Over the past four weeks, the Lord has called home to heaven five precious saints who were part of our Trinity Lutheran Church and School family. None of these deaths were unexpected. But they hit families and friends hard. During this season, we’re working on a funeral a week at Trinity.
Over the weekend, I received word that one of my college and Seminary classmates died suddenly and unexpectedly. He’s my age. I know him and his family. And, honestly, the life expectancy actuarial tables don’t allow for too many to pass away in their late 50s.
This loss hit his family and loved ones hard. It is an emotional gut punch to the congregation he’s faithfully served for many years.
In addition, several dear friends and acquaintances have recently been stricken by serious health crises. We’re not talking stubbed toes or mere sniffles. These are life-threatening challenges.
To be honest, all of these events have taken up a considerable amount of space in my head. And there I’ve done it – I’ve illustrated how easy it is to place myself at the center of the universe, to make everything in some way about me.
There is a God, and it is not me. (This is good news!) There is a God, and he expresses himself as predominantly gracious and merciful rather than vengeful and punishing. (This is wonderful news!) Thanks to this God I can say, “I wait for the Lord. My soul waits, and in his word I have put my hope.” (Psalm 130:5) I can also say, “My soul rests quietly in God alone. My salvation is from him.” (Psalm 62:1)
I need to stop letting external things determine my mood and my perspective – e.g., challenges that I or others might be facing, loss, the prevailing sentiment of the world and culture around me, the (joyful? distracting!) season of the year.
I need to stop making my way through this season of time, this season of life (anytime, really!) with the idea that difficult things are happening to me or against me. In God’s economy, according to his modus operandi, things that take place happen for me, that is, for my spiritual and eternal good. Isn’t that the profound assurance of Romans 8:28? “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose”
No mere bandage here. The apostle backs up this assertion with several glorious realities, aka, facts: “Those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called. Those he called, he also justified. And those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29,30) Think of it – “God foreknew…he predestined…he called…he justified…he glorified.” All of this is for…me! For you!
In the midst of tears and sorrow, I will praise my Savior. In the midst of fears that arise at my own weakness and fragility, I will push back with the faith and trust supplied by the Spirit through Word and Sacraments. I’m not one to flippantly declare that the first three letters of “funeral” are “f-u-n” so let’s have some. But I know this…
Until the end of time (certainly until the end of my time on this earth), preachers will stand in front of God’s people – Sunday after Sunday, funeral after funeral – and say once again to a sin-and-death-darkened world that our sole comfort in life and death is this: “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory.” (John 1:14a) The light shines in the darkness (even that of death), and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Because “God so loved the world that he gave His one and only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward mankind.” (Luke 2:14)
God keep you in his gracious care,
Pastor Stephen Luchterhand