The Funeral for Tom Oelke

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

God grant to all of you—children, family, and friends of Tom—the peace and comfort of Christ today and in the days to come. I’ve been around long enough to know that people sometimes—maybe—might act differently around their families or friends than they do when the pastor shows up. So no doubt some of you who knew Tom well knew his shortcomings and sins. But for my part, over the many, many visits I had with Tom, both at his house, and at River West, I never heard Tom complain a single time about his circumstances, afflictions, or difficulties. I know he was frustrated with the limitations of Parkinson’s, but he never complained to me. I always asked him how he was, and he always answered with something like, “Oh, pretty good,” or “doing well.” Part of that was probably the nature of his personality, and maybe part of it is was that the pastor was in the room. But part of it was the confidence and assurance that Tom received from God’s promises, including the promise here in 2 Corinthians 4 and 5.

Tom knew the truth of what St. Paul says here. He knew a lot about his outer self wasting away, about what probably didn’t seem like light or momentary afflictions, about groaning and longing for the heavenly dwelling. He knew about his body not doing what he wanted it to do.

But he also knew the certainty and assurance of the promise in the midst of all that. He did not lose heart. He knew that he had been baptized into Christ. He knew that the Jesus who had claimed him for His own was the one who said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” that even when things didn’t look anything like resurrection and life, he had Jesus, who was his life. He knew that Jesus had given him that life in His repeated words and promises, and in His own living and life-giving Body and Blood. He knew the blessing of the Lord, with which I always left him, that God promised to bless and keep him, to turn His face toward him and be gracious to him, to give him peace.

Tom knew that because God had joined him to Jesus’ death in baptism, that he was also eternally joined to Jesus’ resurrection. So he did not lose heart. He knew that even though his outer nature was passing away, God was renewing his inner nature, recreated in the Image of Christ, day by day. Each day he dealt with Parkinson’s, each day he was in the hospital, each day he was in the nursing home, each day he spent in that bed—every single day, the Holy Spirit was renewing him and preparing him for the resurrection.

He couldn’t see that renewal happening. Nor could we. We can only see the visible things. But Christians have a promise that goes beyond what we can see. We tend to think that the lasting things are the things that we can see, touch, feel, experience—even though all our experience tells us that the things we can see are passing away, falling apart, disappearing. Paul says that the only truly lasting things are the unseen things of God: Jesus Himself, the Holy Spirit, resurrection, eternal life, the daily renewal of us underneath the daily wasting away. The things that are seen are transient, passing away. The things that are unseen are eternal.

And it is those unseen things—Jesus, His life and resurrection—that keep us from losing heart in the midst of the overwhelming things that we see and feel in this life. We do not lose heart because we are waiting for the day when Tom’s body and the bodies of all those who believe in Christ will be raised up and clothed with the undying life of Jesus. While we are in the tents of these bodies, we groan; but we groan in longing for the day when all things will be made right and whole, when death will be no more, and God Himself will wipe every tear from every eye. On that day, there will be no more mourning, no more grieving, no more crying or pain, only the eternal joy and feast of Jesus with His people.

Tom now knows the truth of Paul’s words, how much better it is to be away from this body, and to be with the Lord. But he waits, as we do, for the even better—for the best—when Jesus will appear, and the dead in Christ will rise first, and Jesus will give Tom back his body, free of all frustration, and sin, and sickness, and death—truly free. God grant to us the same peace and comfort and assurance that He granted to Tom, that we might not lose heart, but look for and wait for the unseen things of Jesus and His resurrection given fully to us. Thanks be to God for His mercy toward Tom, that his affliction was indeed, in the full scope of things, light and momentary, and that Tom was prepared by Jesus for the eternal weight of God’s glory, beyond any comparison with anything in this world. Lord, have the same mercy on us!

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, 6/16/21

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