Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Christian Funeral for Alfred M. Janssen



Ephesians 2:8-10; John 3:1-8, 16-18; Romans 8:31-39; Isaiah 40:26-31


Dear Kathy, Marcia, Laura, Dan, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ – Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Al asked that his funeral sermon focus upon these words from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” - Ephesians 2:8-10

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

Justification – how sinners are restored to a right relationship with God – that is what St. Paul is proclaiming in the verses quoted above: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – not by works...”. Grace means salvation is a free and perfect gift, no strings attached. Faith simply means trust, that you believe God when He says that you are forgiven and saved in Jesus. Both grace and faith are gifts from God. They are not earned or merited by works, they are not deserved, but they are 100% pure gift. That is what Al wanted you to focus upon and to remember this day. That is what drove Al and made him the son, husband, father, grandfather, teacher, mentor, and friend that he was. As he said in his own words, “By the grace of God I have been saved! Not by works or by any merit on my part. It was by faith that was placed in my heart by the Holy Spirit.”

Al received that grace of God, the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit, on May 13, 1931 when he was baptized into Jesus Christ. Dan recounted to me his last conversation with his father. Dan asked him, “What is the secret of faith?” Al answered with one word, “Baptism.” Baptism is 100% pure gift, 100% pure grace. That is what Jesus taught Nicodemus saying, “You must be born again.” Jesus wanted Nicodemus to think about what it was like when he was born the first time, what it was like when you were born. Did you choose to be born? Did you choose who your parents would be? Did you choose to be male or female, black or white, American, French, or Chinese, rich or poor, short or tall, or anything at all? Of course not. That, Jesus teaches, is what it is like to be born again of water and the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism. Just as birth is not something that you choose, earn, merit, or deserve, so being born again in Holy Baptism is not something that you choose, earn, merit, or deserve, but it is something that is done to you and for you, something that happens to you by grace alone, a free, pure, and perfect gift. This truth was incredibly important and life-defining for Al, and he wanted it to ring out loud and clear on the day of his funeral: “I leave those who survive me the comfort of knowing that I have died in this faith and have now joined my Lord in eternal glory. I urge my heirs not to set their hopes on uncertain riches and earthly success but to take hold of the life which is life indeed through faith in Jesus Christ.”

As he confessed, Al was saved by grace through faith, and not by works. Still, Al’s faith and long life were marked by numerous, countless, undisputed good works. Al served sixteen years in the Iowa National Guard. He was a member of the Waverly Exchange Club. He served on the Waverly City Council, the Bartels Board of Trustees, and he served as a Hospice volunteer for twenty years. In the church, Al sang in the choir for forty-five years and taught Sunday School for forty years. And anyone who knew Al also knew his fervor for evangelism. Al took seriously St. Peter’s exhortation, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” When I visited Al, he often told me stories about people he would meet at dinner at Bartels or elsewhere who weren’t Christian. Al always shared with them the reason for the hope he had in Christ Jesus, but he did it with gentleness and with respect, as St. Peter also exhorts us.

Al was a salesman. He spent his career in sales and marketing with Midland Cooperative, Supersweet Feeds, and thirty-two years with United Suppliers. He was a salesman, and he was darn good at it too. Sales was but one of Al’s many vocations – a God-given calling in which he served his Lord by serving others. Combined with his zeal for sharing the Gospel, Al’s talent for sales made him an influential and effective evangelist. Through Al, God shaped and mentored countless people, young and old, helping to establish, grow, shape, and mature their faith.

However, more than anything else, Al was a devoted and beloved husband and father. Kathy, you shared with me that Al always made you happy. He always knew how to make you smile. After sixty-five years, you always had something to talk about. He was your best friend and a good and faithful husband. Thanks be to God. Laura, you recounted your childhood days on the farm with your Dad, how he was patient with you and always got you involved and made you feel like you were an important part of the work. Marcia, you recounted how Dad always brimmed with positive energy, how he was nurturing and encouraging and always made you feel loved and valued. And Dan, you recounted how Dad showed you unconditional love and support during the most challenging times of your life. That is grace, a free, perfect, and unconditional gift.

Al wanted this day to be about God’s free and perfect gift of grace in Christ Jesus. I think we have honored that – in fact, it was quite easy to do, for that is what it means to be a Lutheran Christian: To confess that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone – period. And yet, there is a role for good works and fruits. While they do not contribute in any way to our justification before God, good works and fruits must accompany faith. The thing is that these good works and fruits are the works and fruit of Jesus that are lived in and borne through those who have been grafted into Him as a branch into a vine. It is the life of Jesus that flowed through Al, that enlivened him and made him fruitful with good works. Those good works, the fruit of Al’s faith, served you and glorified God. Al wasn’t saved by his works, but Al produced good works and fruit, because he had been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This was true for Al, it is true for you, even as it is true for all the world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I think this truth, more than anything else, drove Al in his evangelistic fervor. Since Jesus died for everyone, Al wanted more than anything else for everyone to know this truth and to believe it. Al did what he could, what he was given to do. We could do nothing more to honor his faith and life than to continue his work in our ours. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

In the days, weeks, months, and years ahead you will grieve and you will weep, but you will grieve in hope. For though Al has died, he is not gone, and you will see him again. Al’s soul rests in Jesus for now as his body will rest here on earth. But we look forward to the glorious day of Christ’s return when the dead will be raised and reunited with their immortal souls and we will see our loved ones who have died in faith in glorified flesh and blood bodies forevermore in the presence of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Until then, we can be with them in the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, where we join with “angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven,” including Al, in praise of the Lord until we meet in the flesh once again. Then, we will have joy, and no one will take our joy from us.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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