Be Still

The following 'Funeral Sermon' is posted with family permission.  May the Lord give to the family of Ella Anderson, and all who mourn, comfort in their grief and a sure confidence in the Lord's loving care.  

Text: Psalm 46 & Luke 23:33-43

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

We live in a time that is characterized by busyness and loudness. There is no doubt about it; we are a busy culture. More often than not, this busyness is due to us reacting to things that threaten our body and soul. Natural disasters happen, health issues abound, and sinful competition works everyone up into a dog eats dog type world. 

And because we are busy, things need to be loud. Commercials on TV are loud. Billboards are big. Advertisements typically have enormous personalities and showy taglines. Everything in our culture seems to be loud, supersized, showy, and big to get people’s attention and somehow overcome the adversities of life.

You and I, we end up going along with this too. We try to move quickly on our feet to avoid pitfalls and overcome obstacles. And we have learned that we must be loud and noisy to get the attention of others and project confidence to possible threats.

And this phenomenon also impacts the church. Way too often people imagine that the church is like those flashy televangelists on late-night TV. They imagine that God is impressed with big hair, emotional and loud sermons, and vibrant-enthusiastic-busy-faith.   

Indeed, we live in a world and culture that is restless, loud, and raging.   

As we encounter our reading from Psalm 46, though, we see something quite different. The Lord God does not call Christians into a frantic frenzy of emotions. The Lord does not demand loud and showy faith that somehow grabs His attention. He does not call us into the chaos of the world. No, he calls us to be still. He calls us to shut our mouths - to stop moving - and listen. He calls us to stay put. In other words, we learn that this Christian faith is more characterized by listening than speaking. It has more to do about staying put than frantically running around aimlessly in the world.  It is about God coming to us, rather than us going to Him. It is about us taking refuge in the Lord, to gently rest in His strength, rather than trying to run to empty and foolish solutions of our culture.  It is about quietly being in His fortress of grace.

Now, the reason why I mention this to you is that we find this quietness with our dear sister, Ella.  Yes, quietness - receiving God’s gifts and listening to His Word by reading the Scriptures.  This is one of the characteristics of Ella.

Furthermore, we find this quietness here with us now. Think about it for a moment dear friends, all of us are in this sanctuary – the Fortress of the Lord’s church - hearing from God's Word.  We are still. Grief has caused us to pause. And so, we listen.

As we listen, we hear of another person today as well, and that is the thief at the cross.

Now, we get the impression that this thief had been quieted by the shame and guilt of his wrongdoings as he hung on the cross next to Jesus. He even admits that he is a criminal deserving death. He admits this to Jesus – the Son of God. What's more? This thief asks Jesus to remember him. And Jesus? Well, he responds,

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Now, dear friends, we must take note of how Jesus responded. He does not ask the thief to somehow climb down from his cross to perform a flashy good deed or express gratitude with robust loud emotions.  Jesus did not ask the thief to display his faith through mustering up enough energy on the cross to loudly agree to a set of conditions. No, Jesus did none of this.  He did not try to work the thief up in a frenzy of busyness or a chaos of loudness. You see, the thief on the cross had sunk as low as possible for human being to sink. He was on the brink of death, next to Jesus. He could do nothing for Jesus. And Jesus knew this. And that is why Jesus spoke not words of rebuke but words of promise to Him right where he was at.

Dear friends, this thief is met with love and forgiveness in his ears – “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” He hears the good news of the gospel. He is still and knows that the Son of God is with him in his hour of death. Think about this a moment: the thief only asked to be remembered; however, he received so much more, he received all of Paradise. In the eyes of the world he is an unworthy criminal – a no-name man - however, at the side of Jesus, he enters into salvation before the very throne of God.

And so, in this thief, we hear that it is about receiving the promises of God. It is about being still – staying put – so that the promises of God can be spoken into ears.  Promises that tell us that the Lord is for us with forgiveness of sins in this life and death. It is about sitting at the feet of Jesus with open ears, like Ella, to know that the Lord God is for us.

Dear blessed friends, in the quietness of grief over the loss of Ella, be still and hear the promises of Jesus,

"Today Ella is with Jesus in Paradise. At your death, you will be in Paradise with Jesus."

Believe this!  This is the Lord’s promise for Ella and for you too this day.   

Do not be misinformed, though, Ella is not by herself though, she is with the thief and the whole host of Christians that have gone before us – Christians who quietly lived their lives knowing that the Son of God purchased and won them from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, to be His own. 

Indeed, when you and I come face-to-face with the sting of death, we need not resort to a frantic busyness. We need not overcome the silence of death with loud sentiments. Today, we can be still and know that you, me, and Ella are within the Fortress of God’s strength – that He is a very present help in trouble. We know this because Christ Jesus is the Victor over death, the hope of the resurrection, and a very present help in trouble. He is your fortress, Ella’s refuge in death, and our resurrection unto eternal life.

In the name of Jesus: Amen.  

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