Monday, December 22, 2008

Sermon: Funeral of Verna Keller, Monday of Advent 4 (Rorate Coeli)

22 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 3:16-21 (Isa 6:1-7, 1 Cor 12:31b-13:13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and guests.

We find ourselves mourning in the midst of all the excitement of Christmas. In this sanctuary, we have a casket and an Advent wreath. We have the sadness of our grief, combined with the symbols of hope of the Christmas season. Decorated trees and waiting tombs are not the kinds of things we typically associate with each other.

And although death was never the intended result of the creation our Lord gave is, it is the reality that we all live with. For the wages of sin is death, and as the hymn we just sang at Verna’s request confesses, we can indeed all confess the same thing: that I am the chief of sinners.

However, that is not where the story ends. For we all know why the Christ child lay in a manger – He came to save us, to give us life, to re-create us anew, to pay the wages of sin, and to take on our death at the cross. And because He lives, we too, dear friends, shall also live.

Verna is experiencing this first hand. Like the prophet Isaiah as he found himself in God’s throne-room, and though Isaiah rightfully felt the weight of his sins in God’s presence, that sin and guilt was to be purged away once and for all: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And so Isaiah could join the heavenly chorus of “Holy, Holy, Holy” – for his sin was atoned for, paid for, purged away, made no more. Verna’s sins were likewise atoned for, and so are ours, we who have been baptized and who believe, we who have been rescued. For during her sojourn in this life on this side of the grave, the Lord’s messengers placed the burning coal of the body and blood of our dear Lord in the form of Holy Communion upon Verna’s lips. The Lord Himself said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Verna also requested the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 to be read today: Paul’s famous sermon on love. For Verna knew, knows, and will always know, that God atoned for her sins by the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ – and that this sacrifice was indeed an act of love, for in the words of our Blessed Lord Himself, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

The love of Christ is given to us, dear brothers and sisters. And though we reflect His love imperfectly, the Christian life is indeed what St. Paul calls “a more excellent way.” The love you felt from Verna – be it as a mother, an aunt, a grandmother, or a dear friend – this is love rooted in Verna’s baptism, the love of Christ toward her, the love which saved her by grace and comforts us in our mourning.

That holy, divine love is purely by God’s grace and favor. For “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” The Father gave His Son to the world, gave Him to be born of Mary, gave Him to be crucified for us as a ransom for our sinfulness, gave Him to be placed into a tomb from which He rose again, and gave Him to be given to us in the Holy Sacrament.

Like all believers, Verna was imprinted with the very cross of Christ at her Holy Baptism, being made a disciple of Jesus Christ, one of the redeemed and ransomed, one for whom our Blessed Lord has taken to Himself in heaven, one who has been given eternal life. For as the familiar passage in John 3 continues: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

This is the meaning of Christmas, and it is the meaning of Christianity. The Gospel is precisely for times like these, when we are confronted with the wages of sin, and we need the reassurance that all of these sins that bring death upon us were atoned for at the cross.

And this, dear brothers and sisters, is how St. Paul can say that although we Christians mourn the loss of loved ones like anyone else, we don’t mourn as the unbelievers. For we have been given a revelation, both in the form of the Word made flesh, the babe of Bethlehem, the Savior who died and rose for us men and for our salvation, and we also have the written Word, the Holy Scriptures, which speak of the magnificent throne-room of God, of saints and angels, of the joyful praise of our Triune God, as well as His love for us, a love reflected in the love of Christians for us and for their Lord.

And no matter how pious a person is, no matter how beloved he has been in this life, no-one is perfect. And that, dear friends, is why the Lord provided a Savior. He provided Verna with a Savior for her salvation, even as He provides for the salvation of all who are baptized and who believe. Verna was not perfect, but today she is. Like the rest of us, she had to see in the mirror dimly, but now she sees with clarity, face to face with God Himself. Formerly, she was burdened with aches and pains, with suffering, with the debilitation of age, with sickness, sadness, and mourning – but today, she has come through all of that, standing like Isaiah in the wondrous presence of the God who gave his only begotten Son as a sacrifice and atonement for her.

Dear brothers and sisters, Christmas has come early for our dear sister in Christ, and though we all have longer to wait for our perfection, for our reunion with her and with our Savior, we can still confess presently with the eyes of faith what Verna knows from standing before God in His fullness:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

It is in this love that our Lord has for us that we can bear, believe, hope, and endure all things – even unto eternity. Amen.

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

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