Funeral Sermon for Lenora P. Hanna (Schmidt)

Funeral of Lenora Pauline Hanna – June 17, 2021

Text: Psalm 139:7-18, 23-24

“In the Uncertainty of This Life, God is the Solid Rock upon Whom We Stand.”

This is where Lenora was raised.  She was born May 31, 1956, but soon after born from above by God in the precious waters of Holy Baptism in this congregation (at the old church on 2nd street).  Wally and Jean raised her in the Christian faith, and nearly 14 years later, Lenora made her own confession of faith on May 17, 1970 before this altar.

When young people make this confession before the congregation and, by God’s grace, vow to remain faithful to God until death, none of us knows what the future years will bring.  This life is full of uncertainties: future plans changing drastically, grave illness for a beloved spouse, marriages broken by divorce or death, and life ending suddenly.  All this and more are the things which break our bodies and crush our spirits.  Some of them come on gradually, and others hit out of the blue.

When these tragedies come, we long for some kind of answer, some comfort in understanding why, so that we can have some glimpse of good coming out of the evil.  But more often than not, the answers don’t come, or they’re not satisfying.  That isn’t to say God isn’t able to bring good out of evil [Genesis 50:20], but in the moment, we don’t know how that can be.  Why, when things were going so well—when she loved her family, she loved her job, had plans for a big family birthday party, when she had joined her sister, Betty, in coming back to church regularly, and was even looking forward to retirement next September—was Lenora’s life cut short?  The only answers we can find leave us weeping.

But there is still certainty even in this hour.  It doesn’t come from the chance and changes of one’s life, in the choices one makes or potentially dodging hereditary disease.  That certainty is from the Lord God who says to His children: “But now thus says the Lord, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’” (Isaiah 43:1)  The Lord called her through His servant, Pastor Kratzke, as he said, “Lenora Pauline Schmidt, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  There in the baptismal waters, Almighty God gave her a treasure that outshines anything this world can imagine: union with His Son, Jesus Christ, in His death for all her sins and sharing in His victory over death!  God the Father adopted Lenora, and gave her the privilege to be called His beloved child.

Even though we don’t have answers for why Lenora’s life was ended so soon, God has given this sign to us: Lenora died on June 10th, the very day she was baptized in the Name of the Jesus 65 years earlier.  By this, I believe, the Lord is pointing us to where we can have certainty in these times: in His sure work that forgives sins, restores peace with God, and assures us of an open heaven and the resurrection to everlasting life.

In the midst of our days and because our sin darkens our understanding, we don’t always recognize and appreciate what a gift is delivered in Baptism.  It’s far more than a sterile, ancient rite of the Church.  It wasn’t appropriated from other religions just to have something unique to do.  Baptism is a gift which the Lord Jesus gave to the world after He died for the sins of all and broke the power of death and the devil.  Baptism is the good news, the Gospel of God, delivered through water, as the Apostle Paul tells us:

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7)

God chooses to become the Heavenly Father of His children, and in that He is no slouch!  Earlier this morning, we prayed together a portion of Psalm 139, which beautifully illustrates the God who claimed Lenora in Holy Baptism.  And before I read it, I also want you to know that this isn’t just about her.  This is true for every one who believes in God’s work.  Lenora saw to it that her children were each given this very same treasure: Kenneth on April 3, 1982; Joseph on April 22, 1984; and John on December 26, 1999.

 So, listen to how intimately acquainted God, who made Himself your Father, is deeply concerned with each of His children’s lives:

7Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

8If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

9If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”

12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

13For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

17How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

No matter how far one has strayed, how estranged one has been from God their Father, how you may have even despised your Creator and the Lord who redeemed you with His blood—as many days as you have on this earth, God never stops seeking you.  He has known you since before your parents even did, and He knows your inmost being, and your life from beginning to end.  So knowing this treasure which God the Father desires for each of you, stop neglecting it, resisting it, and going on in darkness.  On that road, the only thing that’s certain is death which leads to judgment and hell.  That would break your Father in heaven’s heart, Who has done so much that you might know everlasting life.

The All-powerful Creator of the universe is seeking you out to keep you through this life, passing through the Judgment Day, and into eternal life.  This is how He is able to call you back when you stray, strengthen you when you’re ready to fall, wipe away your tears, and raise you from your graves.  And the conscience who trusts in this Gospel can gladly say,

23Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

24And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Christian Memorial for Thomas Henry Standley (John 3:14-18)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Christian Memorial for Thomas Henry Standley – February 19, 2018
Text: John 3:14-18
Tom’s story is a story of the Gospel of Jesus at work.  He came to Bethlehem knowing a little about the Lord, but it was here that he was confirmed at the age of 26 on May 7, 1950 by Pastor Herbert F. Koehlinger.  He quickly grew in his faith, as he was soon asked to serve as Sunday School Superintendent.  He told the story of how he was honest with the pastor, and said he didn’t know enough to teach Sunday School, but the pastor and his wife gave him instruction.
Tom’s love for is Lord Jesus was evident in his life.  He led the Sunday School for over 40 years.  Many people fondly remember his humble leadership and dedication for children to know Jesus.  Out of love for the Lord, he and Winnie would drive their van around to pick up children for Sunday School.  He and his wife exuded their faith to their family, this congregation, and our community.
Although all this was done by Tom, it was truly evidence of Jesus at work in his life and in our midst here at Bethlehem.  Ninety-four years of stories richly show God’s hand in Tom’s life.  But even though we talk about these things in the past tense, this is certainly not the end.
I’d like to direct your attention to the Gospel reading again, which contains, as Tom used to call it “the Gospel in a nutshell”:
14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:14–18 ESV)
Death is not the end for Tom.  “Ridiculous!” you may say, because obviously he’s not with us anymore.  But this is the good news which the Lord gave to Tom and to everyone who believes: death is not the end.  Jesus was lifted high upon the cross for this very purpose!  Whoever believes does not perish, but has eternal life!  If you believe that God does not lie, then you have this promise also!
Many people believe that Jesus was a historical person, that he taught love and left us a humble example.  But, that’s not the whole story.  How tragic it would be if Jesus just gave us a better way to live our short lives.  If that were true, what would it matter how good or bad our life was, if we’re all going to a bleak nothingness when we die?  That sort of supposed faith in Jesus doesn’t help at a time like this.
But to believe in Jesus is something more.  To believe in Jesus is to believe that His suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection are for you.  Why must Jesus, the Son of Man, be lifted up?  Because we are all under condemnation.  No matter how good our lives are on the outside, they fall short of what God has made us to be.  Our hearts were meant to be pure, but they entertain all kinds of evil thoughts.  Our minds are meant to be holy, but we scheme how we can get the better share of the deal.  Our actions are to be blameless and help and serve those around us, but there are so many ways that we hurt and fail to help the people God puts right in front of us.  Without Jesus, we are all under condemnation.
For God’s part, He loves us still.  He loves in this way: To save us from perishing, condemned and in hell for our wickedness, He gave His only-begotten Son.  This is who Jesus was and what He was about: saving sinners.  The cross was lifted high with the Son of God nailed to it, and everyone who looks upon Him and puts their trust in Him is justified—“just if I’d” never sinned.  Jesus was lifted up and those who are baptized and believe in His death and resurrection, are not under condemnation.  You are forgiven, and you have life that even the grave cannot steal away.
It is this good news, this Gospel, to which Tom devoted his life—whether in Sunday School, or singing in the choir, or helping build this sanctuary, or even mowing the grass.  It was all done to the glory of God who “so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV)
Even though Tom’s course in this world is complete, the Gospel of Jesus continues.  It’s easy for us to remember what once was and set our hope in the past.  Oh, when the Sunday School was full!  Oh, when the choir was bustling and many voices joined together!  Oh, when the pews were packed!  Even though the visual reminders are there—the large sanctuary, the three-tiered choir loft, the accordion dividers downstairs—God calls us to trust in His Gospel and what He is still doing here today.  We should not dwell on what used to be or pine after what isn’t here anymore.  That is idolatry of the first degree, because it’s done supposedly in the name of God.  Repent and believe in Jesus, not in His congregation.
Instead, remember why Bethlehem Lutheran Church is here: To preach and share the Gospel, to call sinners to repentance, to shepherding all ages into eternal life, and to serve our neighbors with God’s love.  The Gospel never changes and God’s Word never stops working.  This is true, even if what we see today is different from what happened at another time.
I know this to be true personally, because I came to the Lord as an adult.  It wasn’t anyone’s strategic planning that brought me to faith, but a series of events that God orchestrated and a friend he put in my life who told me about Jesus and invited me to church.  You see that God is at work today just as strongly as He has ever been.  God teaches us that His Holy Spirit calls men by the Gospel [John 3:8] to know Jesus Christ and be saved.  There is nothing about America in 2018, or Lebanon today that is too much for God to handle.  He created our hearts, and He’s in the business of saving sinners.
God was at work throughout Tom’s life, and now Tom has reached God’s intended goal: freedom from sin, death, and an eternal Sabbath rest.  He will surely do the same for all who believe the Gospel today.  Amen.

Christian Funeral of Helen May Daily (John 10:11-16, 27-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Christian Funeral of Helen May Daily – October 18, 2017
Text: John 10:11-16, 27-30

Helen was a woman who was full of service.  From her twenties on, she served in this congregation, working in the Ladies Aid.  She loved gardening, so she helped with the flowers and bushes around the church.  She helped prepare and serve meals both at church and to those she invited to her home.  Best of all, she loved doing it.  When I would visit her while she was homebound, she always mentioned how much she missed being at church, being involved in the activities and the fellowship, serving together with others.
With such a fervent desire to serve, it was painful to see her health ailing so much that she couldn’t be where she wanted to be, doing what she was so inspired to do.  I would tell how everyone missed her and was thinking about her and praying for her.  But I would also tell her that sometimes the Lord takes our ability to serve away.  (In fact, this is what makes the way for new faces to be inspired by the Lord to serve!)  But for Helen, it was still sad to know that time had passed, and all she wanted to do was have liberty to be at church!
Where did this spirit of serving come from?  What made her so generous with her time and enlarged her heart to do what she did?  It came because she knew her Good Shepherd, Jesus.  Who is He?  Hear Him tell it, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  Of all the serving that Helen did, Jesus served first.  Of all the love that she showed her family and others, her Savior loved her first.  The Son of God saw the world in its need—every person—and He entered our world on Christmas to serve us.  He says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”[1]  And serve He did, completely, and to the very end.
If there would be any hope of being saved from condemnation, every person needs to be pure and holy before God.  If someone asks, who deserves to be with God in heaven, you might get a lot of answers.  Helen, someone might say, because of all the good that she did.  Maybe great philanthropists who gave and gave to others would also make the cut in our opinion.
But what does God say about worthiness?  In Psalm 15, He says, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?  He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart.”  But God excludes every person except One in Psalm 14, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”  If we, who are flesh and blood, are indeed to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” (Psalm 23:6) it must be on the merits of Jesus alone.  And in Him, we have been clothed in the holiness needed to live in God’s presence.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd came seeking the lost.  He found us just as we are in our sin, and He served us in this, our greatest need.  Without a hint of deserving it—even before we might ask Him to—He laid down His life on our behalf; He gave everything He had for our good.
It’s this love that filled Helen with gratitude and inspired her generous service to others.  Her service was not anything extraordinary by itself.  Rather, it was the amazing result of being one who is redeemed by Christ the Crucified.  So she simply served with the abilities with which God had gifted her, and she was happy to do it—after all her Savior had done for her and her family.
When Jesus laid down His life for Helen and all His flock, He not only served our greatest need, but He also gave us eternal hope.  Jesus says about His flock, 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  Everyone who the Lord has gathered around Himself in faith has this firm bedrock for their life.
Helen had a very slow decline of health, but even as her body withered, she drew nearer to what the Lord had won for her—eternal life.  This she could confidently hold to, because as Paul says in Romans 8, “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
This hope is also what undergirds all our life, for there is one flock under one Shepherd.  We’ve seen a lot of our brothers and sisters leave this life, who have served for many years.  Yet the Good Shepherd is still with us, just as He is with them.  We believe; they see Him face to face.  The one flock spans heaven and earth, and in that we have confidence for today and whatever may come in the future.   Just as the Good Shepherd was faithful to lead Helen and others we know who have fallen asleep in the faith, He will still guide us.  Whatever may come in this life, whether prosperity or affliction, we will follow because He goes before us.
Commend your lives into the care of Helen’s Good Shepherd and yours!  Serve Him gladly out of the great love He has shown you.  He is always faithful, and always strong to comfort, restore, and strengthen His flock to follow Him. Amen.
[1] Matthew 20:28

Christian Funeral of Walferd G. Delzer (Romans 8:28-39)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Christian Funeral of Walferd G. Delzer – July 20, 2017
Text: Romans 8:28-39

85 years: that’s how long Wally lived (actually just a month ago today).  65 years: that’s how long Wally and Lucille were married.  38 years is how long he worked for CalPortland Cement Company.  24 years is how long Wally was a part of our congregation.  That’s a lot of time for us.  Lots of memories, lots of warm words and love, and yes, lots of hard times too.
Wally was baptized as an infant in Menno, South Dakota.  His parents later moved to Tehachapi and he was raised in the faith at a congregation in Bakersfield.  He and Lucille have spent their entire life together in the Church, loving and serving.  That’s a lot of years to live in God’s grace.
Yet for all of those years, God invites His children to see their lives from a bigger perspective.  For us, we count days, months, and years.  For God, He sees our lives from eternity:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
God’s perspective on Wally’s life started before he was even born.  From before the world was ever made, God established His eternal plans for Wally in Christ.[1]  His plans—His good purpose—were for Wally to be called by the Gospel to faith in Jesus.
In that call to Wally came the clear words of God’s grace.  Wally was a fallen descendent of Adam and Eve, for whom no amount of good works could make him right with God.  Yet out of His divine love, God made peace for Wally and declared to him that his sins were forgiven on account of Jesus’ death on the cross.  The familiar words of Jeremiah 29:11 ring out, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”[2]  God gave that peace to Wally in the forgiveness of his sins.
But there’s more to God’s plans: “those whom he justified, he also glorified.”  These 85 years on life are not the total of God’s plans for Wally or any Christian.  God’s eternal purpose was fulfilled when Wally finished his course in faith.  The end of this life is only an end from where we stand.  God has prepared eternal life for all who are called by the Gospel and have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
If we see our lives as God’s children from His perspective, it changes our outlook on everything in life as we know it.  When things are going well in our lives, we can thank God for what He’s provided, but also realize none of it is meant to last—even the dream houses, cars, jobs, and vacations will come to an end.  Money comes to us and goes out again, and it would be foolish to look for security in something that’s so easily lost.
God’s perspective on our lives is also tremendous comfort in times of need.  In those seasons where things are falling apart all around you—you’ve lost your job, house, maybe even spouse and children.  When your health is failing and all the tests come back with inconclusive or bad news, God’s promise stands.  He has called you from eternity into eternity, and He never breaks His Word.
What a comfort it is!  We can endure in time of pain and struggle because God holds our life in His hands.  We entrust our days and years into God’s care because His plans are eternal.  Jesus rose from the dead and our life belongs to Him, so the power is taken away from even the most dreadful disease or unexpected death.  Because God’s purpose for us is for good and life, we can know for certain that whatever evil befalls us God will overcome it for us and give us the perseverance and peace we need when we need it.  We hear the rest of Romans 8:
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
            “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God’s purpose for Wally is the same purpose He has for each one of you—even for every man and woman who has ever lived—that you hear His call to repent and believe the Gospel.  Hear it straight from the Son of God, who gave His life for you:
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
By the power of His Holy Spirit, may this peace and this life be yours in Jesus Christ! Amen.
[1] Ephesians 1:3-5
[2] Many translations say “welfare” but the Hebrew is shalom which the King James correctly translates

Christian Funeral of Rachel Fannie Vogel (John 14:25-27)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Christian Funeral of Rachel Fannie Vogel – July 15, 2017
Text: John 14:25-27

In the Name + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rachel was a beloved mother, grandmother, and even great grandmother.  One of the things many people have noticed is that she was also a woman of great faith.  In her life, she made it clear how important her Lord Jesus Christ was to her.  Even lately, with her hearing gone and her eyesight failing, she would still faithfully read her Lord’s Word.  The Word was planted in her heart and grew, watered by Pastor Ted Vogel when he instructed and confirmed her in the Christian faith.  She passed that Word of God down to her children, so that they too might know Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
Because of the faith Rachel had, she also had a peace about her.  It was a peace that supported her through many ups and downs in her life.  Her faith anchored her wherever she lived, whether in Alaska, Hawaii, or back in Sweet Home.  Her faith bound her to the Lord she loved, and He supported her as she and Evan raised their children.  The Lord of her life was her strength as she worked in different fields, and even as she served Him in retirement.  In later years, as her health declined, Rachel continued to have peace, as she mourned Evan’s passing and later Ted’s.  She saw her health decline slowly, and the ability to hear music, which she loved so much, was taken away.  But that peace which her Lord had given her remained.
Was it because Rachel lived such a faithful life that God blessed her with such peace?  No, it was definitely the other way around.  God blessed her out of His fatherly grace and mercy.  For even though she was the matriarch of her family and attained 100 years, she was also sinner.  She said so every time I met with her, and it amazed her that the Lord was so good to her.  All that she had was a gift from God, even the very faith that anchored her.  What a gift that was, because she was able to praise Him in the bad times just as well as the good.
Listen to the words of Rachel’s Lord and yours:
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
It was the Holy Spirit who taught Rachel to know Jesus Christ, and the Spirit who gave her the faith to cling to Him.  In all the words that the Lord speaks, He bestows peace.  Even now that sin has done its worst and taken her earthly life from her, Rachel still has peace.
It’s not peace the way the world gives peace.  The world’s peace requires everything to be going well on the outside—health, finances, and no conflict.  But the peace which the Lord gives is the peace of sins forgiven, the peace of removing the fear of death, and the peace that Jesus has done all things so that she now rests in the Lord’s presence now.
With that peace, a believer need not worry nor be afraid because the precious Lord has taken away the weight of sin and the sting of death.  He went before us and already bore that weight—all that Rachel and you and I justly deserved. In exchange, Rachel and you and I receive all the merits of Jesus as a gift through faith.
Rachel still has that peace, but we must continue on until we’ve attained the promised eternal life.  If you want that faith and peace which Rachel had, stay near to the Lord.  Hear His Word and trust in it.  Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will have that Spirit-worked peace in your hearts.  That’s a peace that will sustain you through everything in this passing life and continue to be yours eternally.
God grant you this peace, in the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Funeral of Charles R. Vorderstrasse (Ephesians 2:8-10)

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.

  1. 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.”[1]
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.

  1. 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.”[2]  There’s the key—it’s not about what you do.  Even the faith in a believing heart is the work of God:[3] “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.

  1. 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.[4]
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.”[5]  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.”[6]  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.
[1] Romans 14:8
[2] Acts 16:30-31
[3] John 6:29
[4] Galatians 3:25-26, John 3:16, Acts 2:38
[5] Philippians 2:3
[6] John 13:34

Funeral of Helen M. Vorderstrasse (Luke 23:33, 39-43)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Funeral of Helen M. Vorderstrasse + March 15, 2017
Text: Luke 23:33, 39-43

Someone told me this week, “Helen remembers everything she forgot.”  Because she has been granted rest from her labors, free from the effects of sin and death, she remembers all that vascular dementia covered over.  But, these past 4 years did not define who she was.  They were like a shroud, cast over her.
In the words of Ken, she was beautiful—the only daughter in a family of boys, a wife, a mother, a leader, a friend, a servant.  This is who she was and this is how we remember her.
She is beautiful because she is still living, no longer with us but with her Lord Jesus Christ.  She is with Him in paradise not because of how beautiful a person she was to us, but because the Lord remembered her.
42 And [the criminal] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Helen wrote in one of her journals, “I have no recollection of anything…Lord, help me.”  The Lord answered that prayer.  He answered it by remembering what He did in the waters of Baptism on July 23, 1948 when she was baptized in this congregation.  “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. 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.”[1]  She was united through faith to her Lord, so that His death was her death, and His resurrection is also hers.  And the Lord never forgot that promise and grace which was Helen’s through faith.
Through Baptism, God remembers His mercy.[2]  Yet in remembering His mercy, God also forgot: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”[3]  In Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and buried, God remembers His mercy and forgets all our sins.
God was faithful to Helen her whole life through.  He is faithful in His promises to you, too.  In the distractions and mess of daily life, you may have forgotten the Lord who purchased and won you on the cross and claimed you in Holy Baptism.  In forgetting what God the Father did, you might think all He can remember are your sins.  You may be ashamed that you have forgotten of God.  But He remembers His mercy and what He has done for you.  God is faithful.  God remembers His mercy for all who fear, love, and trust in Him.  He remembers the salvation He has wrought for you, the living hope, and the imperishable, unfading inheritance He has laid up for all who hope in Him.[4]  He forgets all your sins, because He has taken then from you, and nailed them to the cross.
Therefore, through Christ we are privileged to pray, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And He surely does.  Amen.
[1] Romans 6:3-5
[2] Luke 1:72
[3] Jeremiah 31:33-34
[4] 1 Peter 1:3-9

Funeral of Dale Bruce Gray (Isaiah 40:27-31)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Funeral of Dale “Bruce” Gray – January 5, 2017
Text: Isaiah 40:27-31
Dale Bruce Gray had a long and rich life of 87 years.  He had a long life of marriage to Alice, married for 65 years and 5 days.  Bruce had a long life of faith, baptized and confirmed as an adult in February 1954 in this very congregation.  He had a rich life in this congregation, raising his boys and working on many projects through the years including the building of this sanctuary and work on the parsonage.
This long and rich life was a gift from His God, who purchased and won Him from the cross and adopted Bruce as His own child through faith.  The Lord says this about His children:
29    He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30    Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31    but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
       they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
The Lord gives power to the faint, and increases the strength of those who have no might.  We might say that it was unfair that such a man as Bruce was riddled by such poor health these last several years.  If the Lord is doing what He says here, it seems like His servants should be healthy and vibrant.  They shouldn’t have to go on this rollercoaster of being in and out of the hospital every few months.
We get led astray, however, when we measure the Lord by what we observe in His servants—whether by the condition of someone’s body or by how much they did in their life.  What matters above all—and the reason we are gathered here—is not the man Bruce, but Bruce’s God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
It’s true that we have strength in ourselves, a strength of mind and body.  Every person has a measure of strength that comes from being alive, whether or not they call on the Lord.  With that strength, we achieve many things during our lifetime.  But that strength wears out, gets riddled with disease, forgets things, grows old, and dies.
But when are baptized and believe in the Name of Jesus, we put on His strength—the strength of the “everlasting God who does not faint or grow weary.”  It is He who created heaven and earth, who created us and first breathed into our nostrils the breath of life, who knit us together in our mother’s womb, and who daily provides all we need for this body and life.  This is the God who gives power to the faint and renews the strength of those who wait for Him.
It’s a strength that is given to God’s children through faith, no matter what the changes and chances of this life bring, whether poor or strong health, a great or a feeble mind.
It’s an unwearied strength because it comes from our God.  We have it by the faith God has given us.  It’s about this strength that St. Paul wrote in Romans 8, 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[1]  All of these seem pretty powerful.  But why are they incapable of destroying us?  They are not able to wrench us away from the Lord because He gives us His strength.  He is the God who overcame all things by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  It’s with that strength that God preserves His children in their Baptism throughout this life.  And with that strength, all who are in Christ will have the strength to rise from their graves and live with the Lord in eternity.
The day Bruce passed, Alice asked me how is she going to live without Bruce.  The strength to do it will come from the God who was Bruce’s strength and hers.  Do not be afraid and do not despair; the Lord is the everlasting God and He renews your strength, through every trial, even unto eternal life.  Amen.
[1] Romans 8:38-39

Funeral of A. Lorraine Roosa (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Funeral of Alta “Lorraine” Roosa – December 12, 2016
Text: 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Fought the good fight – Lorraine lived a life of many struggles, yet the Lord sustained her through them all.  94 years of struggles.   It’s never easy for a child of God, an heir of eternity to live in this world, knowing the day will come for us to lay it all down and leave it another.  That’s why this Scripture describes life as a “fight.”[1]
Lorraine’s life, just like each of ours was a fight.  She prayed for her children, that they and their children might keep the faith and reverently hear the Word of the Lord.  She agonized in grief over losing her husband Jim, even 21 years later.  She fought with infirmity and relying on her kids to care for her.  She argued with God asking to go home.
But it turned out that this was her final lap of the race.  The time for her labors and endurance had come to an end.  But what a strange race this was, because after all her struggles and sighing, she didn’t even receive her own reward.  “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me.”  Lorraine is not in heaven because of how well she fought the good fight or finished the race.  She is in heaven because God gifted her with righteousness.  So, you could say her life was a race which she ran, but Christ had already won the victory.
A week and a half ago, I stood by Lorraine’s bedside when we thought she was about to cross the finish line.  There, I read the crucifixion and resurrection of her Lord and Savior.  These are fitting events to focus on because that’s really what our life as baptized children of God is about.  Lorraine was crucified with Christ and raised with Him in her baptism.  So, reading the death and resurrection of her Lord was like reading her own life story.  “Into your hands, I commit my spirit.  You have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.”[2] 
Lorraine’s life was unique and she was special to each of you.  But we’re gathered here in worship because she was before God a child adopted in Christ.  Her Lord is the one who fought the good fight for Lorraine and for you.  And He continues to fight for you against unbelief and despair so that you would also be a child of God when your last hour comes.
My prayer for you is that your life is a fight.  That may sound strange, but by God’s grace may it be a good fight.  Even though you weep now, may you trust that God will bring joy in the morning.[3]  Even though you long to have Lorraine back or be where she is, may God give you endurance to keep the faith.  And when your race is finished, may you not receive your own prize, but the heaven which Jesus has won for you.  Amen.
[1] Greek: agon, familiar to us as agony and agonize
[2][2] Said by Jesus from the cross Luke 23:46, quoted from Psalm 31:5
[3] Psalm 30:5