Monday, September 10, 2007

Sermon: Funeral of Richard E. Iverson

Monday of Trinity 14, 10 Sept 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 17:11-19 (Gal 5:16-24, Prov 4:10-23)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Rick and Lisa, family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, Greetings in the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Losing a parent to death is a terrible cross to bear. Saying goodbye to those we love as they pass from this side of the grave is the most difficult thing that is ever asked of us. And, it is never really “asked” of us at all – it is demanded of us. We are without a choice in the matter. Death comes to all of those we love, even as it will also come to us.

Of course, we know this. In the case of the elderly and those who have been sick it is less of a surprise, but nevertheless, it crushes us with sadness and sorrow all the same. Please accept my sincere condolences for your loss, for your pain, and for your grief. If I could take this away from you, I would. I cannot. But I do speak for Him who can and does bind up all our wounds, He who “lives to wipe away (our) tears.” Indeed, I have good news for you, even in the midst of all of this sadness.

For Jesus says to our dear brother Richard Edward Iverson even this day: “Your faith has made you well.”

The text for this week’s gospel lesson – the account of the grateful leper whom Jesus heals – is the perfect text for Richard’s funeral. And this is not by accident. Richard Iverson is the grateful leper, for he has been cured of the leprosy of sin that infects all of us. He is the grateful one, the one who spent the last days of his sojourn on this side of the grave in thankfulness for what Jesus did for him. I speak with authority in this matter, because I brought Jesus to him in the Word of God. I brought Jesus to him in the Holy Eucharist of the body and blood of the Lord and administered this “medicine of immortality” to him with my very hands. With my own ears I heard this sainted man giving thanks to God and confessing his faith in the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to God’s will, Richard’s time in this vale of tears has drawn to a close – just as it will for all of us. Though it was not our Lord’s will to cure him of the cancer that ravaged his body, it was certainly the Lord’s will to deliver him from sin, death, and the devil. Though death seems to have conquered Richard, the opposite is in fact true: “The strife is o’er, the battle done, Now is the victor’s triumph won.”

For Richard is a baptized child of God, indelibly marked with water and the Word, with the name of the Holy Trinity, sealed for all eternity by the Holy Spirit just as he was marked upon his head with the sign of the holy cross when he became a child of God so many years ago.

It is an ancient custom of the Church for the pastor to take the newly baptized person and sign him with the cross upon his forehead – often with an anointing of oil. For in baptism, we are sealed and marked with the cross. We become property and followers of Christ – which means literally “the anointed one.”

It is also the custom of the Church that we Christians re-enact this baptismal mystery and gift by tracing the cross upon ourselves – especially when the Holy Trinity is mentioned, especially when we take communion, especially when we receive a blessing at the hands of one of Jesus’ called and ordained servants.

I visited Richard many times in his last days with us on this side of the grave. I prayed over him and anointed him with oil – just as the apostles did with the sick. I traced the oil upon his forehead in the sign of the cross – the very same cross traced on the very same forehead – the cross given to Richard at baptism. And for this baptismal blessing Richard was grateful.

Again, Richard is the embodiment of the grateful Samaritan leper in our gospel reading. Ten men were cured, but only one came back to say “thank you.” Only one fell at the feet of Jesus, worshiped him as God and Savior, and sang his praise. Consequently, only this one was pronounced to have faith – the kind of faith that made him well. The other nine may have had a physical healing, but they remained in their sin. They were spared death this time, but it would come again at a later time. Death came to the Samaritan leper as well, but even in spite of death, his faith truly made him well. His faith conquered death through Jesus Christ – the one who gave him the faith as a gift in the first place.

The Samaritan not only received a physical cure, but was given eternal life. He truly believed and had faith in Jesus, faith evidenced by his thankfulness, by his “euchariston” in the original Greek of the New Testament.

In the same way, Richard was always thankful for my visits with him, and furthermore, that thankfulness, that “euchariston” was evidenced by our participation together in the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. Except when Richard was asleep, I offered him the Holy Sacrament each and every visit. No matter how tired he was, no matter how badly he felt, his response was always the same: “Yes sir!”

After communion, Richard always responded with “thank you.”

Richard, a baptized child of God who was healed of the leprosy of sin when he was born again by water and the Spirit, continued to offer Jesus his praise, worship, and gratitude as he approached the end of his days on earth seeking Jesus and living in Eucharistic thankfulness for his Savior.

Today, with our physical eyes, we see only Richard’s mortal remains. But with the eyes of faith, we see a victor over the grave who awaits the “resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Just as our eyes see only bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, the Word of God declares these humble elements to be the true body and blood of our Lord, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of sin, and for everlasting life. Similarly, the world saw a Samaritan leper, a sick man to be avoided, a man bereft of hope and purpose – but our Lord, looking with compassion, saw a man created in the image of God. Our Lord Jesus restored the Samaritan to health, and though he would later die, he would also later live forever. The Lord never turns away a repentant sinner.

I told you that I had good news for you in the midst of this pain and suffering. Here it is: Richard today gazes upon the face of our Lord Jesus. He has triumphed over the grave, and enjoys everlasting life – having been liberated from pain, sorrow, worry, and the sting of death itself. And the news gets even better. For like all the “grateful lepers” called Christians who have been cured by baptism and who worship Jesus in His flesh, Richard is not just a spirit hovering about. Just as our Lord Jesus burst forth victoriously from the tomb in a fleshly body, perfect and eternal – so too will Richard’s remains rise and be reconstructed anew.

For Christianity is not merely spiritual, it is also bodily. Sin, which clings to our flesh like cancer and threatens to drag us down into death, has been excised by our Great Physician. This is how it is that the Christian – even through tears of sorrow – can mock and call out to death saying: “O Death, where is thy sting?” Just as Jesus cured the ten lepers, he has cured us. Just as the Samaritan came thankfully and physically into communion with Jesus, so do we this morning as we partake in the Holy Supper.

Where Jesus is, there is Richard and all the saints. When we kneel before the Lord to partake in that Eucharistic feast, Richard is there as well – “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” in the midst of the “watchers” and the “holy ones,” taking his place with “all saints triumphant” who “raise the song.”

And on the day when our risen Lord opens the graves of Richard and of all the saints – He will restore our bodies to life, recreating them even better than before, incapable of death and completely rid of sin. On that great and wonderful day of the resurrection of the body, Richard and all the rest of the grateful forgiven sinners who bear Christ’s name and are marked by Christ’s cross, will hear the following words one last joyous time: “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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