Friday, October 21, 2011

Matthew 22:34-46; Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 23, 2011;


But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:34–46, ESV)

(From a Sermon by Rev. Nathan Dudley)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;

One way you know that you've won an argument is when your opponent has nothing left to say. When this happens you know that you've answered all their points and they can't respond to yours. When you are looking at stunned silence you can be reasonably sure that you've won.

That's what we are looking at in this text for today. Jesus has answered the pointed questions put to him. He has answered unexpectedly and removed himself from the danger his opponents sought for him. Last week we heard about the Pharisees who tried to trap Jesus in a question of Church / State relations. They wanted Jesus dead so they asked a question that they thought had no good answer for Jesus. But Jesus easily defeated the attempt and sent them scurrying for cover.

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”” (Matthew 22:21b, ESV)

What we haven heard about it what happened after that and before what we are reading today. After the Pharisees failed the Sadducees tried their hand. The Pharisees and the Sadducees didn't agree on a lot of things, but they were of one accord when it came to Jesus. He had to be stopped. They tried to tangle with Jesus on the question of the resurrection of the dead. It was one of their primary concerns because they didn't believe in it. They lock horns with Jesus thinking they have an unbeatable argument.

“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”” (Matthew 22:24–28, ESV)

This argument was based on the idea of how preposterous the afterlife would be for cases such as this. "Whose wife will she be?" "Who can tell?"

Jesus shows these learned men that they are ignorant. "There is no marriage in the resurrection." He says. You show how little you understand.

‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”” (Matthew 22:32, ESV)

"I am the God of Abraham" not "I was..." Jesus shows that God is the God of the living. He shows that God believes in the resurrection, even if they don't.

That's why the text today begins with

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together

These guys were now ready for another attempt to trap Jesus again. They know the scriptures. Exactly what Jesus accused the Sadducees of not knowing. Reading and studying is the life's work of the Pharisees. They bring the question that that occupies there study. "Which of God's commandments is the greatest?"

It's an important question for them. They were hardcore legalists. They argued the smallest details of every commandment given to Moses and added some 600 more. For them the argument on the ordering of the commandments was endless. Each commandment broken led to another and another. Was lying worse than murder? What if the lie led to someone's death? They thought that they had Jesus now, caught in an endless argument. They would have the upper hand because no matter what he said, they would be able to turn it back on them. Their problem is they didn't know the spirit of the law. God sums up the law in one word, love. When you love God, you love your neighbor. When you love your neighbor you don't kill him, or take his things, or say false things about him. When you love your neighbor you look to his interests beyond your own. Love fulfills the law.

They are about to learn that arguing with Jesus is a losing proposition. No matter how much you think you hedge your bets you will lose. He answers the commandment question easily. Jesus knows the spirit of God's law. He lives it. He is committed to love. He is it. He loves God with his whole heart and his whole soul and his whole mind and he loves his neighbor completely. That's what leads him to become human and die on the cross for human sin. We see what Jesus is talking about in how the commandments are organized. The first three commandments are about our relationship to God. The last seven are about our relationship with other people. If you keep the first, by loving God, you would keep all of the rest in loving the people that God loves. This is the answer to the Pharisees' question. Love God first, then love your neighbor.

It's not what they thought they'd hear. There is no counter argument. There are no chinks in the amour. Jesus answer is perfect. But Jesus doesn't let it stand at that. While they are still standing in their shock, he makes the killing blow.

saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”” (Matthew 22:42, ESV)

They answer quickly because they know the scriptures. The messiah is a descendent of David. They may be thinking they have gained the upper hand again. But Jesus drives the killing spike.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”” (Matthew 22:43–45, ESV)

That's a question they can't answer. It seems easy to us. We know who Jesus is. He is God, the second person of the Trinity. He is God in human flesh.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

But the Pharisees don't understand this. In fact, they can't see that this is true. It defies what they think their religion is all about. They have nothing to say. They stand there in dumb silence.

Then St. Matthew says, "from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions." The whole world in fact stands in silence before Jesus. That's exactly the way it should be. In fact, it is one of the reasons God gives his law, to shut us up. In the face of the law's perfect demands we stand guilty. We would speak about the good things we do and hold them up to God, demanding that he consider us righteous because of them. He shuts us up with the declaration that good isn't good enough. Only perfect people can stand before a perfectly holy God. We offer excuses as if excuses erase the effects of or sin. Instead of loving God we place his precious gifts of Word and Sacrament and church low on our priority list. We worship only when it is convenient. We pray half heartedly for our neighbor, if at all. Instead of love for our neighbor we covet what he has, lust after his wife, secretly plot to take his money, and lie about him to get the upper hand. The law shows us our sin. We have no excuses. When it speaks clearly, as it does, we can only shut up. We do not love God. We do not love our neighbor. We love ourselves. In everything we think, do and say, we have ourselves in our hearts. This kind of self love is deadly sin. It deserves only God's anger. It deserves only God's punishment. When the law has done its work we can only stand in silence, guilty and accountable, just like the whole world.

The Pharisees and Sadducees who where silenced by Jesus weren't about to let it stand that way. They couldn't silence Jesus with their arguments so they chose another way to quite him. A few days later they stood around Jesus again, this time accusing him of crimes. This time Jesus is silent. They need to find something worthy of death so they ask a question that will nail shut the case against him.

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so.”” (Matthew 26:63b–64a, ESV)

And the trial is over. Jesus says he is the same as God. They simply cannot believe that truth. Jesus is condemned worthy of death. The continue speaking. They accuse him before Pilate, calling for his death. But even the crucified Jesus doesn't stop them. They stood at the foot of the cross mocking him. And in all this it is Jesus who stays silent. He is keeping God's commandments. He is shows his perfect love for God. He submits to the Father's will, even to death on the cross. He shows his perfect love for all people. He was silent for us. Hanging on the cross he carries our guilt and punishment for us. And there on the cross we see the perfect picture of God's love. Love for God (vertical part of the cross) and love for all people (horizontal part of the cross). There is Jesus hanging in love for you and me. Keeping the law perfectly and perfectly sacrificing himself for us.

When Jesus cold body was placed in the tomb and the stone was rolled in front of the door, Jesus' enemies where sure they had heard the last from him. They didn't know the scriptures or the one true God. But just as he told his disciples Jesus rose again from death. So much for the Sadducees! Having risen Jesus now has lots to say. And he continues to speak through the church.

Jesus speaks to you and me. He speaks these words of God's perfect law. Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. In that speaking we see our inability to keep it. We stand in silence convicted. That is when he speaks his words of forgiveness. Peace. Be still. Do not fear. I forgive you all your sins. Receive the Holy Spirit. Take, eat this is my body, this is my blood. Go in peace. I am with you always.

Lord you have the words of eternal life. We say. And we say also... Amen. Let it be so. Amen.

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

Friday, October 14, 2011

Places I’ve Visited (updated 10/14/2011)

A few years ago I posted another version of these maps.  Since I’ve done some traveling lately


I thought it was time to update my maps again. 

So here’s my world map:

create your own visited country map or check our Venice travel guide

This summer I was in France and Germany.

create your personalized map of europe or check out our Barcelona travel guide

Here's my travels in the United States.

create your own personalized map of the USA or check out ourCalifornia travel guide

and here's Canada.

create your own personalized map of Canada or check out ourVancouver travel guide

Matthew 22:15-22; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 16, 2011;

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” (Matthew 22:15–22, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite parts about my trip to France this summer was the day we spent at the Louvre. In the Louvre you find art from all of human history. I remember seeing coins with their beautiful inscriptions and images. The funny thing about these coins is that where they were, in a display case at one of the most famous museums in the world, you kind of forget what they were for. You tend to think of them as art, because they are surrounded by art. You forget that they were the means of commerce. You forget that they had value beyond their artistic value. That happens sometimes on Sunday mornings here, too. This text is an example of that. We hear about Jesus commending us to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's and we miss the whole context. Especially in the current politically charged atmosphere. We get focused on the connection between church and state and think that that is what this text is all about. Especially because what Jesus says is a very memorable proverb about or relationship to government and church.

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

But it all happened in a context. Jesus says what he says in a time and place and to a particular people. Let's not lose the sense of what is being said simply because the saying itself is particularly artful.

So, let's set the scene. It's Passover. People are everywhere. Visitors from out of town. Relatives in for the holiday. Actually it is that Passover. We call it Holy Week. Jesus has come to celebrate with his disciples... and more. In Jesus, God has come to be with his people. This whole visit begins with Jesus riding into town hailed as king, riding on a donkey, Palm Sunday. Jesus goes to the temple. He doesn't like what he sees and drives out the money changers. He has set the stage. He is by himself in the temple. He is the valuable treasure. He does what God has come to do. He heals and teaches. He becomes the center of the temple.

It doesn't set well with the religious leaders. The scribes and Pharisees don't want this God. He is not the Messiah they expected. He doesn't follow them, and encourage them. He doesn't praise them. They don't want someone who changes the way they have set things to work. Jesus hurls the word "hypocrite" at them. They deserve it. They pretend that the law is uppermost in their minds when at the same time they break it. They want to get rid of Jesus. They are looking for chinks in his armor. They scheme to trap him in his words. The want him dead. Jesus makes the contrast very clear. He hhHHmakes their sins plain. God wants mercy. They pretend to be merciful. God looks for faith. They flatter Jesus with empty words of praise. God has given them the sacrifices to remind them of the necessity of repentance and forgiveness. They are willing to shed blood over their own righteousness. They want to argue with Jesus over money. But they are spiritually bankrupt.

Nothing makes it more plain than their pushing to get Jesus to the cross. They prove they don't understand, and in fact reject, Jesus' words, "... render... to God the things that are God’s.” Over and over again they fail to do just that. They have taken Jesus, the true king of Israel and turned him over to Caesar. They have rendered God's things to Caesar.

It is most telling, when Judas comes begging them for mercy, his guilt over Jesus' betrayal hanging over him. He has come for forgiveness. He pleads for mercy. He has come to the right place. The temple place that God has given for that very thing. He has come to the shepherds who should be tending to the God's sheep. "What is that to us?" Is their reply. They have turned God's temple into a building built to them. They have neglected the true gift of God. When they reject Judas they argue about the money he has thrown at them. They have set their budget over their calling to be shepherds to God's people. They don't care about the things of God. They care about the things of Caesar. They are standing in their temple, holding blood money and spiritually bankrupt.

But outside the temple, outside the city, outside of Jerusalem, Jesus, the true king of Israel, reigns. It doesn't look as we think it should. His throne is a cross. His holy and precious blood and innocent suffering and death are a treasure for all people. Jesus has come "...not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28, ESV) Here is God's mercy. Here is God's forgiveness. God has come to save his people. He does it through his own sacrifice. Jesus has rendered to God all there is to give. His perfect life. His innocent suffering and death. He gives what is necessary for all people to be saved from the punishment they deserve. Jesus is himself the priceless treasure.

We have that treasure here. Here we render the things that are God's back to him. He gives us what we need more than anything else. Here he speaks the truth about our sin. We confess it. He takes our burden of guilt and hangs it on Jesus. He tells us that we are forgiven because of Jesus on the cross. We rejoice and sing back his praise. And this is no coin under glass. Although sometimes we treat it that way. In fact, we sometimes look very much like the hypocrites Jesus confronted in the temple. We act as if the treasure here is the budget. We act as if the gifts that God gives for the maintenance of this property are more important than what God does here through his Word, more important that what God does here through water and bread and wine. We are tempted to be satisfied with the beauty of what happens here and forget that the gift, the forgiveness of sins, is not just for us in this place. This priceless gift is God's gift for all people. It is given to us freely it is to be given freely to all people. It's value is in the giving. It has value beyond its beautiful expression here in the pews. Forgiven people forgive. People who have been shown mercy, show mercy. It is why we don't live in the church and around the church but we live in the community and around the people who need what God gives here.

The precious, priceless, gift is the forgiveness of sin, and life forever. It has been purchased by God himself, Jesus Christ, through his life, death and resurrection. It is the treasure that is that all people need. It is ours for the giving. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, October 07, 2011

…falling from faith happens slowly and imperceptibly.

Rev. William M. Cwirla has written a blog post that really resonated with me.  You should read it too (On the Death of Steve Jobs).

At my congregation, Trinity, Creston Iowa we are currently seeing a huge drop off in worship and Sunday school attendance among the young.  Many folks in the congregation think that there are no young people, but that isn’t the case.  They aren’t in church.  They’re parents aren’t in church.  Rev. Cwirla’s blog post was about falling away from faith.  It was written in response to the death of Steve Jobs.  Steve was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  Later in life he apparently dabbled in Buddhism and the like.  The post isn’t so much about Mr. Jobs as it is about the danger of falling away from faith.  How it happens not “with a shaking fist” but quietly, without notice.

One day the dimly flickering light of faith simply goes out, like a little candle in a puff of wind, and you don’t even notice.  Faith doesn’t die with a shout of protest or a clenched fist of defiance.  It takes faith to be angry with God.  When faith dies, it simply withers away like a dry untended plant.

The only protection against a dying faith is God’s work through His Word and Sacraments.

I think falling from faith happens slowly and imperceptibly.  It begins with that Sunday soccer game or basketball tournament, the boy scout event, the part-time job that forces you to work on Sunday morning and then the next time, you volunteer.  The late night party on Saturday that leaves you too tired to get up for church.  The hectic calendar.  Family concerns, the business, the house, the investments. 

All these things seem important.   After all, church happens every week.  Some of these things are unrepeatable.  We can always pick it up next Sunday.  It is Satan’s lie.  The consistent feeding of faith is necessary.  Faith is either dying or growing.  It is either nourished by the Word or it goes hungry.  It is either fed by The Lord’s Supper or it is starving.

God has provided the means for faith to grow.  We are so blessed to have such easy access.  So much so that we seem to take it for granted.  Don’t.

Pastor Watt.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Matt.21.33-43; Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 2, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

[Jesus said,]“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. (Matthew 21:33-43, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pastor Hubert Beck, once told this parable.

There were two beggars. Both were very successful at their occupation. They traveled from town to town collecting food. But there was a very great difference between the two.

The one found many open hands as he traveled, and so he colleted the goods in a sack over his back. Now times were bad, and the outlook for the future wasn’t so good. So he collected as much as he could, saving for a “rainy day.” Hording what he received because he was sure that worse times were coming. As he traveled and continued to place everything in his bag and the bag grew heavier and heavier. The bread that he received freely went stale and the vegetables rotten. Finally, the sack became too heavy to carry, and he broke down on the side of the road from the sheer weight of his horde. And there he died, trying to eat rotten food and stale bread.

The other beggar also met with success. He too carried what he received in a bag over his shoulder. But unlike the first, whenever he found people in need he gave out what he had. He traveled light because there were always people who needed what he had in his bag. He was always more than generous. He never grew weary of bearing the weight like the first beggar, because his sack was always light. In fact, during his many years of travel he was able to care for many people who were in far more need than he was.

These two parables are connected. The men in the vineyard were provided with everything they needed to produce a good crop for the landlord. They didn’t own the property; they were, in a sense, beggars living off the good graces of the owner. He had provided everything that was needed for a successful venture; a fence to keep unwanted animals and people out; a press to squash the grapes into wine, and even a watch tower to keep watch over everything. The tenants were there to watch it and make sure it produced fruit while the master was away.

Jesus doesn’t make any bones about it. The tenants were God’s people of the day, the people of Israel and their leaders. They had been provided a land and opportunity. They had been chosen by God to show his wonderful gift of grace to the whole world. They were beggars who had been richly blessed to give to the people around them.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to look down our noses at them, because we can be just like they were. We’ve been given so much. We’ve been given wonderful gifts to fill our sack in this vineyard. Through God’s Word and Sacraments, God’s undeserved love, we receive new life through the forgiveness of our sins. We live here; we have life here; not because we deserve anything from God, we are beggars, and receive these good gifts because of his mercy.

Jesus’ parable seems a bit strange. How could it be that tenants would do what those tenants did? After all the landlord did to make a perfect place to work, he provided them with everything they needed. How could they repay him by beating up his messengers. And not just once but twice. And finally they even kill his son. The landlord isn’t doing anything unreasonable in asking for rent. Their reaction seems out of place.

Well, according to scholars this kind of thing actually happened in Jesus’ day. The law said that if a landlord didn’t collect a harvest for three years the tenants could claim the property for themselves. The killing of the son outside of the vineyard, in public was their way of making that claim. So, as Jesus often did, he probably used a real life event to make his point. But there is something even more real life about the parable. The set up comes right from the pages of the Old Testament. Did you hear how the preparation of the vineyard was repeated in the two readings? The way Jesus tells it by using Isaiah he puts God’s people squarely in the vineyard. The crowd standing around him where the children of those who had brutally beaten God’s messengers, the prophets and even killed them. And standing right before them was Jesus. Finally, God sends his Son. The church leaders were so angry with him that they had him dragged outside the city and crucified. These tenants of God’s vineyard followed the parent’s example. They had gladly received all God’s gifts, all the produce of the vineyard but it turned to arrogance. They didn’t see that what they had received wasn’t just for them to horde for themselves but it was to be used to show God’s love to the whole world.

How could this happen? We might ask. How could they? But, don’t miss the log in our own eye. It happens with us, too. We gladly receive the things of God, his forgiveness, his life, his joy, his Word. But we often miss the chances we have to give it away, and we foolishly act as if it is only for us and only for us in this place. There are always excuses, like lying ourselves into believing that everyone we know already knows Jesus, or believing that they don’t need to hear about the forgiveness of sins in Christ. We excuse ourselves for being afraid of persecution, or telling ourselves that it’s the pastor’s job to meet new people and getting them to come to church. And we even pretend that it’s none of our business that our friends and neighbors have stopped coming to church. We have been known to live our lives as if God’s gifts to us are only for us and our welfare, to be stuffed into a sack on our backs and saved for our use only.

That’s where Jesus comes in, reminding us that the gifts that he gives are for everyone. In last week’s epistle reading we heard about Jesus humbling himself by taking the form of a servant. He gave all that he had, just like the beggar who traveled light. He was blessed to be a blessing and He continually gave to those who gathered around Him. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He clothed the naked. He constantly reminded the people of God’s great love for them. The bag that was filled with good things was emptied. He didn’t die like the beggar who was overcome by the weight of his treasures. Jesus died giving finally even Himself. And finally gave up everything, even his very life, for the sake of sinful human beings.

You and I have been placed as tenants in the vineyard. We’ve been very blessed with everything that we need to bear fruit. I look around here and marvel at all that we have, all that we’ve been given by God’s grace. Here in this church there are people with all kinds of talents and abilities. Here in this church there are people with time and treasure. Those are wonderful gifts from God. But just like the vineyard was very complete with its fence, press and tower, we have all that we need and more. God’s most important gift is his Word and Sacraments, where we continually receive forgiveness of our sins, and as Luther reminds us, where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. You see, He promises that where his Word is there will be fruit. And you surely don’t have to look far to see it. We’ve got children in Sunday School classes hearing about Jesus. We’ve got shut-ins listening to recordings they can actually understand. We’ve sent cash to people hurting from the forces of nature. You see, even though we are selfish God is selfless in Christ. You see, even though we often fail, God is faithful. Even though we sometime horde, God provides growth.

Can we do more? Could we get out there and share these blessings with more people all around us. Of course we can. That’s precisely what God wants us to do, that’s why we are in this community. That’s why God opened the doors of this church those 90 some years ago. He wanted to give you all you need, and he wants you to give it to others.

You see, we don’t have to wonder what beggar we are like. We don’t have to worry about whether we are good tenants or bad. We are in God’s vineyard and have that we need. Lot’s of times we act like the first beggar who kept everything for himself. And God offers us forgiveness through Christ. We receive his wonderful gifts and promise to do better. But it’s through God’s promises, through God’s work in us through the Holy Spirit, we can and often are like the beggar who gave until his bag was empty. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Funeral Sermon for "Curley"

September 29, 2011

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

David's Confirmation Verse

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! Psalm 31:24

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;

You know, I only got to know Curley (and Curley is the only way I will every know him, that's how I was first introduced to him with his full white Santa beard... I think he was even wearing one of those red plaid flannel shirts), I only got to know him for a bit more than three years. It was not long enough. But you know that. Because for you too, it was not long enough. Pat you were married to him forty four years, and that wasn't enough. You brothers and sisters, children, friends, firemen, and military... all of you who knew Curley realize today that it doesn't matter how long it was it wasn't enough. I'll miss him and so will you. You don't get a guy like Curley very often and when you meet one and you call him friend, father, husband, brother or anything else you know you have met someone special. And when death comes it comes too soon.

You all know lots more stories about Curley than I do. And now is a good time to tell them and remember how wonderful it was, what a gift of God he was. The one I like is his retirement flight in the F16 over Lenox. When the jet buzzed main street some folks thought it was an invasion. When they made a low run over his house, windows every where rattled. I love the picture from that day. Curley standing in a flight suit next to the pilot, grinning from ear to ear. In fact I'm not sure which is bigger his smile or the fighter. Now that's taking up eagle's wings!

Another thing I know about Curley is how strong he was. When he and Pat sat in my office a few short months ago and said he had cancer I had no doubt that if anyone could put up a good fight it would be him. When we received the cancer free news it was a day to rejoice. How devastating it was to find out that it was back. And then to be here so soon. And yet, even then, as he was home dying among his family and friends, his airplanes and eagles, there was strength there... to the end. He fit his confirmation verse. "Be strong!" and we are not only talking about physical strength here. His faith was strong. Not in the sense that he depended on himself to get through this fight. He looked to Jesus, especially at the end when his body failed him. He took great comfort in God's saving work for him in Jesus Christ.

There is so much good to say about Curley. And yet, we need to recognize the truth. And the truth is, Curley was a sinner. Of course I'm not saying anything that those of you who knew him didn't know. Especially you who knew him best. You know that more than anyone. He was a good father, but not a perfect one. He was a good husband, but not a perfect one. He was a good friend, but not a perfect one. Curley wasn't any different in this respect that you and me. There were times when he was selfish. There were times when he was unjustly angry. There were times when he wanted nothing to do with God at all. The whole ugly awful truth is, that we are here today because David "Curley" Stream was a sinner. There is no greater proof needed than his body lying before us. This right here is the wages of sin. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the cancer that killed him was some personal judgment for some evil thing that he did. He hasn't received anything that we don't all deserve because of our sin. God's word is very clear.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV)

And so, Curley was a sinner no different from you or me. That's what all means. It's just that at a funeral we are a bit reluctant to speak like this. But the thing is even if I didn't know him I could say these things. Even if it were you here in this casket I could say the same about you. And you could say the same about me. There is nothing that brings home God's point about sin better than our gathering together with tears and heavy hearts at the problem of sin and death. It's our problem. It's your problem. It's mine. There is no amount of physical strength, no mental attitude, no human spirit that can prevent what we are seeing and feeling today. Sin means death. So open your eyes and see it. Open your heart and feel the awfulness of it. Be angry. Be afraid. This is sin's face full on. You will one day be here, just like Curley.

What made Curley so strong in the face of this enemy? How did he cope with his coming death? It wasn't the strength of his arm or heart, it was his faith in Jesus Christ. I saw it these last few months when I sat beside his hospital bed and spoke of Jesus. I saw it when Curley longed to receive Holy Communion before he went to the hospital or when he came back from the hospital with bad news. God blessed him with physical strength to fight against the evil in his body. His spiritual strength came from complete dependence on Jesus for the forgiveness of his sin. Curley knew that when the physical fight was over, if and when this enemy took his life, his sin wasn't going to keep him from life with Jesus forever. It may kill his body, but Curley is with Jesus now. On the cross, Jesus suffered and died for this sins of the whole world. God's eternal punishment for our sin. That means he suffered and died for Curley's sin. That means that Curley's suffering and death aren't about punishment for his sin. It is simply his turning from one life to another. Setting behind a sin broken world for life with Jesus. An end to sin, and pain and suffering to wait for the resurrection of the body.

That's the renewing of strength that that the passage is talking about. That's the waiting it's talking about too. Some day Jesus will return and raise all of our bodies out of their grave. That means Curley, too. We'll place his body there for safe keeping. At Jesus words that strength will return to his body. And all those who died in faith trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, like Curley, will live in these newly strengthend bodies forever. Amen.

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