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