Video of the funeral service is here. The sermon begins around the 18:00 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sabra, Zech, Herb, Marilyn, and all of Nick’s family and friends: grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. God grant you the comfort and peace of Christ’s resurrection today and always.
Earlier today, we buried the body of our brother in the ground. Whenever we do that, we are reminded that things are not the way they’re supposed to be. It is not good, and it is not right, that we should bury anyone—not because burying is wrong, but because death is not good or right. When God made all things, He did not make people so that they would die. He made them so that they would live in the full life that He had given them. He provided them with everything they needed to live in this creation, a creation that He made for them. It was only when they turned away from His living word and trusted the dead word of the serpent, only when they trusted their own thoughts and desires and words as separate from His Word, that death began to spread over them and over the whole creation. Ever since, death defines us, because it is the end of our physical life and whether we think death is close to us or far from us, we walk, as the psalmist says, always in the shadow of death.
People have come up with a lot of ways to deal with death. A very common way of dealing with death is to ignore it. Sometimes people try to ignore death even at funerals. We could do that, by focusing only on the past, on good memories and stories. I have a couple, like the steel grip and the smile with which he greeted me, even pretty close up to the end. Or like the time that Nick let me drive his old truck to the store and told me he would teach me how to roll my own cigarettes. (Unfortunately, we never got around to doing that.) Or the time he was coming out of church and shook my hand and wanted me to assure him that I wouldn’t mess with the old liturgy. (I told him that would not be a problem.) Or the wonderful celebration not so many months ago, when I got to stand in the Siltmans’ backyard as they reaffirmed their vows after 40 years—including the pretty amazing story of how Sabra found Nick’s long-lost wedding ring with the help of one of their dogs.
No doubt you have been sharing and will share many more memories and stories. And those are all good. It is good to share and give thanks to God for all of those moments. And yet, we need something more today than memories and stories from the past. We need more than a celebration of the life Nick lived. We are here because death interrupted his life, and so we need something today that heals that breach in the life God created.
And that is exactly what we have from Jesus, here in John, chapter 6. Those who heard Jesus in John 6 wanted from Him a sign that they should believe in Him. They wanted a sign like their ancestors had in the wilderness, when Moses, they say, gave them bread from heaven. Jesus reminded them that it wasn’t Moses who gave them that sign, and Jesus is not a new Moses. Jesus is not just someone who gives a sign of God’s mercy in this world; He is the sign of God’s mercy. He doesn’t only give bread from heaven; He is the bread from heaven. The people said, “Lord, give us this bread always.” Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. The one coming to Me will never hunger and the one believing in Me will never thirst at any time.”
Nick was brought to Jesus in Holy Baptism, which means he was brought to die in Jesus’ death, being buried by baptism into death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead, Nick would also be raised to new life. As Jesus says and promises, everyone whom the Father gives to Me will come to Me, and everyone who comes to Me, I will never cast out. Never hunger, never thirst, never be cast out. That’s the promise that Jesus made to Nick, both in his baptism, and every time Nick received the body and blood of his Lord. I remember maybe the last time Nick was able to come to church, and he had some trouble getting up to and back from the altar railing. But Sabra and some ushers and elders helped him. I had a little trouble holding it together, because it was such a gracious example of how Christians bear one another’s burdens, and help each other to hear and receive Jesus.
And when Nick couldn’t come to Jesus anymore, I had the great privilege of bringing Jesus to Him. Jesus never casts out those whom the Father gives to Him. The Son came down from heaven and became the firstborn son of Mary in order to do this will of the Father: to call Nick and all people to Himself, and not only to call them, but to keep them until the day of resurrection. And there is nothing in all creation, nothing in heaven or earth, nothing in life that can separate Nick and the rest of God’s people from His love in Jesus Christ. Not even death could pull him away and separate him from Jesus, since Jesus has already passed that barrier and risen from the dead.
That’s the promise that covered not only Nick’s past, his entire life here on earth, with both his good works as well as his sins—but that promise also covers his future. Nick had a sign on his truck that said, “To God be the glory,” and on the door, a symbol of the Holy Trinity. God brought about His glory by the promise He gave to Nick, in which He kept Him and still keeps Him—a promise that God made in the Name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Everyone looking at the Son and believing in Him has eternal life.” And that baptismal promise will not be finished until the day of which Jesus speaks: “And I Myself will raise him on the last day.” That day is coming, and Jesus is going to raise up Nick and all people, and give eternal life to him and to all who believe in Jesus.
Even though we mourn now, and grieve the visible separation of those who have died and those who still walk through the valley of the death-shadow, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Because we who have been marked with the same Name of the Trinity, we, too, have the same hope that Nick had. We are joined to the same living Jesus, and we will see Nick again on the last day, when Jesus finishes His promise to us. As God said to Joshua just before the people went into the Land of Promise, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for Yahweh, your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua in Hebrew is the same name as Jesus in Greek. So in sorrow and in joy, be strong and courageous, because our Joshua is leading us into the eternal Land of Promise with Nick and all the saints. To God indeed be the glory.
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, 11/22/22