Jesus as Judge
November 25 and 26, 2017
Matthew 25:31 -46
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
Enough metaphors to choke a (cow)
One of my mom’s favorite metaphors included the phrase “to choke a cow.” If her garden produced more carrots than we really could use, she would say there was enough carrots to choke a cow. If Aunt Jerry would bring more baked beans that we could possibly eat to the Griffin family reunion, she would comment in her sweet and quiet little way, enough beans to choke a cow. If Aunt Linny fixed more fried chicken that 15 people could possibly eat for a Sunday noon meal, which she often did, Mom would whisper, you guessed it, that’s enough chicken to choke a cow.
The more I studied our lessons for today, the more metaphors I could find, in reference to Jesus. In today’s OT lesson, Jesus is the shepherd who seeks out, rescues, feeds, binds up, strengthens, and judges the sheep. Into today’s Epistle lesson, Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. In verse 31 of our Gospel, he is the Son of Man who is sitting on a throne. In verse 31 he is the shepherd, in verse 34 He is the King, in verses 35 and following He is the hungry man who needs food, he is the thirsty one who needs a cup of cold water, he is the homeless man who needs to be welcomed, he is the naked ones who needs some clothing, he is the sick person who needs to be visited, he is the prisoner who is as guilty and lonely as he can be. In verses 34 and 46 he is the judge who invites believes into the kingdom prepared for them by his Father and sends away the unbelievers into eternal punishment. Ten or eleven metaphors, depending on how you count, or as my mom might say, enough metaphors to choke a cow.
Two weeks ago, we focused on the metaphor of Jesus the bridegroom, last week Jesus the Master, and today, I picked just one, Jesus the Judge. Two parts to our sermon today. Lesson #1 is that the day is coming when Jesus the Judge will be the shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats. Lesson #2 is that in these days, Jesus the Judge is the Friend who needs our help.
Lesson #1- The Day is soon coming when this Judge will be the (Shepherd) who separates the sheep from the goats. This story is more of a vision than it is a parable. And in this vision, the formalities of a court are fully observed. This judge is decked out with all his authority. The fact that he sits on a throne conveys that this is a king coming to judgment. The entire human race will be assembled for public judgment.
In the Middle East sheep and goats were and are often pastured in mixed flocks. The sheep are generally lighter colored than the goats, and it would take a practiced eye to distinguish the two species. Up until this point in world history, believers and unbelievers have lived side by side indistinguishably. Also the parable of the wheat and the tares teaches us that it’s not our assignment to figure out who is saved and who isn’t. It’s our assignment in these days to keep on planting the seeds of God’s Word, and as long as we’re mixing metaphors today, it’s our assignment to keep on encouraging sheep of all shapes and sizes to lie down in green pastures and to be led by the still waters.
At first glance, it seems as though today’s text teaches a works righteousness kind of salvation. In other words, it seems as though those who have spent their days doing good unto others are saved and those who have failed to do good unto others are condemned. A second glance at the text, however, reminds us that this is a courtroom scene, and that evidence must be presented to prove the validity of the verdict rendered. A glance at all of Scripture reminds us that we are saved by the grace of God, salvation is a gift of God not of works, lest any of us should boast. James reminds us that although we are saved by faith alone, faith never comes alone. Faith without works is no faith at all. True and growing faith is alive with good works mostly small and behind the scenes.
Two thoughts come to mind in this text about the reactions of those who have been judged as not guilty or not guilty. Thought #1 is that Those on the right will be (astonished). They are astonished that their sins have been forgiven and their good works being pointed to as evidence of their Baptismal faith. Astonished that the few times they got life right will be remembered and the many times they messed up will be forgotten. On that day the kingdom of God will be like mother of four astonished that the Judge remembers the meals she prepared and served to her family and forgets the times she was crabby and even worse. Like the adult son astonished that the Judge commends him for sitting at his mom’s bedside in ICU and then in the nursing home and has forgotten the times he dishonored his mom and even worse. Like the pastor astonished when the Judge praises him for the few prison visits he made and seems to have forgotten the many visits he failed to make. It will be like the man commended by the judge for a few acts of patience and kindness and yet the marriage he ruined with his habit of drinking and losing his temper isn’t mentioned.
Thought #2 is that Those on the left will be (astonished), as well. They will be astonished that their good deeds aren’t mentioned and yet their sins of omission are given as evidence of unbelief. Astonished that the many times they helped their neighbors in need count for nothing in this courtroom, but the days they walked by on the other side of the road get all the attention. On that day, the kingdom of God will be like man astonished that his generous online donations for charity count for nothing, but his moments of self-centeredness get pointed out. It will be like a really decent couple astonished that even though they worked hard, paid their bills, and taught their children to be loyal and productive citizens, but all the Judge wants to talk about is that they didn’t teach their children how to pray, they were too busy to sit still and cry out for God’s mercy.
Lesson #1 – the day is soon coming when this Judge will be the Shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats, and just to throw in a couple of metaphors / for good measure, on that day Jesus will at the same time be the defense attorney for those who have lived in Christ and the prosecuting attorney for those who have lived apart from Christ.
Lesson #2 is simple. In these days, Jesus the Judge is the actually (neighbor) who needs our help. The first truth we teach children in Sunday School or at home is that Jesus loves you, He died for you, He is your Savior. A second truth we teach them is that Jesus wants us to spend our lives loving Him back. That we are to spend our days loving as we have first been loved, forgiving as we have first been forgiven, serving as we have first been served. Jesus says it simply, “if you love me, keep my commandments.” The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart and soul and mind. The second great commandment tells us how to keep the first – to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. Or as Luther explains in commandments 4 - 8, to spend our days honoring our parents and authorities that it may be well with thee and thou may live long on the earth, to spend our days helping and befriending our neighbors in every physical need, to spend our days honoring the institution of marriage, to spend our days helping our neighbors improve and protect their business and property, to spend our days defending our neighbors reputations, speaking well of them, and putting the best construction on everything.
Two reflections, in closing, about what it means to see Jesus the Judge as the neighbor who needs our help. Reflection #1 is that In this courtroom, it’s the thought that (counts). Most often we use this expression to think about a good deed that ended up not working out so well. Like when you lend your neighbor a car to take on a trip, and then it breaks down. Or when out of the goodness of your heart you mow your neighbor’s lawn when he’s gone on vacation and you run over an expensive little seedling he just planted. It’s the thought that counts!
What do I mean when I say it’s the thought that counts? I mean that whereas Christians don’t have a corner on being kind and helpful towards neighbors, we do have a corner on the motivation for doing so. It is the love of Christ which compels us to care deeply about the basic needs of our neighbors, it is so much more than just a generic concern for people to have food and shelter and health care, it is a desire for God to have mercy for their souls.
One of the texts we often read at Thanksgiving time is in Philippians 4, where Paul invites Christians to be rejoicing in all the circumstances of life, he pleads with us to practice thinking about that which is of good report, that which is praiseworthy, that which is excellent. And so while Christians don’t have a corner on being thankful, we do have a corner on the thinking through process behind the thankfulness, which is entirely directed to the Triune God.
Also in the upcoming Christmas season, Christians by no means have a corner on giving gifts and making sure that area children have one or more nice gifts under the tree. Just about everybody wants that to happen. But Christians do have a corner on the idea that we give gifts to each other in response to God giving us the gift of his only Son. Jesus Christ, then, is at the same time the giver of all good gifts and the recipient of those same gifts. Giver and recipient – as we add a couple more metaphors to our metaphor extravaganza.
Reflection #2 as we conclude is that In this courtroom, it’s the little things that (matter). Luther taught clearly that the ordinary works of a common man are just as holy in the sight of God as any other. He urged women of his day not to turn up their noses at married life and think they had to be a nun in order to serve God. He wrote that rocking the baby, washing its diapers, making its bed, smelling its stench, staying up night and taking care of the child when it cries were all holy works just as surely as preaching the Gospel to multitudes of people.
And if Luther isn’t enough for you, keep in mind what Jesus teaches in Matthew 10, And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
Speaking of rewards, I was looking back in my sermon file on this text from 1996, when our baby boy Noah would have been 7 years old. I told the story of tucking him in, saying prayers, and ending the day with the simple words on the way out the door, “I love you, son. Once in awhile, he would already be sleeping and too tired to respond. But most often I would hear those magic words, I love you, too, dad.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who know Jesus to be the Judge who came down off his throne and loved them enough to suffer and die that they might live forever. When they are thinking clearly, they realize that in a thousand different ways in every one of their days, their Father in heaven is saying, “I love you, child.” And when they’re not too tired or too preoccupied, they say back to Him in a thousand different ways, they say back to Him with their words and with their deeds, “I love you too, dear father in heaven.”
Jesus as Master
Matthew 25: 14-20 - “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
November 19, 2017
Last weekend Pastor Muther ended his sermon with a story about a bridegroom who not only shed a few tears as his beautiful bride walked up the aisle, he cried uncontrollably. He sobbed! The reason he was crying so hard wasn’t only the fact that his bride was so beautiful, it was also because he was missing his mom, who had passed away just a few months before that. Tears of joy combined with tears of sadness turned into quite the meltdown.
In Revelation 21, John sees a vision of the church which he describes as a holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. We can only imagine the tears of joy in our Savior’s eyes as his beautiful bride comes down that aisle. But it’s hard to get out of our minds Jesus looking out over the old Jerusalem full of unrepentant sinners who would not be gathered, as a mother hen gathers her brood. In that picture Jesus is crying tears of sadness, he’s not just tearing up a little bit, he’s bawling like a baby. The more I think about it, the more I think it must be true that our Lord Jesus will be crying both tears of joy and sadness. As you well know, one of the most beautiful metaphors in Scripture is of Jesus as bridegroom loving his bride the church with such a passion that he would lay down his life for her.
Last Sunday, we saw Jesus as Bridegroom, next Sunday Jesus as Judge, and today, Jesus as Master.
As bridegroom, Jesus loves us, and as Master, He (trusts us!)
We’re accustomed to hearing that Jesus Christ loved us enough to be crucified until he was dead and buried for us, but today we hear the surprising truth that Christ is that master who entrusted his servants with all of his possessions and then went off on a long journey.
To the one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his ability. While on the one hand, all of us have received the gift of salvation in equal measure, on the other hand, the talents referred to in this parable are given indifferent measure. One commentator (Albrecht) suggests that the talents Jesus gives include 1) all the intellectual and physical abilities we are born with and those we develop as we mature. Our talents include all the material possessions that rightfully come into our hands. And include the many opportunities God provides us for using our talents to serve him and our neighbor.
Another commentator by the name of France suggests that the talents aren’t so much our natural gifts and aptitudes, but rather the “specific privileges and opportunities of the kingdom of heaven and the responsibilities they entail.” This morning, I invite you to think of our life together as servants, even slaves, whose days are packed full of privileges and opportunities. Think of what it means that on the one hand Jesus has declared us to be no longer servants / slaves but friends, and on the other hand, although we have the status of friends we choose to be His servants. Luther spoke about this paradox in this way, in his discussion of Christian freedom, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.
Three lessons we want to learn from this parable of the talents about Jesus as Master. 1) He rewards faithfulness, 2)He expects a return on His investment, and 3)The day is soon coming when he will have no time for excuses.
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[e] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
Lesson #1 we learn of Jesus as Master - He rewards (faithfulness). Lutherans tend to get a little twitchy when we start talking about Christians getting rewarded for their faithfulness. We have had it hammered into our heads from little on that we are saved by the grace of God alone, that we in no way merit entrance into the joys of heaven.
And so when we see Jesus as master giving the faithful steward even more to manage and even inviting him into his presence, we wonder what kind of a reward this is. Two thoughts come to mind about this master rewarding faithful stewardship of time, talents, and treasure given to us.
Thought #1 is that here on earth it is so very often true that we reap what we sow, as we live out our vocations in faithful fashion. Many Sunday School teachers will tell you that the more they put into it the more they get out of it. Moms and dads who spend their days sowing seeds of kindness and patience into their children’s lives will find that sooner or later, a harvest of kindness and patience will sweep over their life together.
Thought #2 is that Jesus as Master rewards us with gifts that He has Himself earned on our behalf. Jesus is the One who did His father’s bidding in perfect fashion. His father said go, and the son said how far. The father said all the way to the cross and the son said yes. The father said be sure to finish what you start, and on a Friday that turned out to be very good for us, the Son said “It is finished.” On Judgment Day, as your Master looks you in the eyes and declares, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” you will know beyond a shadow of the doubt that it was Christ who did the heavy lifting, you get the prize!
Bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.
Lesson #2 we learn of Jesus as Master - He expects a return on His (investment). The servant with five talents goes out, he trades, he risks, he realizes 100% profit, he is rewarded with words and even more. The servant with two talents goes out, he trades, he risks, he realizes 100% profit, he also is rewarded. Expectations are met, and all of this is recorded that we might learn what it is the Spirit of God would teach us this morning.
The kingdom of God is like a girl blessed with a mom who insisted that she take piano lessons. The more she practiced, the better she played, and the better she played, the more she wanted to practice. The more she wants to practice, the more opportunities come her way.
The kingdom of God is like a man blessed with a hundred years of life, and still counting. The longer he lives, the more he is blessed with grandchildren and even great grandchildren, and the more he is blessed, the more opportunities come his way to say bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
The kingdom of God is like a couple blessed by God with good childhoods, blessed by God with college educations, blessed by God with good paying jobs, blessed by God with financial peace, and as time goes along, the easier they find it to give, the more they give, the more generous they are, and the more generous they are, the more they understand Jesus as Master promising, “for to everyone who has will more be given.”
Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Lesson #3 we learn of Jesus as Master On the day of reckoning, He will have no time for (excuses).In these days, we find movie stars and politicians in particular having to answer for sexual misconduct and a host of other faults and failure. Some offer excuses, some go into hiding, and some offer what may or may not be sincere apologies. Some famous folks have a day of reckoning when they may least expect it, some no doubt know it’s coming, and some seem to get away with all kinds of bad behavior.
In our text for today, the third slave gets read the riot act. He tries to pin his own failures on the reputation of his master, and it doesn’t go well. He tries the old “I could have done worse” excuse, and he just made matters worse. He should have listened to George Washington, who said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” Or to Benjamin Franklin who suggested that “he that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” Or to John Wooden, who taught, “Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.”
I read a story about a pastor who was excited about taking his two visiting nephews to church. The two boys were ages six and nine and had never been to church. For whatever reason, the two boys were not impressed. In the middle of the children’s sermon, the younger one raised his hand and asked, “How much longer do we have to sit up here.” When the offering was passed he watched as people put money in the plates. When it finally got to him, he looked up at his aunt and said, “You mean we gotta pay for this?”
Dear friends in Christ, there are at least two different attitudes you can take towards Jesus as Master. If your image of this master is like the unfaithful servant in the parable, then you are likely to approach service and giving to others with the attitude of the boy who asked, “you mean we gotta pay for this?” You mean we have to serve others?
But if your image of Jesus as Master is that he is the all compassionate one, He is the one who wills our good, He is the One who wants our best, He is the One who loves each one of us with an unconditional and eternal love, then you are likely to take great risks with your talents, then you will find a great joy bubbling up on the inside of you, a great joy bubbling over with a generosity spilling over into the lives of all kinds of folks near and far.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who have always known how much Jesus loves them. In these days, they are increasingly surprised that Jesus their Master would entrust them with His Kingdom. They enjoy the idea that they will be rewarded for faithfully doing their Father’s business. They wonder what it means that He is expecting a return on His investment. And they are sobered by the reality that the day is soon coming when he will have no time whatsoever for excuses.
Judd Strunk funeral sermon
November 15, 2017
II Timothy 2:1-7
You, then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men,[a] who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Judd Strunk knew well what all of us learn sooner or later – that life is a mixture of really good times, horrible times, and everything in between. It’s a pretty simple matter to make it through days of great joy and successes, it’s not at all a simple thing to endure days that are full of incredible sorrow and suffering. Two qualities Judd and Elaine possessed that helped them through days of trial. Two qualities that we do well to focus on this morning would be a sense of humor and strong Christian faith.
You knew Judd had a sense of humor just by walking into his gas station office. Dozens of quips and quotes there were – many that I could speak from the pulpit, and perhaps a few not so much. 1)Credit makes enemies, let’s be friends. 2) Everyone brings happiness here – some by coming and some by going! 3) It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you work with a bunch of turkeys.
A good sense of humor seems to me to be a terrific companion to a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Spend time at any funeral lunch, and you’ll know what I mean. The tears at the gravesite give way to all kinds of stories, all kinds of fond memories, and all kinds of laughter. No disrespect is intended, it’s just our way of recognizing that you can only cry so many tears. It’s our way of declaring to anybody who is paying attention to Christians in days of death and burial that caskets and funeral homes and gravestones don’t get the final word around here. Jesus Christ gets the final word. Nursing homes and hospitals and parkinsons disease and heart failure don’t get to rule in our hearts and minds for any length of time. Jesus Christ who was crucified until he was dead and buried and then rose up again on the third day – He gets to rule in our hearts and minds as time goes on. Sadness and sinfulness and sickness don’t get the best of us, the grace, the mercy, and the peace of our God get the best of folks who have been baptized into the faith and have remained in that faith through thick and thin, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer.
Even more important than having a sense of humor as a way of coping with days of routine as well as days of tragedy is to be a recipient of God’s grace, It is for the Holy Spirit to work inside of us a confidence that God can be trusted, a confidence that our sins have been paid for, our debt has been cancelled, our destination has been made sure by Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and coming back again.
Strengthened by Grace is our theme for the day, as Paul writes to young Pastor Timothy and urges him to let the Lord fill him with power in all the chapters of life. It was by the grace of God that Paul had been saved, it was by the grace of God that Paul had planted all kinds of churches in that first century, it was by the grace of God that these churches would have pastors to watch over their souls, and it was the burning desire of Paul that Timothy be one of those pastors who carried on his legacy.
To help Timothy understand what he was up against and how crucial it was that he be receiving the grace of God and holding onto that grace, Paul uses three metaphors. He compares the Christian life to the life of a soldier, the life of an athlete, and the life of a farmer.
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. In this metaphor, Jesus Christ is the general, and Timothy is to be one of the noble soldiers in the army of the Lord. Timothy would be a pastor in a time when the church would be persecuted and even martyred for what they believed. He was to get himself ready to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from his faith.
Paul pointed out the obvious – that the man who enlists steps out of the common civilian life and his one aim and object is to please and earn the commendation of the one who enlisted him.
As I prayed with Judd and his family the night before he breathed his last, he wore his cap indicating he had served in the Korean war. For whatever reason, the longer I prayed, the more he pulled that cap down on his forehead, as if to say, “I have fought a good fight. I am finishing the course. I continue to be strengthened by God’s grace.
Metaphor #2 is the athlete. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. As an athlete would compete according to the rules, as an athlete would compete with all of his strength, as an athlete would compete with the first place trophy in mind, so was Timothy to be strengthened by God’s grace, so was Timothy to run his race with the eternal prize before him, and so was Timothy to be careful never to deviate from preaching the pure Word of God.
The last time I visited Judd at Oak Lawn Terrace, he had his high school senior annual out on the table. He pointed with pride to his baseball team’s success, he pointed out fellow classmates and athletes with whom he played, and he reminded me not at all in a boastful manner that he had been an all conference kind of a baseball player. I know that for you kids and grandkids, many of your fondest memories are of you dad and grandpa sitting on those bleachers cheering you on and wanting you to succeed with all of his heart.
Metaphor #3 is the farmer. . 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.7 Paul wanted Timothy to know that just as the farmer could not live unless he did not first take his share of his produce, so also would the Pastor Timothy need to take of their spiritual fruit for themselves, even as they toiled for spiritual fruit for others. They would toil by preaching and teaching the Gospel, and this toil would in fact produce faith, love, and godliness, precious fruits indeed.
As surely as there must be farmers to sustain the life of the world; there must be preachers to sustain the life of the church. In Romans 10, Paul makes it clear that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And how will people call on him if they have not believed? And how will they believe unless they hear God’s Word? And how will people hear God’s Word unless preachers preach it to them? Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
Judd and Elaine and their children seemed to understand the importance of preachers more than the average family. I say that because Judd always referred to me as Reverend, Elaine always referred to me as Reverend, before she died, Sue would call me Reverend, to this day, Bruce and Sarah carry on this tradition of respecting the office of pastor by calling me Reverend. If I’m not mistaken dear Leona, Judd’s mom, did as well. (Story of our Mission Society and others re roofing Leona’s house / 85 year old Armin Tesch and me up on the roof, even though I have zero skills and desire to be up on a roof / Judd spending his morning pacing on the ground below, worrying and praying and crying out, Reverend, don’t you be falling off that roof now!”)
By God’s grace I didn’t fall off that roof, suggesting the prayers of a righteous man were heard. A righteous man he was, not because he lived such a perfect life, but because God has declared him to be not guilty by virtue of Jesus Christ living in perfect fashion, Jesus Christ suffering, dying, rising up again, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, Jesus Christ ruling all of heaven and earth with grace, with mercy, and with power.
Every time Judd listened to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, He was strengthened by the grace of God. Every time he ate and drank at His Lord’s Supper, the forgiveness of sins was delivered right into his heart, his soul, and his mind. And that’s why we say a righteous man he was, by the grace of God. May God keep all of Judd and Elaine’s descendants, all of his military buddies, all of his fellow athletes, all of his farmer friends strong in faith unto life everlasting, may He help all of us to have a sense of humor in all the chapters of life, May Judd rest in peace until the day when Christ comes back as conquering king and all the world’s armies lay down their arms. May Judd rest in peace until the day when Christ crowns all who have run their races straight May Judd rest in peace until the day when briars and brambles will cease and the harvest comes by the grace of God alone.
Funeral Sermon for Arnold Ruege
November 3, 2017 / “Whom Shall I Fear?
Psalm 27:1- The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Dear Friends in Christ,
Years ago, I was visiting an elderly man who had fought in World War I, who was a man’s man kind of a man. He was tougher than nails, he trusted in his Savior, he was very hard of hearing. A day or so before he died, I visited him in the nursing home, and I asked him if he was afraid of dying. He couldn’t hear me, so I asked a second time and he couldn’t hear me. About the third or fourth time I was literally yelling this question at Hillcrest Nursing Home, are you afraid of dying? When he finally heard me, grumbled back, “hmff, what the ‘heck’ is there to be afraid of?” Ted knew by faith that the Lord was with him and would not forsake him, that he had no eternal reason to be afraid, that at the end of every day he could be still and know that God was God.
That’s pretty much the attitude of King David in Psalm 27. Remember that David had good reason to be afraid in the various chapters of his life. He had faced at least one lion and a bear wanting to attack his sheep. He faced a giant by the name of Goliath. He had dodged more than one spear hurled his way by King Saul He was forced to part company from his good friend Jonathan. At various times, he had fled for his life, he was without food and weapons, he was hunted by King Saul like a man hunts for deer, he led armies into battle, his infant son died as a direct result of his own sinful decisions, his own sons rebelled against him, his best friend betrayed him, his own wife Michal absolutely despised him – just to mention 8 or ten of his enemies. And in spite of all of that darkness and danger, David cried out, The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? What David truly wanted was to dwell in the house of the Lord in all the days of his life, which is another way of saying he wanted to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple, which is another way of saying as long as he was in the presence of the Lord, as long as he knew the Lord was his good shepherd, as long as he knew that the Lord was following him around with goodness and mercy, he would not be afraid.
No doubt Arnold had good earthly reasons to be afraid, as do all of us. He had chapters of life that were better and some that were worse. He had years that were richer and some that were poorer. He had times of good health and times of sickness. Times when he felt like dancing and times when just wanted to be alone and maybe have a bit of a pity party. Times of laughing so hard his stomach hurt and times of crying so hard he had no more tears to shed.
You all have your memories of Arnie, some of them fond and no doubt a few that are not so fond. I knew Arnie best in the weeks leading up to his marriage to Doris, and then in the months leading up to and following her death and burial. They were days of great joy mingled with all kinds of sadness.
The fact that life is a mixture of smooth sailing days and stormy weather days comes as a surprise to none of us. The Bible teaches from beginning to end that life is short and full of trouble, and our life experience confirms it. We travel through life with all kinds of friendships to enjoy, and at the same time there are enemies to be faced. This Christian man had at least three enemies to face, as do all of us in every one of our days. Enemy #1 was him own sinful nature, which would tempt him to think wrong, to speak wrong, and to do wrong. Enemy #2 was this sinful world which would coax him to stumble and to stutter through life, making all kinds of mistakes and contributing to all kinds of conflict. Enemy #3 was the devil himself with all of his nasty demons who would be lurking and prowling and throwing roadblocks and causing trouble in his family every step of the way.
But in all of his days his Lord Jesus Christ was stronger than her enemies. He was his light and her salvation, as often as he listened to and remembered God’s Word, as often as he held onto the promises God made to him in Baptism, as often as he just sat still and knew that God was God, that often Jesus Christ was his sigh of relief. That often God was his refuge and strength and very present help in trouble. As often as he cried out for help, as often as he sought his Savior’s face, as often as he looked beyond herself for answers, that often he had strength to face one more day.
The Good News for Arnold Ruege was that even if he didn’t have his eyes fixed on Jesus, Jesus had His eyes fixed on him. Even on those days when Arnie was following Christ at a distance, Christ his Good Shepherd was following him with goodness and mercy. Even though Arnie fell short of the glory of God on a regular basis, as we all do, His Father in heaven loved him with an everlasting love. Jesus Christ had paid for every one of his sins with his very life, the Holy Spirit was at work in all the circumstances of his life to work things out for his eternal good.
It’s comforting to know that Arnie was baptized into the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and it’s even more comforting to know that God is faithful to the promises He made to him in that baptism. This is the only good news that really matters from one generation to the other- that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. By living the perfect life none of us can even get close to living, by suffering all that we should have suffered, by offering up a sacrifice to end all required sacrifices, by rising up again on the third day and by ascending into heaven on the 40th day and by sending His Holy Spirit in superabundant fashion on the 50th day, he works in us a heart that is not afraid, he works in our life in such a way that we do hide in his shelter, in such a way that we are concealed under the cover of his tent, in such a way that we do spend our days waiting for the Lord, we do spend our days looking upon the goodness of the Lord, we do spend our days doing all things he is asking us to do through the strength of our Lord.
Perhaps you have heard the story of a Christian woman who was making funeral arrangements with her pastor, and when they were almost done, she had one more request. She asked if she could get buried with a dinner fork in her hand. When the pastor asked why, she indicated that all her life, at church suppers and at all kinds of meals, whenever they said to her that she should keep her fork, she knew the best was yet to come. Dessert was coming! So also as we lay yet one more of our fellow travelers to rest, we do so knowing that the good old days have not passed us by, rather the really best days are yet to come. Paul wrote that he desired to depart and Christ which is far better. And again, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Years ago, I invited Arnie to join a few men and me for early morning coffee, a fair amount of talking smart, and a Bible discussion. For a time we called ourselves “Men of Integrity” and we would encourage each other to live our lives knowing that we were saved by through faith alone in Jesus Christ, and also knowing that true faith never came alone. It always came with good works, prepared in advance by God for us to carry out. After one or more wives told us that their husbands didn’t feel like they qualified to meet with a group called Men of Integrity, we decided on a new name. Our new name was and is to this day, “Men Who Need Help.”
The fact is that all of us, men, women, and children alike, need God’s help to face every one of our enemies in every one of our days. The last enemy to be faced is death itself. It looks as though that enemy has gotten the best of Arnie, but we lay him to rest in these days knowing that death will not have the final word, our resurrected Lord and Savior will have the final word.
Two lessons to learn again, in closing, in answer to the question, Whom shall I fear? Lesson #1 – no need to fear the old sinful nature, no need to fear this sinful world, no need to fear the devil and all of his nasty demons, no need to fear the valley of the shadow of death itself, all of these enemies have been soundly defeated by our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise and honor and blessing to Him!
Lesson #2 – Whom shall I fear? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Or as Jesus warned, “ Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The death of every loved one is a terrific inventory to take inventory of our own thoughts, our words, our actions, our habits, our lifestyle. And as we take inventory, we find that we have fallen way short of fearing, loving, trusting God above all things. And as we find again and again that we have fallen way short, we get down on our knees, we cry out for mercy, and mercy is ours. We cry out for yet one more chance, one more new beginning, and praise be to God, a one more chance / a new beginning is ours!
There’s something dark and dreary and even worse about caskets and cremation and cemeteries, but as people of faith, we take all of this in, and at the end of the day, we say with the Psalmist, The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Worship Sermons & Letters