Numbered Days - New Year's eve 2014
Psalm 90: 12 – So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Dear Friends in Christ,
A man went in for his annual checkup and received a phone call from his physician a couple of days later. The doctor said, “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.” “What is it?” “Well you have only 48 hours to live.” “That is bad news!” the shocked patient said. The doctor continued, “I’m afraid I have even worse news.” “What could be worse than what you’ve already told me?” the patient stammered. To which the doctor replied, “I’ve been trying to call you since yesterday.”
Nobody wants to get that kind of a phone call, but every year more than a few of us do. The end of a year is a perfect time to remember that our days are numbered, to take stock of where we are in life, and to chart a course going forward. As we study Psalm 90 tonight, I invite you to consider two important Bible truths, and then to take two particular actions.
The first truth we want to reflect on tonight is that God is our dwelling place in every chapter of life here and now and into eternity. Be still and take refuge in the simple and powerful truth that our God is one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. Yesterday I counted the number of places where I have lived in my 60 years, and I came up with 12. An average of five years per place. An old farm house for 18 years was the longest, and a basement apartment in Willmar, MN for two weeks was the shortest. Five houses – three which have been torn down, and one which was moved.
Be still tonight, and understand once again how temporary all of our earthly tents and apartments and homes are. How foolish we are whenever we think of ourselves as owners instead of managers of all that we are and have.
We learn again from Moses on this New Year’s Eve what we will mark with the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday – that from dust we came and to dust and ashes we will return. In contrast to God who was God before the mountains were ever brought forward, we are like a mist that appears for a moment and then is gone. In contrast to Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever, we are here for a short time that is full of trouble, and then one day our souls fly away to God knows where. God’s eternity isn’t just endless time, it is independent from time. Moses writes that a thousand years in God’s sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. That’s amazing, if you are still and think about it. A thousand years ago, the Normans hadn’t invaded England. Vikings were establishing small settlements in North America. Achinese artisan was inventing ceramic movable type printing. It was still the middle ages. For God that day was like yesterday. The bottom line of all of that is that God can be trusted. Through all the ups and downs, through thick and thin, in good times and in horrible times. He can be trusted. (Story of Nate and Ali driving 27 hours straight with three small children, from Florida to Minnesota, arriving at midnight, Ali’s first comment in answer to how was the journey, “the last four hours were kind of horrible!”)
Lesson #1 tonight was to reflect on and take refuge in the simple truth that God is our dwelling place here and now and even into eternity. Lesson #2 is to fall down on our knees in fear and trembling even as we rise up and live with a spirit of joy and gladness in this new year. On the one hand, Psalm 90 reminds us that our lives are short and difficult, and on the other hand God’s mercies are new and powerful every time the sun comes up. On the one hand, Moses writes, “You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.” On the other hand he writes, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
One of the sights I remember from the prairies of North Dakota was of flax fields blooming on a summer morning. By late morning, the beautiful blue had given way to a drab brown. It was beautiful for a brief time, and then not so much. Much of my summer time growing up was spent in the hayfield. Dad would mow green grass, and by the time I raked it into windrows, it was brown hay. Some of those days seemed long and hot and dreary, but now they all seem like a dream and a long time ago.
When Moses prays for God to make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil, he is praying that life’s joys will balance out life’s sorrows. That’s really a pretty good prayer, and here in little Janesville, MN, USA, isn’t it true that for everyone of us the good days have far outnumbered the really hard days? Tonight, Moses reminds us that life is short and full of trouble for a reason. Why? Because of God’s righteous anger towards sin, that’s why. Moses writes, “For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
Moses knew something about the wages of sin which was and is and ever shall be death. Moses had led 2-3 million sinners out of Egyptian slavery and across the Red Sea in miraculous fashion, and yet it wasn’t long before the grumblers began to grumble. God kept on forgiving and they kept on sinning. He kept on being patient, and they kept on losing their temper. God kept on showing mercy and they kept on rebelling. He kept on remembering His covenant promises, and they kept on forgetting how privileged they were to be the people of God.
This very night, we do bend our knees in full fledged fear and trembling before God, even as we rise up and live in full appreciation of divine grace, mercy, and peace. We cry out for mercy even as we celebrate that has already had pity on us in days gone by. We ask for wisdom on high tonight, that we would live as people whose days are numbered, even as we fix our eyes on the Holy One who was numbered on the cross with sinners. One last time this year, we kneel at our Lord’s Supper admitting that we have fallen short. One last time we hear and taste that our Lord is good and that His mercy endureth forever. One last time we rise up and go in peace one last time tonight we lay our heads on our pillows with the knowledge that our days are numbered praying the Lord our soul to keep and if I did before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take, and this I ask for Jesus’ sake.
Teach us, O Lord that our days are numbered, that we may get a heart of wisdom. Andy Stanley tells the story of a man who bought 1300 marbles on his 50th birthday. He figured that, if he lives to be 75, he would have about 1300 Saturdays left. So every Saturday he goes and takes a marble out of that jar and throws it out. It’s a reminder to him that time is fleeting, and that he only has a short time left. I did some math today and at age 60 if live to be 80, I would need about 1,040 marbles to fill my jar. I just might do that.
I don’t know what you need to do, but how will you remind yourself this year that your days are numbered and that your life is short? Steven Paul "Steve" Jobs was an American entrepreneur, marketer, and inventor, who was the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. He died of pancreatic cancer at age 56. He once said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Jobs had rejected Christianity early in life and ended up as an atheist say some folks. Others say he was Buddhist. In any case, this is what he had to say about life in general, “I saw my life as an arc. And that it would end and compared to that nothing mattered. You’re born alone, you’re gonna die alone. And does anything else really matter?”
Jobs was one of a growing number of people who are bringing in the New Year apart from Jesus Christ. Jesus said it would be that way, 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
With that in mind, we close this sermon with a look at the final verses of Psalm 90. In these verses, Moses invites us to pray with the perspective that God is eternal and that life is short and full of trouble. He invites us to pray in three ways.
1) Pray that God would relent in his anger. / That God would not pay us what we deserve / That God would show us grace. He has. Jesus is Grace
2) Pray that we would be satisfied by God. C.S. Lewis wrote,”God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” Pray that in this New Year our heart’s deepest hungers would be met in Christ / in the preaching of God’s Word, in daily devotions, in Lord’s Supper.
3) Pray that God’s favor would rest on our life together. That God would establish the work of our hands. That 2015 would be a year of maturing as disciples of Jesus Christ. That we would be following Jesus Christ in this place and be actively engaging in God’s mission to make disciples of all nations. That our lives would be transformed by the Gospel so that the culture around them is ultimately transformed.
One poet said it this way, “He came to my desk with a quivering lip. The lesson was done. Dear teacher, I want a new leaf, he said, I have spoiled this one. I took the old leaf, stained and blotted. And gave him a new one all unspotted. And into his sad eyes smiled. Do better now my child. I went to the throne with a quivering soul. The old year was done. Dear Father, hast thou a new leaf for me? I have spoiled this one. He took the old leaf, stained and blotted. And gave me a new one all unspotted. And into my sad heart he smiled. Do better now, my child."
Is Jesus Enough For You?
Luke 2: 22-32 – Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I can remember in high school really looking forward to high school graduation and going off to college and finding a beautiful woman who would be willing to marry me and thinking to myself that would be enough. And then once Debi and I were married and living happily ever after, I can remember looking forward to Debi giving birth to our firstborn Heather and thinking to myself that would be enough. And as the years went on, I can remember looking forward to Heather and then Nate going off to kindergarten and then looking forward to their first children’s Christmas services / first basketball games / confirmations and thinking to myself that would be enough. And then as the years went on, I can remember thinking how cool it would be when our kids found their partners for life and that would be enough. And if we could hold our first grandchild in our arms, surely that would be enough. And eleven grandchildren and nine years later, on Christmas Day just a couple of days ago, our baby boy Noah raises a drink to toast the Griffin family Christmas and he says a few nice words about being home for the holidays, and then before we know it, he pulls a ring out of his pocket and gets down on one knee and asks his beautiful girlfriend to spend the rest of her life with him. And with tears in her eyes, she says yes. And I say to Debi- here is the last piece of the puzzle in place and so we look forward to November 7, 2015 when all four of our children will be living happily ever after in married bliss, and surely that will be enough. Will that be the day when Debi and I will say with Simeon- now Lord, I’m ok with dying and going to heaven? Will that be enough? Or will we start yearning for semi-retirement and to snow bird status and then full retirement where we can truly be happy and spend our gray hair years watching over grandchildren and playing golf and resting from our labors?
Did you notice what was missing from all those questions? Like the Name of Jesus Christ the Lord? The question I put before you today is simple, “Is Jesus Enough For You?” Is it sufficient for you to know, as Isaiah writes, that God has clothed you with the garments of salvation, and that he has covered you with the robe of righteousness? Is it enough for you to know what Paul writes to the Galatians, you are sons and daughters of your Father in heaven and that you can cry out to your dad above any time you want to? Is it enough for you to taste the very forgiveness of sins in your Lord’s Supper, and every time walk away saying with Simeon, “I can die and go to heaven now.”
Two lessons we want to learn again from Simeon today, in answer the question, “Is Jesus Enough For You?” The first lesson we learn about the secret of contentment from Simeon is the importance of a strong relationship with the Holy Spirit. In verse 25 we read that the Holy Spirit was resting on him.” In verse 26, we read and that 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 in verse 27, Luke records that “guided by the Holy spirit, he came into the temple.”
The challenging thing about the Holy Spirit is that it is always moving and changing. He is like a wind blowing or a fire burning or water pouring. Later in Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist tells people that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. When we are touched by or filled with the Holy Spirit we are changed. And as the Holy Spirit continues to work in our lives, we continue to change.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t just grow us in the faith in good and pleasant times. He is working inside us and teaching us in the bad and the ugly, as well. Paul wrote that he had learned how to be content in whatever situation….I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
The second lesson we learn from Simeon about Christian contentment is to stay thankful for the salvation God has provided, no matter where the ups and downs of life may take us. The day after Christmas, my two sons and two sons-in-law had a guys afternoon out. An afternoon which included the movie “Unbroken.” It’s based on a true story about an Olympic athlete named Louis Zamperini whose bomber was downed in WWII, who survived on a raft for 47 days, who endured unbelievable torture in Japanese war camps and lived to tell about it. I highly recommend the movie to you, especially if you’re thinking these days that your life is pretty difficult and you’re not quite sure if you can keep going. I came out of the movie feeling like a Pillsbury Doughboy who ought never utter a single complaint again, ever again.
Feeling thankful for the sacrifices others have made on my behalf, and especially the once and for all sacrifice offered up on a little hill outside of Jerusalem. I have two sons and I can’t imagine sacrificing either one of them up on a cross. When the time was just right, as you well know, God offered up as a bloody sacrifice His only begotten and beloved Son so that we could claimed as His very own. So that we could cry out “abba, father” anytime of the day seven days a week. Oh that the Holy Spirit would give us the heart of Simeon and Anna this very day. The heart that stays thankful as often as we take up in our arms the Child Jesus, as often as we see with our eyes the beauty of His peace, as often as we taste with our lips the very body and blood of our Savior.
For Simeon, it was enough to see and hold onto and treasure the baby Jesus. To know that His soul had been redeemed and that his death would be a gateway into the pleasures of paradise. It was enough for Simeon even though he knew that this Child was appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel. Even though he knew that this humble birth was a sign of foreboding. Even though he knew that many Jews would rise and fall as they met Jesus. That He would be a stumbling block to everyone, including his own disciples and family. That his ministry would be controversial and His Kingdom would be different than that which was expected.
To be able to see and hold this child in his arms was enough for Simeon, even though Mary and the entire nation of Israel would feel the pain of Jesus’ own words and crucifixion. Mary herself would be pierced by Jesus’ teaching especially when he speaks about blood relationships giving way to the new family of the church. From this point on, the preaching of Jesus would be his sword of revelation. It would cut through Israel and produce total misunderstanding and ignorance by everyone concerning his person and destiny. It would start out rocky in the little town of Nazareth and get worse from that point on. The words and actions of Jesus would cause huge upheavals and the hearts of many will be revealed, to this very day.
My college freshman roommate was the son of a Finnish Lutheran preacher and a colorful kind of a guy. One of his favorite sayings was, “I can die and go to heaven now!” He would see a beautiful girl walking across campus and say, “I can die….” He would hear a great song at a concert or eat what he thought was a perfect cheeseburger and French fry meal and say, “I can die and go to heaven now!” In Keith’s case, he was just kidding, and he was and is a strong Christian man who knows very well what we all want to learn again today- that the true comfort and the lasting joy of Christmas is not complicated at all.
The kingdom of God is like a large congregation in a small town that is getting Christmas right in ever increasing measure this year. They are understanding that the family coming home and the cousins bonding well and the wonderful time they have in giving and receiving gifts is secondary and not primary. They are learning again that real Christmas comfort is in sincere repentance and all that follows. That genuine Christmas joy is found in the preaching and hearing and holding onto of God’s Word. That the peace which prosperity and success and family and marriage can give is here today but gone tomorrow, in contrast to that peace which only Jesus can give. They are finding that as often as they spend time in the sanctuary worshiping as they are waiting, worshiping as they are waiting, that a spirit of contentment is rising up on their inside. And if you were to ask them how they can stay grateful even though life is so full of trouble, they look you in the eyes and say in one way or another that Jesus is enough. And even though they are looking forward to all kinds of good stuff here and now, if they were to depart, it would be in peace.
christmas Eve 2014
The Power of Christ
Isaiah 40: 9-11 – Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength ,O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him, He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently led those that are with young.
Dear Friends in Christ,
(Fourth in a series of sermons on Comfort and Joy. Peace of Christ)
Not the absence of noise or violence but the presence of God’s comfort / Pardon of Christ received into the hearts and minds that are sincerely repenting / Presence of Christ in the world, in the preaching of the Word, in Baptism, and in Holy Communion.
Today, we focus on the Power of Christ.
Say it loud and say it (proud)! As best I can tell, that saying was made famous by the singer James Brown who wrote a song that included the lyrics, “Say it loud. I’m black and I’m proud.” It became a key slogan in the Black Power movement, and in 1968 that song was the number one song on the R and B for six weeks. The song included these words, “I don’t want nobody to give me nothing- open the door I’ll get it myself.”
Say it loud and say it proud! Those words brought to mind a wedding reception for Beth and Jim back in the Immanuel Lutheran Lewiston gymnasium in the late 1980’s. It was time for prayer, and after my futile attempt to get the attention of a couple hundred guests, the beautiful bride put her fingers in her mouth and let out a whistle that brought the crowd to attention in a hurry!
Say it loud and say it proud! Those words come to mind as the prophet Isaiah reminds the city of Jerusalem that they are still the covenant people of God and that they need to get themselves up to a high mountain and lift up their voices and get the word out to their neighboring cities to behold your God! To say it loud and to say it proud 1)on the one hand that your God is omnipotent, and 2)on the other hand that our God is perfectly gentle. All powerful on the one hand and perfectly gentle on the other.
Say that our God is (omnipotent)! In Isaiah’s day, the Church was to make known what their faith had grasped and was holding onto- that God was graciously returning to His people, that their time of exile would soon be over, that their years of hard labor were completed, that their guilt had been pardoned. Their assignment was to publish these glad tidings throughout the whole land. Every member of the nation of Judah was to reassure one another of the good news that was breaking. They were not to be afraid and they were not to be timid about it. They were to say in that day what we are to say in our day, that God is the conquering hero who carries a big (stick). That the God who had created the earth and all that is in it with the power of His Word should not be taken lightly. That the God who had delivered them out of Egyptian slavery in the first place and led them across the Red Sea in miraculous fashion in the second place and had led them for 40 years through the wilderness and given them the Promised Land in the third place should not be treated with the slightest bit of disrespect-ever. That if you mess with our God in any way, shape, or form, you are asking for all kinds of trouble to rain down on your parade through life. That’s the bad news.
The Good News is that we don’t have to be afraid of life any more. Isaiah writes that we are to lift up our voices and fear not. God’s people in every generation are invited by Him not to worry about tomorrow for one simple reason. Tomorrow is in the hands of God. Dale Meyer had this to say about worry getting replaced by comfort and even confidence in God. “Worry is fear, fear that you’ve been abandoned, fear that everything is unraveling, fear that God’s throne is empty and his angels are gone.” The spiritual opposite of worry is faith. Faith in Jesus Christ who sits at the right hand of God and rules all of heaven and earth on behalf of His people. Faith that sins are forgiven and that exile is ended and that God is working everything out in the lives of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
Even more amazing than the fact that He is the conquering hero who carries a big stick is that He is the Victor who considers His people His (reward). Isaiah writes that behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
Even as we look forward to the rewards of heaven, we realize that we are the reward that God is bringing with Him. Even as we yearn for the joys of paradise where we will live face to face with Jesus, we realize again today that it was for the joy of spending eternity with us that Jesus endured all that He endured and gave all that He gave. Even as we call out for Christ to come near, we are reassured again and again that He has already come near and that He has been calling and gathering and enlightening and sanctifying His prize possession.
This isn’t just the season to be jolly, it’s a season for the power of Christ to rule the hearts and minds of people who know that He is absolutely almighty. A song based on Isaiah 40 says it this way, “Hold me close. Let your love surround me. Bring me near. Draw me to Your side. And as I wait I’ll rise up like the eagle And I will soar with You Your Spirit leads me on In the Power of Your love.
First we want to say in a thousand different ways this week that Christ is omnipotent, and secondly, we want to say what seems like a polar opposite. Say that our God is perfectly (gentle). As is so often the case in Holy Scripture, the metaphors change in a hurry. First Christ is pictured as a mighty and victorious warrior, and now He approaches as a lowly shepherd.
Four truths we learn from Isaiah about Yahweh who is our shepherd. He is the Shepherd Who 1) (tends) and protects. Philip Keller wrote in his book, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, how shepherd boys would take “special pride in the selection of a rod and staff exactly suited to his own size and strength. He goes into the bush and selects a young sapling which is dug from the ground. This is carved and whittled down with great care and patience. The enlarged base of the sapling where its trunk joins the roots is shaped into a smooth, rounded head of hard wood. The sapling itself is shaped to exactly fit the owner’s hand. After he completes it, the shepherd boy spends hours practicing with this club, learning how to throw it with amazing speed and accuracy.” With this rod he both protects and disciplines. He throws it at incoming enemies and once in awhile at his beloved sheep to get their attention.
Secondly, Isaiah writes that he will gather the lambs in his arms. He (gathers) until it’s time to separate. By that I mean to say that every Divine Service, every bit of preaching and teaching of God’s Word, every Baptism, and every word of absolution and every Lord’s Supper here and now is the means of grace. It is the means by which the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies His people. That is the work of the Church right up until the day that Christ comes back in glory and to sit on His throne where we will separate the sheep to his right and goats to his left.
Third, Isaiah writes that this Shepherd will carry His sheep in his bosom. He (carries) and never drops. I’m reminded of life back on the farm where I grew up. And how my dad had a “no animals in the house” rule. He didn’t really care how cute the little puppies were or how cold the kittens and the cats were. No animals were allowed in the house, not even on the porch, not even in the basement. That was the rule and there were no exceptions, except for one. A few times each year during calving season, dad would break his own rule. We raised white faced Hereford beef cattle, and the bulk of the calves were born in March and April- and every so often, in nasty weather, dad would carry in a calf to be warmed and dried right there in the kitchen, at the heat register. So also in the FootPrints poem are we reminded that in our darkest and most difficult days, our God doesn’t just walk alongside of us and encourage us. He carries and never drops.
Fourth, Isaiah writes that this Shepherd gently leads those that are with young. He (leads) instead of drives. Cattle get driven, horses get rounded up, dogs get trained, and cats just do whatever they want to do, but sheep get led. Keller writes that in the Middle East, shepherds would use their staff to manage their sheep in three ways. The first is to draw sheep together into an intimate relationship. The shepherd will use his staff to gently lift a newborn lamb and bring it to its mother if they get parted. The second is that he uses the staff to reach out and catch individual sheep, young or old, and draw them close to himself for intimate examination. The third is to guide his sheep gently into a new path or through some gate or along dangerous, difficult routes. He does not use it to beat the beast, but rather the tipoff the long slender stick is laid gently against the animal’s side and the pressure applied guides the sheep in the way the owner wants it to go.
In our Gospel lesson appointed for this Fourth Sunday in Advent, the angel tells Mary not to be afraid, that she had been found favor with God, that she would be with child, and that her son would Savior and King. She asks but one question of how this could be true, since she was a virgin. In 65 words or so, the angel answers her, to which Mary answers “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Or to say it another way, “whatever you say Lord, that’s the way it will be.” In verses 2/3 of a song Mary Did You Know, the writer says it this way,
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am
To which we add our own question, Mary did you know there would be such (comfort and joy?) We don’t really know the answer to that question, but this we do know – that we will do well to say with Mary in a thousand different ways in the days ahead, “whatever you say Lord, that’s the way it will be.” Amen.
Bob Prail’s Funeral Sermon
12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
Dear Friends in Christ,
It’s hard not to go into ExpressWay these days without seeing Bob pouring his coffee, putting his head into the donut cabinet and grabbing a couple of pastries, and proceeding to talk smart with any and all who crossed his path. It’s hard for me to sing Silent Night or Beautiful Savior or Just As I am Without One Plea or listen to special music without seeing Bob Prail cry like a baby. It’s hard for me to receive communion at this altar without thinking back one of the first times he communed me (Story of Bob forgetting words, stumbling through saying “take eat” 4 or 5 times after I had already eaten the bread). No doubt many of you can’t even see a big yellow school bus without replaying in your mind what those days were like with your favorite school bus driver, Bob Prail. As we lay him to rest today, we do so with hearts filled and empty at the same time. Filled with awesome memories of days gone by and at the same time emptied as we imagine days yet to come without him. Blessed in knowing that there will be a resurrection of this big teddy bear of a body and cursed in staring in the face the idea that the enemy of death seems to have won the day.
There are two basic ways you can go through life. You can spend your days rejoicing in the blessings you do have or complaining about those you don’t have. Contented with how your life is playing out or wishing that life could be just a little bit easier or better. Thankful that life is what it is or fussing that life isn’t that great and bound to get worse. In our readings for today and now in this sermon, I invite you to think with me about what it means to be blessed. First of all I ask you to learn again what Jesus declares in Revelation 14 – that blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, and secondly blessed are those saints who learn from those who have gone on before them and follow in their train.
First, blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from this time forth. The first real job I had in life was to work for Dick Ruby, a bee keeper located in Dwight, North Dakota. It was the summer after I graduated from high school, and the first two months were fine. I spent them painting his supers, which is what bee keepers call their bee hives. But in August, it was time to extract honey, and as a part of that process, I began to be stung by the honey bees in regular fashion. My boss suggested that I try not to be nervous and that bees could sense if you were anxious and be more likely to sting you. He taught me that if a bee did sting me, I should calmly scrape away the stinger with my fingernail and keep on working. He didn’t really have time for whiners and complainers. In fact, he was right about all of it – but I must admit that it was the only job I ever quit. Just couldn’t take it anymore.
In I Corinthians 15, the great resurrection chapter of the Bible, Paul cries out, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, Jan and Machelle and Lori and Patti and Jenny inlaws and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren and bus drivers and bus riders and friends and family, go ahead and feel the sting of death today and in the days ahead. But do not feel that sting as unbelievers feel it. In every one of your days, remember that Jesus Christ has scraped away that sting by living a perfect life that Bob Prail and you and I could never come close to living. And remember what I’m certain Bob Prail remembered as often as he set foot in this sanctuary and approached this altar – that Jesus Christ had suffered under Pontius Pilate for Him and was crucified until he was dead and buried for him. And do not ever let your remembering end there.
Do be remembering that Christ rose up again on the third day, and therefore the soul and the spirit of this gentle man is even now in the presence of Christ, and the day is coming. As the school children sang earlier, what a day that will be! A day when there will be a resurrection of this body and there will be a heavenly banquet where the feasting never ends and that’s why Jesus wanted the persecuted Christians of the first century to know and that’s why He wants you who are bent low with grief today to know that Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Blessed are they because every one of their sinful thoughts / sinful words / sinful deeds / sinful habits / sins of omission / sins of you fill in the blank – all that has been washed away in the blood of the Lamb and that’s why on the last day we will be wearing white robes and waving palm branches and giving all honor and glory to our King. Which brings us to our second and final truth about what it means to be blessed.
Blessed are those saints who learn from those who have gone on before them and follow in their train. I wanted to get the word “bus” in there instead of “train”, but it just didn’t fit very well. The death of every one of God’s people is a terrific opportunity to learn what God is wanting us to learn, and then keep on living out our days which have been ordained for us to live and to do the good works which have been laid out for us to do by God before we were ever born. In Psalm 90, Moses prays that God would teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom. In other words, that every time we get stung and wounded by the ugly and stark reality of death, we would realize how few our days are here on earth and how we need to turn to God for security and refuge.
Three lessons, I suggest to you today, as we lay to rest this man who was blessed and who knew he was blessed and wasn’t afraid to talk about his blessings. The first lesson that comes to my mind was how Robert took ever so seriously his God-given responsibilities in life, but had fun carrying them out. Blessed are those saints who learn from those who have gone on before them and follow in their train. You bus drivers understand what level of responsibility there is in driving dozens of other people’s children around in fog and rain and snow and worse, but most of us can only imagine. I get nervous driving around a grandchild or two – not wanting anything bad to happen on my watch. Whether it was driving around rambunctious children or doing his elder duties at church or hosting and cleaning up after his family meals or talking smart uptown, he had a way of making it fun. We were glad when he came in the room, and he said stuff in a way that made our days better. One of my favorite Bob Prail quotes is “I love those kids, geez I love those kids, they just go brain dead once in awhile.”
Secondly, it seems to me that God had worked in his heart an attitude that stayed positive, even when folks all around him were going negative. As far as I could tell, if you wanted to rip on the Trinity church or school or pastors or teachers, Bob would tell you what he appreciated about Trinity. If you wanted to spend your days criticizing the Janesville or the JWP coaches or teachers or students, Bob was going to steer the conversation in a different direction. If you wanted to dwell on what this small town was lacking or how the world around you was going to hell in a handbasket, he had this habit of drinking another beer and saying something funny. Philippians 4 says it this way, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand, do not be anxious about anything…………whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and receive and heard and seen in me (Paul / Bob Prail), practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Blessed are those saints who learn from those who have gone on before them and follow in their train.
Finally, it was apparent that Bob knew where to go for refuge and strength in life. Again and again in the past month or two, Mr. Milow would say to me- you have got to get over and see Bob and Jan – they really want Holy Communion. Again and again over the years, as he stepped forward for his Lord’s Supper, he would have tears in his eyes and in the last few months he would bawl like a baby. Why is that? My guess is that he was feeling blessed both in body and soul, and it was just too much to put into words. That God had given him a faithful wife and children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who absolutely adored him – and even more than that, that he had been claimed by His Father in heaven as a beloved Son in the waters of Baptism, that his sins kept getting washed away in the blood of the Lamb, that His Name had been written in the Book of Life, that his mansion in heaven had been prepared and placed on reserve, and that the day was coming when he would rest from his labors and his works would follow him – no doubt in my mind that that’s why there was that big lump in his throat and that’s why when he would snuff out those candles he would be a bit unsteady and sort of clatter around up here.
He didn’t just travel through the seasons of life by trial and error as so many of us do so much of the time. He traveled with fellow Christians through the seasons of the Church Year with his heart and soul. Through the seasons of Advent and Christmas, and then Epiphany, followed by Lent and Easter and a long season of Pentecost, and then back to Advent, we traveled. Always knowing where to find comfort, where to get his joy renewed. Blessed are those saints who learn from those who have gone before them and follow in their train. Blessed are they who take their responsibilities seriously in life and have fun carrying them out. Blessed are they who stay focused on that which is worthy of praise in all the ups and downs of life, and blessed are they who never forget where to go for comfort, and where to go for joy. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters