Monday, July 17, 2017

Funeral Sermon for Charles L. Gralewski: "Life in Jesus' Word"

+ Funeral Service for Charles Louis Gralewski: November 4, 1936 – July 1, 2017 +
Isaiah 43:1-3, 25; Romans 5:1-11; John 3:16-18
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

For Chuck, words were his life. Like the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul, Chuck spent many years preaching and teaching God’s Word. In his 43 years of sales he used words as he served others in the food industry. And he never tired of reading and studying God’s word, whether it was something from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or inwardly digesting God’s Word in the book of Romans.

More recently, he shared his love and joy of words with Audrey in their daily life together, their love of receiving God’s Word together, and their conversations and adventures to Hawaii, among many other places. And of course, Chuck’s unforgettable, joyous words of greeting, “Hey, brother!”

Yes, Chuck had a love and joy of words. And yet, as great as these words were, God’s Word was his greatest joy.

That’s because he believed, taught, and confessed, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, that “There is no human word of comfort strong enough to those who have been afflicted by death. It is God’s own word alone which helps us to the right vision of things and which gives us a brave and quiet heart in such troubled times.”[1]

In life and in death, God’s Word was Chuck’s life. The Scripture readings we hear today proclaim God’s salvation, promise, comfort, and life that belongs to Chuck, and to each of you, in his Word. 

God’s Word calls us by name, just as he did Chuck. By water and the Word, God placed his saving name - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – upon Chuck in Holy Baptism, as he does in your Baptism. As the Lord created and formed us in the womb giving us earthly life, so too, he creates and forms us to be his children giving us eternal life in body and soul in those blessed baptismal waters. In Baptism you are, as Chuck is, a new creation in Christ. As the prophet Isaiah declares to Chuck and to you: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

God’s Word calls also us to a life of repentance of our sin while revealing our Savior from sin in Jesus, just as St. Paul declares in Romans 5:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 

Chuck knew that God’s word had plenty to say about our sin; that it separates us from God and from each other; that the wages of sin is death; that we indeed are great sinners. But he also knew that God’s Word had even more to say about our salvation in Jesus, a Savior greater than our sin. A Savior who took our weakness, failures, sin, and death upon himself. The cross is the path to victory. The cross is his triumph over suffering [and our sin and death] (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p. 92).

For Chuck, and for you, “God is a God who bears. The Son of God bore our flesh, he bore the cross, he bore our sins, thus making atonement for us. In the same way, his followers are also called upon to bear…and that is precisely what it means to be a Christian” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 92).

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This was the confession Chuck made at his confirmation, throughout his life, and at the end of his life. God’s Word gave Chuck life.

And yet, that is not the end of God’s promises for Chuck or you. God’s Word will continue to be Chuck’s life as well. As God’s Word declares in John 3:

God loved the world in this manner, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

God’s Word is eternal life for Chuck and you as well. For God’s Word is unlike any other word. I may command the lights to turn on but they won’t; I may yell at the stoplight or the referees on TV but it won’t turn green any faster and the ref won’t reverse their call because of my word. But God’s Word, on the other hand, well, his Word does what he promises. God’s Word says let there be light; God’s Word calms the storms, heals paralytics, and raises the dead. And it happens. Jesus speaks and gives life to Chuck and to you.

God’s Word is Chuck’s life and yours yesterday and today…but also tomorrow and every day after, even to eternity.

God’s Word and promise of eternal life is the hope that Chuck died in, and the Word that will raise him and all the faithful in Christ on the Last Day. Everything Jesus did, he did for Chuck, and for you. He died to set you free from sin and death. He rose so that in him you will rise again. And just as the Lord called Lazarus forth from his tomb by his Word, so too, he will call Chuck and each of us from death to life…by his Word.

To quote Bonhoeffer once more…“The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day…I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ…Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own history.”[2]

This is our hope and comfort. We live our life together under the Word of the cross awaiting with our dear brother Chuck, and all who rest from their labors, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, that great and glorious endless day. And in the meantime, God speaks and delivers his strength, healing, and life in his Word; hope, comfort, and salvation in God’s Word; pardon, peace, and promise in God’s Word.

God’s Word is Chuck’s life, and yours - today, and always.

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

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, vol. 13, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007, p. 409.

[2] Bonhoeffer, Life Together, NY: Harper Collins, 1954, p. 54.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 5: "Christ Crucified is Our Rest"

+ 5th Sunday after Pentecost – July 9th, 2017 +
Series A: Zechariah 9:9-12; Romans 7:14-25; Matthew 11:25-30
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

Now that summer is here I can finally rest and relax. Now that I’m retired, I’ll have plenty of time to rest. Now that the weekend is here I’ll be able to rest after a busy week.

We’ve all had these or similar thoughts before. But then the family calendar fills up with road trips and adventures; retirement proves to be busier than a 40-hour work week; and the weekend is always too short to finish the to-do list.

When we feel like we need a vacation from our vacation; or when we’ve had a particularly long or stressful week at work; or when family, friends, or dear brothers or sisters in Christ suffer illness or die - we grow weary. We long for rest.

Rest for our body and mind is important for our physical and mental health and we pray for this in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray “give us this day our daily bread”. We pray for our heavenly Father to provide all we need for this body and life. And he does, daily without any merit or worthiness in us, out of his pure, fatherly divine goodness and mercy.

But we also pray for daily bread from the Lord’s table, healing, strength, and sustenance for our spiritual well-being as well. Rest for our soul.

This is the kind of rest our heavenly Father gives us in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day as we receive the Lord’s gifts.

But right about then our sinful flesh chimes in with a lame excuse like, “I just love to rest and be close to God on the beach” or wherever. Problem is, Jesus never promised eternal rest, forgiveness, life, and salvation to be given on the beach with our toes in the water and rear-end in the sand. Jesus promises to be with us in the word and water of Holy Baptism, the forgiveness of Absolution, the body and blood of the Lord’s Supper.

We rest in the grace, mercy, and peace of Jesus crucified for you. In the rest and peace of sins forgiven. In the rest Jesus provides: As the Psalms sayAs the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. (Ps. 42:1)

My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Ps. 84:2)

Or, as St. Augustine once wrote, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until we find our rest in Thee.” The rest we need - the rest we long for - Jesus promises: 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.”

Israel longed for an eternal Sabbath rest. They were weary from from sinful rebellion, burdened by false teachers and idolatry; they were dead tired and dead in sin when the prophet Zechariah declared words of hope and promise for Israel and for all...Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
St. Paul also longed for rest from his daily war with his own sinful flesh. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Oh wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Paul found rest – not in himself - but in Christ Crucified. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The disciples too, longed for rest. As Jesus spoke of rest in Matthew 11 they were already beginning to feel the heavy laden cross of discipleship.

Like Israel, St. Paul, and the disciples we long for and need rest. Like Israel we’re daily surrounded by idols - both without and within - that threaten to lead us astray from Jesus crucified to the Jezebels and Delilahs of the world. The world offers ever increasing pleasures with an ever diminishing return. Hope and longing quickly turn to disappointment, despair and distrust.

Like St. Paul, we wrestle daily with (what Luther called) our maggot sack of the sinful flesh. St. Paul wrote Romans 7 when he was a Christian. He understood our heavy burden of sin. Paul doesn’t give us a spoonful of sugar with the Law. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

It’s not pretty, popular, or palatable, but it’s true. This body of death. That’s why we’re so weary and tired. It’ all symptomatic of our sinful heart of darkness within. Our conscience is heavy laden with the weight of our sins in thought, word, and deed, with what we have done and left undone. Who will rescue me from disease, disaster, despair, and death? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And like the disciples, Jesus must reveal his easy yoke to us. It comes only by grace, through the cross. Jesus teaches them, and us in these words, that the way to find rest is to trade the heavy burden of our failure, weariness, and sin for Jesus’ easy yoke.

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.”

It’s worth noting that the noun for disciple and the verb “to learn” in this section are from the same root word in the Greek. It’s a reminder that the disciple - and that includes us - is always learning. And what are we to learn? Jesus’ promise:

Learn from me, that I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Jesus crucified is the refuge of the weary. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus’ death on the cross for you is our resting place. On the cross Jesus labored under the weight of our sin, bore the yoke of the cross, God’s punishment for sin, and the grave for you. Jesus exchanges the heavy burden of
our sin for his light and easy yoke of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus had no place but the cross and the grave to rest his head so that you receive eternal rest in him.

Like Israel, our rest is found in King Jesus, who gives us his righteousness and victory over sin and death in the Absolution.

Like St. Paul, we find the end of our war against our sinful flesh in the flesh of Jesus crucified for us, given to us in his body and blood given in the Lord’s Supper.

Like the disciples, Jesus promises not to take us out of the world, but to overcome the world for us, and call us into his family by adoption through grace in Holy Baptism.

We may not always find lasting rest in this life. But the rest we need and long for is given just as Jesus promises: in his word, water, body and blood, we have an eternal Sabbath.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

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