Friday, July 24, 2009

Sermon: Funeral of Shelby Bruce Lanier

24 July 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 24:36-49 (Job 19:23-27a, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Beth, Shelby, Scott, Melissa, and all beloved members of Shelby’s family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and friends.

Peace be with you.

This is the very greeting our Lord Jesus Christ gave to his disciples when he appeared to them after conquering death by rising from the dead. “Peace to you,” He said.

But they were all the more troubled, as the resurrection of the dead is not something we are used to seeing. Our Lord comforts them: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see.” And to further drive home the point that their beloved Lord has indeed appeared to them in his risen flesh, and is the very same Man they knew and loved, he ate a meal right in front of them.

And then, after eating with them, he preached to them, explaining the Scriptures and “opened their minds” to the truth that He, the Christ, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again – all in order to be our Savior and Redeemer, to pay for our sins, to restore life to the fallen world, and to give us a share in the victory over death.

This is the “peace” that our Lord spoke to the disciples, and it is the very same “peace” He speaks to you today.

“Peace be with you.”

For “peace” is much more than a sign flashed by hippies or a hip-hop greeting spoken by their grandchildren. “Peace” is more than a casual “Shalom” that serves as both “hello” and “goodbye” in the Hebrew language. For Jesus is the “Prince of Peace,” who has come to end the warfare between God and man. Jesus came into the world to reconcile us “poor miserable sinners” with the righteous God, the Holy Lord of Sabaoth, whom we offend by our many sins. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn, but to save. And this termination of warfare is the cosmic peace our Lord gives us, and has given Shelby. In fact, this parish church, Shelby’s congregation, the sanctuary housing the font in which he was baptized, is called “Salem” – a variation of the Hebrew word “Shalom” – peace. This peace is what brings us comfort now and unto eternity.

When a person dies, especially after a struggle with illness, it is common to hear people say that the person is now at peace. And that is a more profound statement than any of us realize. For Shelby has been delivered from this “valley of tears,” this imperfect world, this dog-eat-dog existence that has been in a state of conflict since the fall in the Garden of Eden.

This is not to say that death is good, death is peaceful, death is our friend, or death is natural. Death is none of those things. Death is horrible. It deprives us of proximity to our loved ones. It makes us mourn. It was never God’s intention that we should die. Rather, it is the wages of sin, the consequences of man’s rebellion against God from the first day Satan whispered lies into our ancestors’ ears.

The peace Shelby enjoys is not because of death, but rather in spite of it. For peace is the absence of conflict, and peace can come either as a result of being defeated, or from being victorious. I want to be clear that Shelby is at peace because he is victorious. The world may describe Shelby as having lost a courageous battle with cancer, or some such. But that is simply not true. For Shelby was baptized into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Shelby confessed his sins and received absolution. Shelby received the body and blood of the Lord, heard the Word of God, and confessed the Christian faith. Just as the apostles were witnesses to Jesus’s resurrection, I am a witness to Shelby’s faith.

Shelby is at peace because the Prince of Peace won the victory. And because Jesus defeated death, so has Shelby. And even though we feel the twinge of loss in our mourning, it is not because of death, but rather because of our temporary parting from Shelby. For hear again St. Paul’s words: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of death is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus’s victory over sin, death, the grave, and the devil is also Shelby’s victory. For when Jesus died on the cross, He proclaimed: “It is finished.” This is a military term that would really be better understood as: “Mission accomplished.” Our Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross was a victory, and He proclaimed that victory with His dying breath.

That victory is Shelby’s victory. It is the Christian’s victory. It is the Church’s victory. And in that victory, there is no more warfare. That is indeed the “peace that passes all understanding” that St. Paul also speaks of.

The Lord’s victory and our peace with God are demonstrated to the world by the empty tomb in Jerusalem. And all believers will similarly leave behind empty tombs. For because, as Job points out, the Word of God is “inscribed in a book,” and confessing with Job in the words of Holy Scripture, we can say, pray, and sing: “I know that my Redeemer lives,” and we can also confess: “and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold.”

And like our Lord Jesus, who rose from the dead, ate, and allowed the disciples to touch the wounds of the nails of the crucifixion on his very real earthly body, we know that Shelby, and all believers, will see God “in our flesh.” For like our Lord Jesus, Shelby was given a body. And even after his skin has been destroyed, it will be restored. “For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have,” says our risen Lord.

Shelby, and all believers, await the coming day of resurrection in which all Christians will find their bodies raised and restored, recreated perfectly, and never again to die. This is not a metaphor, but is as real as the stone tomb that our Blessed Lord walked out of. This resurrection is not something that we can only offer a feeble hope for, but rather it is an ironclad promise of God, of the God who took flesh, died in our place, rose again, and raised his nail-scarred hands in blessing, saying: “Peace be with you!”

Today, Shelby is at peace, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the devil. Today, death has once again been deprived of its sting by the grace, mercy, and power of God. Today, Satan has again failed to snatch one of the Lord’s beloved sheep out of the Good Shepherd’s loving hand.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” “It is finished.” “For I know that my Redeemer lives.” “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

“The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”

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

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