Lorraine Curtis’ Funeral Sermon: Matthew 5:24

I sometimes wonder if there’s something about Chicago and Northern Illinois that shapes and forms certain personalities.  Let me explain.  Lorraine had a strong, distinctive personality, similar to some others I’ve met from Chicago.  Lorraine wasn’t uncaring by any sort, but she didn’t mince words.  She told you what she thought in a way you’d understand.

So, when I met Lorraine for the first time a few weeks ago, was I in for a roller-coaster ride!  She told me of her life, her upbringing, and even her brief stint of belonging to the Presbyterian Church here in Kimberling City.  She also told me how she came to realize that God existed in some form, contrary to her upbringing.  She wasn’t sure what to call this “god,” so she simply called him “the boss.”

In a sense, Lorraine had faith in an unknown god, whom she called “the boss.”  But as the Apostle Paul tells us, God has revealed the unknown God to us in Jesus Christ, “by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).  This Jesus is the real unknown god for all of us.  This unknown god, this “boss,” was the real God that even Lorraine needed to recognize.

In our reading from Matthew, Jesus reminds us that faith is about being in Christ and His Word.  And so when we remember someone who died, even Lorraine, the question is never about how “faithful” someone was.  It’s not about how much faith Lorraine had, or about whether she believed beyond all doubt.  That’s impossible for us to say.  That’s why we don’t obsess about someone’s faithfulness.  Instead, we focus on whether someone was “in the faith.”

How can we say if someone is fully faithful?  We don’t know what’s in someone’s heart.  Now, from what Lorraine shared with me, I would have to say that she didn’t believe that Jesus Christ was the saving sacrifice for her sins.  But she heard the Gospel as I shared it with her.  And I have no idea what took place between the God the Holy Spirit and Lorraine in the fading hours of her life.

So today, we don’t look to the inner, spiritual wranglings of Lorraine.  No, we look to Jesus.  And this is what Jesus says: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment.”  That’s Christ’s Word, which brings faith in the Father.  That means God forgives sins.  That means God pardons sinners.

Only Christ’s Word teaches us what is true and brings us that which saves us.  Jesus teaches us that, through His Word, we are no longer dead in sin but children of God, made alive by the life-giving Spirit of God.  Jesus teaches us that, by His Word, God forgives our sins.  That’s how God the Holy Spirit delivers to you what Jesus has done at the cross.  That’s Jesus’ blood poured out for the sins of the world, even yours and mine.

For Jesus’ blood is of little help to us if it’s left on the cross of death.  It has to be put on us.  It has to be sprinkled on us in holy baptism.  It’s smeared on us in the words of absolution.  We drink it in Christ’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins.  To be in the faith is to be surrounded by Jesus’ Word and life-bestowing gifts.

Did you know Lorraine was baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  In keeping with her tell-it-like-it-is personality, she told me that she was baptized only as a favor for a friend.  Imagine telling a pastor that!  Yet, did she later embrace her baptismal faith as she came closer to death?  Perhaps.

From the moment of baptism to the last Lord’s Supper before we die, that’s where we are to be.  We are to be in Christ.  Perhaps, that was where Lorraine was, in Christ, during the final hours of her life.  For where such faith is living, where God is delivering Jesus’ life and salvation, where His Word is going on, Jesus tells us God’s judgment is no more.

When that is so, it is as Jesus says.  You have passed from death into life.  That happens in your baptism.  That happens when the crucified-and-risen Jesus Christ is preached into your ears.  That happens when the pastor absolves you of your sins.  That happens when you receive the body and blood of Christ.

And what final promise does Jesus make?  It’s not only life in this life, but also the life to come in eternity.  That’s when God will call His people forth from their tombs to eternal life of body and soul.  We have promises from Jesus for now and even for eternity.

With these words of Jesus, He comforts us in our sorrow over those whom we love who have died.  With Jesus’ words, He strengthens us against the despair and sadness that come when we think about the death of those we love.  And with the promise that He will raise us from the dead, He rescues us from every fallen idea that we invent about life after death.

Jesus’ words even rescue us from the idea that, by our goodness, we can somehow grasp eternal life.  That’s the religion of the world: that somehow if we live a worthy life, we will find our way into heaven.  Lorraine had some of that swirling around in her, as both you and I do.  That’s why God the Holy Spirit always has to quell that within us, so we always look to Jesus for our eternal well-being.  That’s why we are always to be in Christ and the saving gifts He delivers to us.

Salvation is in Christ’s work and word alone!  So today, we don’t talk about how good, or bad, Lorraine was.  Away with such thinking!  Run from such talk!  Flee from such false hope!  For no one gains eternal life by virtuous works!  We have none!  Our righteousness is as filthy rags as the Old-Testament Prophet Isaiah tells us!  What then saves us?  It’s nothing other than the forgiveness of those sins that Jesus earned for us on the cross.

Only in Christ are all your sins forgiven.  Only in Christ does God the Father consider what you do as pleasing in His sight.  So, don’t bother trying to earn God’s favor by what you do.  You delight God by being in Christ.  Then, and only then, will God smile on you.

And once you are in Christ, you are free, free to spend your life in love and service to those around you.  With such blood-bought freedom and love in Christ, husbands and wives then love each other, parents raise their children in the one, true faith, Christians help those in need, and so on.

That was something Lorraine did not experience much of, especially from her father.  When she was close to death, she was still dealing with the selfish acts of a father who spurned God and became an atheist–and lived like that!  But when someone is in Christ, that changes everything.  For in Christ, He even frees us from the selfishness of atheism that can enslave our lives.

So, this day, we do remember Lorraine.  But we don’t remember Lorraine because she was a woman filled with faith.  We remember her because she was also someone for whom Jesus lived and died.  That’s why on this day–as with all funerals in Christ’s Church–we remember Christ even more.

We remember, even in our sadness, that God will raise us from the dead.  We remember that Christ rescues us from trusting in our works.  We remember that Christ’s Word forgives our sins.  We remember that His Word is given to us here and now in Word and Sacrament to save us and strengthen our faith.

If you are in Christ Jesus, remember that you are no longer under God’s judgment.  Instead, you are His child.  And when Christ comes again, and you hear His voice, you will rise forth from your grave and live your eternal life–both body and soul!  For Jesus, who is the Son of God and the Son of Man, bring you into this eternal reality.  Amen.