Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Funeral Sermon for Arvid Latuska - December 2, 2006

In the name of Jesus
Dear brothers and sisters baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ:
It was the year 1965. And -- as a 27 year-old Arvid would mix mortar and plumb lines and move courses of bricks on yet another job, he would listen to the songs of the day on his transitor radio. He would listen to songs about humanity, songs of war and songs of peace, songs about the hopes and dreams of regular-kinds of people in regular-kinds of families doing regular-kinds of things. And he would listen to the lyrics of the musical group "The Byrds," who sang about the stark, biblical realities of life and death in this fallen and darkened world. And contrary to much of what was thought during the 60's, not much has changed in the last three or four thousand years when it comes to the lives of the children of Adam and Eve. As it was for King Solomon, so it is with the kings of our day. As it was for his family, so it is with husbands and wives, sons and daughters and next door neighbors today. The world, broken and cursed from the unbelief and rebellion of our first parents, continues to turn, turn, turn, turn. Everything that's new and fresh and full of life is, at the same time, already winding down and being replaced and quickly on its way out.
Arvid was a master mason. And if there was anyone who knew there was a time to build and a time to tear down, it was Arvid Paul Latuska. His childhood and his apprenticeship, his service in the Air Force and his encounters with all kinds of people as he moved to different cities, all of this had taught him that everything depends on the integrity of a straight line, a true measurement, a solid foundation.
On more than one occasion Arvid had to be straight with a prospective customer and tell him that everything needed to be taken down and built anew if things were going to be straight and true and solid -- and lasting. "It's gotta come down." he would announce. "It can't be just patched up if you want it all to come out the right way. The first thing I need to do is remove the whole thing and start from the ground up."
Arvid wasn't shy about announcing the weaknesses and dangers of walkways and walls, and he wasn't shy about announcing the weaknesses and dangers of his own fallen human heart and the less than perfect things it often produced. Arvid was a big bear of a man, but it didn't stop him in recognizing his shortcomings and mistakes and failures. In his own, Arvid kind of way, he lived a life that increasingly acknowledged the cracks and crevices of his own soul, while, at the same time, he looked to his gift-giving, gracious Lord to "create in him a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him."
Arvid might have had an occasional issue with the slow tempo of a hymn during worship, but never with the inclusion of the confession of sins at the beginning of every Sunday morning service.
Arvid might have expressed an opinion about wearing a suit and tie to church every Lord's Day, but never shook his fist at the God of the Old and New Testament as he came and said to Arvid -- as he comes to say to each of us here this morning -- there is a time and a season for every purpose under heaven. A time to stand up, and a time to kneel. A time to lay down the law, and a time to lay down one's own interests for the interests of one's neighbor or family. A time to plead with God's direction in life, and a time to accept where he is ultimately leading.
There is a time to build up, and a time to tear down. There is a time to be born and a time to die. And although there is a time to wrestle with God, there is, finally a time to surrender to his Word, a time to let go and let God.
That's a truth that people like King Solomon and Jacob were called to receive and accept. That's a truth that all God's people are called to receive and accept -- and ultimately be at peace with.
During his 68 years, Arvid took to heart the straight scoop when it came to understanding the weak and fallen and sinful nature of a humanity bent on building its own stairway to heaven, but he also, by faith, took to heart God's revealed but seemingly reckless, foolish-sounding solution for the leaning wall of our spiritual life and the crooked path our doubt and rebellion against God's Word has taken us.
Arvid was not too big a man to get down on his knees to pray, to accept forgiveness from Christ, and to receive strength and hope from his Savior.
On more than one desperate occasion, this child of Adam did not bargain with God, did not demand from God, did not make a list of excuses before God. He simply poured out his soul and placed his desperate condition into Jesus' hands, trusting in his Word to help and protect and rescue. This is the God-given legacy Arvid has entrusted to his family and his church family.
Whether he was stranded in a ditch during a Colorado snowstorm or completely lost in the seemingly endless parking lot of a county fair while carrying a sleeping daughter, Arvid looked not to himself but to his Redeemer for rescue. It is as Saint Paul proclaims to the Church at Ephesus:
You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked ... . But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. ... By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
By faith Arvid's parent's brought their son to the saving waters of holy Baptism. With trust in Christ Arvid confessed the Christian faith at his confirmation and his attendance at services in God's house. By faith he did not give in to the temptation of running after religious organizations who foolishly attempt to earn their way to heaven by building their own temples and bridges and towers to God. By faith he brought his own children to the baptismal font and brought them to be instructed in that same Christian faith. By faith he knelt at the communion rail and, simply opening up his mouth, received Christ and Christ's saving work in the place of sinners.
His God-given faith was the empty hand that looked to and received salvation built on the one true, the one straight, the one strong foundation, even Jesus Christ the Cornerstone.
This morning, we take time to give Christ thanks for the good gifts given to his servant during his earthly life: his love of family, his dedication to his work, his willingness to serve his neighbor and Christ's Church. But we can't give thanks for the gifts without giving thanks for the giver of those good gifts, especially when it comes to saving trust in one's Baptism, saving trust in the Word of God, saving trust in the Supper of our Lord, that "foretaste of the eternal feast to come."
The next days and weeks and months will be difficult as we grapple with the times and seasons of our lives. Today, Christ calls us to put our trust in his promises and his life, death, resurrection and ascension in our place as we abandon our fallen attempts to build something great for God, and look to his Son for that eternal house built with his own hands.
Saint Paul summarizes the times and seasons of not only Arvid's life but our lives and the lives of all his people when he declares:
Therefore remember ... that you were ... separated from Christ, alienated ... and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God ... . But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has ... broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility ... , that he might ... reconcile us ... to God ... through the cross ... . ... For through him we ... [now] have access ... to the Father.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
Giving thanks for the trust and confidence in Christ God placed into the heart of Arvid, confessing our own need for forgiveness and with joy in our Savior's death and resurrection-- and our connection to it by water and the Word -- we pray in the words of the hymn:
Lord Jesus Christ, the Church's head, / You are her one foundation;
In you she trusts, before you bows, / And waits for your salvation.
Built on this rock secure, / Your Church shall endure
Though all the world decay / And all things pass away.
O hear, O hear us, Jesus. Amen