Friday, February 20, 2015

Luther on the Third Article of the Creed

God’s Spirit alone is called the Holy Spirit, that is, He who has sanctified and still sanctifies us. For just as the Father is called “Creator” and the Son is called “Redeemer,” so the Holy Spirit, from His work, must be called “Sanctifier,” or “One who makes holy.”

But how is such sanctifying done? Answer, “The Son receives dominion, by which He wins us, through His birth, death, resurrection, and so on. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit causes our sanctification by the following: the communion of saints or the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. That means He leads us first into His holy congregation and places us in the bosom of the Church. Through the Church He preaches to us and brings us to Christ.”

Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe on Him, and have Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel.

In the Word He has the Holy Spirit bring this treasure home and make it our own. Therefore, sanctifying is just bringing us to Christ so we receive this good, which we could not get ourselves.

(quotations from Lutheran Book of Concord, McCain).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Homily for Ash Wednesday - "He Suffered Because of Us Sinners"

When children are baptized by Christ here at St. Paul we trace the sign of the cross upon their foreheads and their hearts to mark them as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified. When we bury them we do the same. I carry a bottle of ashes and spread those ashes at the committal tracing the sign of the cross, saying “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  

Today, on Ash Wednesday, somewhere between your baptism and its completion in death – we trace the cross upon your forehead in ashes. Baptisms and funerals serve as a reminder that we come into this world naked and leave it in the very same way. We come from the substance of the earth and we return to dust. The ashes which we wear serve as a sobering reminder of the frailty of our lives. Our stuff, our achievements, and all the things which we think are so important are really not that important at all. 

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” We acknowledge that our sins are actually serious. When we confess our sins we are not saying, “sorry Lord, I said a naughty word this week.” We are not confessing, “God, one time I was mean to somebody and I should have been more nice.”

No. Tonight we confess that our sins actually offend God and that the devil is cruel slave master. Sin is a serious matter. Our spouses and children pay dearly for it. They receive the brunt of our mood swings and bad attitudes. We have caused our own mothers to cry. We have crushed our children with our disapproval. We have been loveless, even holding a grudge against members of the household of faith here at St. Paul. 

We have lived as if God did not matter and as if we have mattered most. Sin makes the good things in life no longer enjoyable. Sin crushes happiness. It stains the soul, it maims the body, and leaves us for dead. Sin kills. 

The Prophet Joel tells us tonight that our sins are worth crying over. We should weep over our sins. They have already caused much sadness and destruction and they continue to do so. We begin lent. We resolve to live differently – living by faith in the Son of God. We set our faces toward Jerusalem.  

After Adam sinned the Lord said “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The imposition of ashes is biblical. Joshua and the leaders of Israel repented of sins and covered themselves in ashes. King David, Job, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Jonah did the same because they hoped for a man of dust who would come. God had promised a second Adam, a man of the earth Savior, born of the Virgin Mary. A man of dust coming down from heaven to suffer for your sins and lie down in death in a dusty tomb. 

He took your place. Your sins became his. Your betrayals, depravities, the tears you have caused in others. Your mistrust, your anger, faithlessness, refusal to pray. Flirtations with coworkers, philandering, and broken vows. This is how sinners anointed our blessed and holy Jesus for stretching out his hands for nails, and feet to be driven through with metal spikes. 

Yet even as he suffers he does this joyfully for you. Therefore, lent is not really a time to be sad or gloomy. It’s not even necessarily a time to give things up or stop eating things you like because Jesus is already out of the tomb! The train is already out of the station.      

We mourn over the greatness of our sins but rejoice so more much more in the greatness of God’s love. A love better than Valentines Day. A love which does not consist of candy shaped hearts and corny hallmark messages, but a message of love etched out in in a blood soaked cross. Not a symbol of death but a symbol of eternal life! 

Your foreheads are not just smeared with soot and ashes. Engraved upon your forehead is the sign of the holy life-giving cross on which hung the salvation of the world. Upon your forehead is a reminder that the devil, your sins, and the grave have no claim on you. No one can speak anything against you because Jesus is risen and ascended to the right hand of God, it is He who speaks on your behalf, interceding for you before the throne of grace. 

He says nothing about you that is not glowing with approval. Your Father in heaven is not conflicted in how he thinks about you. He simply loves you as fervently and as joyfully as He loves His own Son. He can do none other.     

So tonight begin your fasting by leaving behind your sins in the dusty tomb outside of Jerusalem because that’s where they belong, and then, take up the righteousness of God which belongs to you by faith in the Gospel. Jesus Himself plainly says “Whoever eats of my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” So eat, drink and be merry. Set your face to Easter morning and trust that every grave shall be opened. Dust shall rise and those whose hope is in Jesus will not be disappointed.  In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Feast Day of St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves" (Luke 10:1-9).

(a homily preached January 28, 2015)

Tonight we observe the feast day and remembrance of St. Titus. Titus was a pastor who served with St. Paul who our church was named after. Unlike the other disciples Titus was a gentile. He was an outsider of sorts who heard about Jesus and sought him with all his heart. He was ordained as a minister of the Gospel and was sent to a small island in the Mediterranean Sea called Crete. He was sent there because the church was in disorder. There were problems with sexual immortality and disregard for God’s Word. There were also problems with the church on the Island of Crete because they were not giving proper instruction in Christian doctrine. False teachers had risen up and were perverting the Word of God so it would agree with their own sinful desires. And maybe some of this sounds familiar.  

It is common parlance to say that if someone is a trouble maker, or unruly they might be called a “Cretan,” which is derived from the immorality of the people on the Island of Crete in the first century. So Titus was called to be a pastor of Cretans - immoral, unruly, debased, sinful Cretans.  

The Scriptures simply say that Titus is sent by Paul to “put things in order,” charging him to preach the Word, teach, and rebuke those living in unrepentant sin, and to restore them to faith in the Gospel that they would be saved.  

And this is the meaning of Jesus words to his ministers as he ascended into heaven, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Like the Cretans we have trouble too. Our casinos have more disciples than our churches. Alcohol, drug abuse, and despair cripple and debilitate us. Courting and marriage is nearly extinct and men take women into their beds, without God’s gift of marriage and the love and commitment that ought to come along with it. High Schools are building gender neutral bathrooms and we can’t even tell the difference anymore between boys and girls.  

This year 1.7 million unwanted children were put in biohazard bags, and rather than a proper burial, were buried in dumpsters. It’s a shame if we have more rage about deflated footballs and our team not getting into the superbowl. 

So therefore, pastors are called to go into the world, and like Jesus, to make nearly everyone feel uncomfortable in this world and uncomfortable in their sin. To speak the same words that Jesus spoke, when people picked up stones to kill him when he said “Repent for kingdom of God is at hand…behold the judge is at the door.”  

The world is beset by violence and brokenness and so is every Christian church, and our churches are troubled because we are troubled. Like Adam and Eve we blame God, we blame each other, we blame Satan, we blame everyone but ourselves. 

To make matters worse God appoints troubled sinners to be pastors to help other troubled sinners like themselves. Yet by the grace and mercy of God somehow it works. God’s Word does what it says it does. It kills and makes alive. It brings down to hell and lifts us to heaven. It wounds and then heals. 

When Jesus sends out the first pastors in our Gospel text tonight he says “Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” But of course lambs are meant to be attacked. Lambs are meant to be eaten. And yet, strangely, it’s supposed to be this way.  

Two thousand years ago a young pastor, Titus, preached the Gospel in Crete. A people who used to worship the pagan god of minotaur, half bull and half man were saved by the Gospel of Jesus and came to a proper knowledge of the truth. They lived like animals but now due to the preaching of Christ lived upright again like men. 
In our day, we may be much worse than Cretans. The things that would have scandalized a previous generation no longer even make us blush, but there is no distinction, for all sin, and fall short of the glory of God. Christ Jesus comes into the world to save sinners.

Jesus died for Cretans, abortionists, and adulterers. He died for compulsive gamblers and alcoholics. He died for dead beat dads and moms who have fallen short. He even lays down his life and suffers on behalf of pastors like Titus, like Paul, and myself. 

Everything sinners deserve was placed on him. Behold the love of God! Jesus says “Behold I will search for my sheep and will seek them out, I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered…I will set shepherds over them who will care for them.”

Tonight let us rejoice that God does not deal with us by throwing thunder bolts and fiery smoke from Sinai but sends men with feet to bring the good news and lips to speak comforting words, diplomats of flesh and blood like you, to intercede for you, speak well of you, and place into your hands the very grace of God.

Like the Cretans we are a people of disorder - our churches, our families, and our sinful hearts bear witness to this, but there is one among you tonight who can set things right. One who can put things in the proper order that you might walk upright in these gray and latter days. One who elevates you to the right of God. One who is able to turn Cretans into Christians and sinners into saints.  He presides at the altar as your true shepherd and bishop of your souls.

Let us pray: Almighty God, You called Titus to the work of pastor and teacher. Make all shepherds of Your flock diligent in preaching Your holy Word so that the whole world may know the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.   

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Sunday on the Way to Jerusalem and Healing of a Blind Man (Quinquagesima)

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said" (Luke 18:31-43).

Today’s Gospel is simple yet profound. First, Christ tells the disciples about His suffering and death; and second, He makes the blind man see. Our Lord says “the Son of Man will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and the third day he will rise.” Luke, our Gospel writer, makes a strong point over the fact that none of the disciples understand at all what Jesus is talking about when he described his awful death on the cross.

This isn’t to say they were dumb. The disciples knew all the Scriptures. They were smart guys. They knew all the history of Moses and the prophets. They knew all about David and Solomon and the history of Israel. 

What they didn’t understand is that all the Scriptures pointed to Christ, namely that the Messiah, the Savior, promised from the foundation of the world - is a man who suffers and dies in their place.  

Jesus is the one who takes Isaac’s place on the wooden altar at Mount Moriah. He is the ram caught in a crown of thorns, He is the promise that the Lord will provide. It is his blood painted over the doorposts of those living in slavery under Pharaoh. He is Joshua who leads the people of God into the promised Land. He is Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, yet risen, spit up the third day – to preach repentance for forgiveness of sins. 

He is David slaying Goliath, slinging a stone of death between the devil’s eyes – by dying on the cross. Jacob’s ladder to heavens points to him. They knew all these stories but it was lost upon them that Jesus was the fulfilment of it all. Jesus himself said “all of the Scriptures testify to me.” 

On Easter afternoon Jesus said to his still doubting disciples “O foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory…these are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms but be fulfilled.” 

The disciples were slow to get it but this is the Messiah that they desperately needed, and sometimes we are slow to understand that this is precisely the Savior that we need. Who else is going to save you from hell and God’s judgment? Who else will spare you from the fiery wrath against all sin?  Who else, if not Christ, will suffer for your sins and take all the punishment? Who else will die for you, all so that you can be raised from your grave – to live with God – and sing eternally in His kingdom high above the heavens? Who else, but Christ, is capable of introducing you to a kind and heavenly Father who loves you? Who else can put you in the company of angels, so you can be friends with them and children of God?

The disciples are slow to understand what sort of Messiah this is and we are slow too when it comes to relishing and savoring the holy cross as we truly should. But while we miss the point, the blind man in our Gospel today does not miss a beat. 

This poor beggar on the side of the road cries out desperately for help to Jesus. When the disciples tell him to be quiet and hush up, he cries out all the more “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus simply asks him “What do you want me to do for you?” And without any hesitation the blind man, without any doubt that he would be heard, confidently made his request saying “Lord, let me recover my sight.”

Instantly the man’s sight was recovered. He could see. Jesus performed a miracle on him and he sang and glorified God because his sins were forgiven. Before he saw only darkness, death, and the terror of his own sins, but now his eyes are opened basking in glorious light – the gate of heaven has swung open. And the first thing he saw was the face of Jesus and therefore he saw a new life through the forgiveness of sins. He was blind but now he sees.  

We can learn a lot from the blind man this morning. We should learn to expect and demand miracles in our life. We should ask for big things. If you’re sick ask for perfect health. If you’re unhappy ask for a greater measure of joy for who else can provide it but the Lord of life? If your children rebel against you ask that their hearts would be turned again toward you in love.   

If you have lost loved ones ask that they would be raised so that you can see them again and hold them. When we don’t pray for these things we assume that God is powerless and can’t help. How foolish! Learn from the blind man where and how to find help. Jesus does not need any more silent disciples, he expects his followers to ask him for what they need and also for what they want, and he is always more ready to give, than we to receive.   

But now we behold a miracle of miracles. We ask God to turn bread into his body and wine into His blood. And lo, and behold he does. Our eyes are opened. We see the risen Lord. We beg for his help and help he does. He calms our anxious hearts with the forgiveness of sins. He quiets our weary souls with the peace of God. By receiving his body and blood we have the joy of a good conscience and the assurance that everything we ask in him name he will surely give us.

So expect and demand miracles in your life. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Sower and the Seed (Sexagesima)

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold (Luke 8:4-15).

This morning our Lord teaches us that the seed is the Word of God and that there are four different hearers of the Word of God.

A sower went out to sow and some fell along the path and was trampled under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. Jesus says these are those who hear the word, and it does not penetrate their hearts. They walk away Sunday morning totally unmoved by God’s call to repentance, faith, and love. The birds are Satan’s demons who snatch the Word away from their hearts and they refuse to believe and are not saved.

The second group receives the Word of God like rocky soil receives the seed. A thin layer of soil is warmed by the rock and there is initially lots of growth and excitement. They hear the Word of God and receive it with joy but there is no root. They believe for a while, and in a time of testing or tribulations they fall away from our Lord altogether. The obvious example is often confirmation students, and more especially their parents, who take up the task with some joy, but after Confirmation Day, the party, and the 100 check from grandma, both parents and confirmands are gone. There is no foundation. God’s Word has no more importance – no lasting value in their lives. 

The third group are those who receive the Word of God as seed among many thorns. These are those who hear the Word of God and may even take it briefly to heart, but the thorns are the cares, activities, and pleasures of this life. Perhaps this is the most relevant among us. It’s no secret that church is not what it used to be on our priority list. The third commandment is shoved aside in favor of batting around a ball, sitting in a tree stand, or simply sleeping in. 

Quite simply, if we teach our children that anything is more important than the Gospel and the body and blood of Christ on Sunday morning they will always find something more entertaining to do! If we teach our young ones that church is fine but only when it conveniently fits into our schedules they will notice – and they will follow. God has a word for anything that replaces proper worship of him – idolatry. 

Jesus in our parable is warning us that our amusement, our pleasures, the things we like can become thorns that can choke-out faith in the Gospel – which can wither and die. Our Lord is also teaching us that our worries, our anxieties, the cares of this life can snuff out true faith as well, where we become so obsessed with ourselves and our personal troubles that saving faith is extinguished, love of God snuffed out. 

The fourth soil is different. The Word of God is preached and this is a true disciple, who hears the Word and holds on to it. It doesn’t matter that the world is changing. It’s doesn’t matter that the culture is different. They know that the Lord God is the very source of their life - that His Word of forgiveness received in the Divine Service in absolution and body and blood is the one thing needful. These disciples consider themselves dying sinners in a dying world who are saved by the Gospel of Christ – and the love of God. There is no question what is most important in their hearts and homes. 

Let us be warned, Jesus says “many are called but few are chosen” and “He who has ears to hear them him hear.” If you are trying to figure out which type of soil you are that is not the really the point. When it comes to the sower and the seed, when it comes to the Word of God, it’s better to just confess that you are like the dusty path and the rocky soil. Confess that you have not let God’s love have its way with you. Confess that the cares and pleasures of this life have nearly overtaken you. Confess that you faith is shakey and that you fear nearly everything except God. Confess that your sins are grievous and thorny and that your priorities are messed up too. 

Confess because today there is comfort, and perhaps strangely it’s because Jesus shows us in this parable that he is not a very good farmer. When we plant a garden we carefully pick the right spot, till the soil, and carefully plant where the birds, rocks, and thorns are not a problem. We don’t like to waste seed. But it’s different in the Kingdom of God because God scatters His Seed everywhere. In a way, he’s wasteful to all of us. He scatters His Word – the seed of forgiveness and love everywhere, and the seed is Christ, born of the woman to crush the serpents head. The seed of the woman who grows up to bear fruit for you through the forgiveness of sins. Saying “this is my body,” planted in the garden of gethsemane to sweat blood for your salvation, to moisten sin-parched lips from a chalice running over with love. 

The thorns which threaten to choke your faith have been pressed into his innocent head – carrying the sins of misplaced priorities and the sins of neglect of God’s Word, even sleeping in, everything must be paid for.  He was planted on the rocky soil of Calvary to bear fruit, and a tree of life sprang up as he stretched out his arms in suffering love for those who made it their number one priority to put him to death. The rock was stuck with a soldiers staff and out poured water and blood, baptism and heavenly drink which saves you.

He was placed in the soil of the earth but sprang forth again in His glorious resurrection. The stone of death was rolled aside, death cracked under his power, the earth shook, and satan was cast down. The angels descended, the women ran with joy, the guards were stuck dumb, and the disciples all beheld Jesus with their own eyes.

Even this morning you see God face to face in the sacrament. The seed that bleeds is He who has risen victoriously from the grave. This sower sows his love recklessly, indiscriminately and says your sins are forgiven, rise and sin no more. So let us hold unto this life-giving Word, which is Christ, until the shadows lengthen, our work is done, and this busy world is hushed in death. And then after some rest, and a long winter we’ll sprout forth like saplings in spring – a new creation, with a body, shooting up in the resurrection of all flesh in glorious light, planted again in the soil of paradise, saints of God in full bloom, radiant and flowering before Him who has called you out of death and into eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

A Homily for the Purification of Mary and Presentation of Our Lord

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout,waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said..." (Luke 2:22-40)

(a sermon preached February 2, 2015)

Today is 40 days after Christmas and Mary and Joseph are doing what the Scriptures commanded of them by bringing the child Jesus to the temple, to present the Child to the Lord and for ritual purification after Child-birth. 

The Lord is coming to His temple and what a glorious scene but much like his birth, it’s not exactly cinematic.  When the Lord comes to His temple the Savior of the world is greeted by just a couple of older folks. They are waiting for him. Simeon has been waiting to see the Lord’s Christ and had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had taken the Lord Jesus into His arms. 

And when he beholds the child he takes him into his arms and sings the glorious hymn which we ourselves sing after receiving the life-giving body and blood of Christ. “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace. Mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” A glorious light. 

The Bible does not say it but church tradition holds that Simeon fell asleep moments after singing this song and was ushered into the kingdom of heaven.

Besides Simeon, there was a woman named Anna. She was 84 years old, and was a woman not unlike some of the women we have here at St. Paul. She just wouldn’t leave the church - worshipping, fasting, and praying, much like some women here who will not miss a Divine Service or Bible study if they can help it. 

When Jesus entered the temple, Simeon was holding Jesus then dying. Anna begins worshipping, thanking God by singing, and the scriptures say that she was speaking to everyone who was waiting for deliverance and help – speaking about the child and the forgiveness of sins. Which is to say, this elderly woman was talking to all of her friends and even people she didn’t know about Jesus. 

Like our Lord’s birth there is not a whole lot to see here. At Christmas there was a stable, some blood soaked hay, animals nearby and awkward rugged shepherds peering through the barn door. Tonight when the Lord comes to his temple there’s really just a few old folks standing around who are interested. If you wanted to be accurate you could say it’s not entirely different from the demographic of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

But the simple truth is this. The church, at least historically, is composed of people like old Simeon and Anna. People who are not totally content with their lives and long for another. People, like you, who know, due to sin, devastating loss, and the brokenness of this world, that they need to be delivered. The church is composed of people who know that their individual stories are incomplete were it not for this child, born of Mary - people who know that with all their wealth, all their accomplishments or success, that in the end it means nothing, if it all just ends with a casket, dirt, and flowers at the grave. But no, we hope for something much better. 

With the one holy Christian and Apostolic church we are waiting, hoping, singing and praying like Simeon and Anna. Loving God more than we love our own lives, wanting to depart this life in peace. 

More than anything else, the Lord’s Supper teaches us to be dissatisfied with this life and long for another. Like Simeon and Anna, even if we’re not old, we certainly feel like it and we’re tired, but like them, we take Jesus into our arms, and press him unto our hearts and say “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” I’ve had quite enough.  Let me fall asleep in you. This was Simeon’s song, Anna’s prayer, and it remains our great hope. In the name of Jesus. Amen.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Christians Don't Really Die They Fall Asleep - RIP Carole Alft

April 16, 1939 - December 18, 2014

Jesus says “Come unto 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.” And so it is that Christians fall asleep when they die. 

But it’s not like so many think it means. It’s not the end of the party. Christians don’t bury their loved ones as if this were the last hurrah – to signal the end of life. We Christians have funerals to mock death, dance on our own graves, and boldly confess that we believe in the bodily resurrection of all flesh in heavenly splendor.

Christians don’t really die. They fall asleep. For my children at home, when we tuck them in at night we are already looking forward - talking about the next day - talking about what we will do when the sun comes up and the morning comes. The best part about falling asleep is that we wake up. We open our eyes. We start a brand new day. 

Carole is not dead. She is sleeping. That’s what the Bible says. She has fallen asleep in the arms of Jesus. We’ll go to union cemetery in Tigerton this afternoon not to say final farewells. We don’t bury our Christian brothers and sisters while looking in the rear view mirror remembering all that was. We look forward to what will be – to the wonderful things to come. The word cemetery comes from a Latin word, coemeterium, a word referring to the sleeping barracks which housed roman soldiers while they slept. Cemeteries are sleeping barracks for those who are awaiting the trumpet blast – Reveille – when the sun comes up.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with the cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. They will step out of their graves in the morning light. Jesus will call Carole by name – gently lift her up by his loving hand – and Carole will open her eyes, smile, rejoice and dance again.

For a gravestone inscription I always thought it would be good to simply have the words “This is just a temporary setback.”  That is why Job in the Old Testament says “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting. The sting of death is sin. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Dear friends and family of Carole. The Christian life is not for sissies. It’s filled with trouble, sufferings, and bitter disappointments and Carole had those too. But even commending an infant daughter back into God’s hands could not shake her faith and love for Christ. 

Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Carole was not spared a cross but she carried it with grace, and joyful perseverance. Even amidst hardship, and sickness, and loss she knew that God was good to her. She trusted that her Savior was merciful and kind and loved her. During this last year when her health sharply declined, she seemed to take even greater comfort in the words and promises of God. 

On my last visit with Carole at rehab in Chippewa Falls I asked how she was dealing with this time of difficult testing and spiritual trial. She told me with a smile, that everything she had she was giving up to God. In that moment of physical weakness she was still stronger than all the angels in heaven – a faith like King David and St. Paul who said the same thing when they commended themselves over to God and prayed “into thy hands O Lord I commit Thy Spirit.” 

Carole loved this church. She rejoiced in the Lord’s Supper. She came for Bible study. At her bedside, she loved to have hymns and songs song to her. On this eve of Christmas, falling asleep in Jesus arms is a fitting remembrance of the faith that sustained her. The child born in Bethlehem was her greatest gift. Her source of great joy. She now beholds Him face to face before the angels in heaven. To Carole’s children, your mothers lives and the same hands that held you and cradled you will hold you again. 

Keith, Jesus says “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me…Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hear my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life..For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whoever believeth in him shall never perish but have eternal life.”   

Carole has gone on ahead of us. We are happy for her but we also cry. But this day let your bitters tears become sweet by the words and promises of God. Jesus walked out the grave Easter morning for you too. The same God of love who cared for Carol cares for you too.

After sadness make room in your hearts for joy. The trumpet will blast and Jesus will descend from heaven with all his angels and this valley of tears shall be lifted. Those who have fallen asleep will open their eyes. We shall walk out of our graves into the morning light and we too shall see God for ourselves.    

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guards your heart and minds in Christ Jesus. In the name of Jesus. Amen.