Friday, November 07, 2008

Sermon: Funeral of Jack Woolen

7 November 2008 at Mothe Funeral Home, Harvey, LA

Text: Matt 5:1-12 (Rev 7:9-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Audrey, Chris, Ellen, family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and friends. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having to say goodbye to someone so dear and so beloved is not something that comes easy. And yet, to us Christians, our sadness is tempered with joy – because it is bound up in hope. As St. Paul points out, we do not grieve as others who have no hope. For we have hope in the form of the promise of God Himself, the Word made flesh, the only man in human history to prove Himself by walking out of His own grave by His own power.

It is this resurrection that assures us that our sadness is only sadness for us. For there is no reason to be sad for Jack.

Jack went to be with our Blessed Lord and His saints on an ancient Christian festival known as All Saints Day. And those assigned readings from Scripture are what I read to you today, dear brothers and sisters.

There are tears on this side of the grave. In fact, Scripture calls this life a “valley of tears.” We must endure pain, suffering, and death. We are subject to sin and the devil, racked with disappointment and fear of the unknown. We see a falling world around us. But Jack is in the presence of the saints in a world that is not falling apart. And as our epistle reading proclaims: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” That is a promise to the saints in eternity, and it is a promise for us as we make our way home as well.

We Christians are in many ways like foreigners living in a strange land. We are surrounded by people who know nothing of the faith, or who mock the Church and those who believe in Christ. It is as though we speak a different language and even appear strange to those around us. But one day our sojourn will end, and we will again return from our exile. Jack was given the privilege to return to Paradise on All Saints Day.

Part of what makes today such a day of mourning is that Jack is so beloved. As a devoted husband and a man who stepped into the role of father to two children, and as a grandfather and uncle for whom there was no sacrifice too great for his family, we are left with a void. Until we join Jack, there will be something missing. In fact, the loving husband gives us a little peek of our Lord Jesus, who is the faithful spouse of His bride, the Church. And to our faithful Bridegroom Jesus, no sacrifice, not even the sacrifice of life itself was too dear a price for his beloved. And as an adoptive father who gave so much to his beloved children, we see a little glimpse into the Fatherhood of God, who takes care of us, His adopted children – even when we rebel, even when so much is required of our fathers, even when fatherhood makes one weary, in good times and bad. A faithful earthly father is a reflection, even if a flawed one, of our Faithful Heavenly Father.

Even as Jack’s witness in the form of his life points us to God – especially to our Lord Jesus – the Christian life to which Jack held fast is a paradox. The more we study and hear God’s Word, the more we realize how unworthy we are.

The greatest thing a Christian can do is to admit that there is nothing he can do to save himself, to make himself close to God, to assure that he is one of the saints. The more one prays and wears the covers of his Bible to shreds, the more the Christian understands that he too is wearing out, and that his good works and faithfulness ultimately count for nothing before God. And it is at this point that we understand that we are not made citizens of heaven by good deeds any more than we become American or Canadian or German by earning our citizenship. We are born into the kingdom of God, by being born again, by water and the Word. We are made disciples by baptism, and kept in the faith by the power of the Gospel.

Jack’s childhood church was called “Gospel Hall” – calling to mind the Gospel, that is, the Good News that we are saved from the power of sin, death, and the devil by God’s free gift in Jesus Christ. And though Jack had no local congregation to call home, he held fast to God’s Word as a fellow exile and sojourner, praying and hearing God speak in the Scriptures.

I was not Jack’s pastor, but I am Audrey’s. And our Lord Himself assures us that marriage is a union of flesh in which two become one. In giving pastoral care to Audrey, I gave pastoral care indirectly to Jack. But today, Jack’s Pastor, Jack’s Shepherd is the Good Shepherd Himself. And Jack hears the voice of his Shepherd who says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And for us on this day, we hear our Blessed Lord say to us: “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.”

And for all of us, we hear these beautiful and rock-solid promises of Jesus: “Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And John’s revelation gives us a picture of that kingdom of heaven, which we cannot see through the veil, but of which Jack sees in glory: saints “of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” For “these are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

This, dear friends, is the comfort our Lord speaks to us in our sorrow. For our mourning is bittersweet. It has a sure hope in the resurrection, in the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

And it is our Lord Himself who bids us, encourages us, comforts us, and promises us:

“Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Amen.

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

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