Monday, September 4, 2017

Sermon September 2-3, 2017

Title: Dropping dead in Jesus!
Text: Matt 16:21-28

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Death is part of life. It’s heartbreaking. We see those we love … no more.

At times we can anticipate death and prepare for its arrival. Other times death is thrust upon us when we least expect it - leaving little or no time to prepare for the loss, confusion, and sorrow that is left behind.

At times death is met by denial.

No way! I don’t believe it! I was just with them!

Or … it is met with the sad question, “What’s in it for me?”

In our gospel for today and immediately following Peter’s confession of faith from last week 21 … Jesus began to show his disciples [and to prepare them for death … his death] that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Death was real for Jesus. He knew it would come; he knew his purpose in our redemption … but his disciples didn’t yet fully understand.

Certainly Peter didn’t. For what a change we see in Peter, as he goes from confessing: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Receiving praise from Christ for his good confession revealed by the Father to in the span of 4 short verses saying: “Never, Lord!” … “This shall never happen to you!” So much for building the church on Peter the man as the stern rebuke of the Lord confirms …

23 … “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; But also for each one of us (you and me) as we too wrestle with the Saint / sinner dichotomy within us both redeemed in Christ and bound in sin.

So, Jesus tells Peter: You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Human concerns though, are real; especially when they affect us and we’d rather not think about the one major human concern that we all have - death and the consequences it brings.

As one loved one said to me after the funeral of her deceased boyfriend:

“We didn’t make plans for this. This was so unexpected.”

We are a self aware people and many look to self when death is near. For me as a pastor and for those under my care, it can be heartbreaking. Driving as I often do to visit shut-ins I am always reminded of those blessed departed souls that are no longer on my list to visit having departed to be with the Lord.

Planning for a funeral for we who remain has changed in our day as well, as many who take care for the affairs on the deceased are no longer active church members themselves or at times even believers so the emphasis has gone:

From the pastor and the church - to the funeral director and funeral home

From the reality of death seen in light of Christ and his resurrection - to a simple celebration of life

From death as our enemy - to death as our friend at times even over age and sickness

From the congregation of the saints - to simple family and friends

From the resurrection of the body imperishable - to the immortality of the soul

From burial - to cremation

Rev. William Cwirla Reformation Insights into the Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying

These are just some of the changes I’ve seen inside and outside the church and as one who gets to proclaim Christ, at member and nonmember funerals alike, the trend has become similar.

Death becomes sanitized, life accomplishments heralded, and pictures of a life well lived celebrated. 

It is good to celebrate life, it is a gift of God ... but so is eternal life.

But Jesus says in our gospel:

26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

For the Christian, sin and death has been killed with Christ’s death. And we who have been brought to faith in Christ have been raised with him in his glorious resurrection to a life eternal. So as we deal with the impending death of a loved one or think about death and that reality that waits in our own lives, how should we think?

Martin Luther in a letter to his dying mother thought this way and wrote in this way:

“Dear death, dear sin, how is it that you are alive and terrify me? Do you not know that you have been overcome? Do you, Death, not know that you are quite dead? Do you not know the one who has said to you, “I have overcome the world?”

Luther’s letter to his dying mother (Letters of Spiritual counsel)

Death is not good. Death was not God’s plan … for you. Death is a result of sin and the fall and we are born in sin and born to die. How else could we understand the lunacy that is this broken and corrupt world where we live? But there is good news for we who hope in Christ and have overcome death because Christ has overcome death for you and for me triumphing over it at the cross.

Dropping dead in Jesus was a workshop on pastoral care that I attended at the, Liturgy, Preaching and Church Music conference in Chicago the past July. Our church, like the whole Christian church on earth, is a dying church; and I don’t just mean declining members that we see in the pews in the earthly sense, because for us - death – closes the temporal exposing the immortal.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. 1 Cor. 15:42-44

Our hope is in Christ, whether we depart this life to be with the Lord at death or the Lord returns to gather you and me, the wheat into his barns, we will be and we have the guarantee that we will be raised with the Lord and will be with the Lord forever.

Those whose hope is not in the Lord … have no hope at all.

As Luther writes in his preface to the Burial Hymns:

“Since they are beyond the pale of faith in Christ, they must either, cherish this temporal life as the only thing worthwhile and hate to lose it, or expect that after this life they will receive eternal death and the wrath of God in hell and must fear to go there.”

LW 53:325-326

It is in keeping with the text of our gospel today where Jesus says:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life [in this temporal and broken world] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake [being made God’s child by the working of the Holy Spirit] will find it.

In keeping with that joyful understanding of losing our life for Christ’s sake and receiving life eternal as we in this life take up our own cross, let us sing together the 3rd verse of Hymn #708 from our Lutheran Service Book, for your convenience written in our bulletin.

Lord Thee I Love With All My Heart.

3 Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!

Amen

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