Saturday, July 22, 2017

Wheat or Weeds?

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“Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A man and his wife had just moved from an apartment in a large city to a new home out in the country. It was springtime and he was eager to get outdoors and work in the large flower garden the former owners had made back of the house. But everything was pushing up at once—tulips, thistles, blades of grass, hyacinths, weeds, and dandelions! And then there were those curious, fuzzy leaves that were coming up all over the garden.
The garden had to be weeded. But there was a hitch—which ones were the weeds? The obvious ones were no problem. But what about those with the fuzzy leaves? So he asked his neighbor. “Oh, they’re weeds!” the neighbor answered. His wife said, “No, I think they’re some kind of flower.”
But the man thought, “There are just too many of them. Besides, they’re kind of ugly—they’re probably just weeds!” So he pulled and pulled and started to clean out the garden and all the fuzzy leaves. Unfortunately, as anyone who’s ever weeded a garden knows, no matter how careful he was he still ended up pulling a few of the plants that he wanted to save.
Just before he was finished a sudden rain shower came up. He got busy with other things and ended up leaving one little patch of fuzzy leaves on the end—where the most beautiful, brilliant yellow daisies bloomed in late summer. Moral of the story: You must be careful when you’re pulling weeds. And as Jesus points out in our text, you also must be careful how you react to weed-like behavior. Just because something looks like a weed, it doesn’t mean it is.
As a Christian, I must confess that there are times when I get frustrated and discouraged by evil in the world. And since that evil is carried out by people, I get angry with the people who do such evil. Like the terrorists who turn themselves into bombs, or the “churches” that bend doctrine and practice to the whims of social justice warriors, judges who legislate from the bench, government officials that fail to speak up for the poor, weak, helpless, and hopeless.  
There are even times when I get frustrated at people who profess faith in Christ, who claim to be heirs of His kingdom, but who do some very weed-like things. Maybe you feel that way too. We may want to take matters into our own hands. We may want to lash out or passive-aggressively make them aware they aren’t welcome around us.
Can you relate? Is that the way you feel? If so, you’re in the right place! Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds is intended for our hearing, so listen up! Not only does Christ intend that hearing His parable will ease our frustration, but much more, He also intends that His Word would yield kingdom heirs, more heirs of the kingdom than if He simply stamped out all evil right now.
Last week, in the parable of the sower, we saw that God’s Word is the seed that works in people’s hearts, bringing them to faith in Christ. But one of the obstacles to a fertile faith is weedy soil. Jesus explained that the cares of this world and greed for wealth choke off the good plants.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds is a history of the world from creation to Judgment Day. God plants good seed that becomes the good plants, heirs of His kingdom. Unfortunately, the enemy of God, the devil, has also been at work in the world sowing weeds. Having failed in his attempted coup of heaven, Satan has launched a counterattack. Not able to touch God Himself, Satan lashes out at the Lord’s highest creation—man. Not able to defeat Christ—the Seed of the Woman, Satan seeks to defile Christ’s bride—the Church.
But remember, though the devil is powerful and dangerous to us, his power is limited. The devil can’t create but can only destroy. Deception and intimidation are the main weapons in his arsenal. His twisted sense of joy comes not from watching his weeds grow but from watching the wheat die. So he has sown his bad seed—sin—into the world.
Sin is lawlessness, rebellion against God. And just like the weeds that plagued those who work the soil ever since the fall of our first parents, sin has infested this world. The whole creation is in bondage and groans inwardly as it awaits redemption because of that first seed of sin that was sown. We are born in bondage to sin, death, and the devil because that seed was sown.
Just look around and it’s easy to see. Obvious examples include idolatry, murder, abortion, sexual sins, child abuse, substance abuse, greed, slander, and gossip. I’m sure we could go on for hours decrying all the evil that is out there in the world and how things need to change. We might even leave here feeling good about ourselves, about how in tune we are spiritually, how much we care, and how we are so much farther along in our own personal growth than others seem to be.
But that would be a distraction from the real reason why we are here. We are not here to change society, to weed out the evil; we are here to be changed ourselves by God’s Law and Gospel. We are here to learn about the weeds that have been sown into our own lives, and how the Lord deals with the evil in us with His Word, bringing us to repentance. We are here to learn how to deal gently, lovingly, and patiently with the weeds that have been sown in others.
Like the sins I’ve already mentioned, some weeds are obvious. But the weeds in this parable are most likely darnel, which has grass-like foliage and spikes resembling that of wheat and barley. In fact, darnel looks so much like good grain that it’s hard to distinguish it until the time the heads develop. By then it’s much too late to take care of the weeds without harming the intended crop itself.
God works through His Word and Sacraments to plant good wheat in His kingdom of grace (the Church), but the devil is still hard at work even there planting weeds. And it’s hard to tell them apart! Hypocrites continue to exist within the Church, and because only God can see into a person’s heart, they may go undetected and even rise to positions of responsibility and oversight.
And, because Christians are at the same time sinner and saint, we sometimes do weed-like things out of weakness, too. No wonder people often blame God or the church with the actions of individual people or associate an outward structure or form of polity as the Church instead of recognizing the marks of the Church as God’s Word and Sacraments.
But Jesus’ parable helps us understand why things are the way they are. Things are the way they are because this present age is a period of grace. The wheat and the weeds are intermingled in the world and in the visible church. To pull one may pull out the other. That’s why we are to be careful with others in the world, and must especially be careful with how we deal with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. In our efforts to root out what we think to be the weeds, we could end up damaging a lot of wheat. We could end up damaging or tearing out someone else’s faith or we could cause damage to the Church at large.
We are called to look in faith to the Sower. He came to fulfill all righteousness and be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Through His Word and Sacraments, Christ is active in making us wheat and heirs of His kingdom of glory. In Baptism, He clothes us in His righteousness. In His Body and Blood we receive forgiveness and are strengthened in faith unto life everlasting.
We are called to be patient, confident the harvest will come. We are not to take matters into our own hands. Church history provides many examples of this terrible mistake, each of which caused a whole lot of unnecessary damage to the Church and its individual members.
This does not mean that we should ignore false doctrine or openly impenitent sinners. We are to patiently seek reconciliation with a brother who has sinned against us, but when a professing Christian is publicly living in sin we are to call them to account, praying they will recognize the error of their ways. Yet, with respect to sins of weakness on the part of fellow believers, “love covers over a multitude of sins.” Love is patient, kind, selfless, and keeps no record of wrongs.
God is using this time of grace to work in our lives. What is more, God is using this time to work in other people’s lives. Each of us has a lot of weed-like behavior that still must be removed, but Christ has died for all those sins. Knowing this, helps us patiently expect the way things will be. The harvest is coming. Our loving Savior will send His angels on the Last Day to gather the harvest. We are called to trust that He, not we, will do the sorting. Those who have not believed in Christ Jesus will face the torments of hell.
But Jesus doesn’t want that to happen to anyone. That’s why He closes this parable: “He who has ears, let him hear.” Our loving Savior doesn’t want this parable to go in one ear and out the other. So He calls us to trust that faith in Jesus Christ will distinguish us from the sons of the devil. He calls us to trust that through Christ, we will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of [our] Father.” 
He who is the Sower and the Lord of the harvest calls you to trust that He will save you and bring you to the heavenly kingdom of His Father. So, as you are confronted with the evidence of evil all around you, don’t lose heart. Our Lord calls you patiently to trust Him as He patiently reaches out to others. He has begun a good work in you. He is faithful and will bring it to completion on the day of the harvest. Even now, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Sower Still Sows

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“A sower went out to sow” (Matthew 13:3).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Leaving the house where He was staying in Capernaum, Jesus went out and sat by the lake. As large crowds gathered around Him, Jesus got into a boat and sat down to teach. With the rise of land on the west serving as a natural amphitheater, the people stood on the shore and listened as Jesus told a series of parables.
Parables are stories of comparison, using something familiar in human experience to teach and to bring home a better understanding of the kingdom of God. The Greek word means literally “to throw alongside,” as in “throwing” a story of something well-known alongside a corresponding lesson with a deeper, hidden meaning. So, in more ways than one, “The Parable of the Sower” is a fitting example for Jesus to use to explain to His disciples how to understand parables.
"The Sower" by Eugene Burnand
A sower sows his seed, and some falls upon the hardened pathway dividing the field. Some birds come and eat it up before it gets a chance to grow.


Much of Palestine consists of rocky elevations where the underlying rock comes close to the surface and has only a thin covering of earth. Some of the seeds fall in this stony soil. Since the rock holds the heat, there is a quick sprouting and shooting up out of the ground, but a still quicker scorching by the sun, since the roots have no chance to enter deeply into the ground to find life-giving water.
Other seeds fall among the thorns, where the plow was used, but had not succeeded in clearing away all the thorn roots. The hardier weeds steal air, light, and moisture from the tender stalks of grain, and choke them out.
But other seeds fall upon good soil. The good soil produces one hundred, sixty, or thirty times what is sown—yields unheard of until the last century with modern tillage practices, herbicides, and hybrid seed.
Jesus’ closing words: “He who has ears, let him hear,” hint that there is a hidden meaning in the story, and that every hearer should find this meaning and apply it properly to spiritual life. Later, as He’s alone with His disciples, Jesus explains the parable, providing them a concrete example of how they can find the hidden meaning in other parables and apply them to their own spiritual lives.
The seed that is sown for the kingdom is the Word of God. Jesus is the Sower. He sows the seed of the Word, either personally, as in the days of His earthly ministry, or through His servants, as now.
But there are also four distinct kinds of spiritual soil.
There are some that come into contact with the Church. They hear about Jesus. But they do not take the Word into their hearts and minds. It never becomes a real factor in their lives. In this case, the Evil One, Satan, has little difficulty in snatching away the truth, which they’ve just barely grasped.
Some people accept the Word eagerly. But their faith is not rooted deeply enough to withstand disappointment, tribulations, or the resulting persecution on account of the Word. It is interesting that in this parable the sun is used to represent tribulation and persecution. The seed that is sown must have sun to grow as it should. That’s what makes it produce a crop. Just as little as grain grows without the sun, so little does the Word thrive in us without our suffering “because of the Word.” In good soil, the sun (or persecution) encourages and enables growth. But where the soil is shallow, where the rock (the hidden hardness in a man’s heart) is found, the same conditions that cause others to grow in faith, lead to falling away.
Not much different are those who hear the Word with at least an intellectual acceptance, but their hearts have not been properly cleared. The cares and worries of this world, or the love and desire of riches, fill their hearts and capture their attention, and choke out any faith in their souls.
But by God’s grace, some hear the Word and listen to it.
Some would try to limit the parable to what happens in the very first contact of the Word with the human heart. But that puts the emphasis in the wrong place. It would simply suggest that some soils are fitter for receiving the seed of everlasting life than others. But by nature, none of us is fit soil for the seed of the Word. Our hearts are hardened like stone, full of thorns and thistles and all kinds of noxious weeds. We need to be prepared and tilled by the Sower.
What the parable and its explanation describe is the final fate of the Word in the hearts of men. When life is done, some show a harvest, all the rest show none. Some never let the Word in, some never let it root, and some choke its growth. But this final fate of the Word is shown us now, before life is done. This is done because, though no man can change himself, God has means to change us all into good soil for His Word—that very same Word.
Jesus, the Sower, comes to sow His Word. Wherever He goes, He proclaims His Law and Gospel. In His Law, He declares that we are sinful, prone to worship all sorts of false gods, and have no hope of saving ourselves, any more than a field of grain can sow and harvest itself. But Jesus also announces the joyous news that all who trust in Him will be saved. He sows this seed of salvation everywhere, because He has died for all and desires all to believe and be saved.
Sadly, not all will believe. In fact, even as Jesus proclaims this message, His enemies are growing in numbers and are plotting against Him. Giving in to the temptations of the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh, they have Him arrested, tortured, and crucified. But three days later, He rises from the dead.
Risen and ascended, Jesus still comes to His people. The Sower still sows His seed of the Gospel so that many might hear and believe. He sends His apostles to make disciples of all nations. How? By baptizing and teaching all that He has commanded. In other words, He sends His apostles to sow the Word.
The apostles have long since been called to glory, but the sowing continues.
The task of the Church is to sow the Word—to proclaim our Lord’s Law and Gospel, the Word of the Lord, whom the devil, the world and the sinful flesh can no longer attack. But here’s the rub. Since the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh cannot attack the Lord of the Church, they do the cowardly thing. They attack His Bride. They seek to assault, defile, shame, and destroy His holy Church.
We Christians must be aware that the Word will be met with resistance. The devil will bombard those who hear the Gospel with all sorts of other messages to confuse them, snatch away the Word, and lead them to unbelief instead.
Satan will incite pressure and persecution upon the Church—sometimes in the form of physical violence, sometimes in the form of bad press or ridicule from popular culture. His purpose is to lead the weak and uninformed away by promising peace instead of strife; and, tragically, many will listen and follow. This is the stony ground of the parable, where the plants are scorched by the sun.
The world will also assault those who hear the Word with all sorts of cares of this world—it will tempt them to compromise or ignore the faith because it’s far more profitable to do so. It will tempt them to fill their life with too many other activities—even otherwise good activities—that will take away from the limited time and resources they could use to grow in their faith and serve the Lord and neighbor. This, our Lord says, is the weedy ground of the parable.
Christians must expect attacks when we faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When tempted to compromise, we must remain faithful to Christ alone. When such pressure comes, we are to hear the Word, meditate upon it, commend all things to the Lord in prayer, and proclaim the Word even more, as we rejoice in the salvation bought for us by Christ’s precious blood.
This is the Law; but we dare not ignore the rest of the parable, for there is such joyous Good News here, too. The Sower still sows. He will see to it that the Word is proclaimed. And, you see, wherever the Word is, He is.
The Sower still sows! By His Word, the only Son of God gives you forgiveness today. He who washed your sins away in Holy Baptism continues to keep you cleansed now. He speaks His Word of Holy Absolution, declaring that He has died for all of your sins. He feeds you with His own body and blood, to strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith until life everlasting.
This Sower is your Savior, and He does not abandon you. In Him you have forgiveness, life, and salvation. This is why we remain faithful to the message. True, we remain faithful to His Word because His Law warns us that to abandon it leads to eternal judgment. But there is a better reason. His Gospel gives eternal life—nothing else does. Why would we ever leave it, taint it, or turn from it to another message? And how can we not proclaim it to others? The Lord promises:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
The Sower, who shed His blood for you, still sows. He plants His Word of grace in you to give you life. He sustains you in your Baptismal life by feeding you with His Word and Sacraments. The devil, the world, and the Old Adam will rage and spit. But they’ve already lost. The Sower has defeated them at the cross, and He gives that victory to you. Nothing will keep Him from sowing His Word. Nothing will keep Him from declaring to you this Good News: You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The War Being Waged Within

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Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
There’s a war being waged in our very midst, but not many people are aware of it or they’ll try to deny it. The tyrant who once ran roughshod has been defeated for some time now, but there are still pockets of resistance. A remnant faithful to the previous regime stubbornly holds on. Insurgents stream in, wreaking havoc.
Oh, I’m not talking about Iraq or Bin-Laden or any part of the so-called war on terror. I’m speaking of a war much closer to home right now in our very midst. It’s the war being waged within each Christian every day of our life.  
Many people think Christian faith is about having a good attitude. Just try hard enough to follow God’s law and you’ll be able to live a Christian life. Such people haven’t truly experienced Christian faith. They don’t know how it works.
Yes, Satan, that old, tyrannical dictator has already been defeated and is now imprisoned, but he still wields considerable influence. His allies—the world and our own rebellious flesh—continue to provoke us to sin and attempt to lead us to eternal death. Though our Old Adam was crucified with Christ and buried with Him in Baptism, he still clings to our flesh. In fact, the old Adam becomes more tenacious as we increasingly struggle to carry out the will of the Lord.
Before I go on, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit not all these words and thoughts are original. Some are a paraphrase of an important work by Martin Luther called On Christian Freedom. But as brilliant a theologian as he was, Martin Luther did not come up with this understanding on his own, either. About 1,500 years earlier, St. Paul described this war in our text for today, Romans 7:22-23: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” 
The faith of a Christian can be summarized with two statements:
  • ·        A Christian is the most liberated master of everyone, and subject to no one.
  • ·        A Christian is the most dutiful servant of everyone and subject to everyone.

These statements seem contradictory, but they are not. To serve and obey whatever it loves is the very nature of love. Christ Himself was therefore both free and enslaved. He was in the form of God and the form of a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). Christ was Lord of all, but born of a woman, and under the law (Galatians 4:4).
A Christian finds himself much in the same situation. We also have two natures: a spiritual nature and a fleshly nature, sometimes called the new man and the old Adam. The reason why seemingly contradictory statements are often made in the Bible about Christians is due to this two-fold nature. The simple fact is that within each Christian two natures constantly oppose each other. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,” St. Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:17.
Let’s examine more closely the two sides in this great war that is being waged even as I speak. We will begin by considering the new man. There we will discover how a person is justified, liberated, and truly a Christian.
We must admit that no situation in life has any power to produce Christian righteousness or freedom. This fact can be demonstrated with a simple argument: What benefit is it to the soul if the body in which it resides is in good shape, enjoys political freedom, and lives a fulfilling life by eating and drinking whatever it likes, and doing whatever it wants? The most un-Christian person addicted to every kind of vice does the same thing. On the other hand: How is the soul harmed by a body which is out of shape, and experiences hunger, thirst, and every other type of external evil? Even the best Christian who enjoys a clear conscience is forced to deal with such things. It is obvious then that neither of these outward circumstances in life can have anything to do with either the freedom or the slavery of the soul.
No, something drastically different than such outward actions is needed to justify and free your soul. Only one thing is needed for life, justification, and Christian freedom: the most holy Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christ Himself says: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25). “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Yes, your body needs food, water, rest, clothing, and shelter. Without them it will soon die. But your soul can do without anything except the Word of God. Without the Word of God your soul receives absolutely nothing that it needs. With the Word of God your soul is rich and needs nothing else; for the Word of God is life, truth, light, peace, justification, salvation, joy, freedom, wisdom, virtue, grace, glory, and everything good.
Faith in Christ alone—His merits, His atoning sacrifice—justifies the Christian. No good works of ours, not even all the good works we’ve ever done, can compare with faith. No work can hold fast to the Word of God or be found in the soul. Only faith and the Word of God are found in the soul. As iron exposed to fire glows like the fire because of its union with it, so is the soul fashioned by the Word of God. Therefore faith accomplishes everything for you.
So what about the old Adam, the outer nature? Here we need to respond to those who by this point may be thinking: “If faith does everything and by itself is enough for our justification, why does God command good works? Are we to take it easy and do no good works? Should we be simply content with faith?”
Now if we were thoroughly and completely inner and spiritual Christians, that would certainly be the case. But such a spiritual state was lost to mankind in the Fall and it will not be seen again until the Last Day when the dead shall rise again. What we have now spiritually, is the first fruits of the Spirit. In the future, we shall have everything and the fullness of the Spirit. This is the reason for stating what I did before: The Christian is the servant of all and subject to all. In that part of life in which he is free, the Christian does no works. In that part in which he is a servant, the Christian does nothing but works. Let’s examine why this is so.
Inwardly, according to the Spirit, you are justified by faith, having everything you require spiritually. This very faith and abundance ought to increase every day until the future life. Nevertheless, you remain in this mortal life on earth, where it is necessary that you rule your own flesh and interact with other people. This is where the real work begins. This is where the war is waged. On this earth, you must not take it easy. Here you must exercise your flesh by fasting, praying, and other such disciplines. You do this so that the flesh is subdued by the Spirit, obeys it, and is conformed to the new man and faith.
The new man, being conformed to God and recreated in His image through faith, rejoices and delights in Christ as the source of all blessings and so has only one thing it must do: freely and joyously serve God in love. When your new man does this, however, it comes into conflict with the contrary will residing in your own flesh. The will of the flesh strives only to serve the world and seek its own gratification. The spirit of faith cannot and will not bear the will of the flesh, and so constantly strives to keep it in submission and restrain it.
This is why St. Paul writes in our text: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:22–23). Later he likens this action to training for a boxing match: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). And, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul exhorts: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
Such works, however, must not be done with the thought that it can justify you before God. Faith alone makes you righteous before God. No, the works of the Christian are for one purpose alone: to focus your efforts solely on bringing the body into submission and thus purify it from its sinful desires. Because of the basic requirements of your body, therefore, you cannot take it easy, but must, because of it, do many good works in order to keep it under submission.
These works do not justify you before God. You do them out of love, in service to God. You do good works for no other purpose than to do what is pleasing to Him whom you desire to obey in all things. Accordingly, it is up to each Christian to decide in what way you should subjugate your own body.
By this point, the reason for either shunning or embracing good works should be clear. If works are understood to be the reason for your justification, or if works are done with the misunderstanding that you can even pretend to be justified by them, then a yoke of necessity is laid upon you. Such a yoke is heavy and burdensome. It extinguishes both liberty and faith. When the yoke of necessity is added to works, they no longer can be considered good, and in reality, should be condemned because they blaspheme the very grace of God, which alone is the reason we are saved and justified through faith.
In our Gospel, Jesus says to all who are wearied from the war being waged within: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). I have lived the perfect life that God’s law demands. I have died the death you deserved. On the cross, I exchanged my righteousness for your sin. Baptized into My death and resurrection, you have salvation and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Jesus Has Prepared a Place for You: A Funeral Sermon

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Though we would each wish it might be for another occasion, it is fitting to be here in this place today. It was here in this place that the Holy Spirit worked faith in Don’s heart through the blessed sacrament of Holy Baptism on June 14, 1936. It was in this place where Don was catechized and then confessed his faith publicly in the Rite of Confirmation with the class of 1950. If you check out the north wall of the church basement, you’ll see his picture there. It was those two formative events in Don’s life and other memories of his early years at St. John’s that influenced him to request his funeral service be held in this place.
But as important as this place was to Don, there is a more crucial place we will speak of today. Jesus spoke of this place in our Gospel: “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
Notice that Jesus said that He was going to prepare a place for us. That’s because none of us, neither Don, nor you, nor I, nor anyone in the world would be able to prepare a place for ourselves in heaven. It would take perfection and, as you are fully aware, no one born of a man and a woman is perfect. Not only are there things that we do which are sin, so also there are those sins when we don’t do what we are commanded to do. Even imperfect thoughts render a soul unfit for heaven. So, no one is able to earn the way to heaven, and any attempt to do so, and any sort of preparations we undertake to impress God and to earn His favor, is a rejection of Christ, both Who He is, and what He has done for us to have a place in heaven.
Jesus said that He was going to prepare a place for us. To prepare a place for us He had a specific course to follow. But it would not be an easy road. For Don, or you, or me, or anyone to ascend to the joys of the Father’s heaven, Jesus must descend to the sorrows of this fallen world. The Son of Man who would prepare a place for us had no place of His own to lay His head. To remove the curse of sin from us, Jesus must become a curse in our place. To be forgiven of all our sins, Jesus must take all our sins upon Himself and then pay the awful price for all of them. This He did when He was crucified and when He hung from the cross.
There, on that cursed, barren, leafless tree, Jesus was preparing a place for us in the Father’s house. To the repentant thief who prayed to God, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, He bought us back, He redeemed us from sin and from an eternity apart from Him, which is hell. That is what Don believed and confessed. This is what gave him a joyful hope in the dark days of the last two-and-one-half years and sustained his soul in the long hours of the night especially these last few weeks.
Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house. To do so, He died on the cross and His body was placed in the tomb. It didn’t look like He was going anywhere, let alone to prepare a place for us. But on the third day, Jesus the Christ rose again from the dead. That grave would not keep Him, for He is God and He was going to prepare a place for us.
If the cross tells us that our sins have been paid for and that God’s wrath has found satisfaction in Christ’s crucifixion, then the empty tomb on Easter morning shouts the truth that death has been defeated and that those who depart this life trusting in Christ are with the Lord where He is, just as Don is now. It is also the promise that, on the Last Day, our bodies will be raised from the dead and united with our souls and we will be with the Lord forever in our Father’s house.
Following His sin-atoning death and His death-defeating resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven in the final preparations necessary for Don, for you, for me, and for everyone. All things are now ready and Christ has given to His Church the means for granting people the gift of faith for making them children of God and heirs of heaven. This takes place through Baptism, which is for you and for your children. In Baptism, God calls you His own and gives His gifts to you. Jesus said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” This is what Don believed and it was so from the day of his Baptism through his last breath.
The Church is given the authority to forgive sins and this is what Don heard when he came to Church—namely, that he was forgiven of all his sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—the same triune name of God into which he was baptized. When Don was no longer able to come to Church, the Ministry of the Word came to him and he heard the same Word of forgiveness as he prepared for and received the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.
Is it any wonder than Don could commend himself—his body and soul—into the nail-pierced hands of the Lord and depart in peace according to the promise of Jesus? He promised to go and prepare a place for us in His Father’s house. Jesus promised to come back for us and take us to be with Him forever.  
So here we are this day. And it is days like this that none of can ignore the reality of our mortality. Each one of us awaits that one day that will come sooner or later, as it did for Don, when we will be called out of this life. Dearly beloved, a place has been prepared for everyone. Not everyone, however, cares. How about you? How about your children? I implore you. I plead with you. I beg you, that if you have neglected the spiritual care of yourself and/or your family, to not let such continue another week, or another day, or even another hour. None of us know how much time we may have left. So much or our life, including the time and manner of our death, is uncertain.
Listen to the Gospel reading once again, noting as you listen that three things are certain—one, God in Christ has died for all your sins and prepared the way for you to be with Him forever in heaven; and two, there will come a day when your casket will not be empty; and three, you either will, or you will not, receive the promised blessings because Jesus has prepared a place for you, too.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1–3).
Thanks be to God for Don, who is, according to the promise of God, with the Lord in the place prepared for him in the Father’s house. May this knowledge give you hope in the days ahead, even as you grieve Don’s death. May Jesus continue to hold you close in His Word and Sacrament and bring you to be with Him and Don and all of those who have died in the faith when your time comes as well. May God grant this to us all. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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