Sermon for the Funeral of Lucile Bauer (December 11, 2006)
“I Thank My God in All My Remembrance of You” (Philippians 1:2-6)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Those are familiar words. Many of you hear them as the pastor begins his sermon, especially those of you who attend this congregation. Those words are actually the first words of the text I chose for our meditation on God's Word today. They are from St. Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, the first chapter, and they were just read in our services yesterday morning. As I read them in church yesterday, some of the words struck me as being appropriate for our time together today.
That familiar greeting from St. Paul is good for you today. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The loss of your dear one is fresh in your mind and heart. And so it's good to hear about God's grace and peace today. Grace is God's love that we don't deserve, but love that he gives to us nonetheless. And God is gracious to us because of his Son, our Savior Jesus, who died and rose again for us. Through Jesus, we have peace with God. Therefore, in the midst of your sorrow and pain, it's good to know that God's grace and peace is with you...and that it will not be taken away from you, no matter how sad you may feel. Remember God's promise to you also from the pen of St. Paul in Romans 8: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, not angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Right after his greeting, he says to the people of Philippi, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” As I read those words, I couldn't help but think of Wednesday afternoon, when Del...you and your children were gathered around Lucile's bedside. Through your tears and in between Lucile's labored breaths, I heard each of you say in your own way, “Thank you, Mom. Thank you for all you did for us. Thank you for being such a good and faithful wife. Thank you for being such a good and faithful mother.”
You know, sometimes it's the simple things that our parents do for us which we take for granted and forget to say thank you. But you didn't even forget to say thank you to your mom for fixing your lunch every day before you went to school. And Dennis even related the fact that you knew what day it was depending on whether you pulled out a liverwurst sandwich...that must mean it's Wednesday...or a tunafish sandwich...ah, must be Friday.
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” I'm sure you will continue to do a lot of remembering in the days to come...and a lot of thanking God for the gift Lucile was to each of you.
A few verses later, St. Paul says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Our Lord began a good work in Lucile when he brought her into his family in the waters of Holy Baptism. In those cleansing waters, he forgave her of all her sin. Through his powerful Word of promise connected to those waters, God the Holy Spirit came into her heart and created faith in her Savior Jesus. And God continued to grow Lucile's faith over the years in Sunday School, confirmation classes, and through her faithful hearing of God's Word. Lucile came to church often, confessed her sins, and heard those wonderful words of absolution...that through the “holy, innocent, bitter suffering and death of [God's] beloved Son” she was forgiven “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” She also regularly received Christ's body and blood in Holy Communion as often as she could get to church. There were some Sundays over the past year or two that she wasn't able to make it to church. But I'll tell you what...I've know of people in better condition than she was in who find excuses to not come to church. You knew that if Lucile wasn't here, then she truly wasn't able to make it. If she was able, she was here...most recently in those comfy blue seats in the back. Only two weeks ago, she was here and marched right up here...oxygen tank and all...to receive her Lord's precious body and blood. That in itself was a confession of faith. But she also made a bold confession of faith even to the very end. With her family gathered around her, she repeated over and over again, “Thank you, Jesus. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen. Thank you, Jesus. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.” Then she proceeded to lead us all in saying the Lord's Prayer together.
That good work that God began in Lucile...that good work of bringing her to faith as a gift of his grace...is not completed yet. It's only partially completed. She is indeed with Jesus right now. Scripture says that to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord.”1 But Paul says this good work that God begins in us will be brought “to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” There will come a day when this body in front of us here...and the bodies of all who trust in Christ as their Savior from sin, death, and hell...will be raised to life again to live eternally in the very presence of God. You see, death does not have the final word among us. Death is a result of sin in the world. But Jesus Christ came to conquer sin and death and hell through his own death and resurrection.
That's why the 17th Century poet John Donne could say,
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
“One short sleep past, we wake eternally.” That may very well be what it will seem like. Just as you go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning, not realizing that 6, 7, or 8 hours have passed...perhaps on that Last and Great Day when Christ calls us from our graves, it will seem like we only closed our eyes a short time ago, and now it's time to get up.
Here's how it's described in 1 Corinthians 15: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Or as Donne put it: “and death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
Death has no reason to be proud, that's for sure. But you have a reason to be proud. I think there's room for a little godly pride in times like these. You can be proud of your wife, your mother, your grandmother. You can give glory to God for the faith that he gave to her, and the ways in which that faith produced fruit in her life, especially the fruit of love and service to her family. And you can thank God in all your remembrance of her, that she has “fought the fight,” she has “finished the race,” she has “kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for [her] the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to [her] on that Day, and not only to [her] but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
12 Cor. 5:8