Sermon for the Funeral of Lucille Brockberg
Dear members of Lucille’s family, her friends, and members of St. John’s: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
At a funeral service, I find that there are often younger people, and maybe some not so young, who are trying to find the place for religion in their lives. They’re asking themselves, “Does this mean anything to me? Is this just something my parents cared about?” But then, at some point, everybody faces something he or she can’t handle, something that shakes us up. Maybe it’s the biggest stress we’ve yet faced in this life. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one. Maybe it’s an unexpected diagnosis of a dangerous disease. Or maybe it’s the eventual realization that we have to face the end of this life. And suddenly we wish there could be some place to turn—or Someone to turn to—outside ourselves.
Then maybe those who’ve gone before can teach us something after all. Turning to their example we see that as they learned and grew their faith became absolutely foundational. It’s not an old-fashioned thing; it’s not a generational thing. Each of us needs a firm foundation so we know how to face the fears of life and beyond. Lucille, I think, is one of those people from whom we can learn because she knew where her Christian faith fit into all this. Lucille knew she could face her fears because her Redeemer promised to deliver her from them all.
It is this kind of confidence to which the Lord encourages His people in our text for today, Isaiah 43:1-3a.: “But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’”
In the verse immediately preceding our text, Isaiah announced God’s wrath upon His people. They did not obey His Law; they were blind and deaf to all that God had done for them. God would certainly have been justified in abandoning such ungrateful and stubborn people to their own sins. The phrase “But now,” however, introduces something unexpected. We read tender words of faithful love from the Lord, the God of free and abundant grace.
Isaiah tells us that this message come from the Lord Himself. These are words of hope and encouragement in the midst of fear and despair. This is important. There are many philosophies, ideas, and different ways to live life out there in the world. There are many strategies people try in order to handle fear—some of them relatively successful and others abject failures. You can be crippled by fear. You can bury your head in the sand and try to act as if no problem existed. You can try to handle it yourself until you break under the pressure. Or you can turn to the Lord and listen to what He says.
Isaiah tells us something about this God who speaks to His people. This Lord is “He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel.” Notice the repetition. That’s how Hebrew poetry works. Say something, and then repeat it with a little twist to deepen our understanding of it. Here, God says: “I have created you,” but then adds: “I have formed you.” That’s a closer relationship. “You are not an accident produced through a series of random events,” God is saying. “No, I ‘formed’ you. Like a potter with a piece of clay, I have lovingly and skillfully molded you and shaped you. From the time of your conception, while you were yet in the womb, I have been actively involved in your life.”
Then come two great words that are the theme of our text: “Fear not.” This unexpected announcement to set aside fear comes for three reasons; all three of them trace the comfort back to the Lord Himself: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
These sweet words of comfort apply first of all to God’s faithful people in the days of Isaiah. Centuries before, the Lord had redeemed His people from their bondage in Egypt, claiming them as His own. Now, in spite of their continued rebelliousness, the Lord would again redeem His people from Babylon. In the troubled days ahead, these words sustained God’s people. God Himself had said, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” But they also treasured these words for the promise of a deeper, more significant redemption with the coming of the Messiah.
When we read and hear these words thousands of years later, we too find comfort in them. The Lord has redeemed us too, but from a greater bondage. By our sins, we were slaves of sin and in bondage to death and punishment. The Lord redeemed us from sin, death, and hell. He bought us with the price of the blood of Christ on Calvary. God called us by name when He washed us in the water of Baptism. All believers belong to the Lord; we are His possession, His chosen people. And so, His promises are ours as well, including His promise to “Fear not.”
But it is easier said than done, isn’t it? Life is full of fears. I’m sure that Lucille went through most of them. Growing up—that’s terrifying for everybody, isn’t it? We each struggle to find our own identity. We wonder what our life will be like, where we’ll work, if we’ll ever get married. When we do tie the knot, there’s the fear and tough business of making it work.
Lucille and Harvey went through more than 50 years together facing the fears every couple faces: finding a job, the ups and downs of family farming, making a home, planning for the future. Along came children, and Lucille and Harvey suddenly had a whole host of new fears! There was worry about paying the bills, keeping the kids fed and healthy, the friends they hung around with, and the choices they’d make as they established their own way in the world. Finally, in life, Lucille, like each of us, had to deal with her own shortcomings, her own insecurities, her own sinfulness, and ultimately, her own mortality.
Lucille could have become worrisome and anxious, but she kept hearing the Lord’s voice saying, “Fear not. I not only made you, but I came in the flesh as one of you. I was born of a woman that I would experience everything that you can experience. I understand. So don’t be afraid. I redeemed you on the cross when I took all your sins upon Myself. Every bit of punishment due you ended right there. I want you to live free, not fearfully, for you are My daughter. I redeemed you, and in My resurrection even the last enemy—death—has been defeated. Fear not.”
As the Lord said to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, He also said to Lucille: “I have called you by name.” That happened over 92 years ago when Lucille was baptized. At that moment God said, “Lucille, you are My child. You are Mine. I called you by My name. No one shall ever pluck you from My hand.” And to make sure Lucille stayed in His flock, the Lord fed her regularly in the worship service with His life-giving Word and His own true body and blood for the forgiveness of her sins and the strengthening of her faith.
God sustains us through even our most difficult times. And, let’s face it: life in this world does have its difficult times. But our Lord promises to be with us: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” Notice how the Lord says, “When you pass through the waters…” It is not a matter of if you pass through the waters, but when. In this fallen world we can expect, we must expect difficulties, troubles, and trials to come. Because of sin such things are inevitable.
Even so, the Lord promises, “The rivers… shall not overwhelm you.” Oh yes, they will bother you; they will try you; they may make you want to give up. But fear not. I will be with you. “When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
It probably won’t surprise those of you who knew her best, but the few times when I visited with Lucille alone, she wasn’t interested in talking about herself and how she was doing for very long. She preferred to talk about how much God had truly blessed her. She wanted to talk about her life, her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren. She was more concerned about you than she was concerned for herself.
You know why? Because she believed God’s words: “Fear not.” Lucille wasn’t afraid of her last days or her final moments because she knew she was redeemed. She knew that the Lord had called her by name and made her His through the water and Word. She knew her Good Shepherd would be with her as she walked through the valley of the shadow of death. She knew her final destination was to be with the Lord. That let her enjoy talking about other things. That let her focus her attention on your welfare, on your successes and challenges, on your walk of faith, rather than on her own weakness and advancing age.
And so, I’m sure that Lucille would want me to take this opportunity to direct your attention away from her and point you back to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ one more time. Listen again to her confirmation verse, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Only in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and His life-giving Word will you find freedom in the midst of bondage, hope in the midst of despair, peace in the midst of fear, strength in the midst of weakness, life in the midst of death. Only in Jesus will you find forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. May God grant each of you to know His saving love. Amen.