Download or listen to the Funeral for Christie Clark, “The Stronger Man” (Matthew 12:22-29)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Family and friends of Christie, the grace of God and the peace of Jesus Christ our risen Lord be with you and grant you the comfort that nothing else can give. Jesus said to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Why? Because Jesus was going through death and into resurrection ahead of them. This same Lord is here with His peace today, but not as the world gives it. His is a peace that is beyond understanding for events that are beyond our understanding. When people take their own lives, it is particularly bitter for those who are left, because there are so many unanswered questions and problems that seem unresolved. I cannot answer those questions or resolve those problems. But even if I could, I’m not here to do that today. I’m here to speak only about the promises of Jesus: the promises that He made to Christie and the promises He makes to you.
In the last words of the prayer that Jesus gives us, it says, in the original language, “Deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Wicked One.” We are praying not just against generic evil, but also against the sum and source of evil, the devil. Luther put it this way: “For it is he who obstructs everything for which we ask: God’s name or honor, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a good and cheerful conscience, etc. [So this particular prayer] includes all the evil that may befall us under the devil’s kingdom: poverty, disgrace, death, and, in short, all the tragic misery and heartache, of which there is so incalculably much on earth. For because the devil is not only a liar but a murderer as well, he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies. He crushes some and drives others to insanity; some he drowns in water, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes. Therefore, there is nothing for us to do on earth but to pray without ceasing against this archenemy. For if God did not support us, we would not be safe from him for a single hour.
Thus you see how God wants us to pray to him for everything that attacks even our bodily welfare so that we seek and expect help from no one but him. But he has placed at the end this petition, for if we are to be protected and delivered from all evil, his name must first be hallowed in us, his kingdom come among us, and his will be done. In the end he will preserve us from sin and disgrace and from everything else that harms or injures us” (Large Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, Seventh Petition). Let’s not pretend that the devil is some guy in a red suit with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork. He, along with the world, and our sinful flesh, opposes every good gift of the Lord, and the devil’s main goal is to tear us from Christ and the peace He gives in His Word and Sacraments. He doesn’t care about you; he doesn’t want you; he only wants to make sure the Lord doesn’t have you. And this murderer, who has been a liar and a murderer from the beginning, sometimes succeeds in overwhelming us. May God keep us from such evil!
It is exactly from such evil that Jesus came to deliver us. He cast out demons because wherever He is, the Reign of God the King has come on the earth. The devil is the strong man who has bound us and who keeps us in his house until a stronger Man comes along. This Man has come; His name is Jesus, and He does not fear death or hell. He goes willingly to the cross, and in those hours suffers death and hell under the weight of all sin. There is no sin that Christ did not assume; there is no sinner for whom He did not die. And He stormed the gates of hell and tore them from their hinges. He plunders the goods of the strong man, and you are those goods. You are what He’s after. Then He begins to pull people through death after Him, washing them clean in baptism, making them new. Baptism doesn’t remove the memories of the harm that’s been done to us, nor does it remove the guilt of what we ourselves have done. But it does mean that when God looks at you, clothed in His Son, He counts none of it against you. This life, as good or as bad as it can be, cannot hold even the tiniest candle to the Light and Life of Christ. You might as well try to hold up a candle to the sun. When Christie was baptized on July 31, 1977, the Lord was plundering the devil’s house. Whatever happened after that had absolutely no effect on God’s promise. Can people refuse to believe the promise of God? Yes. But that doesn’t change the promise any more than dropping a diamond in the mud changes the diamond into something else. God never takes His promises back, never forsakes His children, never leaves them alone, whatever they might think or feel. Just as Jesus was not afraid to be betrayed, left alone, nailed to a cross, or die, so He is not afraid to enter into all of the garbage in our lives. He is not the sort of god who is aloof, far off in some heaven, keeping Himself clean from all the dirt that threatens to bury us. He is the sort of God who goes down as far as we are; the sort of God who puts on flesh and blood, who weeps and is disturbed at the havoc death has wreaked on His good creation; who touches lepers and the dead and all those considered unclean; the sort of God who mixes up mud with saliva to put on the eyes of a blind man, or who puts His fingers in a deaf man’s ears, or who lets a whore clean His feet with her tears and hair. With a God like that, what do we have to fear? With a God like that, can we despair and give up? It can happen that the work of the devil, the weight of mental illness, the willingness of our flesh to cooperate in our own harm can overwhelm us like a gang of criminals overtaking us in the darkness. But when Jesus allowed Himself to be overwhelmed by death, God refused to let His Son see decay and raised Him up before the whole world. That resurrection is Christie’s only hope; that is our only hope. We cannot place our trust in how we feel or what we think might be the case. We can only trust the unbreakable word of the Lord Jesus Christ, when He says: The Reign of God has come upon you. Demons are cast out, the sick are healed, the dead are raised. Peace to you! Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, He said, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. Peace to you! He says to Thomas. Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand and place it in My side. Don’t be unbelieving anymore, but believe (John 20:26-27). This is the one thing I know: the one whom Thomas called his Lord and God is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia. He has damned death and hell for all eternity. By His peace and the hope of the resurrection, may He preserve us all from eternal death; may we despair of ourselves, but never despair of Him; may He hold all whom the Father has given Him and bring them safely to the resurrection and the new creation, where there is no more pain brought on us by ourselves or others; no more illness of the mind or the body; no more death, no more mourning or grieving or tears. May He keep His promise to Christie and to all those whom the devil oppresses with doubt and despair. And may God himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). And the God of peace will soon crush the Evil One underneath our feet (Romans 16:20).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/5/14