Comfort, Comfort? – Gaudete 2012 – Isaiah 40:1-8

16. December 2012
Gaudete (Advent 3)
Isaiah 40:1-8

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” In the darkness of Friday’s tragic death of twenty children and seven adults in Newtown, CT where was God? Where is His comfort? We trust He will deliver us from evil and then He lets us down. We have hope for a future and then for twenty-seven it is cut short. Face the facts. Sometimes we feel like we have an impotent God. Is our God powerful to save or not? Does He keep His promises for rescue or not?

Solomon felt the same way: “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.” (Ecc. 4:1) Solomon’s lament resonates with us. Who will comfort the mourners? It feels like we are powerless to escape the oppressor.

In some ways its worse for those who survive than those who are dead. They no longer suffer. They don’t grieve but will soon be laid in the grave. So goes the lament: “I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.” (Ecc. 4:2-3) Better to die or even never be born than witness the carnage at the hands of man.

This is life for the heirs of Adam. Imagine the cry of lament from Adam after his son Cain murdered brother Abel. Adam’s voice mixed with Abel’s cry of blood from the ground. Rachel mourns for her children and refuses to be comforted. Now the parents and families voice mix with Adam, Abel, Rachel, and all the lamenters. Such loud crying is not comforting. It helps and terrifies. It acknowledges reality but leaves us in darkness.

The worst way to grieve is shut one’s ears. The silence is oppressive. And sometimes people refuse to speak to suffering. They avoid it. They are told to get over it. Time to move on. This too shall pass. This never answers the hard question. Where is God? Does He save or not? Will He rescue or not? We need answers and they must be spoken.

God sends to you messengers like Isaiah, St. John the Baptizer, holy Evangelists, and even pastors to speak two words. These men are to speak to tragedy and death.They also speak tenderly to Jerusalem (that’s you!) They must speak while we still dwell in the darkness and the shadow of death. They speak, cry, say, call. They come with voices, mouths, and Word. They evangelize/gospel you with God’s very Word.

Two words. God’s Word afflicts and He comforts. This has always been the truth. Even in the Lord’s exile of Adam from the garden—an affliction—Adam is given the promise of the Seed who will crush the Serpent and restore Adam and his children to God. Even in the midst of the exile of the people to Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon, God grants a promised return.

Suffering is from God. It is the just punishment for our many sins. What I’m about to say may bother you. It’s not pleasant but its true. Some would say those children who died in Connecticut were innocent. Certainly before the world and their murderer. They had done nothing deserving death by that man’s hand. The hard truth is that all children of Adam are born deserving death at God’s hand.

But the fact that any of us are living is a testimony to God’s mercy not justice. The just thing would have been to destroy the earth after Adam’s fall or to finish it all with the Flood. The fair thing would have been to leave us in bondage to sin and death.

The reason many cannot fathom this tragedy or any other is that we haven’t listened to what God has said. He has spoken by His messengers. Their voices cry out. The truth is said. Isaiah spoke today about the frailty of our condition. “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are like grass.” It is the breath of God that brings the grass, the flower and even you to an end.

Why does anyone die? Because they must. The flesh is infected with mortality. It must be brought to an end in God’s wrath. The truth is not in us if we think anyone escapes death. Children die under the weight of sin. Sometimes this comes by the hand of disease. Other times by accident. Sometimes they make it to old age. And sometimes they die by an act of great evil.

We shudder at the thought. Death is never pleasant. When young ones die, it is especially horrifying. To believe God allows the Devil and his tools of violence and death to claim twenty-seven lives is even more difficult. Every day lives are brought to an end either tragically or “naturally.” Death is never natural. The truth that God ends the life He has created is always a discomfort. We grieve those many deaths. We lament the suffering. We are terrified at the horror of this world.  And by God we know it is not outside His hand.

Sin, suffering and death are unnatural. The affliction God brings is always His alien work. Suffering is given by God but foreign to Him. It comes by the lesser of the two Words. We are brought to an end under His just Law. This is never an end unto itself. No, the Law puts to death in order to make alive eternally by the Gospel. He only crucifies the passions and desires of the flesh so He may properly comfort with the gift of Christ. Our God is not a God of death and suffering. Chiefly He is one of life—mercy, grace, and comfort—in Jesus.

You see, comfort is not primarily a feeling. You may feel comforted but only after your comfort is declared to you. God must speak the Word of comfort. He declares the truth so that we may be comforted in the midst of affliction. Our God is not silent but speaks. He cries out: “Jesus!” The key to comfort in this present darkness is to look to the cross of Christ. We who are in Christ share in Christ’s affliction and comfort.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” There is good news to those who are in any affliction. In Christ Jesus there is comfort. The message of Christ crucified for your salvation is a sweet, consoling, and joyful message. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” In Jesus, the battle is done. In Jesus’ blood, your iniquity is forgive. In Jesus, the good news always overwhelms your sins double.

What’s been lost in much of the discussion of tragic death is the reality that baptized Christians have already gotten death over with. Yes, many died at the hands of the gunman. The Christians had already died with Christ in Holy Baptism. For those who believe on Christ Jesus’ name death no longer has its sting or victory. Our warfare against the works of the flesh—against evil, rulers, and terror—is already over. For the Word incarnate has fought that battle already. Christ took the battlefield at the cross rendering complete satisfaction for us.

Do not fight any longer. Your warfare is finished and ended through Christ, the Redeemer. Seek righteousness in the kingdom of Christ and of mercy, where sins are forgiven as a gift. The world outside of the Father’s grace in Christ is a crooked road. When we look for answers or hope in this world we are  walking on broken and rough ways. There is only one way that is straight and true. There is only one path that doesn’t meander and curve but leads directly to heaven, resurrection, and life everlasting

Christ is leading this Adventide on a new Exodus. We are being led through this age of evil where children are gunned down and teachers slain unto the promised land where there will be no more mourning or crying. Jesus is taking us from this world we cannot understand with horrors, terror, and death to a new Eden where the fullness of the Father’s glory will be revealed. The way is being made ready again, leveling, lifting, making low, and plain.

Soon we will remember again the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Word: “The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Soon, we will rejoice in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ on Christmas. The son of God takes on human flesh to reveal to you the glory of God. Christ Jesus, the incarnate One, is the crucified “Lord of glory.” (1 Cor 2:8)

You see that all flesh has seen the glory of God. Even now God has revealed Himself to you in glory. He comes in His crucified flesh and blood to comfort you. You may not feel comforted but He says “Comfort, comfort my people!” The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. (Titus 2:11) You have been pardoned. Your warfare is over. Taste and see double for all your sins.

Your God has saved you. He has kept His promise to rescue you. He died for all flesh that all flesh who are in Him would live. Our life is fragile. Our flesh is being brought to an end. For some it was tragic this week. We mourn the loss of the children and adults slain. But we also cry, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever!” 

What is that Word of God? This Word of the Gospel: you were ransomed with the precious blood of Christ, the lamb without blemish of spot. Through Him you are believers in God in whom is your faith and hope. Through Holy Baptism you were “born again not of perishable seed but imperishable, the living and abiding Word of God. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:17-25)

He comforts you with the forgiveness of sins under bread and wine. These Words overcome twofold any terror or horror of this world for they are good and eternal. There are hurting people in our world, our country, and our community. They desperately need the comfort that only Christ can bring.  Speak to them as God has spoken to you. Speak the Word of your comfort in all affliction, that God has kept His promise to give you life. (cf. Ps. 119:50,89)

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

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Funeral of William Herbert Black – Psalm 130

07. September 2012
Funeral of William Herbert Black
Psalm 130

Dearly beloved, Kay, Bill, Teresa, Karen, Terry, friends, and all the fellow redeemed—Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation is from the second Psalm, especially these words: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope (Psalm 130:5).

Dear Christians, Jesus Christ is the firstborn of the dead. Just as He died and rose, so too, all who are in Him die a death like His but will also receive a resurrection like His. Bill has received this death, as all men do. He now rests for what will seem to be a mere three days, only to be called forth in the resurrection of the body on the last day. From the beginning, Jesus Christ, was begotten of the Father to love you, show you mercy, and and give you the grace of God.

To be sure, the Holy Trinity has been gracious, merciful, and loving to Bill in many ways. God showed Bill great mercy by sparing his life in wartime while serving in the US Army in the Pacific Theatre. God gave him a treasure in his lovely spouse Kay. Bill was blessed by God with three children who stood by him to the end. God equipped Bill with talent and passion for printing. These are examples of God’s loving providence for Bill.

While Bill was thankful for these blessings, he did not put his hope in them. Being spared from death is a cause for thankfulness yet many lose their lives each day in battle. What of these soldiers, children in the womb, cancer victims? Does God still love them if they are not spared from death? And Bill loved his wife Kay always. Is her companionship, service, and motherhood God’s chief gift to Bill? What if one’s wife is not faithful in her vocation? Is this God punishing you? What if you are not blessed with children or those children abandon you? Does God still love you? What if you unable to work or find no joy in the work you have? Has God been unfaithful to you?

Absolutely not! Earthly blessings including our very lives come and go, just like the flower fades and the grass withers. What will never die? What treasures from God never see rust or decay? Jesus endures forever. The Word of God endures forever. If we put our stock in anything other the Jesus, when the market crashes, we’re bankrupt and hell bound. We run around in a panic, impatient, anxious, worried about today and tomorrow, and ultimately doubt the Lord has us even in the corner of eye.

A few weeks ago, none of knew this is what today would bring. We were all wringing our hands, desperately trying to figure out what would be best for Mom and Dad, Kay and Bill. The children were anxious. Kay was in the hospital and not getting better. Bill was concerned and busy, what with the house and all the other needs. The finances were tight, the lawyer situation a mess, no nursing home was available for Kay, and we all were wondering whether Bill was beginning to succumb to dementia himself.

Yet, I’ll never forget my conversations with Bill himself during this time. Whether in the hospital or at church, he always had a quiet confidence. He was not in a visible panic. He was worried but never to the point of despair. He was concerned but not anxious. I’m betting you children chalked this up to early dementia. But perhaps we ought to consider another explanation.

Bill’s strength was not from within, nor in the blessings of this life, but in His Lord. How many times in eighty six years of life do you think Bill cried out from the depths for the Lord to listen? How many times did he pray that he would be safe in war? That he would be faithful to his wife? That he would love his children as God loved him? That those children would remain in the faith as he taught them? That he would not be lazy or rude but work diligently and provide?

Bill prayed day and night for the Lord’s ear. He may not have shown it in his stoic facial expression. He may not have always spoken in the kindest way. You may not have seen his head bowed or hands folded. Yet, he knew his faults and did not hide them, at least from God. Every week he faithfully confessed his sins to the Lord and was forgiven. Bill said, “Kyrie Eleison—Lord, have mercy” from his baptism until his death. No doubt, he heard those words—If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared (Ps. 130:3-4). Bill heard those words and never trusted in his iniquity-laden self but always in the Lord and especially his forgiveness.

And if you think this is just a lucky guess, consider Kay. Kay, you shocked your children in the same way. After Bill had his fall and was in intensive care, we expected his death to be immanent. Do you remember that we came to visit you? All the children met you at the home and gave you the bad news, not knowing how you would respond. You floored them by saying: “He’s going to a better place. The Lord’s will be done.” What they had seen in Bill weeks before while you lay in bed, they saw again in you, Kay: a quiet confidence in the midst of things we cannot understand. Hopefulness when it seems all hope is lost; patience and trust when our instinct is the opposite. This unnatural response isn’t unique to just Kay or Bill but is the confident hope of every Christian.

Bill did not look to his country, his wife, his children, or even his work to know God loved him. These blessings from God do not stand on their own. They flow from the greatest blessing the world has ever known. God the Father has so loved you that He gives you His son to forgive you, grant unto you life, and take you into His eternal home. This good news is a gift, freely given, and more amazing than anything we could possibly imagine.

Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of Bill’s iniquities was the source of his every hope. Bill, a child of God, adopted into the Lord’s Israel, knew the source of every blessing. Bill hoped in the Lord, knowing that no matter what came in this life, with the Lord there is mercy and with Him is abundant redemption. Just as the Psalmist prophesied, [the Lord] shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities, Bill saw clearly in faith that every sin, every rude tongue to his family, every error of judgment, every struggle, and even every pain is redeemed in the blood of Jesus.

While Bill’s own father served as a negative role model, his mother handed down the faith to him, instilling this same confidence. She wrote in the Bible given to him on Christmas Day 1938: “Take care of this book, do not abuse it, don’t leave it lay, but use it.” And I know that Bill hopes even now the same for you, his wife, his children, and his friends. He faithfully attended to the Word of God, confessed his sins, receiving divine pardon in Holy Absolution, attentively listened to the Word proclaimed (although often comforted by the Gospel to the point of dozing off!), and received the life giving food and medicine of immortality that is Christ’s body and blood. This was not secondary but integral to his life with Christ. At the center of his whole life sat the forgiveness of sins—given, proclaimed, eaten and drunk. In this word he hoped. In this word, Dad confidently waited for the Lord.

Kay, Bill, Teresa, Karen, Terry, friends, and all the fellow redeemed—the Psalmist said: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope. Do not grieve as those with no hope. Do not mourn without the promise. Jesus died for sins of the whole world. Jesus died for Bill and thus Bill lives. Jesus shed His blood for Bill and washed him clean in Holy Baptism, naming his child forever. Jesus is the promise of the Psalmist fulfilled for Bill and for you. In Jesus there is mercy and with Him there is abundant redemption for His servant Bill and for all who believe. Bill has been redeemed from all his iniquities. His daily cries from the depths are over. The Lord has heard his voice. Thanks be to God!

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

William Herbert Black

June 16, 1926  +  September 3, 2012

 Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. Let us remember with thanksgiving what God has done through His servant William Herbert Black.

William was given life by his creator and was born on June 16, 1926, the child of Albert and Helen Black. He received the gift of Holy Baptism and became a child of God on August 1, 1926. On July 9, 1939, he publicly confessed his faith and was confirmed at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Dr. Martin Luther in Chicago. He regularly received the gracious gift of the Lord’s life-giving body and blood in the Holy Supper.

On April 29, 1950, William received the gift of a beloved companion in his wife, Catherine neé McCalmont. They were blessed with the gift of three children: William Jr. (Teresa), Karen, and Terry. God blessed William’s life with many special people as he served God in his vocations at home, church, work, community, and country.

Finally, on September 3, 2012, God blessed William with a holy death and took him home to rest in the arms of Jesus to await the resurrection of the dead. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.  We give thanks to God our Father through Jesus Christ, our Lord, for our brother, William.

Exaudi ’12 – John 15:26-16:4

In the midst of the time between the celebration of the Ascension and the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost comes Exaudi, a Sunday of hopeful expectation. We need comfort in the midst of our sorrows and griefs, persecution and suffering. This is expected for all those who confess Christ’s name. What is unexpected is the gift of the Holy Spirit sent by the Father and bearing witness of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus given by the Spirit through the Word brings a comfort that the world cannot give.

(Apologies for the audio. The final few minutes were truncated where we considered the lack of comfort found in Moses and the Law, in good works and holy living. True comfort comes only by Jesus through His Spirit-given gifts of Word and Sacrament. He takes our eyes off our conscience and onto Jesus. He takes from us sin, death, and hell and grants us perfection, life, and eternity.)