Friday, February 02, 2007

Funeral Sermon for Jean - February 1, 2007

In the name of Jesus

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

This day we mourn the loss of Jean. We mourn the loss of her presence with us. We mourn the loss of her no-nonsense work and devotion for her friends and family. We mourn the loss of her determination to never give up. And we mourn the loss of her conviction that there is something greater than even the physical death of those we love.
Just like the soup in a Chinese restaurant, this day is both sweet and sour. Funeral services, are by their very nature, bitter-sweet events.
Now that's not the way all funerals go. Too many — from beginning to end — are just plain bitter. Like some of the home remedies we had to take as kids, some funerals don't give an ounce of comfort or peace and strength. They just drain us and leave a bad taste in our mouths. Too many funerals are non-stop speeches of what will always be missed and what could have been if things would have turned out differently. And after those kind of bitter events, we seem to feel a part of us has died along with the one we loved. That's the power of despair and death. That's the difficult but necessary realization that there will be — at least in this life — no more visits to say, "Hello," no more cards to send at birthdays, no more camping trips, no more kids coming in the kitchen door asking for "Mrs. D."
It is a bitter day today. The many years God graciously gave Jean have finally come to a close. The time allotted for her to carry out her calling as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, has now ended. For Jean, the sun has now set. God has brought us here this day to hear the last chapter of her life read and the book closed.
It's a dark day. The sickness and struggle that made up so much of Jean's last years has, sadly, brought us to this final event. And now that it's all ended, Jean stands before God at the entrance to heaven — a heaven without disease and sickness — a heaven without bitterness.
Only One knows better than any of us here today the realities of Jean's life and mind and heart: her strengths and her faults, her doubts and her faith. Before God, Jean's life is laid bare.
And it will be obvious for Jean, as it should be for each of us, that if heaven must be earned — if heaven must be worked for and won by our fallen human works — none of us have the slightest chance to demand entrance. That's just the way it is. Living before a holy and righteous and perfect God demands our holiness and righteousness and perfection.
Being the "pull-no-punches" person she was, I'm confident Jean honestly believed none of us can ever buy God's freely-given, gracious gifts.
Now the worst days for me as a Christian pastor are the days on which I am asked by a grieving family to preach a sermon during the funeral service that will convince everyone attending — including God himself — that the person who has died had done enough good things to earn heaven. Heaven can never be bargained for. And, for any of us, if left to our own far-from-perfect abilities, the doors of heaven will always remain shut.
That's the clear reality to which Jean gave witness whenever she sang the words of the hymn "Amazing Grace." Before God we are spiritually lost and blind — spiritually wretched people. That's the bitter reality Jean needed to swallow and that's the hard reality each of us needs to accept. And no one stated the sweet and the sour better than the apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Rome:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
That's the only reason we can sing "Amazing grace" at Jean's funeral service. Eternal life is a free gift based not on our performance but on God's gracious heart and the sacrifice of his Son in our place.
The sweet in the bitter-sweet is to be found in God's Word of promise, God's Word that declares: "The impossibility of climbing your own way to heaven doesn't ever have to be the final word. My Son, Jesus Christ, came to be the last word — of forgiveness and life and salvation."
Despite our confession to God that we have not lived our life loving God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind, despite our confession to God that we have not lived our life loving our neighbor as much as we loved ourselves, despite our wayward and wandering spiritual life, there can be true comfort, even on a dark day like today.
You see, Jean was baptized into Jesus Christ. And on the day of her baptism God gave her a sure and certain promise. Not the kind of promise we so often are tempted to make, "If you first do enough good for me, then, and only then, I might reward you with some nice prize."
God gave Jean a promise that was one-hundred percent gift, with no strings attached. "Jean," God said, "I wash away your sins simply because I love you with a love you will never fathom. I wash away your sins as I connect you with Christ and his sacrifice on your behalf. Because of my grace, I have made you my dear child."
In Sunday School and in Confirmation Class Jean heard it was on the basis of Jesus' performance for her that she was declared an heir of heaven. Jean's trust in that promise of God has become the great legacy in the family as her children and their children have also been brought to God's altar and their received the washing away of their sins and the unmerited promise of eternal life with Christ.
That's the only comfort for any of us on a day like today. Not the promises that Jean may have made, not the promises that you or I may have made.
Yesterday the family shared Jean's love of the Gospel songs of Aretha Franklin. One of those songs, an old Christian hymn, puts the reality of how our salvation works this way:
"Lord, I believe Thou hast prepared, unworthy though I be, for me a blood-bought free reward." (There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood")
This is the reason we mourn, not as the world mourns, but with hope. We mourn, yet give thanks that Jean was, in her baptism, buried with Christ, that she might also be raised with Christ.
Where is your hope this afternoon? Where is your comfort this day? In weak and fallen abilities of ourselves or others?
The Scriptures reveal that hope and comfort and faith are to be found in only one place: in the forgiveness of Christ and in his saving gifts.
I didn't know Jean, but I'm sure that if she were brought back to be with us here today she would, in no uncertain terms, tell each of us of the one enduring legacy she has passed-on to those she loved: a simple, strong trust in the amazing things Christ has won for her and for you.
Hear again the gracious, amazing promise of Christ to all who put their trust in him:
Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14)
May Jesus strengthen us as we fight the good fight of faith, taking hold of that eternal life won for us by Jesus — by the great Good Shepherd who willingly, lovingly, gave his own life-blood for the sheep.
May we say, "Yes" as Christ comes and says, as he came and said to Jean: "Allow me to do the work of saving you. Simply put your trust in me and in what I have promised to do for you. Let me take your weakness and your wanderings — and give you heaven."
And we say trustingly, "Yes. Amen. Let it be so."

In the name of Jesus.

Post: An Overture for this Summer's LCMS Convention

February 2, 2007

Dear Fellow LCMS Pastors and Congregations:

In preparation for the synodical convention this summer, and the deadline of March 10 for overtures, the following memorial is being forwarded to you for your consideration. It is hoped that you will prayerfully consider placing this issue before the congregation you serve, document its approval by the voters in assembly in a cover letter, and mail both the resolution and the cover letter to: Office of the Secretary, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, 1333 S Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. You are also encouraged to fax the resolution along with your cover letter to: 314-996-1016. Thanking you for your time and consideration, I remain

Your servant in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. Daniel N. Harmelink, Pastor
Redeemer Lutheran Church, Huntington Beach, CA

To Allow Congregations to Include/Retain Standard Language Describing the Nature of Holy Scriptures in Their Constitutions

WHEREAS, the constitution of a congregation of the LCMS is an indispensable document for congregational self-understanding and governance; and

WHEREAS, constitutions of LCMS congregations, LCMS rites of ordination for pastors and installation of church workers (Lutheran Worship Agenda, p 211; Lutheran Service Book Agenda, p 179), and confessional statements of synod (Article I of A Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod; A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles (1973), have included the descriptive words "revealed," "inspired," or "inerrant" as standard, time-honored language that details the position of Holy Scripture (2Timothy 3:16; 2Peter 1:20-21; 1Corinthians 2:9-13; 1Corinthians 14:37; Acts 24:14; Psalm 19:7; Romans 3:2; 1Thessalonians 2:13; John 8:31-32; John 17:20; John 10:35; 2Corinthians 13:3; 1Peter 1:12) and the position of our Lutheran Confessions (Large Catechism, Part Four: Of Baptism, Paragraph 57); and

WHEREAS, district constitution commitees of the LCMS, directed by the synod's Committee on Constitutional Matters (CCM) to judge whether new or revised constitutions of congregations in their district are "in harmony with Holy Scripture, the Confessions, and the teachings and practices of the Synod", have now prohibited congregations seeking approval of their submitted constitution and bylaws from including such descriptive words as "revealed," "inspired" or "inerrant" in the confessional subscription section of their constitution, judging inclusion of such language as being in violation of the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Matters (CCM) Guidelines for the Constitution and Bylaws of a Lutheran Congregation and "go[ing] beyond the synod's own confessional standards" (; and

WHEREAS, the recent opinion of the CCM ( has left no other avenue of appeal for congregations seeking inclusion or retention of this descriptive language in their constitutions; be it therefore

RESOLVED, that synod in convention affirm that the descriptive words "revealed," "inspired," and "inerrant" do not go beyond the synod's own confessional standards, and

RESOLVED, that synod in convention direct district constitution committees not only to cease directing congregations seeking approval of their constitutions and bylaws to remove such descriptive language from their confessional standards paragraph, but also to encourage congregations to retain such time-honored language that describes in a clear and helpful way the nature of the books of the Old and New Testament, and be it finally

RESOLVED, that the CCM document Guidelines for the Constitution and Bylaws of a Lutheran Congregation be revised to reflect the freedom LCMS congregations have previously enjoyed to faithfully and unambiguously describe the nature of Holy Scripture in the confessional standards paragraph of their constitutions using the descriptive words "revealed," "inspired," and/or "inerrant."

Redeemer Lutheran Church
Huntington Beach, CA

Approved in Voters' Assembly by unanimous vote. January 28, 2007