Thursday, March 31, 2016

“A Childlike Faith” Matt. 18:1-11, Laura Boelter’s funeral sermon, March ‘16

1.       Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  At a time of grieving like this, those who are present, and I, on behalf of this congregation, offer your family and all who were closest to Laura my deepest sympathy.  May our Lord who knows your needs, comfort and give you strength to uphold one another.  Today we’re going to look at a Gospel reading that Laura picked out for her funeral.  It’s from Matthew 18:1-5, which says, 1At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…”  The message is entitled, “A Childlike Faith,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.       This Gospel lesson from Matthew 18 fits Laura very well.  She had a childlike faith and a deep seated commitment to Christ Lutheran School here in West Bloomfield.  She didn’t have a childish faith; she wasn’t afraid to ask questions of Pastor Letterer while she was going through confirmation class back in the 1970s.  But, she had a faith that trusted in Jesus as her Savior, that gave her a commitment to Christ Lutheran School, that the children who went here would also trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  Her biography shows her commitment to Christian education.  Laura was involved with the Christ Lutheran Parent Teacher Group for 20 years, serving as President, working with Field Day, and drove for most of the field trips, including those Chinese fire drills she had with the children to make things fun and entertaining for them. Laura was also committed to life that God our Heavenly Father and Creator God has given to us.  She and her sister-in-law, Colleen were also involved in Lutherans for Life.  Laura’s commitment to Christian education obviously has influenced her children as well, since they too are deeply committed to Christian education.
3.       Laura’s sermon hymn, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It,” also fits well for today.  Listen to some of the verses of the hymn, “God’s own child, I gladly say it:  I am baptized into Christ!  He, because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price. Do I need earth’s treasures many?  I have one worth more than any That brought me salvation free Lasting to eternity!  Death, you cannot end my gladness:  I am baptized into Christ!  When I die, I leave all sadness To inherit paradise! Though I lie in dust and ashes Faith’s assurance brightly flashes:  Baptism has the strength divine To make life immortal mine.  There is nothing worth comparing To this lifelong comfort sure!  Open-eyed my grave is staring:  Even there I’ll sleep secure.  Though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising:  I am baptized into Christ; I’m a child of paradise!”
4.       Through Holy Baptism God did away with Laura’s sin, death, and the devil’s hold over her.  He made her his own dear child and brought her from death to eternal life.  Through your baptism God has done the same for you.  That reminds me of what one Lutheran Pastor has written about the baptism of his own child when she was near death.  Pastor Gregory Schulz has written in his book, “The Problem of Suffering:  A Father’s Hope.”   Baptism is not plain water, but water used by God’s command and connected with God’s Word. It is burial water. We baptize our children in order to bury them.”  St. Paul writes in Romans 6,  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 3–4) Baptism is resurrection water. We baptize our children as the means of transplanting them into Jesus’ own rising from death.  St. Paul continues in Romans 6, “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Romans 6: 5) Baptism is the water of life through death.   Again St. Paul says, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.” (Romans 6: 8–9) Pastor Schultz reminisces in his book,  “that as he hurries to follow the ambulance to the hospital for his daughter, he remembers Martin Luther’s reminder about baptism, “The sooner a person dies after baptism, the sooner is his baptism completed.” I have drowned my little girl in baptism to save her.”
5.       That’s why Laura’s Gospel reading for today is so applicable.  She had a childlike faith, a faith that trusts the words of our Lord Jesus to go and baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28).  And, children are included in all nations.  So what does Jesus mean when He says the word, “UNLESS YOUR TURN AND BECOME LIKE CHILDREN YOU WILL NEVER ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (Matthew 18).” As we begin to explore Jesus’ meaning, it’s crucial that we note His use of the word unless. Any time we see this term, we know that it introduces a necessary condition that has to be fulfilled for the desired result to take place. The condition that Jesus said has to be met in order for someone to enter the kingdom of God is conversion.  As Lutherans we believe that conversion takes place both through the hearing of God’s Word and through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.  St. Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”  St. Peter reminds us that baptism now saves you.  He says in 1 Peter 3:21, 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”
6.       Because funerals are not for the dead but for the living I would encourage you at this point to ask yourself in all honesty, “Am I a converted person or an unconverted person?” If you are an unconverted person and you stay in that condition, there is no way, Jesus says, for you to enter the kingdom of God. I hear people say, “I was born a Christian.” But the Scriptures tell us that every human being (except Jesus) is born into this world in a state of spiritual death in Ephesians chapter 2. In that sense, no one is born a Christian. In order to be a Christian and be saved, a person must be reborn. We have to be born not of the flesh but of the Spirit of God. Unless we are reborn, Jesus told Nicodemus in John chapter 3, we won’t be able to see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it (John 3:3, 5). Human beings were created to reflect the holiness of God. Instead, we sin against Him from the earliest age.
7.       Jesus also said that conversion must be in the direction of childlikeness. But childlikeness can be understood in different ways. Thankfully, Jesus went on to explain His meaning. He said: “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me” (Matthew 18:4–5).  Jesus didn’t bring a young child into the midst of His disciples to tell them they must be innocent like a child in order to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus knew that young children aren’t angels. He knew how self-centered and demanding they can be. Instead, He was telling them to become like children in their humility. A young child doesn’t think he knows more than his parents. Instead, she thinks her mom and dad know everything. If a mother tells her two-year-old that X, Y, or Z is true, the child believes it. That child has what is called in technical language an implicit faith. He trusts his mother implicitly. Whatever she says must be true.  Laura had that simple trust, that childlike faith that believed that Jesus was her Savior.  Even with her Leukemia that she was battling against she didn’t stop receiving God’s Holy Word and the Sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood given and shed for her for the forgiveness of her sins.  She knew that without these means of grace that she would be cut off from the kingdom of God and that’s why she earnestly desired to receive God gracious gifts on a regular basis.
8.       Jesus was greatly concerned with children. They, too, have been redeemed with His own precious blood. What an empty world it would be if the children weren’t in it with their laughter and play! Jesus puts the little ones into our midst to teach us. Like the child, we should be trusting. The child believes its mother; it’s enough that she has said so. We should have this same childlike faith in God, our eternal caretaker, and in Jesus, our Savior from sin. No matter what sins we’ve done, we should believe that Jesus’ blood blots them out.  Like a child, we should be joyous. The child is happy because he knows he’s loved. God loves us. His love is greater and deeper than a mother’s love. God says in Isaiah 49, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49: 15). To have a childlike humility means recognizing our own personal sinfulness, unworthiness, and inability to do anything to become worthy before God and earn salvation. Humility looks to Jesus as the Savior, who offered up himself as the perfect sacrifice for all sins. Humility isn’t about self-esteem; it’s about Christ-esteem. Whoever humbles himself God exalts, and whoever exalts himself God humbles.
9.       Jesus provides us with the perfect example of God-pleasing humility. He came down from heavenly glory and became one of us. He was born in a lowly stable, and he submitted to all the laws God had given to his chosen people. He never used his divine powers for his own convenience or comfort. He allowed sinful people to mistreat him, condemn him, and crucify him, that’s what today, Good Friday, is all about. And he endured all these things for us. That was the purpose for which he came into the world. And after Jesus was crucified, God the Father was pleased to highly exalted him and raise Him from the dead. He is at the right hand of the Father, and he rules the whole world in the interest of His kingdom. Eventually, every knee will bow before Him, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. All who humbly follow him in this life will share His glory in the life to come.  This is true for our dear sister in Christ, Laura, and this is true for you and me if we have a childlike faith, humbly trusting in Jesus as our Savior and our Lord.  Amen.

“Easter Matters!”—1 Peter 1:3, March '16 Easter Sunday

1.                   Please pray with me.  May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word this day that we celebrate our Lord’s Victory over death is taken from 1 Peter 1:3,  it’s entitled, “Easter Matters,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                   Take a moment and look around. Isn’t the church beautiful? Look at all these Easter lilies! They’re so white and fragrant, what a sight! And how about the music? Wow! Wasn’t it wonderful to be able sing “Alleluia” again? Oh, and, didn’t the organ sound great this morning as we sung that joyous hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”?  Personally, I just get goose bumps all over. Easter is such a wonderful event in the life the church. Just take a moment and savor it with me. [Inhale deeply and smile, and smell the Easter lilies. Then after a few seconds… That’s it. Amen. [Remain in the pulpit but allow for a period of silence.]
3.                   Now, what if the sermon had actually ended right now? If it did, I know some of you would be saying, “That’s it? What do you mean, that’s it? You mean to tell me that I got up at dawn, put on my Sunday best, and came to church for this? What a joke!” Then again, others of you might be saying, “You know, that’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard him preach. It was short and to the point, and now, the best part is that we just might get out of here early! Yes!” But in all seriousness, what if that was the end of the sermon?  If Easter is only about smelling the lilies and taking in the special emotion of the day, then it really doesn’t matter all that much. On the other hand, if Easter is about some profound, eternal truth, then this worship service really matters. How much does Easter matter for us?
4.                   We’re living in a time when people are fond of saying, “You have your opinion; I have mine.  Maybe your Easter celebration turns you on but don’t tell me it’s God’s truth,” they say. “Jesus?  Buddha? Mohammed? Wasn’t it Pilate who asked, ‘What is truth?’ Truth is whatever you make it out to be.” That’s the way many people look at it today. Easter and Jesus, many people say, may be “true” for us but not for everybody. To address this, we’ve got to ask a basic question. How much does Easter matter for us?  Will our celebration of Easter matter for others? [Smile] I’ll give you a longer sermon!
5.                   How much does Easter matter for you and me? The Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, because according to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  We couldn’t agree more! Jesus died and rose for the sins of the whole world, especially for you. In fact, it’s because Jesus did die and rise for you, that you can be assured that your sins are forgiven and that you have eternal life. For you, Jesus allowed Himself to be beaten and flogged, and teased and taunted. And for you, Jesus allowed a crown of thorns to be thrust on His head. But most important of all, it was for you that Jesus laid down on a fateful Friday, and allowed His hands and feet to be nailed to a wooden cross. Bang. Bang. Bang.
6.                   Now, at any time, Jesus could have said, “That’s it! I’ve had enough. No more. I’m out of here!” But for you, Jesus not only endured the cross, He died on the cross. And He did it to pay for all of your sins. He was then laid in a tomb. And just when it looked like all was lost, just when it looked like this Messiah was just some cruel joke, just when it looked like that was it…that was it!… Just then it happened. Jesus rose from the dead. Alleluia! St. Peter says in 1 Peter 1:18-21, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” Yes, Easter matters…to you…to me!
7.                   As followers of Jesus we believe this is the truth. 1 Peter 1:22 says, “You have purified yourself by obeying the truth.” That’s what we believe but still others could just wave us off. Remember what we said earlier, that some people say “truth” is simply a creation of community? “That’s your opinion.” We here at Christ & Calvary Lutheran Churches are a community. And, as a community that’s a part of the body of Christ, we live by faith. We trust that God’s Word is the truth. Yes, we believe this word of resurrection is the truth and true for us. Our eternal destiny depends on this word of faith, that “God has given us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Now let’s take a turn in the sermon. What will it look like to others because Easter matters to us?
8.                   When Easter matters to us, will it look like this? Once the service, and singing and praising to our God is over, we pretty much leave Easter in the church parking lot and head out to our daily lives. Maybe we’re headed to that traditional ham dinner at Grandma’s house. Then again, maybe you go out to eat. Maybe, you’ll even get a nap in this afternoon! But, as fun as that may all be, by about oh, three or four o’clock, life has pretty much returned to normal. And, Easter is over and done with for another year. If Easter matters, will it look like that? No!
9.                   When we live as though Easter matters, we put a high priority on being a community, on our life together as the body of Christ. We continue to come to God’s house to hear His Word and receive our Lord’s Supper. We continue to be fervent in our daily prayers and devotions. “Lord, we believe Your word is truth; help our unbelief!” When Easter matters we continue as a church to do good works in our community. We make sure that the food bank in our area is well stocked for those in need. Or, we put a little extra in the collection plate to take care of the needs of our global missionaries like we’ve done for Pastor David & Rachel Baker Christian missionaries to Mongolia or to support the mission of our Lutheran Elementary School at Christ Lutheran.
10.               When Easter matters to us, it not only matters to all of us but it matters to each of us personally. The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.”  Since Easter matters, will you allow yourself to be interrupted by God? For example, what if you and your spouse go out for what’s supposed to be a quiet brunch? It’s the two of you. No distractions, just some time alone. But now suppose that after being seated at the table, you notice that your waitress ends up being a daughter of this congregation. You know this girl, even though she hasn’t been in church for awhile. You could pretend you don’t recognize her. But when Easter matters, you’re concerned when your sister in Christ misses out on the grace and forgiveness that the Lord gives us in the Divine Service. So you spend some talking with that young girl. You let her know that you miss her, and you pray for her.
11.               When we think of taking Easter into our daily lives, what can be more daily than going to Walmart? What if you’re walking down the aisles, and all of a sudden, there he or she is. This is your neighbor, and they’re hurting. Maybe they’ve been laid off and can’t find work, maybe their spouse has left them, or maybe there’s been a death in the family. The easy thing to do would be to put your head down and pass them without saying a word. But when you live like Easter matters, when you take the resurrection of Jesus Christ seriously, you don’t shun that person. Instead you say something like: “Roger, I’m so sorry about your job. Betty, I can only imagine how much you are hurting. Sarah, even though we take comfort that Harry is now with the Lord, it must be hard to be alone. May I pray for you?”
12.               [Pause] People will continue to say, “Oh, Jesus and Easter, that’s just your opinion.” But when you live your life like Easter matters, people will get curious. Your co-workers and friends, and maybe even your family will say things to you like, “Why are you always spending so much time helping others? Why are you always caring for people? What makes you the way you are?” 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Then you can say, “You want to know why I’m different? I’ll tell you the truth. It’s Easter. Easter matters to me and I pray Easter will matter to you.” That’s it! Amen.