Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sermon for 4/20/17: Funeral of + Bernadine Liefer +

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Rest for God's People
Hebrews 4:9

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is from the fourth chapter of Hebrews. We consider verse nine:

There remains a rest for the people of God.

Death comes in many ways and at many different times in life. When we attempt to judge the way and time of death by our human standards and forget the will of God, sometimes it seems to come too soon. It may take an infant that has barely begun to live from the arms of its grieving mother, or a young man or woman in the prime of life, snuffing out the flame of life that seemed to burn so brightly for them. And the very purpose of their existence seems frustrated. At other times it may strike with apparent tragedy, taking a young mother from her children, or leaving a young husband without his wife. At such times, the question “Why?” haunts our thoughts and makes acceptance hard.
But no such situation meets us here this day. Yes, the family circle has been broken, and a dear mother and grandmother has been taken. But in the end, death itself came to Bernadine as another of the many blessings from the Lord she had known throughout her life. Her burden of suffering and weakness has been lifted from her. The Lord has given her a holy rest after long and painful labor. And if ever there was a person who was ready to rest—ready to be done with the pains of earthly life, ready to find the peace which comes at long last to God’s people, ready to be done with eyes that no longer saw and ears that could barely hear—it was Bernadine.
The writer of the words of our text drew on something from the past: the Old Testament Sabbath day. After God had created the world and everything in it, He rested in the seventh day; He ceased His creative activity. And in like manner, our Lord Jesus Christ completed the work of salvation for us, and then He rested. He went to the cross bearing our sins. As Peter reminds us, we have not been redeemed with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, but with the holy, precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without spot or blemish. That blood of the Son of God cleanses from all sin. And when His suffering was complete, He said, “It is finished.” And then He rested in the grave before He rose in triumph on Easter morning. He then ascended to eternal glory, to that eternal day of heaven, where all the saints of God are gathered together. This is a rest that is to be shared, a “rest for the people of God.”
And this is where we receive our comfort, our hope—and yes, even our joy and thanksgiving this day: “There is a rest that remains for the people of God.” For those who hear the Gospel in faith, that rest comes from Jesus, who went to His rest after laboring for the salvation of the world. And just as Jesus said, “It is finished,” so now the work has ended for Bernadine; she has joined the saints at rest. Of those saints, Scripture says: These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
We do not grieve as those who have no hope. We do not begrudge Bernadine the fulfillment of God’s promise to her, the hope in Jesus Christ that so filled her life. The circumstances of death are seldom pleasant, but the fulfillment of God’s promise is pleasant. That promise rises above sin and death. And in this we find our comfort, joy, and thanksgiving. The eternal Sabbath day is a day of rest, and that rest is in Christ. After the suffering that often makes up the end of our days, we receive rest in Christ.
And so it is that we can truly take to heart those words of St. Paul: “Where , O Death, is Your Sting? O Grave, where is Your victory?” For Bernadine, the sting of death is gone, and the grave has been undone by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the victory of eternal life over death—a victory we rejoiced to celebrate this very week. God grant you comfort and hope from this. As we rejoice that Bernadine now rests from her labors without fear, without suffering or tears, we rejoice all the more in Jesus and His salvation—a fully-realized joy for Bernadine who now sees Him face to face, and the bright future for you who walk as yet by faith. He will comfort you in the days ahead, and, just as He has done for our beloved Bernadine, He will grant you that holy rest in His time. 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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