Thursday, May 7, 2009

Warren "Joe" Arnold Funeral Sermon -- John 14:1-7

May 6, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

Jesus said: “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. . . . You know the way to where I am going.”

Jesus knows His disciples’ worries, fears, and anxieties. That is why He says: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” He is a sympathetic and empathetic Lord and Master, unlike many who claim to be leaders, yet care not for their followers. Jesus does not want His disciples to be burdened with doubt and trepidation, especially on this day. He knows that events will occur which jar the mind and shake the faith. But in the midst of them Jesus says: “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

The Lord Jesus says those words in the context of death. He speaks them to His closest group of followers just hours before His own suffering leading to crucifixion takes place. Jesus’ disciples will see this, witnessing His arrest and trial, watching from a distance as His strength gives way while hanging suspended above Mount Calvary. With their own eyes, they will look upon the dreadful sight of a strong man succumbing to death. And yet, Jesus says: “Let not your hearts be troubled.”

So the Lord Jesus says to you, His disciples, who once again witness the earthly demise of one you know well. Jesus knows your worries, fears, anxieties, sorrows, and mourning that come in the context of human death. He knows the troubled hearts that you have at this time as you have taken leave of Joe. Jesus knows how you are really no different than His first followers in the Upper Room whose confidence was shaken at the mention and experience of His dying.

But the Lord Jesus does not want your hearts to be troubled. And the comforting words that He speaks are more than empty platitudes. Jesus wants His disciples to be confident, hopeful, focused on what will be theirs, even as their situations do not convey such thoughts and feelings. That is why Jesus does not stop with telling His disciples to be untroubled. Instead, He tells them why. He tells them what will be theirs after the time of suffering has passed.

Jesus says: “You believe in God; believe also in Me.” And then He tells His followers, including you why: “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Jesus reveals what will take place: He dies in order to prepare a place for His followers; He is buried to prepare a place for His followers; He rises again to prepare a place for His followers; He ascends to heaven to prepare a place for His followers.

This is what Jesus’ disciples knew, because He had told them this many times before. It was not a secret; Jesus had taught this openly. This is what Joe knew, because he had been told this many times before. In fact, Joe had stated it openly, as he confessed the Church’s creeds, prayed the Church’s liturgy, and repeated the Church’s teaching—that which convey the words of Jesus from generation to generation. This is what you know, as you have heard and believed the words of Jesus spoken to you.

Like the first followers of Jesus in the Upper Room and like our brother Joe, “you know the way to where [Jesus is] going.” It is a path of suffering and death for Jesus and His disciples. “Where [Jesus is] you may be also,” including the time of death and burial. But Jesus’ way is also a path of glorification and life, even for His disciples. For Jesus’ journey did not stop in the grave, but led out of it all the way to the Right Hand of the God the Father. “Where [Jesus is] you may be also,” including the time of resurrection and everlasting life. That is why Jesus tells His disciples in the Upper Room and Joe in his last room and you in this sacred room: “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.”

These words of Jesus accomplish what they say. They set into motion what the Lord God had promised to His people years ago: “He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” So the Lord God promises a destination for His people away from the trials and tribulations, sorrows and fears of this veil of tears.

Jesus’ path that His followers travel does bring sorrow and pain. He does not promise a lack of it. But His path brings a greater end; it leads to that promised destination. Jesus promises that His disciples will not be overcome by sin, death, and Satan or the troubles and harms that they bring. There will be a better day, a blessed reality. The Upper Room disciples witnessed what seemed to be final: the death of their Lord and Teacher. For all of you gathered here, this day is very real and seems to be final, just as Friday and Saturday were for Joe’s family. There will be the closing of hearse’s doors and the sealing of a tomb which seems to be the end. Hearts need to be comforted.

That is why Jesus says to you: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” and “You know the way to where I am going.” Because you know where Jesus went, you know that the grave is not final. Because you know that Jesus has been raised and glorified, you know that Joe will be also. Because you know that Jesus has ascended, you know that you also will have a place in His Father’s house. That is the greater reality, the true conclusion. With that in mind, your hearts need not remain troubled.

So you who follow Jesus on His path can say: “This perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality, because my Lord Jesus did.” You can say: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Tell me, because my Lord has defeated you.” You can say to Satan: “You cannot deceive me, for I know Jesus who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. And He has promised me truer and greater things.” For those are the responses of untroubled hearts, the statements made by those who follow Jesus and believe Him. They are even the declarations now made by our brother Joe.

On this day, Jesus desires to hear such things. And so we shall say them: in our prayers, in our hymns, and in the repetition of Jesus’ words of promise. The Lord God has spoken, the matter is closed. We believe in God and in Him. We know the way that He has gone, the path that we shall travel. And where He is, there the Twelve Apostles and we and Joe shall be also.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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