Sermons > 2014 -November 02, 2014 >What the Living share with the Dead
It's rare that I'll ever go to a Lutheran funeral and not hear the 23rd Psalm. Whenever I do a funeral here, I automatically just put it in the service – always in the King James. It's an iconic portion of the scripture that has special meaning to us. We normally associate this Psalm with feelings of consolation and comfort. And there is also some sentimentality with the beautiful imagery and talk of green pastures and shepherds. It gives us hope making us think about the better place to which our loved ones have gone. But there is a lot more to this Psalm than comfort. It's also a picture of the church's life with Christ in heaven.
Today is known as All Saints' Day on the church calendar. It's the day when we celebrate or commemorate the lives of those believers who have died in the faith. Despite the challenges and sufferings they faced, they persevered in their trust in Christ. They remained faithful unto death and have now received a Crown of Life.
Now, it should be pointed out that remaining a Christian in this day and age unto death is no small thing. It cannot and should not be taken for granted. There are forces of darkness lurking in our schools today attacking your teenage children trying to get them to embrace anything other than Christ. There are forces of darkness that wait for your kids to go off to college where they'll be exposed to new lifestyles and ideas. Once a Christian does not necessarily mean always a Christian. Believe me, I wish that it did. There would be a lot more people still here with us today.
And I remember them always in my prayers and I hope you do as well. That is our calling as Christians – to pray for one another-especially those who have wandered away from the truth. The mission the church here on earth is to seek and save the lost and this holds true for those who have never known the truth as well as those who knew it, but have now wandered from it. And so, it is no small thing when a person's faith endures unto eternal life. We live in a world bent on tearing people away from the God of their salvation and we give thanks to God every time that doesn't happen.
Now the 23rd Psalm gives us a picture of life beyond this world, but as I already said, it's not just a sentimental poem. There is truth and reality to those words. In fact, one commentator I was listening to this week made a connection between the 23rd Psalm and John's words in Revelation that we heard today. He said Revelation 7 was actually the fulfillment of Psalm 23.
Now if I were to ask you what do you think heaven is going to be like, what would you say? Angels, harps, clouds? Would you fall right into the societal conceptions? Now, angels, yes, we would say will be there. I'm not sure about harps, but we won't argue against it. But the most important picture in heaven in all of scripture is very likely pictured here in Revelation 7. And it's a beautiful picture – the diversity of people gathered together in one church around the God who saved us all. There is singing and proclamation and worship and doxological praise.
It is better than how you would conceive it on your own. In fact, all of our conceptions of heaven fall miserably short of the reality. We often talk about heaven in terms going there and getting to do the hobbies we enjoyed on earth or being with certain people or having certain feelings. But there is something lacking in all of those descriptions – the most important part of heaven, being with Christ Himself.
I know some of you like fishing as your hobby, but how about being with the Author and Creator of fish? How about being with the Author and Creator of the Universe? How about being with the One who redeemed your life from sin and death?
But even then, there will still be more. Our knowledge of God on earth is limited. We don't know God by sight, but we will in heaven. In heaven, our minds will be opened and our human nature perfected. The things God hides from us now will be revealed to us in the life to come. And make no mistake, God is keeping some things from us now. We don't know or understand His purpose or role in suffering. We don't have answers about natural disasters or catastrophes. We believe, however, that God is working all things for the good of His people and trust that He will take care of us.
And that is no easy thing because the world makes every attempt to tear us away. Satan is still busy trying to destroy what God has created. He started with Adam and Eve, but he continues to wage war against God's Saints by trying to peel you away from Christ. And with our human nature bent on sin and corruption, that's not a difficult thing. We are born into this world as Satan's allies and it is only through the washing of rebirth and regeneration that we become God's children.
In the church, we believe that sainthood begins at Baptism. It continues throughout our earthly lives even though we don't always act very saintly. But being a saint is not dependent upon your works or your choices in life. It's dependent upon the work of Jesus Christ, which God counts as your own. You are a saint by virtue of Christ's reputation being imputed to you and counted as your own. And Christ continues to nourishs your faith through Word and Sacrament. Your faith is not just begun by Word and Sacrament; it is maintained by Word and Sacrament. That's why you shouldn't look at being here as optional as though God's work in you can be taken for granted. The world is a dangerous place for the believer, but in God's house, she finds the food, the power, the teachings and the message that sustains her unto eternal life.
You know, in our church, we make a pretty strong distinction between the living and the dead. We don't pray to the dead or ask them to pray for us or anything like that. But there are a number of times when you can say that we are in communion with them. In the liturgy, we sing the same praises that they sing to God in heaven; in the sacrament, we partake of the same meal that they partake of with Christ in eternity. And in life, we make the same confession of faith that they made unto death. So you see, the Word and sacrament are the bridge between the living and the dead. The community of our communion extends beyond this world and joins us with those who confessed this faith before us.
And now today, we celebrate our fellowship together. Christians don't view death as a separation between those on earth and those in heaven. We say Christ has swallowed up death. Christ has given His saints the victory. Those who die praise God for their redemption and those who live do the same. We don't talk to them, but we do join our voices with them through the words and chants of our worship. In a way, we stand together with them as creation's choir.
And so today, we give thanks to God for their profession of faith. And at the same time, we also pray for the strength for our faith to endure. For we know that the cares and pleasures of this world cannot compare to the joys and blessings of eternity. We also know that God went through a lot to give us the gift of eternal life. He gave up His Son; He brought suffering upon Him; He sentenced Him to death; He handed Him over to Pilate and an angry mob. He allowed the guilty to go free and the innocent to suffer shame.
But now, in the church, the dead are alive and they live forever in Christ. They sing His praises in heaven. And we sing His praises on earth. The scriptures say we were once dead, but now we have been made alive in Christ. And when God makes you alive, His work is sure and certain. Don't climb back into the grave when Christ sets you free from death. Don't be given to the things the dead do to make them feel alive. There's a difference between feeling alive and being alive and that difference is baptismal regeneration, spiritual renewal and confidence in the world to come.
And so, as our sermon hymn proclaimed, today we sing with all the saints in glory. We wait for the day of the resurrection of all flesh when Christ will deliver His creation from sickness, suffering and all trials. This morning, we praise God for those whose journey in the faith is now complete and who rejoice in the presence of Christ. Their cups do runneth over and they do now dwell in the house of the Lord forever. And in time, so shall we. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Chris Bramich