Monday, September 10, 2012

Sermon: The Funeral of Tille Gerberding

A Future of Peace
Psalm 37:37

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Our text is Tillie’s Confirmation verse, Psalm 37:37.  We consider this verse:

Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace.

Thus far our text.

Our Gospel for this past Sunday was the parable of the Good Samaritan. You may recall the tale: how a man is beaten by bandits and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest and a Levite, seeing the man, pass by on the other side of the road, lest they become ritually unclean. Finally a Samaritan, an enemy of the Jews, passes. He sees the man on the road, takes him to town on his own donkey, tends the man himself, and provides for the man’s further care. The Samaritan was the true neighbor to the beaten man, even though he was supposedly an enemy to him. The priest and the Levite, men who knew the Law of God and should have been willing to help the man, passed by him, making themselves dead in sin in their desire to avoid a moment of ritual uncleanness.

The example of the Good Samaritan illustrates what David meant when he wrote, “Mark the blameless man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace.” Certainly the Samaritan was upright; he demonstrated love toward his neighbor by helping him when no one else would dare to help—not even those considered most upright in the eyes of the world. And it makes even more sense when we realize that, when Jesus is talking about the Good Samaritan, He is really talking about Himself. No one can perfectly love his neighbor except for Jesus. And so, when we sinners try to love our neighbors, it is only by the power of Christ within us through the waters of Holy Baptism that we succeed.

The psalmist tells us that the future of such a person is peace. I know that I’m preaching to the choir when I say that Tillie Gerberding demonstrated the love of Christ throughout her life. So if the future of the blameless and upright is supposed to be one of peace, then why did she suffer so long? Why was so little of her later life spent in the nursing home in pain? Why didn’t she get to experience the peaceful future that David says is the reward for such a life?

The unfortunate truth is that, as loving and as generous and as compassionate a woman as Tillie was, Tillie was also a sinner. Sinners suffer and die—not because God wants us to suffer or die, but because through our sin we have brought death upon ourselves. Sin demands payment, and that payment is death.  This is what our hearts fear when we see death at work among us, and it is good that we do. We know then that whether we live or die is a question that is taken out of our hands.  We cannot stop our death; we cannot save ourselves.  And that moves us to recognize that, unless God has an answer to our sin and death, there can be no hope for us.

It is our supreme joy that God does, indeed, have the answer to sin and death. Someone else has paid the price for our peace, and that was our dear Lord Jesus Christ.  The price was His own life. The purchase price of our peace was the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our only Savior. Our sin has been met with His redemption. Our death has been met and overcome in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He died, and He has risen from the dead! Our sin could not hold Him forever. Death could not bind Him in the grave. He came out of His grave alive, with the promise that those who live and believe in Him will never really die, but will live in the hope of the resurrection, when all our bodies will come out of their graves, and the bodies and souls of His faithful ones will live eternally in peace with Him.

How, then, does His life become our life? How does his righteousness make for our peace? When all else fails, our Baptism remains. On those days when Tillie could not recognize what was going on around her, she remained a baptized child of God. When our ears can no longer hear God’s Word, when our eyes can no longer see the altar of His presence, when our bodies fail us, when our minds can no longer comprehend, Baptism remains. In Holy Baptism our Lord called us by name and made us His own. We die with Him in those waters. Our sin drowns. And just as Jesus has risen, He raises us with Him into new lives, blameless lives in Christ, lives that, even when our bodies die, will go on forever. That is our future peace. That does not give us a license to sin or to live in sin, but we have the comfort that, when we repent of our sin, it is forgiven, no longer held against us.

As we await that day when His peace becomes fully ours—as it has now for Tillie—let us take our comfort in the fact that, in Holy Baptism, He has called our names and linked them forever with His own. Because we are His, there will be no trouble—not the battle of living, not the struggle of dying, not the fight with grief—that will ever overcome us and take us away from Him. Tillie was a baptized child of God, and He has now given her in full that peace which the world cannot give, the peace which is her legacy as a child of God. As baptized children of God, that peace is your legacy, too, your inheritance from your heavenly Father. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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