A Funeral Sermon

 

on John 11:17-27 by James A Frey

 

 

 

 

 

 

On March 17, 2003, the bereaved gathered at Saint Paul in Belleville heard about the way it is supposed to be for the sainted + Ken Miller. This sermon is printed here with the knowledge and approval of the family.

 

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

 

After he became ill, Ken’s comment was, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”  Of course not.  No one plans to get sick and become an invalid for six years until he dies.  That wasn’t your plan for your husband, your father, your friend, either.  That wasn’t my plan for my faithful member.  And it wasn’t Mary and Martha’s plan for their brother Lazarus, as they both indicated when they said to Jesus, albeit at separated times, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.

 

But even though it wasn’t supposed to be this way, while it’s never supposed to be this way, the reality is, it is this way.  Lazarus died before Mary and Martha thought it was his time to go.  Ken also died before we thought it was his time to go, because quite frankly, we just don’t know when that “time” is.  We can plan all we want to for our future, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t.  But let’s face it, we don’t know how much of a future we even have.  All we can say is what Moses did, “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.  Who knows the power of your anger?  For as the fear of you, so is your wrath.  So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:10-12).

 

My grieving friends, it doesn’t help any of us to get angry with God over the death of a loved one, because it’s not going to change the reality.  When he says, “Return to dust, O son of man,” then to dust we must return.  So we would do much better to pray, as did Moses, “Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  And how do we do that?  In the same way Mary and Martha did when they lost their brother here, by running to Jesus and clinging to him for however long our time on earth is.

 

That’s what our departed brother was given the faith to do.  He clung to Jesus at his Baptism, indeed, was “buried with Christ through Baptism into death,” that he might be raised with him to a new life. 

 

He also clung to Jesus when he sat before this pulpit, where Christ was preached, and don’t ever under-estimate the benefits of Christ-centered preaching.  Look at what it did for Martha: “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will live again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’  Jesus said to her, ‘I AM the Resurrection and the Life.  He, who believes in me, though he may die, shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into this world’.” Make no mistake about it. That same preaching of Christ also brought Ken great strength and comfort in his life.

 

But most of all, our loved one clung to Jesus in the Holy Sacrament, by which the true and real Body and Blood of his crucified and risen Lord was actually put into his own body.

 

Preaching and the Sacraments were extremely important to Ken, as evidenced by the time he put into his church before he became ill.  In fact, I once joked with him that maybe he should be the pastor, he was here so often.  And after he became sick, these things became even more important to him, as he would hang on my every word.  Even at the end, when you weren’t always sure he was cognizant of everything, as soon as I began the service, he was there and received the Holy Sacrament.  The last time I saw him, as I was leaving, he reached over and shook my hand, as if to say, “Thank you.”  Understand none of this was about me. Rather, this was all about the faith with which God had blessed him to “number his days,” to cling to Jesus where Jesus was present for him, and for his salvation in this life.  This was finally all about the hope he and every Christian has to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death”- yes, even if that walk comes sooner than I think it should, “and fear no evil; For you are with me.”

 

Of course to use the words of our departed brother in an entirely different context now, it wasn’t supposed to be this way, for death was supposed to be God’s punishment for sin.  Do you remember what God told Adam and Eve about the tree in the middle of the garden: “On the day you eat of it, you will surely die.”   And St. Paul reminds us of that very same thing when he says, “The sting of death is sin.”

 

Thus the cause of Ken’s death was not his illness.  That was the means by which death finally came to him, but the cause of it was sin, the sin that Ken was by nature and the sins that Ken committed daily because of it.  And sin makes death the gateway to hell.  That’s the way it was supposed to be. 

 

But thanks be to God.  That’s not the reality.  Let’s go back to our Gospel.  Lazarus, who died because he too was sinful, is supposed to be dead.  Indeed, he’s been dead for four days now.  But our Lord speaks, “Lazarus, come forth”!  And lo and behold, it is as he commands. “He who had died came out.” So what then if it wasn’t supposed to be that way?  It was that way.

 

And rest assured!  It still is that way.  “For the trumpet will sound,” the blessed Apostle triumphantly declares, “and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’”.

 

Again, it’s not supposed to be this way, but it is this way.  The body of our loved one that will soon be committed to the ground as “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” will rise again and be changed, that is, transformed that it might be like Christ’s resurrected and glorified body. 

 

In that sense we can view it as a seed and the cemetery as a garden.  Now when a seed is buried in the ground, it decays.  But this is not to its shame.  Rather this is to its glory, for in so doing that seed sprouts into a living plant.  It does so, because the Creator has put life into it. 

 

So it is with the body of our loved one and of all the faithful, for that matter.  They die because of sin and are buried in the grave, where they decay.  But on the last day, when the voice of our Lord calls, they will come out of the ground alive and glorified, and do so for the same reason a seed sprouts, because God has put his Life into them, even more specifically, because through preaching and the Sacraments, God has put the Life, who is Christ, into them.  Thus the Apostle is right: “What is sown in dishonor” - notice the planting language he uses - “will be raised in glory.”

 

My grieving friends, Ken will live again, for though he is now dead, Christ is in him.  What is more, those of us who in faith number our days and so cling to Christ, as did he, will also rise with him on the Last Day.  “And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” No, it really wasn’t supposed to be this way.  “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. §

 

The Reverend James A. Frey is pastor of Saint Paul Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Belleville, Michigan.