Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Funeral of Charles R. Vorderstrasse – April 20, 2017
Text: Ephesians 2:8-10
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The epistle reading that we heard earlier from Ephesians was the sermon text at Chuck’s confirmation back on May 4, 1941 in this congregation. Chuck lived the faith that he professed that day, up until this past Sunday when he breathed his last. So, it’s fitting for us to meditate on these words of St. Paul in light of the life of faith God gave to Charles, His child and our beloved brother.
- For by grace you have been saved through faith.
The Gospel was front and center in Chuck’s life: It is by grace that you have been saved. Jesus Christ has done everything necessary to secure your eternal home in heaven. It’s a true gift that doesn’t require any contribution on our part. We might think such a great treasure would demand something of us, but then it wouldn’t be grace. Faith is simply the hand that receives the wonderful salvation God gives in Jesus Christ!
That faith was handed down to Chuck by his parents, Paul and Ida, and that hand of faith received what was taught through word and example. This was the faith that his parents wanted him to have when he was baptized on October 24, 1926. At age 14, Chuck publicly professed that this faith was his own—summarized in the Apostles’ Creed. That faith, borne out of God’s love for Chuck, freed him to love God in return and also love those around him.
It was a faith that gave him an underlying confidence that God is his heavenly Father, so that no matter what may happen in life—whether having to move cross-country during the Dust Bowl, living in poverty, or losing his daughter in a car accident—God would be faithful to see him and his family through.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith.” The calm peace that comes from believing these words attended Chuck as he suddenly found himself in the hospital last Thursday. As the potentially terrifying, terminal diagnoses rolled in, Chuck continued to be optimistic because he knew that God was for him. “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
But Chuck knew that whenever he should die, he was not going to face a tribunal for all the ways he had failed God, or even a review of all the good things he had done. None of it counts toward his eternal rest—it was all earned by Jesus who was born, lived, suffered, died, and rose for him.
- This faith is not your own doing; it is a gift of God.
When we read in the obituary that Chuck had a “life well-lived,” we can see that it’s true. What we want to know next is how we can accomplish the same thing. What is the good life to live? Gallons of ink have been spilled trying to answer that question. Guess what? God gives us the answer.
If you want to have a life well-lived, don’t look to Chuck—a fellow man and also a sinner (for that is why he died). Look to God. What made this life well-lived was the fear, love, and trust in God that endured to the end, the repentance and faith that the Holy Spirit kept in Chuck’s heart and the heart of every Christian. But we want to know, What’s the secret to having such a faithful life before God? “What must I do to be saved?” asked one inquirer.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” There’s the key—it’s not about what you do. Even the faith in a believing heart is the work of God: “This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” When we stop trying to save ourselves and let God do His work, He opens our minds and hearts to see His Son and find our true Sabbath rest in His work on the cross. “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
- So that no one may boast.
Chuck had this realization because God had given it to him. “It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Since it was a gift from God, there was no reason to be proud of his own accomplishments. What could he boast of in being a Christian son, or brother, or husband, or father? All that he had was a gift from God—his very breath, his family, and his place in God’s eternal family through Jesus.
- We are created in Christ Jesus for good works.
Finally, St. Paul says on the basis of this faith, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” What you witnessed in this man was God’s handiwork. God the Father adopted Him as a beloved child in the waters of Baptism, through God the Son who lovingly shed His blood for him and for every single man and woman, and God the Holy Spirit who caused the Word of God to take root and bear fruit in Chuck’s heart.
A caring heart is the work of God, shown in a man who always cared how you were doing, who “in humility counted others more significant than himself.” He did this because He has the Spirit of Christ who made Himself the compassionate servant of all, so that they might be saved from destruction.
A serving heart is the work of God, shown in a man who helped others without complaint, displaying the service of Christ the Lord: “Just as I have loved you, you are to love one another.” In the ultimate show of service, Jesus, the Lamb went uncomplaining forth, and even though it meant loss for Him, it meant great riches for all who believe.
A heart that shares the faith is also the work of God, shown in a man who raised His children in this congregation—not because of the hard work and years of service he put into the organization, but because this is where such a Christian faith is preached and believed. Chuck wanted for his children the same thing Paul and Ida gave to him: a place where the Word of God is preached and taught in all of its glory.
God grant by the power and working of His Holy Spirit, that this faith be in you. In this faith, you will have peace, confidence, and hope. Peace that God has redeemed and fully forgiven you through the holy blood of Christ. Confidence to live life trusting in God’s faithfulness. Hope of knowing what when your last hour comes, you will be talking about the hope of heaven one minute and be there the next.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Romans 14:8
 Acts 16:30-31
 John 6:29
 Galatians 3:25-26, John 3:16, Acts 2:38
 Philippians 2:3
 John 13:34