Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, You knit together Your faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
31. October 2014
Funeral for Terrell “Bud” C. Pressley
In Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Dear Christian friends—Bonnie, Deb, David, Diane, Dean, sister Anne/Nancy, grandchildren, great-grandchildren—family and friends—grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and through Jesus Christ your Lord. Amen. Our text today is Terrell’s favorite, Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on 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.”
These words were a special comfort to Terrell (or Terry or “Bud” depending on who you ask.) This Word from the Lord gave Terrell strength to withstand in his many trials. The promise of the Lord in this Word gave him strength to finish the race. Isaiah speaks of a faith that is patient, waiting for the Lord to do what He has said He will do. So Terrell found hope in those words, knowing that what the Lord says, He will do.
Notice, though, that the text began with an important bit of grammar. One word: “But…” Parents know full well what this word does. “Mom, Dad, I’ll take out the garbage but I’ve gotta do… yada yada…” Children use “but” to avoid the commands given by their parents. That little word negates what came before. But something implies an unwillingness to do what was asked. I’m sure none of you children ever used it that way—right, Deb, Diane, David, or Dean?
The use by Isaiah today is the opposite. It still negates what came before. Unlike you children who used it to ignore your parents, Isaiah uses this little word to negate the doubt that came before with sweet words of Gospel, good news. It goes like this: you have your doubts but here are God’s promises. Our doubts cannot withstand the Gospel of God. He overcomes them, giving us comfort, strength, and hope in Him.
These words from Isaiah were written to a people in exile in Babylon. They’d been there for 75 years. This long slavery to a foreign nation with foreign gods had given them doubt. Maybe God has forgotten us? Will He ever save us? Can you even save us?
Long life and long struggles can bring you to the same doubt. When each day is a struggle with weakness, injury, and even breathing, it is easy for you to think God has forgotten us. You might lose patience and start to wonder if all those promises of salvation are really yours…after the heart attack leaves you disabled. When sickness in the lungs and heart finally seem to win the battle, you are tempted to think that God can’t save you. Death seems to get the upper hand.
“Will you save us?” the people cried out. (Is 40:1-9) To this, the Lord’s prophet Isaiah answered with a resounding “But…” Isaiah proclaimed, “Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young.” (Is 40:10-12)
Yet, you may also doubt if God can save you. Maybe you’re un-save-able, unredeemable, unlovable. You’ve been away from home too long. It’s been so long you don’t even remember how to pray. You don’t remember the Creed. You’re not even sure what the Holy Scriptures say anymore.
Or maybe you’ve gone too far off the rails. You’ve done things you’re too ashamed to even admit. The guilt is so heavy and so dark that its hard to imagine there’s any hope for you.
Or maybe you’ve listened to your own opinions and the opinions of others rather than listen to the truth of God in His Word. You’re not sure about whether churches and her pastors can be trusted. You’re not even sure Jesus is to be trusted anymore. So much of your life experience flies in the face of what you hope is actually true.
There’s nothing more poignant to challenge your faith than the death of a loved one. There will be difficult days ahead for all of you. Bonnie, there will be an absence in your life that you haven’t known for more than 60 beautiful years. Deb, David, Diane, Dean—your father was like the rug that tied the whole family together. Now that he has departed, you will grieve and you will mourn. And if Satan has his way, you’ll start to doubt, wondering if all this Jesus, forgiveness, and resurrection talk is true. Maybe it was true for dad but is it true for you?
You’re not the first ones to face such difficulty. It is common to all people When we doubt God and ask, “Can you save us?” His prophet responded with a booming “But…” You think its all over. You think there’s no hope. You think your enemies sin, death, and devil have won. But are there forces greater than God? No! Can you sin, your death, or even those crafty lies of the Deceiver keep you from the love of God in Jesus Christ? No!
Our struggle is that we sometimes mistakenly think we have a distant God. He’s a long way off in heaven, too busy with other more important matters. We forget that He is our Father and we are His children by Holy Baptism. We forget that Christ is our Good Shepherd and we are his beloved sheep, no one will snatch us from His hand.
Or maybe we mistakenly think that because he is the Holy God, he doesn’t want anything to do with us sinners. We forget that Christ Jesus came to die not for the I’m-all-right-people but for sinners. Christ Jesus’s entire earthly ministry was with broken people of the worst kind. Lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors. Junkies, scoundrels, jerks, scum. We forget that His power and might are best know in His compassion. For the sake of His own death, He overlooks our un-holiness and gives us His holiness as a gift.
This is the long way around to explain why your husband, father, brother, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend Terrell loved Isaiah 40:31 so much. Those words are God’s sweet Gospel answer to our pleas for comfort. They confess what is now precisely true for Terrell. Every promise made by God through the prophet Isaiah is fulfilled.
Terrell waited 86 years for the Lord to finish His work with Him. Life was not always easy and became especially difficult in the last few years. Bonnie and I noticed in the photos yesterday how much his face changed and his body grew weary. It is easy for us to begin to doubt and wonder but not for Terrell. His hope and trust is in the sure promises of the Lord’s Word.
He learned the hard way, the same way we all learn, that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. God works most poignantly and dynamically when we are weakest. Today is one of those days. We are in sorrow and God has great words of hope. We grieve this death and Christ Jesus proclaims that by His suffering, His cross, and His death, He defeated death for Terrell and for you. We doubt the Lord’s Word and He renews in us faith by His the promises fulfilled in Jesus by the power of His Spirit.
Luther said, “The Word of God is the Word of strength, righteousness, power, etc. Therefore it can reign nowhere but over those who are lying under sin and weakness. Therefore let us console ourselves when are afflicted and say, ‘What I do not have and what I cannot do, that Christ has and can do.’” (AE 17:31)
We“have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises” (1 Pet 1:4) in the gift of Christ Jesus. By His shed blood He can and will forgive all sins, no matter how horrible and shameful they might be. By His death, He overcame the grave and has transformed it to a rest-in-peace for Terrell and all who die in Christ. And He has promised resurrection and eternal life for Terrell and all who believe in Christ Jesus.
All this He gives us in the midst of our weakness, our suffering, our grief, our despair, and our pain. Today, the prophet’s Word is your Word, too. It is for you, Bonnie, Debra, David, Diane, Dean. It is for you, sister, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It is for you, dear friends and fellow believers. And it is even for those a long way off, who have not yet believed in promises of Christ Jesus.
That sweet Gospel proclaimed by Isaiah of the resurrected life, a life Terrell hoped for and now enjoys, is your hope and comfort today, too. It all begins with a little word with big effect, “but!”
31 But those who wait on 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.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, give you comfort today and guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church