The Lord Has More To Give Than Death Can Take

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

Text: Isaiah 43:1-3a and Revelation 21:1-5

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Every Sunday after the Divine Service, a hand reached out to me, and I would shake it.  It was not an aggressive handshake; however, it was firm. It was the kind handshake that you give to someone else when you are content and pleased – full of assurance.  Then with a brief pause, Dennis would slowly nod his head, squint his eyes (as if he were deep in thought) while saying,

“Thank you for the gifts today, Pastor. Thank you for God’s gifts.” 

Dear friends, I will let you in on a little secret, most pastors really don’t care to be acknowledged after church services. Most pastors would rather not hear about how inspiring they came across in the pulpit.  Pastors are unworthy servants doing only what they are called to do. And what are they called to do? They are called to hand over the goods.  They are called to give God’s gifts of the Word and Sacrament to Christians, Christians like Dennis.  And Christians sitting in the pew just like Dennis, they are receivers of good gifts.  So, when Pastors hear the words, “thank you for the gifts,” it is divine music to their ears.

I’m not 100% sure what was going through Dennis’s mind every Sunday, when he would shake my hand and thank me for delivering God’s gifts.  However, I am fairly confident that it had something to do with the profound reality of our Old Testament reading from Isaiah.

You see, Dennis knew that he was among the redeemed, as Isaiah stated in our Old Testament reading.  Yes, indeed, Dennis knew he was among the redeemed; however, I get the impression from all my visits with him that this reality of being redeemed by Christ's life, death, and resurrection was an incredible overwhelming gift that sometimes perplexed him.  How can the Lord be so good to us sinners?  In other words, Dennis knew that to be among the redeemed is not a special Christian Club that one joins through great moral achievements.  To be among the redeemed is not something that is acquired through Bible trivia points or a certain level of holiness. But rather, to be among the redeemed is to be a poor miserable sinner who has been graciously called out of darkness - by name - in the waters of baptism.  To be among the redeemed is to be purchased out of the clutches of darkness and placed into the ark of the holy church, where the Lord desires to give the gifts of the Word & Sacrament – week after week after week.  Bluntly stated, the Lord snatches us from darkness and places us into the holy church, so that He might not take from us but continually give us His good gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation all the days of our lives.  Again, this is why Denis sometimes seemed overwhelmed after Sunday Services; the Lord not only plucked Dennis from darkness and placed him in the holy ark of the church, but the Lord also longed to give Dennis gifts – to pronounce him forgiven of His sins in Absolution, to pour the comfort of the Gospel in his ears through the preached Word, and to lay forgiveness upon his tongue and into his stomach in Communion.  To have a Lord and God that does not suck us dry or take from us in the church but give to us in His church?  Well… it is quite remarkable and overwhelming – so much that we nod our heads with Dennis saying,

“Thank you, Lord, for the gifts!”

Tragically, though, as you know, this past week, Dennis died. And here we sit.  Death has a way of ruining everything, putting a stop to everything.  Death not only strikes fear into our hearts, but it has a way of locking us down - putting an end to all that is good. It has a way of stopping us in our tracks.  However, in the midst of death, we must hear the bold, remarkable, and good news that death cannot stop your Lord from giving good gifts. Death cannot and does not keep our Lord from handing over the goods of forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

Now, you and I could easily think that when Dennis took his last breath that he would no longer be a recipient of God’s good gifts; after all, he has died.  However, this could not be further from the truth.

Dear friends, please hear this, when Dennis took his last breath, his body and soul were indeed and tragically torn in two.  His body is to be placed in a cemetery.  However, because of the goodness of Christ, Dennis’s soul has received the gift of paradise.  Yes, his soul is in the presence of Jesus – where Dennis will never experience the pain of eternal death.  This is in itself a gift, despite the pain of death.  But dear friends, open your ears, sit up in your pews, and hear the great news that I am about to share with you – the Lord has more good gifts for Dennis to receive.  The Lord has more to give than death can take.  You see, the Lord has promised Dennis that there will be a resurrection of the body.  That is to say, the Lord is not content to leave Dennis’ body of ashes in a cemetery but intends to give him a resurrected body at the great last day. And so, Dennis awaits another gift – that gift is the reuniting of his body and soul back together again, where he will receive a renewed and improved body!  And with his resurrected body, every tear will be wiped away. Death shall no longer have any control over Dennis’ new resurrected body. He shall have no more mourning, no more crying, and no more pain, for all things, will be made new—a gift of a new body, a new heaven, and a new earth – all new and given to Dennis.   

And just in case you may not realize it at this point – the gifts that Dennis has received and will receive… they are for you and me too!  That is typically how it works with gifts – they are meant to be given away, and they are meant to be received. Furthermore, our Lord is not a stingy gift-giver where He only gives His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation one time. But He gives these gifts to us over and over and over.

That means the cross of Christ is a gift intended for you. The resurrected body that you will receive someday – gift!  The new heaven and earth – gifts as well! 

And so, right here at this moment while we grieve and cry over the loss of Dennis, we take a brief pause.  We slowly nod our heads and squint our eyes, saying,

“Lord, thank you for your gifts.  Thank you for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Thank you for your Word and Sacraments. 

Indeed, we say,
“Thank you, Lord, for the gift of taking Dennis into your presence.  Thank you especially that you will give Dennis, and all of us, resurrected bodies someday. Thank you for the undeserved yet gracious-good gifts you give to all of us.  Thank you for the gifts, O God.  Thank you for the gifts, O Christ.  Thank you for the gifts!”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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