John 11:1-4 11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Dear Christian Friends,
The death of every loved one is a terrific time to think about what matters a lot and what matters not so much. To think about who we are and why we are and where we have been and where we are now and where we are going. The Bible says that there is a time to be born and a time to die, and this week we know on the one hand that it was Angie’s time to die and on the other hand that she has been born again into a new and better life. The Bible says that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, and this week is your time to spend time both weeping and laughing. Weeping because the wages of sin is death, but laughing because the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Weeping because death stings and stinks and separates, but laughing because in Christ there is forgiveness of sins and resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
One of the values of the funeral process is that we do our crying and our rejoicing as the family of God, and we do it together in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In every family there are stories to be told of good times and not so good. Stories that are for better and for worse, stories of sickness and health. Stories of days so full of joy we don’t want them to end and stories of days so jam packed with suffering that it seems as if they will never end. This morning I invite you to think through with me three stories – the story of Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the story of Angelica, and the story of you and me and how every one of these stories is to be told for the glory of God.
Mary from Bethany is famous for sitting at Jesus feet, for listening carefully to the teachings of her Master, and for being commended by Jesus for choosing what mattered a lot. In contrast to Sister Martha who could not sit still as long as there was food to prepare and was scolded by Jesus for choosing what mattered not so much. Mary was famous for loving Jesus so much she poured expensive perfume on the head and then feet of Jesus and then wiped his feet with her hair. For which she was praised by Jesus for doing a beautiful thing. Her story would be told in memory of her, Jesus predicted, wherever this Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world. Mary was famous for staying home and crying when her brother Lazarus died, in contrast to Martha who aggressively went out to drill Jesus with questions. Our Lord’s response to Martha was to teach, and in response to Mary, when He saw her weeping, John records that “He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly trouble.” Jesus asked where they had laid the dead brother, and when they answered, He shed quiet tears as well. The rest of the story, as you well know, is that there was a resurrection of a dead man that day, and the bottom line of this story is that this illness and temporary death was for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.
Angelica from Germany/ Mankato / Iosco Township is famous in her pastors’ minds for sitting still and letting God be God. For listening carefully to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and stepping forward with a broken heart to her Lord’s Supper. In contrast to so many of us, me included, who are so often so very busy doing that which is secondary that we don’t have time to do that which is primary. Angelica is famous in many of your minds for cutting hair with style, with grace, and with mercy. She is famous for listening well, for encouraging in a regular sort of a way, for taking time to smell the roses even though there were all kinds of thistles to pull. She is famous for holding fast to her family and to her friends and to forgiveness, in contrast to so many of us, me included, who spend so many of our days distracted, discouraged, and dismayed.
A few of us were privileged to read through 50 or more pages of Angie’s letters written in the form of prayers to her dear Lord God. It’s clear that over the years, the Holy Spirit had worked in her heart a faith that held on tightly to her Savior. Again and again she cried out for Jesus to stay close to her and loved ones. Over and over she was thankful for doctors, caregivers, and nurses, thankful for God’s creation and Jesus laying down His life, thankful for yesterday and today and the days she failed to write in her notebook, thankful for the sermons and the sunshine and the Spirit of God, thankful for Steve and for Walter and for Brooke and for Alex and for Garrett and for Courtney and for mother and sister and brother, thankful for springtime and for earth and for water and for sky and for galaxies and universes, thankful! Without end, she prayed for strength to bear what was so painful, patience to deal with the faults of others, for safety in every one of her days, for California to get some rain, for God’s help to be one of His chosen, and her final recorded petition on the Evening of Pentecost, May 24, “Please, dear Lord, can you teach me patience please.” Steve wanted you to know what Angie wanted you to know – that her suffering and death would draw you closer to your Savior and God forbid that the opposite would happen. In the words of our text, that her death would be as the death of Lazarus was, for the glory of God. There is little doubt in my mind, that if given a chance to end her earthly story the way she wanted to, Angelika would anoint her Lord’s body from head to toes with the most expensive fragrance she could find and as Mary did, then get down on hands and knees and wipe His feet with her hair.
Which brings us to your story and to mine, in closing today. I don’t know who all of you are, where you have all been, where you are today in your journey of faith, or where exactly you are headed in life. But we do know that it is God’s great desire for every one of you that you would spend your days living for the glory of God and for the building up of His people. We know that for many perhaps all of you, your story includes that you have been claimed by the Triune God as His very own in the waters of Baptism. We know that Jesus Christ will follow you around with goodness and mercy in every chapter of life. We know that in days of smooth sailing He is wanting to work in you a spirit of gratitude and that in stormy days He is working in your heart a healthy dose of humility. We know that the same Father who spared not His only Son for you will give you all good and necessary blessings with a perfect sense of timing. We know that as often as you cry out for mercy, mercy will be yours. We know that every time you get too full of yourselves the devil and his demons stand up and cheer and that every time you admit your faults and failures, the angels and archangels will party as if there is no tomorrow. We know that every one of your sins has been paid for and not a single one of your bad habits is so bad that the Spirit of God cannot help you overcome it. We know that every one of the hairs on your head has been numbered and that your God has this deep and abiding desire that you live your days feeling precious and chosen. We know that what God ordains is always good, or as Grandma Martha likes to say, “There’s a reason for everything.”
We know that the language in heaven will be German – well actually I’m not sure of that one. Let’s do that one over – we know that there are mansions in heaven on reserve for every German and for people of all tribes and nations who have been called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, and kept in the one Christian faith, even as Angelika Luise Kintzel Milbrett was called, gathered, enlightened, sanctified, and kept close to her dear Lord Jesus Christ. May God send His angels to be with every one of you in the days ahead, that the wicked foe may have no power over you. May God’s Spirit do and permit whatever He needs to do and permit in your life that will keep you close to Jesus Christ, and may Angelika rest in peace. Amen.