Friday, August 25, 2006

Rev. Martin Friedrich, R.I.P.

Today was the funeral for one of our pastors at Salem, the Rev. Martin Friedrich, aged 81. Technically, Pastor Friedrich was "emeritus," but that was only a title. He continued to serve Salem, taking care of almost all shut-in visits for the parish. He also filled in for area clergy when they had to be away. He had been at Salem since 1977, and had served in the Office of the Holy Ministry for 57 years.

In fact, just last Sunday, Martin was scheduled to fill in for the Rev. Philip Miller at Christ Lutheran in Chalmette - a faithful congregation whose church was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina that has met ever since in a warehouse. However, the previous Thursday, Martin was suffering with back pain and asked one of the other pastors at Salem to fill in for him.

I celebrated the Divine Service and preached at Christ Lutheran last Sunday, and learned shortly before the service that our dear Reverend Father had gone to his eternal reward only a few hours before he was to proclaim the Gospel and distribute the Body and Blood of Jesus yet again. His wife of 57 years, Ruth, was scheduled to play the organ at the service.

I had the honor to be the liturgist for today's requiem. Martin had selected the readings for his funeral: Isaiah 53:4-12, Revelation 7:9-17, 2 Timothy 4:1-8, and John 14:1-6. He and Ruth had selected the hymns, all powerful anthems of the Christian life, the Gospel, and the Resurrection: "Fight the Good Fight," "For All the Saints," and "I Know That My Redeemer Lives." After the tolling of the bell, the procession at the beginning was to the tune "Jesu Joy of Main's Desiring." The procession out of the church at the end of the service was to the tune of a glorious fanfare, after which the bells rang out joyfully to celebrate Martin's victory over the grave.

As is customary when a pastor is laid to rest, his casket was oriented at the front of the church with his head toward the altar - to symbolize his proclamation to the people.

The church was packed to the gills.

The pinnacle of the service, however, was the sermon delivered by my colleague, the Rev. Keith Brda. This is the finest funeral sermon I have ever heard, and represents the pinnacle of Father Brda's evangelical grasp of this moment of pastoral care to a grieving family and congregation. I do not exagerate when I say that I thank God every day that He has sent me to Salem Lutheran Church. I could not ask for a better brother in the ministry to serve with, and to learn from. And if that were not enough, I had the privilege to serve with, and learn from, Pastor Friedrich for the couple years that our pastorates at Salem overlapped.

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant!"

What follows is today's sermon by the Rev. Keith Brda, senoir pastor, Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA.

Funeral for Rev. Martin Friedrich
Text: 2 Timothy 4:1-8 August 25, 2006

Text: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7,8.

Dearest Ruth, Ron and Robert, Janie and Ruthie and all my brothers and sisters in Christ. Martin is at rest. Heaven rejoices. The Lord is pleased to give the kingdom to His son, Martin. The world will little notice his passing. It will little note its impoverishment at his departure. Through our tears and sorrow, we ache with a bittersweet rejoicing, a bittersweet rejoicing that only the saints of God can know. We await the day when we can depart and be with the Lord. We mourn that a husband, a father and grandfather is no longer at our side to share the burden of this life. We mourn that a pastor of Christ’s Church is no longer in our midst to point us unfailingly to the Lord who has overcome this world, to give us the Lord’s gifts that strengthen us in the midst of our earthly struggle. We are bereft of the Lord’s man, that one Whom our Savior placed among us for our comfort; that one Whom our Savior placed among us to call us to repentance, to teach us the eternal truth of the Son of God and the salvation He has given to us, to proclaim His Gospel anew to us. That voice that God made holy to proclaim His Word is silent in this world, but his voice continues to sing the praises of Him who called him out of darkness and into His marvelous light, the fullness of that Light he now sees with holy eyes.

Indeed, Martin was/is the Lord’s man. And as the text reminds us, he fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith. That was the Lord’s own doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes, at least it should be, even though sin still clouds our poor vision. Martin, called by the Triune God to be His own in infancy in the waters of Baptism. From that moment on, Martin was called to a pilgrimage, little knowing where he was going, but clinging to the knowledge where that pilgrimage would take him at the last. From that moment on, Martin was called to join in the sufferings of Christ and to participate in His blessings as well. From that moment on, the Spirit of Jesus was preparing him to be His undershepherd. The Holy Spirit instructed him in the catechism, the very catechism which he would spend a lifetime learning and teaching to others, right up to the end. From that moment on, the Lord was leading Martin into the fight, into the fray, into the struggle that has always marked God’s people.

That struggle is always against the sin that is ever present to our fallen flesh. Martin knew that struggle. And he knew the healing and comfort that the Lord provided to His saints, the Words of Holy Absolution. Martin knew that a Christian life is lived from baptism and in baptism so, when he was distressed with his own sin, he knew that the Lord had proclaimed him righteous through the forgiveness of his sins and rejoiced to hear those words of the Lord’s Absolution confirmed to him personally. That was the Lord’s verdict, the Lord’s estimation of Martin: he was pure and clean because His Lord Jesus, the righteous judge had declared him so. Jesus declared him so because He had borne Martin’s sin to the cross and suffered in his place and rose again so that he would be justified in God’s sight. And that Holy Absolution delivered to Martin the Lord’s own verdict. Maybe that is why I never heard Martin preach a sermon without referring to that wondrous Gospel passage from St. Paul to the Corinthians, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) It was more than a proclaiming God’s great mystery to His people. It was Martin reminding himself what the Lord Jesus accomplished for him in His death and resurrection. After all, the best preaching is when we preachers preach to ourselves.

Yes, Martin, from his baptism was called to be the Lord’s man, called to the struggle with sin. And here, I must point out, that more than just the Christian struggle with sin, Martin was called to the struggle that is the Office of the Holy Ministry. My brothers in the Holy Office, you know of what I speak. Ruth, you and all pastors’ wives know much, but not all, of what I am speaking. The PKs, the pastors’ kids know of it too. It is the struggle and immense pressures to which a pastor is called. The lay people cannot know what this is, at least not the full import. I know why Martin chose this text to be read at his funeral. It was his cry of victory and peace in the Lord Jesus who had given him this special burden.

For a pastor is called to a struggle that is more than the struggle with his own sin. The Lord had called him into the struggle, the fight against the sin which attacks the Christ’s Bride, His Holy Church. He was called to be a fighter, to be fierce and relentless against the threatening attacks of Satan. He was called to protect God’s beloved people from all that threatened the security and peace of their salvation. He was to be ever vigilant against any incursion of false and seductive teaching that might lead God’s people away from the Lord’s righteousness to a righteousness of their own making. It was the responsibility to defend the flock from the incessant attacks of the powers and principalities of this dark age.

Now that seems to be a contradiction when applied to Martin. There could be no gentler, meeker, humbler man than Martin. Soft-spoken, not forceful nor one who was given to a hot temper. Like the Savior, he was more willing to suffer injury rather than inflict an injury. But the visible betrayed the hidden struggle of the Lord’s man.

And so Martin prayed knowing that he had no strength of his own to protect God’s people except the strength the Lord promised. He knew that he had not the words to persuade and convince, but proclaimed the life-giving Gospel so that sin might be undone, Satan banished, false teaching confounded and the saints strengthened for their daily tasks. He never pointed to himself, nor sought to attract the crowds to himself, but always pointed people to the cross where the God-man Jesus Christ conquered in the fight and brought life and immortality to light. He didn’t make a big deal of himself, but of the Lord Jesus who swallowed up death once for all and rose again that all might have eternal life. He himself had little to give, but gave to those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness the true body and blood of Christ in accordance with the Lord’s institution of His Supper. In those gifts, he and all who received them were filled with the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Martin fought the good fight, but in reality, we now see that it was the Lord going to battle daily through his servant. Martin finished the race, but we know that all along, it was Jesus Who gave the strength to run and kept his feet sure. Martin kept the faith, but in reality, it was the faith that kept Martin, from Baptism, to the Gospel proclamation that filled his ears and mouth, to the Absolution that pronounced him holy, to the Sacrament of the Altar that nourished him with forgiveness, to the resurrection of all flesh and to the crown of righteousness that the righteous Judge will give to him on that Day, and not to him only, but to all who have loved His appearing.

“Oh blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.”


Niskua said...

thank you for your kind words about my grandfather Martin Friedrich. I miss him.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Niskua:

It was my privilege. He was, and remains, beloved to our congregation. Peace!