Luke 7:11-17 and John 5:24-29
Dear Friends in Christ,
This past Saturday morning, when I checked my cell phone and saw that I had a message from Lauren Combellick, our funeral director, my first thought was that Sue had passed away. As I listened to her message and heard that in fact, she had crossed over from this life into the next, my first thought was “good for her.” I was as happy for her as I could be, that there would be no more pain and no more tumors and no more nausea and no more chemotherapy and no more wondering how she would pay her bills and no more just sitting there and lying there and suffering and then sleeping and then suffering some more. While it is true that death is the final enemy all of us must face, it is also true that for many Christians like Sue, death becomes at the same time a friend for which we pray, a gateway for which we yearn.
Our sermon theme today is taken out of John chapter 5, where Jesus talks about what it means to cross over from death to life. Our sermon theme is “Crossing from Death to Life,” and four brief points, at least as brief as I can be, on this theme. The good news included in all four truths is that God keeps His promises to His people every time, without exception. He shows up every time He promises to show up, and He does everything He says He will do, according to His perfect timetable.
Truth #1 is that already in the waters of Holy Baptism, the Triune God showed up, He did what He promised to do, and as a result Sue Arndt crossed from death into life. In this very sanctuary, the name of the Triune God was placed both upon her forehead and her heart, marking her as a redeemed daughter of her Father in heaven. Her parents, her Godparents, and her local church promised to help her to spend her days renouncing the devil and all of his evil works and ways, to help her fight the good fight of faith, to help her know in every one of her days how much Jesus Christ loved her, to help her know that her sins had been washed away by the blood of the Lamb, to help her know that no matter what curves life threw her way that her name was written in the book of life and that unlike her earthly home, her heavenly home was a fully completed mansion on reserve for her, courtesy of Jesus Christ. In this place we believe with all our hearts that in Baptism, Sue was united with Christ in both his death and resurrection and that no matter how seriously she sinned and no matter how far she strayed, that Christ was with her, He was inside of her, He went on before her, He would never ever leave her nor forsake her, it was His great desire to have mercy on her and to walk alongside of her one day at a time.
Truth #2 is that Sue’s Good Shepherd has been following her around with goodness and mercy in every season of her life. As often as Sue heard the Word of God and kept it, the Holy Spirit was showing up and working faith in her from the inside out. As often as she heard the Word of God and held onto His promises, she was able to enjoy in ever increasing measure the fullness of that life she had already received in Baptism. The Bible says that faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Jesus said that he came that we might have life and not just a little bit of life, but that we might have it abundantly. This was our Lord’s great desire for Sue, that she have not just a little bit of joy and peace and strength once in awhile, but that she would have all kinds of Christian joy and peace and strength in every one of her days.
If there are any skeptics in our midst today, you might be asking, well if Jesus Christ wanted her to have all of this fullness and abundance, why did she have to suffer for so long and in such a painful fashion? If her God was and is so full of compassion, why did these last 13 years seem as though God were so far away? If Jesus Christ loved her so dearly, why would he allow such a brutal and disfiguring form of cancer to take her down in such a nasty fashion? Good and fair questions, to be sure.
In yesterday’s sermon, we found one good answer to those questions. The answer is that our God’s reaction to the tragedies in our lives is delayed compassion at its worst, and perfect deliverance at its best. What I mean by that is though God may seem far away in the stormy chapters of our life, He is not. He is as near as Holy Scripture, He is as near as the preaching and remembering of His Word, He is as near as the bread and the wine of the Holy Supper. God delivers us from every evil in body and soul in one of three ways . Let’s just think back on the last 13 years and think about how God has delivered Sue from the various forms of cancer which attacked her. First He delivered her at times by healing her body and giving her weeks and even months of good reports and resumption of normal living. Secondly He delivered her by giving her the strength to endure, and finally just a couple of days ago, He delivered her out of this vale of tears and received her soul into His very presence. From our perspective, God’s compassion for her seemed far away and even non existent, but today, we would see clearly that God is who He says He is, He shows up wherever He says He will show up, He does all that He says He will do, not in a haphazard kind of a way but in a way that is according to His perfect and often mysterious plan. And in a way that is meant to draw every one of us closer to Him, in a way meant to help every one of us grow up into Jesus Christ, in a way that is meant to help us enjoy the riches of His grace and mercy in ever increasing fullness.
Truth #3 is good news as well. The good news is that in the moment her body fell asleep, in that moment the angels of God showed up and carried her soul into the very bosom of Jesus Christ. The Good News is that even though her body died, her soul lives on in paradise! The Good News is that even as your family is bent low in grief, the spirit of Sue Lopez has been lifted up into heaven. Even though you cry all kinds of tears, you do not cry as those who have no hope. Even though you are separated from yet one more loved one, your separation is temporary. Even though the wages of sin for Sue is death, the gift of God is eternal life. Even though her cancer was nasty and even though her suffering was the kind that would make you shake your head and wonder what kind of God we have, even though death seems to have won the day, there was more happening than met the eye – Sue Lopez was in fact crossing over from death into life. In fact, she was departing and entering into a life far better.
Which brings us to our fourth and final truth this afternoon- a really glorious day is on the way! It’s a day when the dead are going to hear the voice of the Son of God, the trumpet is going to blow, the archangel is going to shout, there’s going to be a rattling sound in hundreds of thousands of cemeteries across the world, bones are going to be coming together, dead bodies are going to be rising up, bodies and souls are going to be reunited, Jesus is going to be judging in a public kind of a way, unbelievers are going to be getting what they have deserved, and believers including Sue and George are going to be receiving what Jesus Christ has earned on their behalf. Their sins will be forgotten, their good works will be remembered, they will be crossing over from death into life in final and ultimate fashion. Thanks be to God, or as George used to say, Pastor Griffin, I just want to praise Jesus with you!
Two stories in closing. 1) Pastor Muther delivering our Lord’s Supper to Sue one last time, about two weeks ago. 2) George worshiping on Christmas Eve a few years ago and being moved to come on forward and prostate himself in this chancel and weep tears of joy. Friends in Christ, here on earth our Lord’s Supper is as close as we can get to tasting paradise. Here is where we are reminded that God is who he says he is, that He does all that He promises to do, and that He shows up every time He promises to show up. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we do proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes again. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, our sins are forgiven, our faith is strengthened, heaven is ours. As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we pass over from death into life, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we lean forward together in anticipation of a really glorious day that is to come. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther