Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sermon -- Funeral of Alice M. Laho (June 2, 2016)

1 CORINTHIANS 15:42-49


In the name + of Jesus.

     When God created the heavens and the earth, everything was perfect.  There was no sorrow or mourning or crying or pain.  Adam and Eve were created with perfect, robust bodies—able to run and to jump and to dance.  With able hands, they were able to enjoy the abundant goodness of Eden's Garden.  But Adam and Eve used their capable hands to grasp the fruit which God had forbidden and to which God had added a curse.  By eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve brought sin into the world with all of its consequences.  Now, man is marked for death.  Now, creation has been subjected to a curse.  Now the world is broken.  Eden's Garden has been replaced with a world of thistles and thorns.  What God had created to be perfect, robust bodies are often broken and diseased.
     I don't know how much Alice got to run and jump and dance in her youth, but since she was 18 years old, she has been bound to a wheel chair.  I know she wanted to dance, but sin's consequences had made its impact on Alice's body.  Sin's consequence makes its impact on every human body.  In some it is more pronounced, but every body is marked by it—whether it is merely felt by the nuisance of corrective lenses, or it is experienced in a crippling disorder or a weakened heart.  Finally, every body must suffer death.  For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)  That is what the sin of Adam brings, and we are all Adam's children.  The first man was of the dust of the earth....  And, as was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth.... (1 Corinthians 15:47,48)  Just as Adam died, so must we all—earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
     We all have different memories of Alice, and I think just about all of them were good.  I was always amazed how Alice did not let her limited abilities have her wallowing in self-pity or bitterness.  I suppose there were days when that happened, but I can't say I saw them.  Nevertheless, Alice did not pretend to be what she was not.  She knew that our human sinful condition was the ultimate culprit which brought on her arthritis.  She also knew that she had inherited that sinfulness and its curse.  She confessed that she was a sinner—not in pride, but in penitence.  She also knew that death would come for her one day.  And on May 29, 2016, it did.
     Nevertheless, Alice did not fear death.  That is because Alice knew that Jesus Christ had taken care of death for her.  Jesus Christ, who is true God, became true man to rescue mankind from sin, from its curse, and from all its consequences.  Jesus bore in his body all of Alice's iniquity when he went to the cross.  There, Jesus took the worst that death can do to anyone: Jesus endured the wrath of God on account of sin.  Jesus died a cursed death in our place, suffering the hell we deserve.  He was crucified, died, and was buried.  On Good Friday, Jesus' body was sown into the ground in death.  On Easter Sunday, Jesus' body burst forth from the ground with life—the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  Everything that went wrong in Eden's Garden was rectified in the garden where Joseph of Arimathea had his tomb.  It was there that Jesus rose to live forever.  It was there that Jesus conquered death.  And just as Jesus died for us, so also he rose for us so that all who believe in him also have victory over death.
     Through holy baptism, Jesus Christ gave Alice all the benefits of his saving work.  Jesus put to death the sinner and made her a new creation, a saint.  That is the status Alice had all her life long.  Granted, she did not always look like it.  No one looks victorious in a wheel chair.  She did not always act like it; she could get ornery.  But when she was baptized, Alice became a child of the Most High God.  She was forgiven of her sins, and she was marked for the resurrection.  She believed it and confessed it.  At the resurrection on the Last Day, Alice will finally look like the child of God which God said she is.
     For this is what the Lord says:  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.  The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.... (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)  Perhaps it sounds mean to say that Alice's body is sown in dishonor.  That does not mean that Alice died in disgrace.  It means that sin had ravaged her body.  It did not function as God had designed it to do.  Just as Jesus had restored Alice from the status of sinner to saint, so also Jesus will restore Alice the perfect, robust body that he had always intended us to have.  What is sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory.
     For that reason, Alice did not fear death.  In fact, Alice even found hope in death.  She took Jesus at his word when he declared, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25)  She took the Holy Spirit at his word when he inspired St. Paul to write: As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.  And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:48-49)  What is sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory.  Alice now not merely bears the status of child of God, she dwells in God's presence as a saint.  The frail, sinful body of Alice Laho will be raised glorious, incorruptible, and strong.  She will run and jump and dance.  She will sit down only when she wants to, and my guess is that it will not be often.
     What went all wrong in Eden's Garden was rectified at the Garden tomb of Jesus.  Sins have been taken away.  Death has been left in the dust.  The man, Jesus Christ, lives and reigns and grants his victory to all mankind who believe in him.  Though Alice's body will be sown into the ground, it will spring forth in glory on the Last Day.  For, Jesus Christ has marked Alice as his own.  He has redeemed her body and soul.  Her soul has been taken to Jesus and rejoices already in his presence.  Her body awaits the resurrection and will be perfected once and for all.
     I am guessing that Alice prayed frequently and fervently to be made whole.  God has been pleased to answer her prayer.  The answer did not come on this side of Judgment Day, but it will come at last.  It is just as St. Paul declared: Just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Corinthians 15:49)  What is sown in dishonor shall be raised in glory.  As surely as Jesus Christ lives, so does Alice.  As surely as Jesus is risen from the grave, so will Alice.  And as surely as God is faithful to his promises, so Alice gets to rejoice in them with singing and praising...and dancing.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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