Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Fern was a very private person. She didn't want a visitation or meal at the church. She didn't want the ladies of the church to have to go to all that work on her account. She didn't want all this fuss to be about her. And so, I won't have much to say about Fern today. But there is one question that comes up at every funeral. There is something you all want to hear about Fern. The question is: "Is Fern in heaven with the Lord?"
The best thing is, we can answer that question without talking a lot about her, just as Fern wanted. That's because the answer to the question about anyone's eternal destiny hasn't much to do with them anyway. If it were up to each of us, our eternal destiny would be death and separation from God in the eternal punishment of hell. St. Paul says in Ephesians,
You were dead in your trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1, ESV)
And in Romans,
The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; Indeed it cannot. (Romans 8:7, ESV)
We really don't have to talk too much about the sinful nature of human beings. We have all the proof we need right here.
The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a)
We would have no funeral today if there were no sin. And I'm not saying Fern was any greater sinner than anyone else. I deserve to be here as well as her. You deserve to be here as well as her. What you and I deserve is this, and worse, for not keeping God's law perfectly. Death of those without faith is eternal punishment in hell. The proof of our sinful nature and our destiny without God is right before us.
And that brings us to the real reason to have a funeral. And brings us back full circle to what was true about Fern and the primary question, "Is Fern in heaven with the Lord?" When it comes to that question we do not find the answer in anything that we have done, or anything that Fern has done. Even though she was a faithful wife and mother, loved and cared for her family and her community. None of those things have anything to do with answering this question. Now understand, I'm certainly not saying there is no value in those things. We have people here who have been affected by Fern's life in very positive ways. And you all loved her for who she is. But in terms of salvation, none of those things are what is important. Because we are not saved by the things we do. Again St. Paul,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)
and the remainder of the verse from Romans that we read earlier,
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, ESV)
So not talking about all the good things that Fern has done is okay. You all know what those things are anyway. I don't need to recount them here from the pulpit. And it's not what she wanted. She wanted you to hear about the good gift that comes from God. The gift of Jesus Christ whose birth in the manger we just celebrated. Jesus is God born in human flesh. He is the object of our faith. He is God's answer to human sin. He is the reason that we can answer the question about Fern with an absolute positive "yes"! Jesus Christ carried Fern's sins to the cross. He died suffering God's anger over Fern's sin. Jesus was her substitute punishment. And she lived in faith every day in that sacrifice. And even though her sins were many, just like mine, and just like yours, she counted on Jesus to forgive them by the shedding of his blood. And that faith was God's gift to her. She received it when her name was spoken and water was poured over her head along with God's name. And it was a mouthful.
Eleanor Fern Elizabeth Miller, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is no better picture of God's gift of faith having nothing to do with anything we do, then that very moment. On Fern's baptismal certificate it has Luke 18:16:
But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:16, ESV)
and right after that verse 17 says:
Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”” (Luke 18:17, ESV)
It doesn't mean you have to be a child. It means to trust like a child. That is what faith is, trust. We are saved by faith, that is trust, that what Jesus Christ did, the forgiveness that he won by his life, death, and resurrection, he did for me. What he did for me and for Fern he did for you. Jesus whole life lived, his bloody death on the cross, and his resurrection from death is all for you, for your forgiveness. So Fern's question, the real question about a funeral can be answered for you too. Through faith, death is not a path to separation from God in hell, but eternal life in heaven.
Oh, there's one more thing. After his death on the cross, Jesus rose again to new and physical life. And the water splashing on her head, was God's promise that Fern would be raised from the dead also. And you can trust in God's promises. All those who die in faith will be gathered together and rejoice together in the salvation of Jesus. It's the same faith. It's the same gift. It was God's gift to Fern. And it is God's gift to you. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.