Us Christians are an interesting breed, aren’t we? We live a life of paradoxes. Now, but not yet. Joy in the midst of despair. Life in the midst of death. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the Christian life. That’s something Gary knew well. He knew joy in the midst of despair, life in the midst of death, now but not yet. What does this mean? The Christian life is lived knowing full-well what the eyes see, but knowing also that to which faith clings. The eyes see death and decay and difficulty. Faith sees life and restoration and perpetual joy. And that’s why we’re here this morning. We’re here to celebrate that what our eyes see, what Gary’s eyes saw, is not the end of the story. Death is temporary. Death, though it hurts, has been robbed of its eternal sting by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thanks be to God who has given us, who has given Gary, that victory through Christ Jesus Our Lord!
The church’s best hymns are timeless. Regardless of when they were written, they speak to our condition today. The hymn we just sang, “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” was written by a Lutheran Pastor, Philipp Nicolai, in 1597. Though it’s 420 years old, it’s just as fresh and applicable today as it was when Pastor Nicolai wrote it. His hymn speaks to our condition today: “Now, though daily earth’s deep sadness may perplex us and distress us, yet with heavenly joy You bless us.” Certainly life gives us many perplexing distresses, not the least of which is death. We are here today in memory of our dear sister in Christ, Lois. Certainly her death is part of earth’s deep sadness, one of those things we wish just wasn’t. Though death brings us sadness, for us as Christians it also brings a second emotion: joy. Remember what you just sang: “Yet with heavenly joy You bless us.” As we remember Lois, we remember what St. Paul said to the Thessalonians in today’s Epistle: we do not mourn as those who have no hope. Rather, we mark today with tears, but also confidence and joy because just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so will Lois also be raised because she is Baptized into Christ.
In the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John we are presented with the struggle between faith and unbelief, or, the struggle between trusting in God to strengthen our faith, the gift we need the most, and relying on the things of this world. The chapter begins with the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. The people who witnessed and ate wanted to make Jesus their king because He satisfied their physical hunger. As we read on in the rest of the chapter, we find that the people weren’t very interested in Jesus as their spiritual Bread. They wanted to be comfortable in this life. They wanted someone to feed them, to make them wealthy and comfortable. They wanted a bread king. So when Jesus tells them that He came to give eternal life, to reveal the temporary nature of this world, to awaken a hunger and thirst for eternal righteousness in the Kingdom of God, they reject Him. He tells the people that the bread He fed them in the wilderness will not keep them alive, but whoever eats of Him, that is, whoever believes in Him, will live forever. The people’s response was “This is a hard saying; who can understand it” and then many were offended and walked with Him no more. But the Twelve understood a little bit. St. Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But before he made that good confession he spoke words that instruct us still today: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.