Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
29. October 2011
Funeral of Joseph C. Koch
+ IN NOMINE JESU +
The Lord’s unending blessing be upon you—Marion, aunt Carol, David, Gary, Lisa, Alex, Sydney, Kelli, Garrett, Kristen and Katherine, spouses, friends, neighbors, and fellow believers. I bid you warm greetings from your fellow saints of God at Grace Lutheran Church in Dyer. We mourn the death of your dearly beloved father, grandfather, brother, and friend. We will keep you in our prayers as we too know the pain of death and suffer with you.
In the midst of your grief, I have noticed a common desire. Each one of you desire a sure and certain hope for Joe. You are not unique. Everyone who suffers the loss of a loved one wants to know answers. So, you want to know why Joe suffered. You want to know why God would give life, nurture it, only to rip it away in the end. You want to know what is in store for Joe.
If we look to ourselves, our desires will guide our answers. We might think that Joe suffered after his heart attack and especially these last few years because God was punishing him. We might think that this is all just part of the “circle of life” and has no meaning at all.
We ought to look to the Scriptures for the truth. God’s servant Job underwent great trial and suffering. His family, livelihood, possessions, and even his very health were removed from him. He was brought to the kind of depths of hurt that Joe felt in the end.
This hurt, this suffering was given to him. God allowed even the wicked Devil to torment him day and night. Why? Why cause such grief and sorrow? Why suffer to the end?
It is not simply punishment. No, Joe suffered not to destroy his faith but to strengthen it. God desired Joe to return to His baptism, to trust in God’s mercy alone, to confess the one name of Jesus by which all must be saved. St Paul says: we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3ff).
I pray that Joe’s suffering and your grief now will bring you not to hope in yourselves, in your own strength, in your own good works. No, I pray that your hope is like patriarch Job’s. Job utterly despaired of himself. Instead, he put his entire hope in the Redeemer who lives. Even after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself.
There is only one way you can be absolutely sure and certain that you are saved and will inherit the life eternal. St. Peter says: believe and be baptized and you will be saved. Or as we say in the Creed: I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Therein is your only certain hope. Confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord. Receive adoption as sons and daughters in Holy Baptism. Confess your sins before your pastor and receive Holy Absolution. Only the forgiveness of sins, purchased and won by the blood of Christ, will redeem you from the pit. Only forgiveness of sins will bring you from death to life.
This is our hope for Joe. Unfortunately, we cannot make light of the fact that Joe became both lax and then unable to participate in the holy catholic church or in the communion of saints around the altar, receiving Christ’s body and blood. This is a shame and even a tragedy. For Holy Baptism named him as a member in the one church and made him ready to participate in these gifts.
Yet, this does not leave us with our hope. For Joe was baptized. Christ chose him as one of his dear children. In my very brief conversations with him, he did not despair but calmly approached his death. He welcomed my prayers. Our hope is that the good work begun in him in baptism was made complete in his final breaths.
But, also heed Joe’s faults. Do not presume that baptism is a ticket to heaven. Let us make our calling and election sure. Let us make full use of the riches of God, in his preached Word, in his gift of Confession and Absolution, and in the holy Sacrament of his body and blood. Baptism now saves you, to be sure, but so also remain in your baptism by hearing, confessing, and receiving forgiveness of sins as often as you are able.
This may seem a harsh word for you but it is the truth. Joe’s love for you, his spouse Marion, while wonderful, does not save him. His fatherly love does not earn him anything. His taking the boys on fishing trips with Vic Bernardi doesn’t merit heaven. His hard work for our U.S. Army, Illinois Bell, or even Koch’s Courier are nothing to the work accomplished for him in Christ.
The apostles had this same concern. They wanted to know how they could go to be with the Father in the heavenly mansions. St. John records: Thomas said to [Jesus], “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
The way to heaven isn’t through a noble or virtuous life. The way to heaven is not through being a good husband, father, or friend. The only way to heaven is through Jesus. It is through his way, his truth, and his life. Rejoice in Christ, in his appointed means of grace, his beloved Word of Holy Scripture, and his meritorious and sacrificial life, and be saved.
The Lord’s blessing be upon you— Marion, aunt Carol, David, Gary, Lisa, Alex, Sydney, Kelli, Garrett, Kristen and Katherine, spouses, friends, neighbors, and fellow believers. May the may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your heart and mind steadfast in Christ Jesus our Lord, even as we mourn the death of our dear friend, brother, father, and husband Joseph. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +