Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sermon for the Funeral of Robert Strack (August 25, 2012)

“A Place Prepared” (John 14:1-6)

          Everybody has dreams about where they would like to end up someday.  For some, it might be a little cottage by the sea.  For some, it might be the hustle and bustle of the city, with all of its entertainment opportunities and other amenities just outside your doorstep.  For others, it might be a cabin in the mountains.
          That was Bob and LaMerne’s dream.  There’s a picture on the cover of the guestbook for today’s service.  It’s a picture of a mountain cabin, one like Bob and LaMerne once dreamed about having in the Bitterroots just south of Missoula.  Like so many dreams we all have, that one never was fulfilled.  Health problems kept them from moving.  They had to stay put where they were.
          But Jesus has a better place prepared for Bob.  LaMerne’s already there.  And Bob’s been talking about joining her there for many years.  Jesus said to his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
          Jesus spoke these words to his disciples the night he was arrested, the night before he was put on trial, the night before he was condemned to die and nailed to a cross.  He had told them about this ahead of time.  He had told them that he would be given over into the hands of sinful men and crucified. He also foretold that he would rise to life again as victor over death and the grave.  And forty days after his resurrection, he also ascended back into heaven.  Risen from the dead, Jesus went back into heaven to prepare a place for you and for me … a place for Bob.  The old King James Version calls it a “mansion.”  “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”  When you and I think of a mansion today, we usually think of a huge, multi-story brick or stone home, with tall columns holding up the roof over the portico.  That’s not necessarily what is meant here.  But this particular dwelling place in heaven will be better than any place you can imagine.  It’s a permanent place, not one that’s just rented for a while.  You’ll never get evicted from this house.  What’s more, God is there.  Today’s reading from the Revelation to St. John said this: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”   With all due respect to Bob and LaMerne’s wishes, that sounds a lot better than any cabin in the woods.
          Jesus has gone ahead of us.  How do we follow him there?  How do we know we have a reservation in this place he has prepared for us?  Jesus said to his disciples, “You know the way to where I am going.”  But the disciples were still unclear about all that Jesus had said.  Thomas voiced their fears when he said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
          To alleviate their fears – to alleviate your fears – Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  It is only by being united to Jesus by baptism and by faith that you can join Jesus in that place he has prepared.  He is the only way to heaven.  Jesus Christ died for your sins, for my sins, for Bob’s sins, at the cross of Calvary.  The sins of the world were laid to Christ’s account.  The price we owe to God for our disobedience to his commandments was paid by Jesus, the Innocent Son of God, as our substitute.  Only that which is holy and righteous can enter into God’s presence … and through faith in Jesus, you are declared holy and righteous … perfect in God’s sight.  Through baptism and by trusting in Jesus’ saving death and resurrection, your sins are forgiven and you are given a permanent place in God’s eternal mansions.
          Bob believed this.  He was baptized in Christ.  He knew that he was a sinner in need of forgiveness.  He confessed his sins here often and received the word of absolution.  He came often to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.  He recognized that he needed Jesus.  God the Holy Spirit had created faith in Bob’s heart through water and the Word.  God the Holy Spirit sustained that faith as Bob heard the Good News of Jesus proclaimed to him throughout his life.
          When Bob was getting to ready to ship out for the first time from Ft. Bliss, Texas, he knew he needed Jesus.  He went to the pastor at the nearby Lutheran Church.  Bob asked if he could have Holy Communion one more time before headed overseas.  The pastor, of course, agreed and told him he would be right back.  Thinking that it would be a private service in the pastor’s office, Bob was surprised to see the pastor return fully decked out in his vestments, not unlike the ones I’m wearing right now.  He invited Bob into the sanctuary where the pastor’s wife was prepared to play the organ.  There in that church – Bob, the pastor, and the pastor’s wife – they joined together in worship, the entire liturgy, singing hymns, hearing the Scriptures read, a preached sermon, and the Body and Blood of Christ given into their mouths. There was only three there.  But Jesus once said, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20).  Not only that, but when Christians gather around the Lord’s Supper, we also join “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” … that same company in which Bob is at rest right now.
          Bob’s war experiences weighed heavily upon him.  He talked a lot about them in his later years.  His conscience bothered him.  His heart was troubled.  I would always try to assure him that he was doing his duty as a soldier, a godly vocation, fighting on behalf of one’s country, protecting her citizens.  And I would also assure Bob of God’s forgiveness for whatever failures or sinful feelings he may have had in his heart while serving.
          Your heart may be troubled today.  You have lost your father, your grandfather, your friend.  Your heart is filled with grief and sadness.  You are missing someone who meant so much to you.  Maybe there were some things that you wanted to say to him before he died, but you didn’t get the chance or you just couldn’t find the words.  Therefore your heart is troubled.  So listen to the words of Jesus.  Listen to the words that he spoke to his troubled disciples as they were about to witness his crucifixion …
          “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.”
          Trust in God the Father who sent Jesus, God the Son, to be your Savior from sin and death.  Trust in his saving death at the cross.  Trust in his victory over death at the empty tomb.  Take comfort in the forgiveness of sins and the promise of life everlasting.  Jesus has gone ahead of you to prepare a place for you.  Bob has also gone ahead of you and is at rest in the Father’s house.  And because Jesus rose from the dead, Bob and all who are baptized into Christ and who trust in him will also rise again on the Last Day.
          Bob’s and LaMerne’s remains will be laid to rest in Missoula, Montana.  I suppose it won’t be too far away from those Bitterroot mountains where they wanted that cabin.  But I also suppose it doesn’t matter much to them anymore.  They’re living in a mansion.

No comments: