Archive for January 2nd, 2015

A Funeral Sermon

Note:  I have been away from a computer and the internet for several days and have not posted.  The reason is that on December 21st my Father died.  He had asked me several times to preach at his funeral. This is that sermon, at the funeral service at his congregation,  St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Lexington, South Carolina.

Text:  “I am the Resurrection and the life.” (John 11)

When I was a child, every now and then Dad would burst out in song, Emil, Emil Schroeder, King of the FBI.  The king is dead and as Dad knew by faith, Long live the King.  The King, Jesus Christ lives.  The Lord born of Mary who does not despise at all the flesh and bone and soul and spirit He created, and when we had gone astray, everyone to His own way, He came to save body and soul and will save in the resurrection of the body.  He who was born a child said that unless one receives the Kingdom as a child shall not enter it.  It is not that a child is sinless, but trusting in his father and mother, and with our heavenly Father.  The Father who sent His only-begotten Son to be born of the Virgin Mary and his step-father Joseph.  He was obedient to them. 

 Jesus grew up in a region and a town, Nazareth that was considered at the time of the Lord upon earth as a real hick town.  My Dad also grew up in Southern Minnesota, in Watonwan County, born in St. James.  Dad lived as a child in towns with exotic names like  St. James, Good Thunder, Butterfield and my personal favorite, Odin. Well, real hick towns.   Odin most assuredly was not the place of Thors but farmers and my Father’s Father Emil was a grain elevator operator.  He and his wife Nettie had  six children.  Dad is the last one to die, but as Christ Jesus lives, the story does not end in the grave because it did not end  for the Son of God.  I AM the Resurrection and the life, yesterday and tomorrow and today.  The Lord is present tense Savior for present tense sinners. Now you could come away with the idea that because our Lord grew up in small rural town and my Dad did as well, that I am saying Jesus and Dad are equivalent. Ahh, I don’t think so..  Yet the Lord and Dad, and the Lord and you and I were equal.  Jesus,the Bible tells us became sin.  He became every last sin of my Dad’s and yours as well. Jesus became sin who knew no sin so that you become the righteousness of God, the Lord tells in Holy Scripture.  Equal on the Cross, saving us  in the Lord’s resurrection as well to give us the fruits of His Cross, His Body and His Blood.  You see Dad knew he was a sinner and knew he had the Savior, or more, the Savior had him and the Savior had him when he was baptized in God’s Name, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Lutheran Church. We say that when a man dies, the Lord called him home, no the Lord calls a man home when he is baptized.

 Dad was a man who knew what it was like to be under orders.  He served in the army air corps as part of the occupying troops at the end of World War II.  He served for 23 years as a Special Agent in the FBI.  Dad knew how to take orders and he most assuredly knew how to give them…yet, there was one standing order that he knew he had to keep every week.  Sundays. Here. In the Lord’s House.  My orders as teenager were always early service in the Lutheran Church; usually the early service at 8am or 8:30am on Sundays  and it was brutal on my teen body.  Dad knew he had to be at Church, hearing God’s Word, fed the Bread of Life.  No, if ands or buts.  I think that his witness is a big reason why I know the Lord’s call as His baptized child of God to be here as well. Dad knew to whom honor was due and not our sacrifices which pale in comparison to the Lord’s.  I think it was when Jeanne was baptized at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Yonkers, NY, that when I was seated in the pew and Dad was crossing in the front of the Altar and he turned and bowed in reverence to the Altar, the Table of the Lord’s Body and Blood.

 It is not  the Lord in majesty and awe that draws us, in fact for sinners His power is mighty scary and should be. We cannot stand in the holiness of God as we are.  Isaiah said it when the Lord appeared to him in all the Lord’s majesty:  I am a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips.  The Lord then cleansed his mouth. It is by the Lord’s Cross He draws us forth to Himself in His unconquerable love of each and every one of us, cleansing us in Holy Baptism.  The Lord and His Church is not only about commands but also promise.  Another song that Dad liked, even more that his own ditty, was a number 1 hit back in ’73.  It was Kris Kristofferson’s song, Why Me? I remember him telling me how he loved that song and well he did:

Why me Lord what have I ever done
To deserve even one of the pleasures I’ve known
Lord, what did I ever do
That was worth lovin’ You or the kindness You’ve shown

Lord help me, Jesus, I’ve wasted it so
Help me Jesus I know what I am
But now that I know that I’ve needed You so
Help me, Jesus, my soul’s in Your hand

Try me, Lord, if You think there’s a way
I can try to repay all I’ve taken from You
Maybe Lord, I can show someone else
What I go through myself, on my way back to You

Lord help me, Jesus, I’ve wasted it so
Help me Jesus, I know what I am
But now that I know that I’ve needed You so
Help me, Jesus, my soul’s in Your hand
Jesus, my soul’s in your hand.

Days before his death, Luther preached, we are all beggars.  All is gift. In his waning years, Dad liked to collect, well, junk and for him it was treasure.  The Lord took the rusty tin cans of our hearts and made them His own. 

Dad died this past Sunday, December 21st, the 4th Sunday in Advent and also the Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle.  The Church tends to remember him as “doubting Thomas”.  He wanted to see Jesus’ hands and side so Thomas could believe the Lord has risen. Thomas saw them and confessed, My Lord and my God.  He did not confess he is risen, but more, my Lord and my God. The apostle Thomas was also confessing Thomas, confessing Jesus is Lord.  Dad did as well in an earthly pilgrimage of 86 years with many towns and cities from St. James to Topeka to New York to Chicago to Milwaukee to Washington D.C. and finally in Lexington. On February 2nd, 63 years ago he married my Mom.  On that Groundhog’s Day, ahhh, romance was in the air for many winters and summers.  A few years later I was born. 

Later, if memory serves, a friend of my folks was a secretary in the local FBI office and the FBI was administering tests for prospective agents.  My Dad and his friend took the test.  Dad passed it, his friend did not..  So began his vocation of 23 years in the bureau.  My Dad and Mom packed up their ’58 Chevy, with me in the back seat, a baby, going from St. James Minnesota, when there wasn’t interstate all the way, to New York City in the middle of a very hot summer so Dad could report to his first major assignment in the FBI. Mom has told me she wanted to go back home.  And all those years in the bureau, Dad was well aware in his vocation and those big, important cities  that he was still   a “hayshaker” (actually he said something I should not repeat in a pulpit)  as he would put it. In Bronxville, New York, my sister Jeanne was born.  Later she would marry Stan, my Dad’s favorite son-in-law and have two children Jessica and Timothy.  I married Natalie, Dad’s favorite daughter-in-law and our three children, Luke,Talitha and Abraham.  .

He dearly loved his grandchildren.  He would regale them and us with the promise of photographed picture of himself or give his FIP speech …False Identity Program that Dad was instrumental in implementing in the Bureau.  Then there was Dad’s  other self-understanding, God’s gift to women.  He wanted his home on the lake, in retirement to be place for his grandchildren. It is.

In the Bureau Dad knew the tumult of our times as he did hard and good work in the FBI during the ‘60s.  He knew he could not have made it without my Mom in our family’s moves. Dad knew he was a sinner and in many places and times, one confession held true:  my Lord and my God forgiving him.  

Lord help me, Jesus, I’ve wasted it so
Help me Jesus, I know what I am
But now that I know that I’ve needed You so
Help me, Jesus, my soul’s in Your hand
Jesus, my soul’s in your hand. 

That prayer was answered, Dad and will be in the Resurrection unto eternal life.  And in all Dad’s days and now:  Jesus, my soul’s in Your hand. It was His hands, imprinted with the nails, with the wounds of our salvation, which are not healed, but neither do they fester, holding, guiding, leading Dad for his earthly pilgrimage beginning in Dad’s Baptism in the Lord, the Lord making Emil His own. His glory is not seen, but heard, His Word, the Word of His Wounds for us all.  In Holy Baptism, Lord made you His own, for your earthly pilgrimage.

The last time I saw my Father was a month ago, on my way home from Dad and Mom’s I stopped at the hospital to see him, not knowing then if that would be the last time, and the last thing we did was pray the Lord’s Prayer.  In spite of the debilitation of the stroke and age, Dad prayed along with me.  Jesus, my soul’s in Your hand.  In our sorrow, there is still joy.  It is the Christmas season, in which we hear that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Emmanuel, God with us, guiding us in our days and times and places, with our family and friends and those stops along the way to hear His Word and receive His Body and Blood.  My Lord and my God.  God with as He said, I am the resurrection and the life.

Today is the Feast of St. John, Apostle. John was the only apostle who died in old age, in his nineties.  In the 4th Gospel bearing his name, he wrote one of the most noted of Scripture passages, “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  It was Dad’s favorite.

Dad had all sorts of advice and one for my self as a pastor, the last hymn should be one that you leave the church singing. He died on the shortest day of the year, when the darkness is longest and the Church and prays and sings:

Oh, come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 And in the Church, the song goes on and will go on in Jesus’ life in the midst of death,  till the Day of Resurrection, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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