Summary: A Funeral sermon for one who has died in the Lord
"But now, this is what the Lord says"
Isaiah 43:1-3a But now, this is what the Lord says -he who created you O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
What can I say? What is there to say at a time like this? Sometime when a loved one dies, the words to comfort the family are not there. Especially in an unexpected death; Arnold’s death was unexpected. Six days before the Lord called him home, Arnold was in church and I asked him “How are you doing?” His reply “Just fine Pastor.” So when the news came to me that he was in the hospital and that he had passed away – for a few moments I was at a loss for words.
What can I say? What can be said to a family after they have suffered the loss of their father? To Arnold’s brothers, to his children to his friends who have known and loved him for so many years? What can you say to anyone who mourns his passing?
So I’ve listened these last days to what’s been said. Around town people have said things like, "I’m sorry to hear that he died… I didn’t know he was ill…... Well he lived for 92 years, he had a full life. Is there anything I can do?" All compassionate and well intentioned things to say, but there isn’t anything anyone can do, and none of it really makes a difference.
But this is different. This is not just a family holiday gathering, nor a group of friends getting together for coffee and to play cards. This is the funeral of Arnold Schmidt. Arnold’s death is real. It came suddenly and unexpectedly but it was the Lord’s will that Arnold should come home to heaven. And there is nothing anyone can say - not me, not you, that can change this sorrowful reality. As cherished as our memories of Arnold are, as sincere as the outpouring of sympathy is, as encouraging as this wonderful gathering is, they cannot change the Lord’s will. So what can I say - what can any of us say to make any difference at all? In truth: nothing. Absolutely nothing.
"But now this is what the Lord says-" Did you hear that? It is a cry from the prophet from across the eons. "But now this is what the Lord says-" says even before we ever uttered a word or sniffed back a tear or choked back a sob. "But now this is what the Lord says-" when we can’t find the words, when we have nothing to say.
"But now this is what the Lord says - he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel." The God who created Arnold Schmidt by knitting him together in his mother’s womb, who breathed into him the breath of life at birth, who formed and shaped his life by bringing into it all that is good and just and true - our God has something to say.
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." God says this to you. He said it to Arnold. And it’s not just empty talk designed to make us feel a little better. You see God didn’t just sit up in heaven and talk about Arnold, he instead came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, to live for Arnold, to literally live his life for him. Not falling where he would fall, not sinning where he sinned. Jesus lived a perfect, holy, sinless life for Arnold, because he knew he wouldn’t, he knew he couldn’t. And then Jesus died for Arnold to remove his sin and to forgive Arnold, to call him by name in baptism - giving him faith, claiming him as his own- , and telling him, "you are mine."
This is what God said to Arnold at his baptism 92 years ago, it’s what he kept telling him through his mother and father who brought him to church to be instructed in his Word, through Sunday School classes, catechism instruction, through the Word and Sacrament all the days of his life, even when his Savior met him at death’s door and said, "Arnold, fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine" and took him to be with him in happiness and joy of heaven, forever.