Skip to content

Sermon: A Little Goes a Long Way. October 2, 2022

This sermon was preached at Grace Lutheran Church (River Forest, IL) on the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost. Feel free to watch the service or peruse the bulletin. The image is Torsten, looking in for the sign, as if he has multiple pitches in his arsenal.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. How much longer, I kept asking myself. How much longer would he have to go out there? It will surprise no one that one of my favorite things to do is watch our kids play sports. Great chunks of our family’s time are spent on ballfields, in hockey rinks, and along cross-country courses. Whether they win or lose, it brings me joy to watch them do what brings them joy. Nevertheless, it’s difficult for me to watch either of our sons pitch during baseball games. Not because they’re not good; it’s just so stressful – for me, anyway. So, I couldn’t help but wonder, how much longer? Torsten had been pressed into service with two outs and the bases loaded. When he got out of that without allowing too much damage, I let myself relax. He’d done his job. But then the coach had him pitch the next inning, and up my blood pressure went. Three up, three down, and I could breathe again. Surely, he was done now. And then the coach throws him out there for another inning! It was almost more than I could bear. How long, O Lord, would this go on? Of course, you can file this under “first-world problems.” How long? It’s a question that arises regularly in the human heart. The woman with cancer, counting days between chemotherapy treatments, praying the waiting is worth it. The draft-eligible man at the border between Russia and Georgia, trying hour after hour to get to the head of the line, hoping they brought enough rubles to bribe their way through. The families in our beloved Chicago, wondering when the scourge of gun violence will cease. The good news is that there have been fewer homicides in Chicago compared to last year. The horrible news is that 448 homicides through August represents a decrease. How long, O Lord? How long?
  2. Habakkuk cries out, “How long?” And not only that; the prophet does not even believe God is listening. If God were listening, would not God do something? Would not God act? But all around is injustice, oppression, and the coming destruction that Babylon would inflict upon them. How long, Lord? Are you not listening? Do you not care? Habakkuk is in the midst of an incredibly understandable crisis of faith. The world is quite literally falling apart all around him, and the response seems to be divine indifference.
  3. The disciples are told by Jesus that they’re in for a long road. Discipleship is difficult in a difficult world. Just before today’s passage, the disciples are told that there will be grave consequences if they cause someone to stumble, but that if someone wrongs them, they must offer nothing but forgiveness in return. Knowing that the road is long, the apostles offer another cry of the heart: “Increase our faith!” In life’s crucible, we yearn for enough faith to carry us through the long night of waiting.
  4. In response to the disciples’ plea, Jesus offers what might seem like a rebuke: If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could uproot and plant this mulberry tree in the sea. I’m not sure why someone would want to do such a thing to a mulberry tree, but no matter; Jesus wants his friends to know that a little faith goes a long way. Is he saying that don’t have enough faith to do this? Perhaps. But perhaps not. I think that Jesus is actually offering a word of encouragement. If a little faith can empower magical landscaping projects, then surely the disciples have all the faith they need to do what is required of them in this world. Jesus calls his followers to a life of forgiveness, which is itself an act of faith. To let go of what others have done to us, to give our pain over to God, requires trust. As disciples, this is what is expected of us.
  5. Growing up as a Boy Scout, the words of the Scout Oath were often on my lips, pledging to do my duty to God and country. It may just be the circles I run in, but we don’t seem to talk about duty that much. Freedom and independence, yes; obedience and obligation, not so much. Yet this is the point Jesus drives home in his mini parable about the slaves or servants today. Will they be rewarded for doing what was expected of them? Of course not! You don’t get extra credit for doing what is expected of you. So it is for us; Jesus calls us to a life of faith and stirs up in us more than enough faith to help us on our way. As we wait, we work. Jesus calls us away from a passive waiting for God to do something into an active, faithful waiting that seeks to enact the ways of the Kingdom, ways of forgiveness and life, in the world now. From war-torn regions halfway across the globe to the violence-riddled neighborhoods of our city, Jesus calls the faithful to work for change and gives us the faith to do so. This faith is not the absence of doubt or pure intellectual assent. It is the small seed within us that clings to Christ. We place our trust in Jesus, knowing there is no one else to whom we can turn.
  6. Of course, faithful waiting and faithful working would leave us wanting were it not for the sure and certain promises of our God. For we, like Habakkuk before us, have seen a vision, plain as day. We have seen what the disciples had not yet seen. Taking upon himself the weight of unforgiven sin, unfulfilled obligations, ongoing injustice, and afflictions of every sort, he goes to the cross. And he waits. Three hours, which no doubt felt much longer, pass. And in the tomb, he waits. Three days, in which all seemed lost as creation held its breath. And then, in the joy of the morning’s first light, everything changed. Salvation tarried no longer. Christ is arisen and we shall arise! Jesus uses the one work we will all complete, the inevitable act of dying, and transform it into the gate life, abundant and eternal.
  7. Of course, today isn’t Easter morning. Just the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, another ordinary day when sin and suffering continue. We still don’t know the answer to the question: How long? Who knows? But if we aren’t given an answer, we are given a promise: The God who longs for us has already come to us in Christ. Is already alive and at work in us. Is already lifting us up as visible signs for the sake of the world around us, signs of the salvation already won for us that will also one day come in fullness. Your faith may seem small, but it is there. It is enough. Enough for the joyful obligations of daily discipleship. You can leave the mulberry trees where they are, uprooting instead injustice and oppression and affliction wherever they try to take root. Following Jesus won’t win you any awards, of course. No special benefits for doing what you’re supposed to do. On the other hand, no matter what you do, God has already invited you to the banquet. Not because of what you’ve done, but because of what Christ has done for you. God longs for you, and it won’t be long now. You can have faith in that promise. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

Sermon: Smashing the Gates. September 25, 2022

This sermon was preached on September 25th, the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, IL. You can view the worship service in its entirety. The bulletin is available, too. The image is by Prskavka, found on Slovak Wikipedia (public domain).

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. The dog and the cat were relaxing in the warmth of the sun as it poured through the window of the front room. Their thoughts wandered in a theological direction. Who, they each wondered, was God? The dog reflected on her life, and her life was good. She lived in a lovely home and always had food and water. Her owner took her for long walks and played frisbee with her at the park. There was never a shortage of squeaky toys or tummy rubs. Her life was full of blessings, and these blessings were all freely given to her by her owner. Her owner, she thought, must be God! Who else would bless her with so much? The cat’s life was equally full. He lived in the same lovely home, and his food was even better. He wasn’t troubled with long walks or frisbees, but there was a delightful scratching post and an unending supply of balls of yarn. The cat had everything he could ever want, and more, and all of it was given to him freely, as if he deserved it. The feline theologian thought, “Who is God? I think I am!” In the end, they were both mistaken, but it just goes to show how our attitudes are shaped by our perspective. What do we have, and where does it come from? What are we to do with it all, and who is our God? Our answers to these questions shape not only our theological reflections but our lived theology, who and how we are in this world in relation to God and to our fellow people.
  2. There are no cats in today’s parable, but Jesus does include a few dogs. They don’t seem to be theologians, but they do illustrate the discrepancy between the unnamed rich man and poor Lazarus. The dogs, having perhaps had their fill at the rich man’s table, then come outside to lick the open sores which marked Lazarus’s body. Unlike the dogs, Lazarus has nowhere near enough. No shelter, no food; neither health nor wealth. He is, it seems, utterly forsaken, shut out from the goodness of life by very real gates. He has nothing. Who and where is his God? On the other side of the gate, we find the rich man, so caught up in his wealth and all it affords him that he is seemingly unaware of the existence of Lazarus. His is a particularly acute if all too common form of evil. Jesus does not say, or even imply, that the rich man wishes ill upon Lazarus. He is perhaps not even aware Lazarus is there. That’s the wonderfully horrible thing about gates, walls, and boundaries; if you build them well enough, high enough, thick enough, you need not even know who is on the other side. Who, after all, wants to be reminded of poverty when attempting to have a good time? And in a pinch, one can always put the “problems” aboard a plane to Martha’s Vineyard. Out of sight is out of mind, after all.
  3. While the rich man creates a godlike existence for himself, it turns out the true God is on Lazarus’s side all along. Death comes for both of them, as it will for all of us. And neither of them can bring anything with them. The rich man leaves his riches behind; Lazarus leaves his poverty. Their situations reverse with seeming permanence, Lazarus carried away to be with Abraham, the rich man buried and sent to the torment of Hades. You have to almost admire the man, whose wealthy habits of entitlement are not so easily forgotten. Suddenly mindful of Lazarus, he assumes the once-impoverished man is at his beck and call. Perhaps he can come and cool of the man’s tongue. Or send him, the man asks Abraham, to warn my brothers of the fate that awaits them if they do not change their mind. But Lazarus need not go anywhere; he is home, on the right side of eternity’s gate.
  4. The man’s brothers already know all they need to know, just as the man did in this life. The law and the prophets are not lacking in clarity. Today’s words from Amos are enough to remind them, and us, of God’s utter seriousness when to come to our call to care for those the world calls lowest and least. God wasn’t joking about that stuff. Even without the law and the prophets, we are hardwired to know the difference between right and wrong, as any child whose hand gets caught in the cookie car will shamefacedly tell you. It’s not that we don’t know the difference between right and wrong, it’s that we so often don’t care. Which make ignorance so seductive. What we pass off as innocent ignorance is more often deliberate denial. Pastor Leah Schade points out, “there is an ethical significance to not knowing. This happens when ignorance, denial, and active resistance to justice lead to immoral acts that affect not just individuals like Lazarus, but whole communities of people who are not ‘known’ by the powerful and wealthy.” Our gates and walls are not excuses for not seeing, whether it’s through wrought iron slats or across Austin Boulevard. Jesus speaks to us today with impassioned urgency, opening our eyes to see that the people the world values so little are of eternal worth to our God. In that light, we are invited to what Johann Baptist Metz, a German priest and theologian, calls “a God-mysticism with an increased readiness to perceive, a mysticism of open eyes that sees more and not less. It is a mysticism that especially makes visible all invisible and inconvenient suffering, and – convenient or not – pays attention to it and takes responsibility for it, for the sake of a God who is a friend to human beings.” We begin to see in this way when we volunteer at Harmony or help refugees resettle. How else is God calling us to open our eyes to those who, with both their needs and gifts, are right in front of us?
  5. We know all this deep in our bones, that our lives are not to be lived for ourselves, that what we have is meant to be shared as a blessing for others. Jesus doesn’t only remind us of this today; he makes it possible. It’s not the ethical reminder that opens up new ways of living. It’s new life itself. We don’t need someone to come back from the dead to tells us what we, like the rich man, already know. We need to be brought back from the dead. Jesus casts his lot with those outside the gates when he is crucified outside Jerusalem. The poor, the lost, the forsaken; these are not forgotten by God, not in this world or the next. In his dying and rising, Jesus crosses the chasm between life and death once and for all, and all other boundaries are erased; all other gates overthrown. Jesus calls us to follow him into the ways of God’s Kingdom now. To be content with what we have. To love God, not wealth. To work for the well-being of our neighbor, and to do so with thankful hearts, seeing in this work not a burden upon our living but a vocation for our lives. Jesus has come back from the dead, and he has brought you with him into newness of life. Why hide behind the gates? He is your God, and all you have comes from him. To him shall you one day be called home. He calls you now, with open eyes, to follow him. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

A Sermon for the 127th Anniversary of Grace Lutheran School. September 18, 2022

After a two-year delay due to COVID, we were finally able to gather, in worship and in picnic, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Grace Lutheran School. What an absolutely wonderful day! You can view both the worship service and the bulletin. The image is, of course, the Lamb above the Lamb Door, though which generations of children have walked each day.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Erika and I had some hard decisions to make. Seven years ago, we were engaged in prayerful conversation with you, the people of Grace Lutheran Church and School, on our way to mutually discerning that God was calling us into ministry together. But we had never once considered sending our children to a private school. It had simply never crossed our minds. It was clear to us, however, that I couldn’t very well serve as your senior pastor but not send my children to school here. So, we wondered what any parents would wonder in such a situation: Is this school any good? Is this the sort of place that we could trust with our children’s education and formation? On our first visit to Grace, Mr. Koehne arranged for us to meet with the first-grade teacher, as Greta would in first grade the following year. Needless to say, it took about six seconds with Mrs. Reddel to not only put our minds at ease, but to make us excited for the future. Now in our eighth school year, it’s hard to imagine a life apart from this community. Life is marked by the rhythms of Grace School, from the everyday high-fives and fist bumps shared with students in the atrium as they make their way to the Lamb Door, to that holy moment at 4:15 (and again at 6:00), between the dimming of the lights and the first note of “Once in Royal David’s City,” as we hold our breath and sit in silent wonder, waiting for the story of God’s salvation to be sung anew once more. Is this school any good? With hundreds and hundreds of parents over the past 127 years, I can say, “Yes.” This decision turned out more than alright, and I delight in watching our 3 children, and our 199 children, grow in faith, character, and academics, day after day, watching them discover who they are, who God made them to be.
  2. Hearing Jesus’ parable today, one can’t help but think that the manager, the steward, would have benefitted from a better education than the one he received. He might be smart, but character isn’t exactly the word to describe him. More like a middle manager of muddied morals. Like the prodigal son in the preceding parable, the manager squanders property that does not belong to him. Maybe he thought an accounting would never come due, but it always does. The rich man catches wind of the manager’s shenanigans and prepares to fire him. The manager is left with one final task: prepare the books so that the rich man can see the full picture of the manager’s wastefulness. His back against the wall, he conceives a desperate gambit. You have to admire his transparency, admitting that he has no interest in working an honest job. So, having wasted what belonged to his master, he proceeds to give away even more of what isn’t his. He sets about reducing the debts owed the master, fifty jugs of olive oil here, twenty containers of wheat there. If his master is giving him the boot, perhaps he can grease the palms of these debtors, hoping they’ll show him kindness in the future. Through seven verses, this manager is decidedly not the sort of person I’d choose as a role model for my kids. Which is why verse eight lands with such surprise. The master commends him? Having been stolen from again, the master is impressed with his shrewdness?
  3. In 1896, thirty-three families saw their vision come to fruition, a new school in north Oak Park. No longer would they need to traverse the long road, so often beset by mud and snow, to St. John’s. And thank God for St. John’s, who saw in this vision a chance to expand the reach of the gospel. Six years later, the school would give birth to a church. Grace. What a thing to name a church and a school! In a world that demands we measure up and do our best, our forebears in faith had the foresight to name their community after something else. Not what we ought to do, but what God has done. Grace. Grace is at the heart of today’s bizarre parable, a parable that points to the bizarre love God has for God’s people, to the grace of God that barrels down the road like a school bus driven by Gunther. Who is the parable’s middle manager if not Jesus himself? Sent forth from heaven’s joys in the mystery of the Incarnation and wholly disrespectable according to our standards, Jesus comes to us, we who in our sin have run up unpayable accounts. And what does Jesus do? Demand that we pay up? Impress God by wringing everything he can from us? No. Jesus slashes our debts, and it’s even better than in the story. Not by twenty, or fifty, percent. But all the way down to zero. Facing a ledger that will never be reconciled, Jesus just goes and cooks the books! And maybe, just maybe, the point is that the ledger was never that important to God anyway. That what God desires isn’t mastery over us, but relationship with us. To clear the way for this community to spring into being, Jesus dies, taking our accounts with him into the tomb. He rises, ushering in a new world in which we owe nothing to God but praise, and lives lived in service to our neighbor. How do we make their lives easier, better, fuller? Freed from the burdens of our debt, we are invited to shrewd, creative living. God has released us for the sake of the Son. Nothing but grace, all the way down.
  4. As those who carry the legacy of the past into the future, we are reminded today that everything we’ve received over these 127 years is a gift from God. This place is not our own, but it is ours to manage, to steward. In a little while, you’ll hear from the co-chairs of Forward in Faith, our campaign to build an endowment that will support Grace School for years to come. You cannot serve God and wealth, but your wealth can work for God’s mission, helping ensure that cost is never a barrier to families considering Grace for their children. God has blessed us with so much; we are called to be faithful in much. Each day, we are stewards of 199 children, each one a gift and treasure from God. Every day these children are taught by remarkable women and men, shrewdly creative in their work. This celebration was delayed for two years because of the pandemic, but the work of Grace School didn’t miss a beat. Our teachers are far too passionate and committed to let a global pandemic get in their way. First over Zoom, and as soon as it was safe, in-person, they carried on the work and ministry entrusted to them. Over the past several years, Grace has repeatedly lived up to its name. Our task is simply to make sure that the same happens in the future, for another 127 years and beyond.
  5. Today, we celebrate Grace, both Grace School and the grace of our God that makes all things possible. Friends, Christ has come to us in grace. In his death and resurrection, the old ways of keeping accounts and tallying ledgers have been laid to rest. The eternal homes have opened up. New community is possible. Here, on Sundays and weekdays, we learn again and again of this grace. Let our lives be marked with creative and generous giving, and festive, faithful praise. Let us rejoice for all that God has done, and all that God promises yet to do. Is this school any good? Turns out, it’s great. Even better, it’s Grace. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

Sermon: Finishing What You Start. September 4, 2022

This is the sermon I preached on September 4, the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost. You can watch the worship service and view the bulletin. Our deck project remains incomplete; we have been thwarted by rain and high humidity. So it goes.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. For which of you, intending to repair and repaint a two-story deck, does not first sit down and make a plan, estimate the cost, check the weather, and figure out if you actually have enough time to do the work? And which of you would not also determine at the outset how much paint and primer you need, never mind discerning whether you own or have access to a power washer and an orbital sander and a tall-enough ladder and wood filler and deck screws and, oh, you know, paint brushes? I mean, which of you would undertake such a project without planning things out ahead of time? Well, perhaps you would have. I sure didn’t. But, after talking for some time about the need to tend to our deck, we just jumped in. Having borrowed a power washing, I assaulted our deck on Tuesday, blasting away bunches of paint. Standing there when finished, coated in a light mist and plastered with paint chips, Erika and I looked at each other and said, “Well, now we have to finish.” Since that time, we’ve made multiple trips to the local paint and hardware stores, borrowed tools from benevolent friends, and listened to neighbors rightfully express their concern for my well-being. What was I doing on top of that ladder while wearing flip flops, anyway? But onward we march, and this project should be completed tomorrow, should the Lord smile upon us in mercy and with sunny weather. Which of you, intending to start something, would not first have plans to finish it? Well, Jesus, if I’m being honest? Me. I would. I’m the one who would fail to make the necessary plans, to count the cost. When it comes to home repair, thank God for Erika.
  2. No doubt many of you are thinking that I should stick to preaching, and you’re probably right. But Jesus’ words today aren’t really about me repairing a deck; neither are they about building towers or going to war. Jesus speaks hard words to us today, words that cut past the particularities of our failings, convicting us of our willful inability to prepare for or stay focused on the task at hand. Created for a life of praise, our attention instead drifts inward. Called to a life of discipleship, we too often serve ourselves. Beckoned to follow, we wander aimlessly, chasing after this or that. We are unfocused; inattentive. This goes beyond the constant checking of phones or changing of channels. We are casual narcissists, always imagining that we are in control of our own destiny, minds wandering away from the task at hand, on the lookout for something better. We imagine ourselves free and without limits. But as Matthew Crawford writes in The World Beyond Your Head, “Autonomy talk speaks the consumerist language of preference satisfaction. Discovering your true preference requires maximizing the number of choices you face: precisely the condition that makes for maximum dissipation of one’s energies.” In other words, our seemingly infinite choices lead not to freedom, but paralysis. Put theologically, we are idolaters, focus flitting from one thing to the next, attention turned everywhere except God. God, if God enters our mind at all, tends to come last.
  3. Today, Jesus cuts through the noise. He speaks hard words to force us to listen. Family, possessions, life itself must be left behind if we are to follow him. But Jesus does not ask anything of us that he does not do first. He doesn’t hate his family, but his focus on his ministry separates them. He carries nothing with him, has no place to lay his head. He will leave behind life itself on the cross, descending into a darkness so deep he believes his Father has forsaken him. Jesus is single-mindedly focused on his mission to build the Kingdom and wage war against sin and death. He has counted the cost, and it will cost him everything. Yet he is undeterred. He asks us to follow only where he himself goes first.
  4. Jesus, of course, does not demand we stop painting decks or building towers. Neither does he want us to hate our families or give up on life. He is, however, calling for a radical reordering our own lives that can only begin when we emerge from the baptismal tomb and enter into newness of life. The cold waters, like Jesus’ words, grab our attention and turn us toward him. Focused, we can see beyond all that would claim our time and energy; focused, we can see God. As the French philosopher Simone Weil writes, “This way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as [God] is, in all his truth.”
  5. In the first episodes of the new The Lord of the Rings television series, The The Rings of Power, we are reintroduced to the elven Lady Galadriel, who, amid a world that would rather pretend there’s nothing to worry about, is focused on finding the enemy and rooting out evil. Adrift on a flotsam raft with a new character named Halbrand, Galadriel is assaulted by a storm, winds and waves buffeting their poor craft. Confident and compassionate, she speaks to the man: “Bind yourself to me.” While this line, no doubt, will echo in unforeseen ways as the story plays out, Galadriel’s motives are pure, her intentions kind. Bind yourself to me, she beckons, and together we will see the journey through. As Christ calls us to follow, the invitation is similar. We cannot complete the journey on our own, so we are called out of ourselves, bid to bind ourselves to Jesus. As Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship, “To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which his too hard for us. Once more, all that self-denial ca say is: ‘He leads the way, keep close to him.’”
  6. We do not always, cannot always, know where the road is leading us. We begin projects and abandon them. We are interrupted by illness and affliction. We imagine we have infinite choices, equating choice with freedom. But eventually we hit dead ends, find ourselves in cul-de-sacs of our own making, trapped by circumstances that roll over us like storms. Just there, Christ calls us, granting us the true freedom that comes not from infinite choice, but from being chosen by the infinite. So chosen, we are left with no choice at all. There is nowhere to go but in the footsteps of our Messiah, following as he leads. As we journey, he will restore our relationships, moving us from hate to love. He will give meaning to our projects and wage war against the evil in this world and in our hearts. He will move us from the false lives we have created into death, and out of death into the life for which we were created. For God will not be thwarted. God’s project of creation will not be undone. God will complete what God has started. Jesus, counting and knowing the cost, will pay the price and finish the job. He has carried the cross for us. Bound to him, let us follow where he leads. There’s not really anywhere else to go. May our focus ever be on Christ, the One who has chosen you at great cost to himself, for you are precious in his sight, and he will finish the work he began in you. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

A Funeral Sermon for Bob Carlson. August 13, 2022

I was blessed to preach and preside at the funeral of Bob Carlson on Saturday, August 13, 2022. You can view the service and the bulletin. Rest eternal grant Bob, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him.

Barbara, Bob, Bill, Brian; family and friends; sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Starting on that September day 89 years ago, Bob was blessed to see a great many things during his life. Accustomed to the big city of Chicago, the sights of small-town Northfield must have been a wonder. But if Carleton seemed like a different world, it was nothing compared to Japan, where Bob would have seen the sun-dappled Pacific from the air, and where he met so many people who would shape his life for years to come. Bob’s loving gaze found a match in Barbara’s eyes, and together they looked in wonder as four sons were born into this world; together, through tear-stained eyes, they said farewell to Brad, taken from them far too soon. As the years passed, Bob saw his children grow and, eventually, witnessed the arrival of grandchildren. He saw goodness knows how may Blackhawks and Cubs games. And he saw, always with Barbara, sitting right here, this space, week after week. Bob’s attendance at worship was faithful, if not downright stubborn during the last few years leading up to the pandemic. If Bob and Barbara could make it, they would, even with health challenges. And Sunday morning worship from Grace became must-see TV after they moved to Indiana, providing a much-needed connection to their family of faith. Bob saw a lot over 89 years. Today we mourn because Bob has been taken from our sight. But today we also rejoice, for the veil has been removed from Bob’s sight. Today, Bob clearly sees the salvation of the Lord.
  2. Luke tells us of another man who’d seen a great many things, save for the one needful thing. But Simeon hoped it wouldn’t be long; indeed, the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would see the arrival of the Lord’s Messiah before he died. I wonder what Simeon expected the Messiah to look like. A soldier? A scholar? A wild-eyed prophet? Instead, the Messiah arrives in the shape of a little bundle, a forty-day-old baby, brought to the Temple to be presented to the Lord. Whatever he thought he would see, Simeon recognizes Jesus for who he is right away. Without so much as a by-your-leave, he takes the baby from the parents. Cradling the salvation of the whole world in his arms, he praises now: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Whatever else we see along the way, we find peace when we behold Jesus, the Messiah we so desperately need in this sinful, dying world. Through Christ shines forth a light of glory and revelation for all people.
  3. Bob’s parents, not so unlike Joseph and Mary so long ago, brought Bob into the Lord’s presence. In the waters of baptism, Bob was claimed by God as his own. These waters would shape Bob for a lifetime of service, from the Boy Scouts of America to the United States Navy and beyond, Bob lived a life that saw beyond his own comforts and needs to the needs of those around him. I still remember the first significant conversation I had with Bob. Seven years ago, after giving me a week or two to settle in, Bob called and made an appointment. Yes, he wanted to introduce himself, but Bob didn’t want to talk about Bob. He wanted to talk about SAFER, an organization about whose work he was passionate and in which he was faithfully involved. Studying the Bible with incarcerated persons, Bob cared deeply about what happened to them when they were no longer incarcerated. Reentry is not easier however, and there are a great many obstacles and challenges along the way. Bob wanted to make sure that his new pastor was aware of this important ministry and how Grace had supported it in the past. By that point, Bob could have been taking life easy, enjoying the fruits of his labor in retirement. Instead, he used his time and treasure in service of others because that’s the person God shaped Bob to be.
  4. With Bob taken from our sight, we mourn. We grieve. That’s how it should be. But we also rejoice that after a lifetime of service, Bob now sees the Lord. By the grace that cancels his sins and yours, by the death that overcomes his death and yours, Bob has been redeemed. Having already died to sin and death in the waters of baptism, this death is now not the end, but rather the gateway to eternal life. And we, in our grief, are given visible signs of our Savior’s presence. In bread and wine, we cradle Jesus in our hands and receive his life-giving promise into our lives. Supported by one another, we continue to walk. Yes, for us in this life, faith is still the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. But we have seen enough to keep going, enough to know that God has more in store for us. That we, too, shall one day rise from death, eyes blinking in the light and glory of the Kingdom of God. Let us, like Bob and all the saints before us, look to God and live lives of service, until we, too, depart in peace in the presence of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.