First Lesson: Revelation 7: 9-17
Responsive Reading: Psalm 34: 1-10, 22
Second Lesson: 1 John 3: 1-3
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 5: 1-12
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This morning I wish to speak about one of the most controversial issues affecting churches today in the issue of funeral eulogies. For many this seems like a simple issue, they just naturally assume that one’s funeral should be a tribute to their life.
Ultimately though such tributes miss the point with funerals, the problem with funeral eulogies is what they say and what they fail to say. I think back to one of the first funerals I ever did in my ministry. The guy had quite a reputation, he was ornery, he was impatient, he liked to drink, he would never dare to set foot in the church, and he would talk down to his salt of the earth wife. When it was time for this guy’s eulogy boy was a yarn spun. This guy was the best husband, best parent, the calmest and most patient individual; he was the hardest worker, along with having one of the strongest faiths of anyone in the whole town. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah! Now when I think of the people I’ve known the longest and those that I consider myself the closest to, I’ve never met a person with whom the following attributes are true.
When I think of the loved ones close to me that have passed, I remember my grandpa Al. The thing about Al is if they wanted to define “fiery Italian” in the dictionary, Al would have had his picture in there. The thing about Al is family members would always choose their words and watch their actions carefully around him because he was known to fly off the handle and into a rage at the drop of a hat. Al was not one who people knew for expressing his feelings in a delicate or sensitive manner.
I think back to my first encounter with death in my great-grandma Mabel who as she lay dying in a hospital bed couldn’t stop complaining about her eight-year-old Great-Grandson, who wasn’t wearing a matching pair of socks. Such behavior was in total character for her!
At their funerals, both were recipients of glowing eulogies; you would have thought these people didn’t have one problem in their life.
For I think, funeral eulogies are the byproduct of a deeper spiritual sickness. We often think we need these things to be true, if God is going to accept us.
Let me tell a story about the former pastor at my home church in Lindstrom in Pastor Don. Pastor Don was one time speaking at a funeral for a congregation member who had struggled with alcoholism where Pastor Don dared to within the funeral sermon to acknowledge this gentleman’s disease and struggles. Pastor Don knew what he said was true, the family knew what he said was true, and everyone in the congregation knew what he said was true. The family was outraged in that they couldn’t believe that their loved one's mask could be seen before God and Man. The family took their complaints all the way to the Synod, and Pastor Don stepped into early retirement not long afterwards. All this took place because the family couldn’t believe God would accept someone if he knew the truth of their lives.
The story of Pastor Don highlights one of the biggest problems with eulogies is they often exist solely for the purpose of trying to boost Harry into Heaven.
Too often as Christian people we get the focus of a funeral service all wrong. The purpose of a funeral is not to serve as group therapy for the loved ones of those who passed. We fall into this error when we evaluate the effectiveness of a funeral on the basis of its personal touch.
Funerals are not meant to be about the deceased. Instead, a funeral is meant to be about the Christian hope in the face of the death. The Christian hope is what I want to reflect upon today.
Today is All Saints Sunday where we reflect upon the lives of those who have gone before us in the past year.
As we begin though, let us first ask the question of “What exactly is a Saint?” Many people seem to understand Saints in a similar way to how non-Christian religions such as Buddhism view Saints as super-human characters whose lives are such that they almost seem to be more God-like than human.
When we think of Saints, we think of people like Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who spent her life ministering to the sick, to the poor, and to the dying. Mother Theresa founded hospices for AIDS victims, soup kitchens, orphanages, and schools. Mother Theresa gave everyone alive reason to think of her as a paragon of virtue. Mother Theresa would seem to be the definition of a Saint.
If one were to study the history of the term “Saint” within the Christian Church a few things stand out.
In the first few centuries of the Church, you could only become a Saint by being killed for your faith. You had to either be eaten by Lions or burned at the stake within the Colosseum.
Once the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313 AD then, the term Sainthood took on a whole new meaning. As Christianity became one of the unifying forces of the empire, Saints became those who had given some great service or contribution to the Church. Examples would include great teachers like Saint Athanasius (who helped define “The Trinity”), extremely generous people like Saint Nicholas who would later inspire a jolly, bearded, red-wearing gift-giving fat man, along with great political leaders like Saint Olaf King of Norway who oversaw the conversion to Christianity of an entire country. Prominent Biblical characters like Saint Mary (Mother of Jesus) or one of the Apostles had an in.
The middle ages saw the standard for Sainthood become quite high; it required an extraordinary contribution to the Christian faith.
Fast forward to the time of Martin Luther; where the Lutheran Reformation would see Martin Luther totally redefine the meaning of Sainthood. Luther said that the total reality of Christian’s life is one of being both fully saint and fully sinner at the same time. For Luther, Sainthood could not be separated from the realities of our temper, our personal failings, and our imperfect Christianity.
We are by nature sinful and unclean. If we say we have no sin then we deceive ourselves and the truth it is not in us. We fail the Christian life, every day and within every hour. Sainthood according to Luther was a declaration by God of the entirety of one’s sins. According to Luther, Saints are the types of people that we actually are, not the type of people that we idolize at funerals. The simplest definition of a Saint is that they are nothing more than a forgiven sinner.
An interesting thing worth noting about how the Bible describes Sainthood in that the scriptures never speak of a Saint being a specific individual.
When the term Saint occurs on 81 separate occasions throughout the scriptures, it is always in the plural form. When the Apostle Paul speaks of Saints, he is always referring to whole congregations and believers throughout all the Earth.
Paul’s clearest definition of Sainthood occurs in Romans the 1st chapter where he writes “All those who are loved by God are called to be Saints”. Paul’s understanding of Sainthood influenced Luther in showcasing that Sainthood is only about God’s action in our life never our own.
The most significant thing worth addressing today about the Biblical definition of Sainthood is when the Saints are referred to within the scriptures that nowhere are Saints describes as dead. The scriptures always describe Saints as living.
The true meaning of “Sainthood” brings us back to the problem with funerals. Today’s first lesson comes to us from Revelation the seventh chapter. Today’s text from Revelation 7 is seeking to give hope to persecuted Christians in the face of death.
Often, Christian people describe death in wrong ways. For example, sometimes people will say that someone’s time was up. People say that death is natural. People might even claim that death is all a part of God’s plan. What we should always remember though is that God never intended for death to come into the world. Death only came after sin corrupted us all. Death is in no way a Christian’s friend. The Apostle Paul describes Death as the last enemy of the Christian that must be destroyed. The only way that the terrible problem of Sin could ever get resolved was through God’s plan B for humanity overcoming sin, death, and evil on the Cross apart from our help. The power of death is why Jesus as he speaks his last words in the Gospel of John cries out “It is finished” at the exact moment-he entered death so he could conquer it.
Funerals are in no way meant to be celebrations of a person’s life. Nor are funerals meant to serve to be opportunities to convince God how wonderful that someone was. Funerals instead serve the purpose of speaking to our living hope as Christian people in the face of death. How when a Christian dies their battle is over. Their strife is no more. Their battle is won. All because through Baptism we became inheritors of all we received through Christ’s death. Only because of Christ Jesus can we speak of death as good in any way, shape, or form.
For the message of our lesson from Revelation 7 is that as terrible as the circumstances surrounding this life and especially the end might seem to be, through God’s actions we have been made clean, holy, and declared to be Saints.
Through God's actions, we have been made clean, holy, and declared to be Saints. Our robes have been washed of the blood of our sins and been made white through the blood shed by the Lamb of God in Jesus Christ.
“We will hunger no more or thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the lamb at the center of our throne will be our shepherd, and he will guide us to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Even in death!
For this is the message of our All Saints Sunday. We remember those who have gone before us in the last year.
Let me at this time say a few words about the departing Saints of our congregation.
Toivo Savonen- When I would go visit Bertha and Toivo, to no one’s surprise Bertha was the one that did most of the talking. As Bertha would tell story after story, you could see a twinkle of affinity in his eyes even as he didn’t speak much. The thing about Toivo is that he believed the best of God was experienced in nature. Toivo was one of the main builders of the Superior Hiking Trail along with up-keepers of the Northwoods Ski Club. Rob Stromquist and Jon Matilla are going to put a plaque on an overlook on the Ski Trails in Toivo’s honor. As I think back on Toivo’s life, I think of how many people got to enjoy the fruits of his labor and got to participate in Toivo’s love of nature without even knowing Toivo’s name. As I think of Toivo, I know he would be more than content just knowing that people had enjoyed what he did, whether he got recognition for it or not.
Mervel Hanson- Mervel’s wife Jenny considered it a great privilege to be a caregiver for Mervel in his continuous health struggles after he had been so dedicated to caring for both Lois and Luella. What always struck me about Mervel was how he wanted to put the happiness of those he loved dear above his own. The thing that I will remember most about Mervel is that shortly after Mervel’s adopted son-in-law Ed Judkins received cancer his diagnosis, I remember visiting with Mervel when he asked why he couldn’t be the one to go instead. This type of selflessness to those he held dear is what I will remember most about Mervel.
Gary Gubrud- Gary will be remembered for his relationships to his family. His grandkids would always go see him after school. His brother Curt took him in after he was unable to take care of himself on his own. Gary will be remembered for his good times meeting the guys for coffee down at the Northwoods Café.
Jim Horton- will be remembered for a life of service. Jim was a graduate of west point and a career military man, former Silver Bay City Council member and Sychar’s former president.
Ida Barnes- we will remember Ida for her own unique sense of style. We will remember Ida for her contributions to the Mission Circle for so many years. I never got to know Ida due to her Alzheimer’s. Yet as I reflect on Alzheimer’s, I take comfort in the fact that our faith is not dependent on our intellect or state of mind. The same faith is sustained in Alzheimer’s that is given in Baptism, faith that exists outside of us, in spite of us.
Mike Bromaghim- how in spite of his dedication to his children (Matt and Andi); he could not overcome the dark forces that exist in this world that we often cannot name. As we reflect on Mike’s life, we remember that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil. We are promised that even as this life takes us to some scary places, we do not walk alone, the shepherd walks right alongside side us; guiding us and ultimately seeks to usher us into his presence.
Roy Ranum- We will remember Roy Ranum for his lack of opinions! What I will remember about Roy was his good heart. When I would stop out to see him, Roy would want to give me a Root Beer nearly every ten minutes, no matter how many times I said I didn’t want it. Roy would offer to split prize-money for crosswords puzzles with me if I just gave him a little bit of help with one word.
Dorothy Midbrod- I will remember Dorothy for her laugh. I will remember Dorothy for her telling people that if she were just fifty years younger, she would be putting the moves on the Lutheran Minister in town. I recall during her service reading stories written by each of her children that contained some sort of humorous antidote about their Mom.
Nancy Mismash- when people think of Sychar they would think of Nancy. We will remember Nancy for her love of music from the hand bells to the choirs she sang in and directed to her time in the kitchen along with her service on so many boards throughout the church. Nancy will be remembered for her tremendous love of the outdoors especially for her cross-country skiing ability.
I was looking over at Nancy’s obit this week, I remember the picture that they took was for her last time cleaning up the highway. I was working on the crew that day with Fred and Nancy. What I’ll remember was Nancy at eighty some years climbing over edges trying to pick up pieces of trash. Fred would yell at her not to do it, yet Nancy was going to do things her way as long as she possibly could. Nancy would never hesitate to tell even a new minister exactly what she thought. We will remember Nancy for being blessed in love on two separate occasions from her first husband and the father of her children Don to her second husband of thirty some years Fred.
We remember them as Sheep from God’s own flock, sinners of God’s own redeeming, and Saints as inheritors of salvation won for them by Christ Jesus, Our Lord. Amen
 This sermon was heavily influenced by a mentor of mine in Dr. Meg Madson. Meg wrote an article entitled “The Trouble with Funerals” for Fall 2008 Edition of the Lutheran Hedgehog. Meg’s article can be found on the Cross Alone Website at www.crossalone.us. I’m expanding on many of Meg’s sentiments.
 This idea frequently referred to as the two simuls is a common theme within Luther’s theology. Luther perhaps most clearly defines this in his 1535 commentary on Galatians.
 1 John 1:8
 Romans 1:7
 Revelation 7:9-17
 I decided to skip a background history on Revelation but the overall point is that it is a letter written to several persecuted churches under the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian in modern day Turkey at the end of the 1st century.
 Madson, Meg. “The Trouble with Funerals”
 Genesis 3
 1st Corinthians 15:26
 The majority of this language is adopted from Madson.
 John 19:30
 Madson, Meg. “The Trouble with Funerals”.
 Romans 6:5
 Revelation 7:16
 Revelation 7:17
 I preached at Mike’s funeral on Psalm 23:4.
 This comes from a funeral prayer in The Lutheran Book of Worship.