Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Funeral of Esther von Hagel

We gather together today to mourn the loss of Esther von Hagel and to hear the good news of Jesus Christ for all who are called according to his promises and believe in his name.

I know that today is a day of sorrow, a day for saying goodbye to one who is dearly loved.  To read a psalm like Psalm 100 might seem out of place with its call to sing joyfully.  How can we joyfully sing on a day such as today when death has done its terrible work and one whom we love can no longer be with us?  Surely it is not easy for us.  But I chose this scripture with Esther in mind, with her being in particular being the one to sing.  

During our visits together at Brentwood, Esther and I would often sings hymns.  Or rather, I would sing and she would join in by appreciating the words and remembering the melodies.  She would always hasten to explain to me, “I would so dearly love to sing.  I would love to sing.  But I just don’t have the breath.  I just don’t have the breath, pastor.” 

“Esther,” I would say, “I’ll do the singing for today, but don't you worry.  You will have plenty of breath.  When you die and are raised again with a new and perfect body, you will have your voice again.  For you to not sing is only for a short time.  But the time will come when you will sing, and it will be sweet music indeed, because you will be singing your savior’s praise in his very presence, face to face."  

Esther liked to be reminded of this.  She liked to be reminded of the promises that God had given to her.  Esther liked to be reminded that God had chosen her.  She liked to hear the promise of Communion that Jesus Christ had died for her sins.  The Bible says that faith comes by hearing, and Esther loved to hear all of these things because they strengthened the faith that she had been given.  

Now one might ask on what basis I was so willing to repeat these promises to her so extravagantly.  Was is because of her exemplary qualities or her great goodness of life?  No.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Was it because of particular actions that she had taken?  No, for it is written, “by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works.”  Was it because of her intellectual assent to a list of things that must be believed?  No, the thoughts of God are far too much for us to understand; who can count the sum of them?  Nor was it that she had undergone some spiritual experience.

Faith is none of those things.  Faith is hearing the promise of God over and over again and being grasped by it.  Esther first heard that promise in baptism.  And we have heard that promise this morning.  The Apostle Paul writes that in baptism we are joined to Christ's death so that we might also be joined to his life.  That is a promise that depends not on us, but on God himself.  That is the point of a promise.  It depends not on us, but on the one who gives the promise.  I was pleased to deliver these promises to Esther over and over again because they did not depend on her at all, nor did they depend on me.  They depended only on the one who had given them, God himself.

And those who hear these promises are enabled to confess the words of Psalm 100: "Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture."  It is by hearing what God has to say to us, over and over again, that we are able to make a joyful noise in his presence, that we are enabled to come into his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.  It is because we have heard that we are able to say, "For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever."  And so by hearing, Esther looked forward to the day when she would have all the breath she needed to proclaim the praises of her Lord Jesus Christ, who died and was raised so that she might have life, so that she might be able to sing again.  Amen.

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