For the funeral of August Wolff.
August left clear notes regarding his funeral sermon. They are as follows:
I don’t want any eulogies or funny stories told; rather, I want my service not to be about me but to be a joyful and uplifting affirmation and reminder of the faith and hope we have of eternal life after our physical deaths. God has always been real in my life.
So now we do not talk about August,
but we remind ourselves of his faith.
The Christian belief is that
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
He spread out the blanket of stars,
molded the contours of the earth,
invented flowing dolphins, hovering eagles, and quirky piglets.
Then God made people in His own image (Genesis 1:27).
He commanded His people: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might“ (Deuteronomy 6:5),
and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
But Adam and Eve lied, blamed, and hid (Genesis 3).
Their son Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8).
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:5-6).
So God flooded the world, and started His creation anew with Noah’s family. As the waters dried and Noah’s family worshipped the Lord, like a weary soldier home from battle hanging his bow on the mantle, God hung his bow in the sky, leaving it not pointed towards earth, but towards heaven.
Years went by. Decades went by. Generations went by.
God led his people out of slavery into freedom, but they yearned for the predictability of slavery.
God guided his people to their promised land, but they were afraid to pass into it.
God gave his people a law to teach them how life works best, but they said they’d rather do whatever they want.
Yet God worked through priests, prophets, poets, philosophers, and political leaders to issue a summons, “Return to the Lord your God.”
But sin prevailed.
Yet a rumor was whispered, a hope repeated,
“The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 6:14), which means God is with us.
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1).
“He will swallow up death forever: and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
And out of the darkness, a star shown forth;
out of the loneliness, an angel appeared;
unto the virgin, the baby was born.
Jesus gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, mobility to the lame, and voice to the mute,
but he also gave hope to the forlorn, purpose to the aimless, forgiveness to those cast out, and fury to those in power.
“Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him!” the crowd shouted.
Thomas Merton describes the moment this way:
See Christ here, on the Cross! See His wounds, see His torn hands, see how the King of Glory is crowned with thorns! Do you know what Love is? Here is love. Here on this Cross, here is Love, suffering these nails, these thorns, that scourge loaded with lead, smashed to pieces, bleeding to death because of people that will never know Him, and never think of Him and will never remember His Sacrifice. Learn from Him how to love God and how to love men! Learn of this cross, this Love, how to give your life away to Him.” (The Seven Storey Mountain)
Jesus’ body was buried.
The tomb found empty.
Sobs of grief replaced by shouts of victory.
And Jesus’ followers were filled by his Spirit and learnt how to give their lives away to Him:
they traveled the world telling strangers about Jesus,
they were imprisoned for it and sang hymns,
they were surrounded by mobs picking up rocks to kill them with, and still they prayed to the Lord.
As Jesus’ followers were rounded up, persecuted, and killed, God showed Jesus’ disciple John a revelation, a glimpse, a promise, of what is to come:
an image of Jesus, the lamb who was slain, enthroned with power,
an image of the redeemed gathered and proclaiming the holiness of God,
an image of those who don’t want anything to do with God and His blessings sent to a place without God or any of His blessings,
an image of people saved from their pain, and grief, and sin,
an image of a new heaven and a new earth recreated by God,
a new creation that is so much more lovely
for once having been so sad.
That is the biblical Christian faith.
That is the story of God and His creation.
That is our faith and our hope.
We affirm that faith in a culture where faith is diminishing.
In our culture we hear, “Do as thou wilt.” “Do as thou wilt.” “Do as thou wilt.”
but that is not in the Christian Bible, but only in the Satanic Bible.
Hollywood says this, and Washington does that;
but Hollywood only cares about your money, and Washington only cares about your vote —
neither cares about your soul.
Yet there is One who does, there is One who does,
who across the veil of years has worked tirelessly to draw us closer to Him.
People of faith have been shamed and silenced, yet here we are together.
Bibles have been banned and burned, yet here we are together.
Saints and heroes who this world did not deserve were slaughtered like animals by animals, yet here we are together,
Love ones — like August — have gotten sick and died, yet here we are together,
singing the faith that echoes from ages long gone unto eternity,
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27).