Funeral Sermon for Bob Rang

Bob Rang
Funeral Sermon
Isaiah 25:6-9
December 14, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

            When I drove to church yesterday morning, there was a thick blanket of fog laying over the road. It was so thick that as I backed out of my garage, I couldn’t even see the street at the end of my driveway. On the road, I could barely make out the faint pin-pricks of oncoming headlights until they were only a few dozen feet away. In the beams of my own downloadheadlights, the water molecules swirled around like a small swarm of gnats, darting this way and that. The moisture was in the air. It was thick. It covered the landscape like a bedsheet, like a quilt.  The Prophet Isaiah speaks of a blanket. He speaks of a veil, of a covering that is cast over all people: the covering of death. Like fog, this veil of death limits how far into the distance you can see. Like fog, this veil of death swirls around your life. Like fog, this veil of death is in the air. You can feel it. You can’t avoid it. Especially on days like today.

Days like today are tough to deal with. Days like today we are forced to deal with the reality of death.  Days like today we are forced to struggle through the paradox of memory. On the one hand, there are the memories of Bob from the days of youth, and vibrancy, and health. He was a man who loved the outdoors – fishing and hunting and camping.  It didn’t matter if it was a tent or his old pop-up camper, Bob was game for some time in nature. He designed houses, including his own. He was a devoted husband and father.  But covering those memories of Bob today are the more recent memories of his health struggles, of the toll that the cancer took on him and his body. The weakness. The weight loss. He refused to let the cancer define him. He remained a devoted husband and father – travelling to Washington D.C. with his family just this past summer. Taking Ashley to the park to push her on the swings. Bumping into a few bears in Shenandoah.  He didn’t complain about being sick; he worked to get better. He struggled against the disease. But eventually the blanket was too heavy. Eventually, the blanket covered him.

And that is why we are here today.  The Lord has removed that blanket for Bob. He has swallowed up the covering that is cast over all people. He has lifted the fog so that Bob can see the light of his goodness. Just last week, during some of Bob’s very last moments on this earth, I watched him struggle with a blanket. I was in Bob’s room with Diana, and Bob was lying in bed. But he was warm – he was trying to get the blanket off of his chest. It would have been a simple task for him 5 years ago, but it was a struggle that day.  He fought that blanket until finally he was either satisfied with where it settled or he ran out of energy and couldn’t fight it any more. As I was choosing readings for today, that image was at the front of my mind – Bob’s struggle against the blanket. I was reminded of Isaiah’s words that we heard just a few moments ago: The Lord will swallow up on his holy mountain the covering that is cast over all people, the veil that is spread over all nations, the blanket of death itself.

That is exactly what he has done for Bob.  One way or another, Bob’s life was a struggle against that blanket – all of our lives are. We are each of us struggling to free ourselves from the oppressive cloud of death that sits around us like a fog. We struggle against it. Bob struggled against it. We might even try to convince ourselves that it is just part of nature, treating the blanket as if it were a fort at a slumber party.  But it’s not. The blanket is death. And much of our existence is spent hiding from this fact, struggling to pull the blanket off our own chest, to free ourselves from its grasp. But we will never win. The blanket wins eventually. For Bob, that day came last Thursday.

But our Lord did not leave Bob to struggle on his own. While it is true that each of us struggle against the blanket of death, the truth remains that our Lord has covered us with a different kind of blanket too. That’s why we cover the casket today with a white blanket – it reminds us of the special covering that our God gives to his people.  In holy baptism, Bob was p_290204_e.jpgclothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all his sin. Bob was nurtured throughout his days with the life giving proclamation of God’s Word. He had his sins forgiven, time and time again. He feasted on the body and blood of Christ himself, heavenly food that strengthened him for his journey in the same way that bread from heaven strengthened the Israelites for their time in the wilderness. And like the Israelites, Bob is now in his promised land, in his promised rest, in the presence of God.

Behold, this is our God. We have waited for him that he might save us. Bob waited for him, and now his wait is over. This is the Lord. We have waited for him, let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

I was struck by Bob’s struggle against the blanket, and I was reminded of our own struggles. But there is something else that happened last Tuesday, something I’ll never forget.  When I saw Bob that day, he knew his time was short. While we were there talking and praying, with all the strength he could muster, with what little voice he had left, he uttered the words “I love you all.” And he made a hugging gesture. That man loved his family. He loved Diana. He loved Ashley. He loved his dad. But that’s not what struck me. What stands out to me is that he also knew what mattered most. You see, in a conversation with Pastor Smith a few weeks back, Bob asked that when he was gone, “make sure my girls hear the gospel.” What a remarkable thing for a father and husband to say and to care about. He loved his girls so much that when faced with the reality of his own impending death, his primary concern was for them and their salvation.

What tremendous perspective. What an example for each of us! As we heard from Paul a few moments ago, this body and life is destined to fail. It is sown perishable. It is sown in weakness. Bob knew that – and he wanted more for his girls. He wanted them to have a share in the imperishable life that he himself is now enjoying. Yes, we lay his earthly body to rest today, but his soul is with Jesus awaiting the day of resurrection, waiting for that day when he will be reunited with Diana and Ashley to live in a new and perfect creation, to celebrate the feast of rich food and the best wine.  For Bob knew that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and yet though he may die, in Christ he will live forever.

That is the promise that gives us hope today – hope for you Diana, hope for you Ashley, hope for all who mourn Bob, hope for all who mourn anyone who has gone before us in the faith.  Because Jesus lives, we have the promise of resurrection, the promise of reconciliation, the promise of reunion.  So we cling to that promise in the face of grief. For those who love Bob, the days will get harder before they get easier. This Christmas Psalm-27-13-webseason will be especially difficult. But as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we remember that we are celebrating the birth of our Savior. Jesus came for this. Jesus didn’t just come to earth so that we could send pretty Christmas cards of a mother and her child in a manger. No, Jesus came for days like today. Jesus came because death was a problem too big for any of us to fix, a blanket too big for any of us to pull back. Jesus came and pulled it back. He swallowed it up. Jesus is indeed the reason for the season, born into this world so that we might be born into the world to come.

And so we grieve, but we grieve with hope. We trust our Lord’s promise. We are saddened that death has stolen a father and a husband from this family. We are saddened that life will never be the same for anyone who loves Bob. But sadness does not get the last word. Hope does. Life does. Bob now lives in Christ, and we will see him again in the resurrection on the last day, where like stars, God’s children, crowned, dressed all in white, his praise will sound. May the God of hope and comfort cover you with his peace until the day he removes the blanket from your life and brings you to join Bob in the life to come.

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The Signs of the Times – Sermon for December 6/7, 2015

The Signs of the Times
Luke 21:25-36
2nd Sunday in Advent (Populus Zion)
December 6th/7th, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The signs of the times.  We are all too familiar with them, and over time we become quite adept at recognizing them, even if we don’t realize that we’re doing it.  All throughout our calendar, every season, every holiday, every milestone is marked by the signs of the times. Consider the signs that winter and Christmas are here.  At first, these signs are exciting and invigorating.  The lights come out of the attic and once again decorate yards and houses everywhere, people rearrange their living rooms so that they can fit in the Christmas tree, the stores are open later, the holiday music plays over the speakers, the cold air is almost refreshing as we count the days till Christmas.  It’s too bad that winter doesn’t end with Christmas 2012-0156Christmas.  Because the signs of winter hang around long after the holly and jolly has worn off.  There is the muck and slush at the side of the road, the salt residue that sticks to your car and your shoes, the six weeks of overcast skies and gloomy weather, the long hours of darkness where you drive to work in the dark, drive home in the dark, and go days at a time without ever seeing the daylight.  All part of winter.  All signs of the times.  When we see them, we act accordingly.

The signs of the times.  These are exactly what Jesus is talking about in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke.  “There will be signs in the sun and moon stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.”[1] He talks about it more clearly in the Gospel of Matthew, but his words read for us today have the same basic theme: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”  “You know how to interpret the fig tree: when you see buds on the branches, you know summer is near.” When you see the lights come out and the trees go up, you know Christmas is near. Jesus expects us to be able to read the signs, and so he has laid out those signs for us in detail.  In Matthew 24 he says, “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”[2]  Well, let’s look at the signs: Earthquakes? Check.  Wars?  Check.  Rumors of Wars?  Check.  Famine?  Check.  All these signs lead to one conclusion:  The end times are now.

All too often we speak of the end times as if they are a distant reality, something that will begin at some future date and last for a short burst of time.  But that is not that way that Jesus speaks of the end times.  “Look at the signs,” Jesus says, “and learn to read them!  The end times are now!”  We live in the end times.  In fact, when we look at the signs we see that they are nothing new. Wars and rumors of wars have been around for as long as there have been kings and nations. Earthquakes and famines are not a modern phenomenon. No, the point Jesus is making is that for as long as there have been Christians, those Christians have been living in the last days.  The end times began when Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, and they will continue until he comes again toChristian_Persecution_02_230px judge the living and the dead.

What a tremendous sense of urgency this should give us! “Watch yourselves,” Jesus says, “lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”[3]  We don’t often think of it in this way, but the simple reality is that Jesus might come back before we finish this church service; he might come back before I finish this sermon; he might come back right now . . . well, I guess not, but you get the picture.  The very literal reality is that we don’t know if Jesus is coming back in ten thousand years or before we take our next breath.  But what we do know is that when he does come back, he definitely means business.

In the words of the Prophet Malachi, “Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.”[4]  Some will be turned into stubble, leaving neither root nor branch. Some will go out like a calf leaping from its stall. There will be division, the type of division that always follows the introduction of truth.  Think about it like a football season.  There are 32 NFL teams and all of them have fans.  At the end of this season, only one group of people will be fans of the Super Bowl Champions.  31 other teams will be on the outside looking in.  There will be a division between them.  Families will be split.  Bets will be made.  Trash will be talked.  But at the end of the day, one person is right and another wrong.  There is only one champion.

And there is only one Jesus.  You are either for him or against him.  Division.  Separation.  There is no half way with Jesus.  He is coming back at any moment, and when he does the fire will be cast, the division will be clear, and those who believe and are baptized will be saved, while those who do not believe will be condemned.[5]  The time is coming.  Look at the signs.  The end times are here.

But the promise of Christ’s return is for Christians just that: a promise, not a threat.  All the talk of judgment and fire and hell, it’s all true, but when it boils right down to it, it’s not for you.  When Jesus comes back, he is coming to take you to be with him in paradise.  He is coming to take you to the throne of his father.  Hear again the words of Jesus for his children as we see the signs of the times: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”[6] Yes, the signs of the times demonstrate to anyone paying attention that the end is near. The increase of mass shootings overEaster_Christ_is_risen the past 10 years, the threat of terrorist attacks, the building threat of war, and any number of global events place this reality squarely before our eyes. But in these last days, we must never lose sight of the promise of God.

Rather, we follow the great cloud of witnesses who went before us.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, and others listed by the writer of Hebrews as shining examples of the effect that the eyes of faith have on the way you view life in this world, and how to act accordingly.  The pages of the Old and New Testaments are filled with many more examples, Joshua and Elijah, Paul and John.  All these examples have one thing in common – they kept their eyes focused on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.[7]

The last times are now, and Jesus is coming again.  But in your baptism he has already claimed you as his own.  In your baptism you have already been judged. Think about it like this. Paul tells us that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us. For God made his own Son, who had no sin, to be sin. [8] Our sin. All sin. And then he judged that sin on the cross.  He punished that sin on the cross by abandoning it, turning his back on it and exiling it far from him, as Jesus cried out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[9]  God judged sin when he judged Jesus. The death of Jesus was the death of sin.

But do you not know that all of you who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?[10] That means in your baptism your sin was judged. Your baptism day was your judgment day.  Your sin has already been judged – there is nothing left to judge.  When Christ comes again, it will not be to judge you. That’s already happened. No, when Christ returns it will be to bring you into his resurrection – for if we have water baptismbeen united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united to his resurrection.[11] We have nothing to fear when we think about the end of the world, for we are in Christ.  Rather, when we read the signs and see that Jesus is coming soon, we rejoice in the fact that his arrival here means our arrival in Heaven.  We rejoice that the birth pains of this life, as painful as they may be, signal our birth into the life to come.

We live in what some theologians have called the time between the times. Others have described it as a life of now, but not yet. The point is that we live in the certainty of our forgiveness, for it has already been won on the cross. But we’re not in heaven yet; we’re still struggling with sin in a fallen creation. So we don’t live our lives as if we have all the time in the world.  We don’t live in sin and just plan on repenting and cleaning up our act some time later.  No, as Jesus says, we watch ourselves lest that day come upon us like a trap. The last day may not be here yet, but it is coming. You can be certain of that.

Instead of living like we have all the time in the world, we see the signs of the times, for these things were written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.[12] We stay awake at all times, praying that we may be kept in the strength of our Savior so that we might escape all these things that are going to take place when Christ returns.[13] May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another as you wait for the day of Christ’s return.[14] And when you see these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.[15]

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[1] Luke 21:25

[2] Matthew 24:6-8

[3] Luke 21:34

[4] Malachi 4:1-2

[5] Mark 16:16

[6] Luke 21:28

[7] Hebrews 12:1-2

[8] 2 Corinthians 5:19-21

[9] Matthew 27:46

[10] Romans 6:3

[11] Romans 6:5

[12] Romans 15:5

[13] Luke 21:36

[14] Romans 15:6

[15] Luke 21:28

People of the Promise

People of the Promise
Genesis 3:1-24; Luke 1:68-79
Advent Midweek 1
December 2, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

            We often hear that the Bible is the most widely read book in the history of the world, yet most of us know that the Bible isn’t really one single book. It’s actually a collection of historical narratives, letters, poetry, and prophecy. These 66 documents were written in 3 different languages by about 40 different authors over the span of about 1500 years. Yet despite all this variety, when you walk into the Christian bookstore Open-Bible-with-Pentoday you will find these documents bound together in a single volume with a single title: the Bible. What is it that unites these documents? What is the thread that ties them all together? In many ways, that thread is the promise of reconciliation.

The book of Genesis tells us of our beginnings. Yes, it spends some time on creation, maybe not as much as we might like in our age of idolizing scientific data. No, Genesis is not nearly as concerned with describing the “how” of creation as it is with relaying to us the history of the Fall and its consequences. At its birth, creation was a place where God and humanity lived together in harmony. But as we heard a few moments ago, our first parents broke that relationship. Their sin, the very sin which we still live in and perpetuate today, has made us enemies of God.

But our Lord immediately put into motion his plan of reconciliation, a plan that started with a promise. He promised the seed of woman, an offspring to be his Messiah, the one to restore what was broken. He spelled out what would happen as a result of their sin, that now the ground would no longer yield food willingly, but Adam and Eve and all their descendants down to this very day would have to struggle to survive. He warned Eve of the pain she and her daughters would now feel in childbirth, a particularly poignant curse, because motherhood is one of the most fundamental elements to womanhood, but now it would bring as much pain as joy. And the Lord barred them from the tree of life so that they did not continue to eat regularly from the tree and remain in their suffering for until he came again.

The rest of the Old Testament is bound together as the story of how our Lord kept that promise alive among his people, how he helped them through the struggle of this life, and how he worked to bring fulfillment to that promise. We hear of God’s further promises to Noah and Abraham, to Moses and the Israelites as he delivers them into the Promised Land. We hear of how our Lord started to establish reconciliation with the world through the people of Israel. The priests of Israel were called to regularly pray for the sins of the world. The people of Israel were called to overcome the curse of the Fall by bearing one another’s burdens, both spiritually and financially. They were called to provide for the sick and poor, for the widows and orphans. They were called to forgive any grudges they might Is25hold against one another. They were called to be reconciled to God and to each other.

And yet, as we continue to read the Old Testament, we hear of how the people of God turned their back on his promise time and time again, choosing instead to indulge the things of this dying world. We hear from the prophets how the Israelites failed to provide for the needy in their midst, choosing instead to stuff their bellies and drink too much wine. We hear how the people of God chased after false gods like a teenage boy away at college for the first time chases after anything with a skirt and a pulse. Yet through it all, our Lord remained faithful to the word he spoke in the garden. There may have been consequences for the Israelites from time to time, droughts and famines and captivities. But reading the prophets shows us that these consequences indicate that our Lord had not given up on his people. After all, you only discipline those you love. If you care nothing for someone, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to their actions. It’s when you love someone that you are moved to intercede in their lives and attempt to change their bad decisions. Through the entire history of Israel, the good and the bad, our Lord worked for reconciliation.

Until one day he announced that reconciliation was at hand. He told the priest Zechariah that the time had come for the prophet who would prepare the way for the Messiah, and that prophet would be Zechariah’s own son John. When John was born, his father broke out in the song we just heard. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. He has remembered his covenant that he promised to Abraham, and the time has come for him to act in mercy toward his people. And my son will be blessed because he will bring knowledge of this salvation to all people, because of the tender mercy of God.” Zechariah rejoices in the reconciliation that God is bringing about, rejoices that the Father in Heaven is acting on his promise to reunite God and man.

And so the Messiah was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth and was crucified, died, and buried outside Jerusalem. And he lives. And God and man are reconciled through him, for he is both God and man.  And as the Apostle Paul says, our Lord has now given to us the ministry of reconciliation. Yet another promise, a promise similar to the one given to crossour first parents in the Garden long ago. This time the promise is not for a seed to crush the serpent’s head, but a promise of a new heaven and a new earth. A promise of a new creation free from sin and sickness and death and tragedy. A creation where God and humanity are truly and fully reconciled once again.  This is the promise we cling to. This is the hope for which we wait.

This is the reconciliation we celebrate throughout the year. At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of the Messiah. We celebrate that God became man so that humanity and God might be reconciled. At Easter we celebrate the sacrifice that brought about the reconciliation. The rest of the year we celebrate what it means to live in this reconciliation. We celebrate with Zechariah the fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and his descendants. And like Zechariah, we look forward to the fulfillment of God’s next promise, the one that will see us delivered from this valley of tears on to the height of the holy mountain of the Lord, the one on which they will neither hurt nor destroy.

And we wait. Like the people of God waited for him to fulfill his Garden promise, we wait. Like the Israelites waited for God to raise up a horn of salvation from the house of his servant David, we wait. Like the Israelites looked forward to that day when they might serve God without fear, we wait. We wait for the time when we will be delivered from the fear of our enemies so that we might serve our Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him for all eternity.  We are people of the Promise, awaiting the day of its fulfillment.

And while we wait, we live in the ministry of reconciliation that has been given to us. We repent of our sin, we repent of the brokenness between God and man, we confess that we are to blame, that we have broken it. We repent of our sin and rejoice in the gift of reconciliation that Jesus won for us. We live reconciled to God through the words of his forgiveness spoken by a man who stands in the stead of and speaks by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. We live reconciled through the gifts of bread and wine, which are the body and blood of our Lord himself for the strengthening of our faith. We live reconciled to one another, not holding each other’s sins against one another, but living in the joy of forgiveness, building one another up in love. We live reconciled to our community, providing a school as a ministry to the world around us, not just for what we might get out of it, but for what we can give through it. We live in the Promise of God and share that Promise with the people around us.

The books of the Bible are bound together by the Promise of Reconciliation and the story of its fulfillment. We are part of that story. We are people of the promise: the promise that our Lord made in the garden all those years ago, the promise which he sustained throughout the days of the Old Testament, the promise that he fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of the Savior who was born as a baby in Bethlehem, the promise that through baptizing and teaching he is with us always to the end of the age, and the promise that he will come again to claim us as his own and to take us to be with him in paradise for all eternity. And so, as People of the Promise we pray:

Come, Jesus, come, Messiah Lord,
Lost Paradise restore;
Lead past the angel’s flaming sword—
Come open heaven’s door. (LSB 342 st. 4)

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