Funeral Sermon for Norma Mittelsteadt
“To Whom Shall We Go?”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Some time ago, a school teacher friend of mine had the brakes on his car go out in my next door neighbor’s drive way. A day later, on one of the hottest days of the summer, I drove into my driveway only to see him underneath his car, sweating up a storm, working on his car with the help of his dad. I rolled down my window and hollered out, “Hey, there’s people that can do that for you, you know!” We talked smart for a bit and I went off to relax in the shade on my patio while he finished the job. Or so I thought. A few days later, when I asked Eiden how it all worked out, he admitted that in the process of fixing one of the brakes, one of the other brakes was damaged and in reality, he caused more damage than he fixed! When it comes to car repair, there are two kinds of people – the do-it-yourself kind of a person and the take it to the repairman kind of a person.
So also when it comes time for soul repair, it seems as though there are two kinds of folks – those who go running with their questions to the lover of their souls, Jesus Christ, and those who try to slug their own way through their own days of trouble. Our text for today is a portion of the Gospel lesson appointed for yesterday, the 12th Sunday of the Pentecost season. Jesus was teaching the people how vitally important it was to believe in Him and follow Him. Again and again, He declared Himself to be the living bread that came down from heaven. Again and again, He pleaded with people to know that if they eat of this bread, they would live forever. Again and again, He taught them that blessed would be the folks who would hear His Word and blessed would be the folks who would hold on for dear life to His promises and blessed would be the folks who would keep on running to God for refuge and for strength.
But on the other hand, cursed would be the folks who would try to answer their own questions and handle their own troubles. Weak and burdened would be the folks who would try to carry their own loads and solve their own conflicts. Confused and injured would be the folks who would try to fix their own messed up lives and blaze their own trails.
In John 6, Jesus had proclaimed these realities of sin and grace so clearly that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Jesus. Perhaps it was with tears of sadness in His eyes that Jesus asked the Twelve Disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” And then the outspoken Peter, the one who often got it wrong, actually got it right. He answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Norma got it right every time she ate the living bread that came down from heaven, every time she sat still and knew that God was God. She got it right every time she made her way slowly and surely into the house of God and used her ears to hear. She got it right every time she admitted that she was a sinner and threw herself on the mercy of Almighty God. She got it right every time one of her pastors asked her if she would like Holy Communion and with that famous smile of hers she said yes. Of course she wanted to receive the very body and blood of her Savior. Of course she knew that she couldn’t make it through the trials of life on her own strength and with her own ingenuity. Of course she couldn’t fix her own troubled heart and struggling soul. Where else would she go?
We all know where to go if we have medical concerns – to the doctor. If our problems are financial, we go to an accountant. If we have serious legal difficulties, we are wise to consult a lawyer. But what about days like this, when we spend a few hours following caskets into and out of the church and over to the cemetery? Where shall we go after the dust has settled and the casket is buried? Where should children and grandchildren go after laying to rest a mom and a grandma you’re not sure you can live without? If we really want to get it right in the quietness of tonight, where shall we go? Specifically, where shall we go with our questions?
In Jesus’ day, people could walk up to Jesus and ask Him the questions that they had. They would ask and He would answer. Not always, in fact rarely it seems, would Jesus give a straight answer. Frequently He answered questions with another question. Often He answered with a story or a parable that seemed unrelated. On more than a few occasions, Jesus answered the questions people should have been asking instead of the ones they actually did. In our text for today, after Peter asks and then answers his own rhetorical question, Jesus responds, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is the devil (referring to Judas Iscariot).
This morning, there are a few questions that really matter and all kinds of questions that matter not very much at all. Rather than asking if Norma believed enough, we ask, was she baptized? Yes, she was. Rather than asking if she did enough good, we ask was and is God faithful to His promises? Yes. Rather than asking why she could have lived a longer life, we ask if her Good Shepherd followed her around in all the chapters of life with goodness and mercy? Yes He did. When she cried out in her days of trouble, did God answer in a way that was perfectly thought through and for her benefit? Yes. When her believing heart pumped for the last time, and as she breathed her final air, did the angels of God take her soul into the very presence of Jesus? Absolutely. On the last day, will this cold and lifeless body be resurrected and reunited with her soul and will she see Jesus face to face and is it true that in heaven there is no more heart failure and are there no more falls and no more fractures and no more worrying about grandchildren and no more sadness? Yes, yes, and yes, this is all as certain and valid as the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The final questions are for all of you, dear friends and family of Norma? Where are you going these days for your refuge and for your strength in time of trouble? Where are you going with the wrong that you have done and the good you have failed to do? Where are you going with your fears and your doubts, your worries and your failures?
I invite you to know one more time today the great desire of your Father in heaven, which is to hold you close and never let you slip away. Know the desire of your Savior Jesus which is to forgive your sins and never bring them up again. Know the desire of the Holy Spirit which is to work in your hearts a strong and a growing and a fruitful faith through the ups and down and the zigs and the zags of life.
Recently I read that medical researchers have found that one of three adults cannot name any of their great grandparents. My first thought was to see if I could name mine, and I did find that I am able to name seven out of eight. My next thought was to be dismayed that a third of my great grandchildren wouldn’t even be able to name their short and fat great grandpa preacher man. But once I get past being full of myself, I was reminded that my name isn’t at all the name that matters. What matters is that the next generations know the name of Jesus. In fact there is salvation in no other name than His Name.
There is no doubt in my mind that if Norma could have one wish come true, it would be that God would send his holy angels to guard and to be with all of her descendents and that the wicked foe would never have any power over them. What else would wish for than for all of her descendents to calling on the Name of Jesus in every day of trouble, to be taking all of their burdens and brokenness to their Savior in every day of frustration, to be crying out for mercy in every day of falling short, to be standing in God’s grace in every chapter of life, to be sitting in the assembly of the redeemed in a regular kind of a way, and to be walking humbly before God in all of their days.
Dear friends, wherever you are at in your own spiritual journey, it’s a beautiful sight to see all of you gathered around this casket, missing that beautiful smile, and listening to God’s precious Word. Please know that from this day forward, every time you are still and know that God is God, every time to pay attention to His Word, every time you eat the bread and drink the wine at His Supper, every time you receive the very body and blood of your Savior into your souls, you are getting it right.
If you want to fix your own cars or tear apart your own lawn mowers or sheetrock your own basements, go ahead and knock yourselves out. But for heaven’s sake, when it comes to getting your hearts mended and your minds corrected and your souls repaired, do come running to the One Who has already gone on before you, all the way to the cross. Do come running to the One who already got it right on your behalf. Do come running to me, with all of your faults, your failures, and your fears. Come running with your burdens, your brokenness, and your bruises. Come running with all that needs to be fixed, and as often as you do so, know that the words of eternal life will sweep over your soul as a cup of water quenches the thirsty, as a piece of bread satisfies the hungry, and as a word of forgiveness heals the broken. God grant that the children and the grandchildren and the great grandchildren and the generations to come would always know how beautiful are the words of eternal life, that you would spend your days holding onto those words and cherishing those words and being changed by those words and sharing with other those words, and may Norma Jean Mittelsteadt rest in eternal peace.
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