Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you, my brothers and sisters
in Christ on this celebration of God's gift to Bernie in his baptism, now
consummated with his death in Christ.
Dearest Ruth, dearest Connie and John, dearest Greg and
Jenny, from 2 Peter 3:18 did the apostle of the Lord who did renounce his Lord
three times and was received back by the same Lord speak these words,
"Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To
Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity, Amen."
Being a lover of hymns, the great gift that God has given to
His Church to sing and to make music to His glory and name, the hymn that we
sang earlier, the baptismal hymn…listen to this confident proclamation of
faith, not with a life that looked confident, mind you, but with the life that
believed in what God had done.
Satan, hear this
I am baptized into
Drop your ugly
I am not too soon
Now that to the font
All your might has
And, against your
God, my Lord, unites
That is the gift that God has given us as His baptized
children, that we can speak such words with confidence because it is He who has
claimed us, He who has given birth to us, He who has raised us from the dead,
and He who brings us to home at last. And while we live in this world, we do
battle, don't we? Faith in Christ is a difficult thing, at best, and it wears
us out. As long as it doesn't manifest itself in our body, in our mind, in our
abilities, it looks and seems as if we have kept sin at bay, but we are only
For the last five years, sin has encroached upon Bernie and
all of us in a very ugly manner. Sin is an ugly thing, and it manifests itself
in ugly manners. What Bernie was able to do no longer Bernie was able to do.
The things he has accomplished…for what? As Solomon said, "To be passed on
to someone else whom we will not know whether they will care and tend for it as
you care and tend for it."
Life is but a vapor and a mist, but because of your and my
love for this man, and more importantly his love for you and me, did his sin
infect us all and drop a cloud over us, because it caused us to reflect upon
our own humanity, our own mortality, as we too shall not have abilities and
control of our self as sin begins its final approach upon the walls of our
hearts and our minds and our bodies. It's like looking in a mirror because that
is our…that is our end as well.
In the sixth chapter of John did our Lord remind us that in
the midst of seeing all this sin, in this world that does not promise goodness
and joy, in this world that does not always give what it offers, but takes it
back, and takes it back with pain, in the midst of sinful people did our Lord
speak such good and holy words for hope. "Whoever comes to Me shall not
hunger. Whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. All that the Father gives Me
will come to Me, and whoever does come to Me, I will never cast out. For I have
come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me,
and this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that
He has given Me, but raise it up at the last day. This is the will of My
Father, that everyone who looks to the Son, believes in Him, should have
eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
This is the faith that Bernie's parents gave him, that he
and Ruth gave to you kids and grandkids through your parents, that he taught
and proclaimed in a classroom where at times, I'm sure, he scratched his head
and wondered…Am I making a difference in this young man or young woman's
life? Those of you who had him as a teacher can ask yourself that question.
If you were like me who could not sit still, I'm sure your teacher, Dr.
Gastler, thought the same thing about you…Am I making a difference in this
young man or young woman's life?
In teaching you to sing and love music, the great gift from
God that we do and we do well, because it's God's gift and we receive His gifts
with joy and thanksgiving. But in the midst of this reception of such gifts
does Satan not stop picking the scab of our sin, constantly annoying it,
constantly irritating it, constantly reminding us of our own mortality and
feebleness. But it doesn't stop God from using us in our weakness.
You see, there are lots of books you can buy that say how to
live for God in Christ Jesus. All kinds of books that describe things you do,
things you don't do, attributes, and all kinds of things for you to enhance
your life in Christ as a living person, but there are no books, or very few at
best, written on how to die as God's child in Christ. Now, why would that be?
Do we think in our feeble minds that God only uses us when we're vibrant and
alive and living? And that God doesn't use us when we are feeble-minded,
feeble-bodied, crippled, and barely able to take God's gifts of Word and
sacrament? We fool ourselves with such pride, for God's gift is for His
children to receive, and glories given His name not by His children's response,
but by His children's reception.
Glory is given to His name in our reception of His gifts.
For if they were only tied to our performance of our reception, then we would
be like Peter, always with that albatross around his neck of having been the
one whose sin was forever eternally recorded in Holy Scripture, and whose
reinstatement was also recorded for the sake of people like me, and you, and
for your beloved Bernie…your daddy, your grandpa. That is the kind of God we
have who will not let His weak people die in hell, but will raise them up at
the last day as He has promised!
Some of God's people are blessed with very, very sudden
deaths. There is none of this waiting. But that again is a human fallacy, isn't
it? For we are all waiting for that day. We fool ourselves into thinking that we're
not because we still have abilities and vibrancy, or we fool ourselves into
thinking such things. We too are waiting. For the last five years, dear Bernie
was waiting. And those of you who saw him and had conversations with him saw
how ugly sin is, but you also saw God still using a very feeble man whose baptism
still shown brightly because of his reception of such gifts, not because of his
doing, because of his receiving. That is dying well in Christ, as one who has
received the greatest gift.
What else could be added to what God began Bernie's life
with as baptism? What else? Oh yes, we do a great deal of our own adding in
this life with education and work and service and love. Absolutely! When you're
holding a man's hand who cannot even respond to your prayer or singing, what
else can be said but "God be praised for His gift and for my reception of
such gift"? That is glory to God in a man who is dying, but who lives
Paul said it so well. "None of us lives to himself, and
none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we
die to the Lord. We are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived
again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living."
You will continue to remember and remark, and I will hear
stories that you will regale me and others with, of the great gifts that God
had done through Bernie. And even in his death did God use him, for God is not
a God of only the living, but of the dead who die in Christ, who receive the
gift as you have received the gift, and who will go forth on their own journey,
each his own way as God has appointed, and we will wrestle as he wrestled, and
it will be long and arduous as it was for him, but as was sung so beautifully
in our psalm, "The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and
Go in peace, my dear Ruth, Greg, and Connie, wives, husband,
and children, and grandchildren. Go in peace, for Bernie has not only received
the victory, it is his for eternity, and has always been as it is yours. Be at
peace, and go in peace, in Jesus' name, Amen.