Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Funeral Sermon for Gary Swiggett

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
          Carolyn, Robert and Kim, Dale and Vernon, friends and family of our brother in Christ Gary, grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I want to begin today paying attention to our Gospel reading, which we just heard, so that we approach this day centered upon Christ Jesus, upon His Word, because it is in Christ that we find peace.

So there, in our Gospel text, is Martha, a dear, close personal friend of Jesus.  And her brother Lazarus, also Jesus’ friend, has just died.  And then in walks Jesus, not while Lazarus was sick, not when He could have healed him up, but in walks Jesus after Lazarus has died, and Martha eyeballs Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  You could have stopped this Jesus, you could have made things work out differently.  This was Your friend, Your buddy Lazarus – and if You had been here, he wouldn’t have died.  It’s a pretty bold and blunt thing Martha says to Jesus there, isn’t it?  But what is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t defend Himself, He doesn’t explain things away.  I mean, if you read John’s Gospel, there are reasons given – Jesus knows He’s going to raise Lazarus, that’s part of it.  And part of it too is Mary and Martha and Lazarus live in Bethany, live right next to Jerusalem – and right after Jesus raises Lazarus it’s on to Palm Sunday and His own crucifixion.  If someone wanted to make excuses or explain things, tell someone why, it would have been Jesus to Martha right then and there.  But when Martha confronts Him, Jesus doesn’t explain why.  At that moment, the why isn’t important, and all the whys in the world wouldn’t have changed anything.  So instead Jesus says what is truly important.  “Your brother will rise again.”  Your thoughts, your fears, your questions, your anger, your sorrow – that’s all there Martha, and I’m not even going to try to explain them away – but instead hear this:  Your brother will rise, and He will rise because of Me, because I go to the Cross and I myself die to destroy death and sin, and I myself rise to ensure that he will rise.

And here we are today.  And here lies Gary.  Someone we loved, someone who was a blessing in our lives.  But not only that – Gary wasn’t just a part of our life – Gary was tied to Christ.  Gary is baptized child of God.  Christ Jesus’ brother, not just a friend, but baptized into God’s family.  And I’m sure that there are plenty of questions we’d want to ask, plenty of emotions and feelings running through us.  I’m sure there would be plenty of “why’s” that could pour out from each of us, plenty of what ifs.  And the simple truth is I can’t tell you why, I can’t answer those what ifs.  I’m a preacher – I’m stuck with what the Word of God says, and Jesus doesn’t answer Martha’s why’s… and if He didn’t back then, I certainly can’t today.  I don’t know the whys, but I do know what Christ Jesus has done. Christ Jesus Himself died and rose for Gary, Christ Jesus claimed Gary as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism, and Gary will rise again.  That’s going to happen, that is the promise, that’s what we confess in the Creed in Church every Sunday – I look forward to the resurrection of the Body and the life of the world to come. 

And here is something else to ponder.  We are in the Christmas season – today is the 5th day of Christmas, 5 gold rings.  And the world tells us that Christmas is a time when we’re just supposed to be holly and jolly no matter what and pretend there’s nothing wrong at all, and just carry on.  But we here know that’s not always the case.  As much as the world might try to tell us that everything is wonderful, we see, we know life in the world.  How hard it often is, how scary it often is, how often things are out of our control.  And the world would have us live in denial, pretend these things didn’t exist, but they do.  And the world also loves to lie to us, the world also loves to keep Christ out of Christmas – the world tells us “comfort and joy” comes from new junk under the tree – and while presents are nice, they don’t fix things in the world.  But Christ Jesus knows.  He knows what life is like, He knows what you face today.  When He first came, Jesus didn’t come to some pretend fairy land where everything was perfect.  Hardly – He was born in a barn because no person at an inn would give up their room to a pregnant woman, and after that His parents had to run for their lives before Herod could kill Him.    No, Jesus came into this world, a world where there is often darkness and sorrow and hardship – Jesus came into this world where there is sin and suffering – and He came not so that we could pretend these troubles don’t exist, or pretend that they don’t hurt – He came to win us forgiven and salvation and life in His Name.  You don’t have to hide your grief from Jesus, you don’t have to wrap yourself up in a pretty bow and pretend.  He knows – and that is why He came.  Jesus came into this world because He knew precisely how hard and painful it can be – and He Himself shared your pain, shared Gary’s pain.  He is Immanuel, God with us – with us even here and now, especially here and now.  And He will comfort you.  And this comfort doesn’t mean suddenly everything is better, it doesn’t mean the pain suddenly is gone.  No, we makes sense to be sorrowful today – this was a big tragedy.  There’s no need to pretend it isn’t.  Even Jesus weeps at Lazarus’ death, even knowing He was going to raise him.  But in the face of our sorrow, this truth remains. Christ Jesus is still God Almighty, come into the flesh, come to win salvation for us sinners, and His love and His forgiveness still are true.  Gary’s death doesn’t undo Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection – in fact, because Christ Jesus died and rose, the day is going to come when Gary is going to step right on our of this casket.  Christ Jesus comes and He brings peace, peace so that we know that we are forgiven in Him, peace so that we can endure even in the face of sorrow.

  Jesus said to her “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.”  This is the truth, for Christ Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  God keep us focused upon Christ Jesus, especially in the midst of trials and troubles we cannot understand, that we receive His peace and His strength.  Now, may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds on Christ Jesus.  Amen+

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