Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sermon: Funeral of Barbara Althage

31 January 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 14:1-6 (Ps 25:1-9, 16-21; Rom 8:28-39)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear Rich, Carol, Kristin, Joey, Matthew, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and dear guests:

“Peace be with you.”

With these words, our risen and victorious Lord greeted His disciples as they mourned His death: “Peace be with you.” And what a bold greeting this was from our Lord. For death is anything but peaceful. Death is the condition of our fallen world, it is the wages of sin, and it is our constant enemy. We are at war with this foe, and like the cancer that mercilessly ravaged Barbara’s body, this enemy turns even our own flesh against itself. What a contrast it was when our Lord, having just defeated death, greeted us, His beloved Church, with the words: “Peace be with you.”

For we “poor, miserable sinners” have been at war for so long – war against ourselves, war against God, war against all that is right, even war against our own bodies – that we can’t even begin to imagine what true peace is like. At best, we get little glimpses of it – when a war ends, when opponents reconcile, when an ailing body is made well. But even then, we don’t know what real peace is, the kind that St. Paul says “passes all understanding.”

But Barbara does! Her strife is over, her battle done. Alleluia.

And even as we mourn, Barbara rejoices. Even as we feel the pain of separation, Barbara truly proclaims victoriously: “O death, where is your sting?” Even as we soldier on upon this weary battleground of sickness and death, Barbara basks in the eternal glow of glory and life. That, dear friends, is the meaning of “peace.” The war is over, because the enemy is defeated.

That is why the word “peace” appears more than 340 times in Scripture. That is why people all over the word greet one another with the hopeful salutation: “peace.” The word “peace” is all over our liturgy as well, even being the last word the pastor speaks before the final “Amen.” Even this congregation, where Barbara heard the Word of God, received absolution, and took part in Holy Communion – is named “Salem” – which means “peace.”

For hear again the Prince of Peace’s comforting words to us, dear friends: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

These hopeful words of promise and peace brought comfort and assurance to Barbara when it became apparent that her cancer was not going to be fixed by science and medicine. We can most certainly find peace even in the stressful valley of the shadow of death, for Jesus Himself tells us not to be troubled, but to be at peace – for He has already prepared a place for us. He would not have told us this if it were not true. For to us Christians, heaven is no mere philosophical speculation. We have the Word of Him who died, conquered death and the grave, defeated Satan, and walked victoriously out of His own tomb. And where He has gone, so will we, His beloved sheep, follow.

What joyful comfort this is for us, dear friends, even in the midst of our mourning! For indeed we mourn, but not as unbelievers. For we have hope. We have the promise: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We have the peace that passes all understanding – even if imperfectly right now. But once again, our dear sister Barbara has that peace in its radiant fullness, and nothing will ever take that from her, nor can it be taken from us.

In fact, St. Paul has once more preached this reality into our ears and hearts though the Word of God: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” And “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”

St. Paul answers His own question with a resounding “Nobody” and “Nothing.” Neither Satan nor death has the power to separate us from God’s love. Nobody and nothing can undo what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us, and to us.

The apostle continues: “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That, dear friends, is the peace that the risen Christ places on all the baptized, upon all those who sins are forgiven, on all those who confess His name. Nothing will, or even can, separate us from God’s love. Not cancer. Not death. Not our sins (which have been forgiven) and not the devil (who has been defeated). Nobody and nothing.

As her time for leaving this fallen world approached, Barbara prayed with the Psalmist: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”

But now, she no longer waits, but rather stands before the God of her salvation in eternal fullness and joy. She no longer prays to know God’s ways, for she sees the Lord face to face. She no longer must plead for understanding, for now she is in the presence of the One who knows all things, who created the universe, who redeemed Barbara and all of her fellow baptized, whose Son died so that Barbara might live forever.

And while there will be difficult days ahead for all of you, and while all of us who love Barbara will continue to feel the pang of longing and loss until the coming of the time of our own victory over sin, death, and the devil – we can take comfort in the same Word of God that brought comfort to Barbara, and we can place our trust and faith in the same Christ that bore Barbara safely to His Father’s house. We can claim the same baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through which Barbara was given a second birth, buried with Christ, and raised to life eternal.

And when we kneel in the presence of the Lord Himself in His Holy Supper, we know that Barbara is also eternally present before the very same most holy body of our victorious Lord, separated from us by the thinnest of veils, and though unseen, she is truly there, singing with us the praise and glory to the Lord in whose presence she remains eternally, peacefully waiting for us to join her in the full, complete, and eternal peace of God.

That, dear brothers and sisters is Barbara’s peace. That is Christ’s peace. That is the Christian’s peace. And may that peace of God, the peace Barbara enjoys to the full, the victorious and eternal peace won for us by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, the peace that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

“Peace be with you…” the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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