherhood, and of His love, care, sustenance, protection, and preservation. He will never leave you or forsake you.
Truly, there is much at stake in jettisoning a literal understanding of the account of creation. Not only is the LORD’s unique creation of individual species and His endowing them with the ability to reproduce their own kind at stake, along with the LORD’s establishment of humankind having dominion over all that He has made, but our faith and trust in the LORD God Himself and His creative Word is at stake. This is to say that the creation account of Genesis is the foundation upon which the Holy Scriptures are built and stand. The rest of the Scriptures flow out from and hearken back to creation. The rest of the Scriptures affirm and confirm creation. Scripture interprets Scripture. The truth is confirmed by truth.
So, what has this to do with today’s Gospel account of an official’s faith? Indeed, everything! For, the official’s faith is in the creative power of the Word of God which is itself established in the opening verses of Genesis. The official confesses Jesus to be the Word of God incarnate by whom the heavens and the earth and everything that exists were made and are still sustained. The official came to Cana, the town where Jesus performed His first miracle, changing water into wine, because He believed that Jesus could heal his son who was near death. The official wanted Jesus to come to his home and heal his son. But, Jesus took this opportunity to direct the man’s faith to God’s creative Word as opposed to signs and miracles. Truly, the signs and miracles of creation are all that anyone should ever need! Thus, Jesus simply told the man to “Go,” with the promise, “your son will live.” The man went in faith at Jesus’ Word and, before he returned home, was met with the news that his son had recovered at the precise moment Jesus said “Your son will live.”
Christ’s Church is suffering from a crisis of faith – faith in the creative Word of God. But, apart from the Word of the LORD, we have no defense from the Enemy’s attacks. All that armor St. Paul describes in the Epistle lesson is defensive armor, designed to protect you against the devil’s assaults. The only offensive weapon is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of the Lord. This is why Satan attacks your faith in the Word of the Lord. He knows all to well that if he can shake your faith in the Word, then he can get you to believe all his lies and deceptions.
“Did God really say?” is still his question to you. Did God really say He is the beginning, the source, the origin, and the sustenance of everything? Yes, He really did! Did God really say He created everything that is in six days? Yes, He really did! Did God really say He created each species of plant and animal unique and distinct, having the capacity to reproduce its own kind? Yes, He really did! Did God really say that He would send the Seed of the woman to crush the seed of the serpent’s head? Yes, He really did! And God has kept His Word. God always keeps His Word.
God’s Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and made His dwelling amongst us as a man. God’s Word was conceived, born, suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. God’s Word is present with you and for you now, Word and Water, Body and Blood, to forgive your sins, strengthen your faith, clothe you and equip you with the defensive armor of God that you may withstand the flaming darts of the evil one. The Lord bless you and keep you steadfast in His Word.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Homily for the Christian Funeral of Katharina Rosa-Marie Elizabeth Drensek

John 14:1-6; Romans 8:31-39; Job 19:21-27

Dearly beloved family and friends of our departed sister in Christ Katharina Drensek, brother Paul, niece Krista, nephews Paul and Robert, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We are gathered here today to remember, to celebrate, and to give thanks for the faith and life our Lord granted to His servant and His child Katharina. Listen again to the loving and comforting words our Lord Jesus has for Katharina, and also for you: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
God’s Son came as a man to redeem Katharina, and to redeem you, from sin and death. Jesus rose from the dead that Katharina, and you, will also rise. Jesus ascended to His Father in heaven that Katharina, and you, will one day join Him there. And Jesus is coming again to take Katharina, and you, to be with Him in the holy presence of God just as He has promised.
Thus, we must never forget of what our lives consist, and of what is their purpose, their end and goal. We came from God and, we will return to God. We were created for communion with God. It was because of pride, discontent, anger, and hatred that we fell into sin, and that we must now bear the fruit of sin, which is death. But God in His mercy and love could not, did not, leave us in that sorry state, but He did what was necessary to redeem us and to restore us to full communion with Him once again. God became one of us. Our Creator became as one of His creatures, and He obeyed the Law perfectly and fulfilled it for us. He even did the unthinkable – though He was innocent and without sin, He willingly took our sin, your sin, my sin, Katharina’s sin, the sin of the whole world, upon Himself and He suffered the punishment for sin and its fruit, death, in our place, for us, for Katharina, for you. In exchange for our sin and death, we now receive Christ’s forgiveness and eternal life. O blessed exchange!
While, undoubtedly, we believe that Katharina was called home too soon, we take comfort that Katharina is with her Jesus. We take comfort that each of us who trust in Jesus are guaranteed the same when we die. As Jesus said to the repentant thief on the cross, “This day you will be with me in paradise,” so each Christian soul goes to Jesus upon death. And yet, this is not the end state, or even the best state, but the Lord has something better still in store for us – the resurrection of our bodies and the reunification of our eternal souls with our glorified bodies. This is what Jesus means when He says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” The Lord will return to take Katharina, body and soul, to Himself. The Lord will return to take you, body and soul, to Himself. This means that you have so much more than happy memories to hold on to. This means that you have so much more than a voice and a smile to remember. This means that, one day, you will get to see your loved ones again with your own eyes. You will get to wrap your flesh and blood arms around your loved ones again and hug them and hold them. You will get to hear their voice again, not in a memory or in a vision, but with your own ears. Indeed, this is what Job, trusting in the LORD’s promise, confessed two thousand years before Jesus’ birth: “I know that my Redeemer lives…. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Therefore, let us find comfort now, not in mere platitudes, but in the eternal, true, and living Word of God which cannot be moved and cannot pass away, but will be fulfilled, for it is the eternal and unchangeable, holy Word of the living God Himself, and it brings into being what it says.
“What shall we say to these things?” asks St. Paul. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His won Son by gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” Indeed, there is nothing for you to fear. Grief and mourning are but for a while. We are not like those without hope. Our hope comes from the certainty and the assurance of God’s Word of promise. That He sent His only-begotten Son into our flesh to suffer and die for us is His pledge and promise kept for you. Truly, in all things, even in suffering, grief, sorrow, and death, we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” You can be certain of this: “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.” Or, as Martin Luther put it in his great hymn: “Take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife; though these all be gone our victory has been won. The Kingdom ours remaineth.”
This is the Truth. And Jesus is “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” Sadly, we have an enemy who wants nothing more than for you to not believe it, or to believe that it’s not for you. But the Truth is that Jesus is for you. Jesus is for Katharina. Jesus is for everyone, of every time, and of every place: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life.” Satan will try to get you to believe that’s just too easy. Surely you have to do something, contribute something, earn something. Surely you have to meet God half-way. After all, God helps those who help themselves, right? If you’re a good person He’ll accept you, right? Wrong! Absolutely, completely wrong! God has done all that is necessary in the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. Nothing you can do will help, but God has done it all for you. You need only to receive His gift and trust in His gift. Then it is yours, no strings attached. But His gift will change you. His gift will change you, the way a seed planted in the earth sprouts and grows and bears fruit, so will you bear the fruit of His love. The way an apple tree bears apples, so will you bear good fruits that serve your neighbor and that are pleasing to the LORD. Your works are fruit; they come after the LORD’s gracious gift. Jesus is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life; no one comes to the Father except through Him.
And that is precisely why we can take comfort today, and find hope today, and even give thanks to God today. For, like Job, we know that our Redeemer lives. And, we know that Katharina lives, even though she has died. We know that she is with Jesus right now. And, we know that, on the Last Day, when our Lord returns, He will raise Katharina, along with you and me and all the faithful, with glorified bodies, reunited with our eternal souls, to live in heaven with God and all His children forever. We know that we will see, hear, touch, hug, and hold our beloved sister in Christ again. Does not your heart faint within you?
Tante Kea (Aunt Katharina) believed in this. Tante Kea was ready for this. Tante Kea has received the first part of the LORD’s promise already. Tante Kea is with Jesus. Still, Tante Kea is waiting and looking forward to the fulfillment of the fullness of the LORD’s promise, when Jesus returns. Then she will see, hear, touch, hug, and hold you once again. Then her, and your, joy will be complete. But, for now, we take great comfort in knowing that Tante Kea is with Jesus. To be with Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is to experience no want, no lack of anything needful at all – no suffering, no hunger, no thirst, no sorrow, no tears, no death. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Our Good Shepherd has blazed a trail through the valley of the shadow of death and has knocked down the door that would keep us in our graves. Now that door has become an open passageway to the house of the LORD, and Jesus is the way. Do not be afraid. We are not like those without hope. You will see Tante Kea again in the house of the LORD.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.