Sermon 87


Safely at Home:

For the Funeral of Sandra Ann Marshall


Christ the King Lutheran Church

Goldendale, Washington

December 26, 2015


ON THIS SECOND DAY OF CHRISTMAS (and Saint Stephen’s Day) we gather here to pay our last respects to a child of God, our sister in Christ, Sandee Marshall. We could have stayed home and basked in the glory that is Christmas Day, delighting in our favorite gifts we found under our Christmas trees, but we haven’t. Instead we are here. Some of us have come a short distance to be here, while others of us have traveled great distances and over snowy roads to be here today.

          But note also that we are here in a church. We have not gathered in some bar, or a community center, or some other public meeting place. No, we are here in this church because Sandee was a member here. But more than that, we are here because she believed in the message of this church. She was a Christian.


Sandee’s Faith

But what did she believe? And why are we here to celebrate that? We could tell stories about her—and later at the reception we no doubt will. But for now in this church we will thank God for her life by celebrating her faith. So here are a few dozen Bible verses about her faith:

       God is love (1 John 4:8), but only Jesus makes this clear to us (Matthew 11:27)—because of all the bad things that happen which weaken and disable our faith (Job 30:11-31; Matthew 13:21). Jesus does this when he dies on the Cross (1 John 4:10) to save us from the punishments of hell which we have earned because of our disobedience (John 3:36), and opens the windows of heaven (Hebrews 10:20) by bearing our sins (1 Peter 2:24) when we believe and trust in him (Romans 3:25), and do good works in his name (Matthew 7:19; Galatians 5:25; James 2:26). Only then will we know that God loves us—even though, because of sin, we deserve nothing good (Romans 5:8). Most, however, reject this because they are offended by it (Matthew 7:14, 11:6, 22:14; John 6:61). And so if we are to have any faith at all, God must give it to us (Ephesians 2:8)—which happens when we hear the holy words of Scripture preached (Romans 10:17). As a result, those who believe, when they die, are where Jesus is (John 14:3; 2 Corinthians 4:14)—after their 70–80 years, more or less, here on earth, are done (Psalm 90:10). This new life after death is eternal (John 3:16), but also real, taking place on a new earth (2 Peter 3:13). There we will have wonderful personal experiences—filled with nothing but joy and peace (Revelation 21:4), especially in contrast to hell—that place of eternal torment (Luke 16:28; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). We will know people in heaven whom we knew on earth (Luke 16:23)—people who also followed Jesus, in the great company of saints (Hebrews 12:1). And in heaven there will also be feasting and praise—seeing Jesus face to face among those who have been saved (Revelation 22:4, 19:6–9). This will be far better than anything here on earth (Acts 7:55-56; Hebrews 11:16, 13:14)—something worth longing for now, long before we die (Philippians 1:23), which leaves those who don’t, most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).

          Now Sandee didn’t leave this summary of her faith laying around. That’s why God gave me to her as her brother-in-law! I keep track of such things. I knew her for over twenty-five years and we talked about the faith many times and I kept track of what mattered to her. And what I have presented here sizes that up pretty well, I would say.


Two Powerful Books

But notice how the summary ends—with those not believing being most to be pitied. And note in the middle of my collection of Bible verses about the many who are offended by this message, and so only a few are left to believe in it. Now what shall we say about that?

          Well, that leads me to my special guests for today—the professors Tipler and Wahlberg. I thought it would be a good idea to have them here today so you could see that what I have summarized as Sandee’s faith is indeed true. With them here, you wouldn’t have to listen to some two-bit preacher spouting off about grandiose matters. No, you could instead listen to real intellectual authorities.

          So take Professor Frank J. Tipler, from the prestigious Tulane University in New Orleans—who also holds an undergraduate degree from that great place of learning in Boston, M. I. T. I hoped he would come, but the warmer weather down south kept him there. But, in his place, we have his magisterial work, The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead (1994). In this book he argues that the physical properties of the universe show that what the Bible says about life after death is true. For the very laws of physics require there to be a future restoration of the disintegrated matter of our lives, in another world with a new, but similar, sentient life for us. This twenty year old book is breath taking and has engendered debate throughout the world of science, for many years now. It’s nothing short of astounding!

          Then there is also the newer book by Professor Mats Wahlberg, Revelation as Testimony: A Philosophical–Theological Study (2014). But Wahlberg lives and teaches all the way over in Sweden, where the weather is snowier than ours here, so he couldn’t make it either. But in his new book, he shows from far away—by employing the principle of doxastic responsibility—that the Bible is a unique book that deserves special treatment. Due to the literary priority of falsification over verification, the Bible stands as a word from God unlike that found anywhere else. This book is garnering lots of attention and rightly so. For it makes a compelling case for the truth of the Bible, quite apart from any faith claims on its behalf. Wahlberg shows why the Bible is greater than the great literature of Shakespeare and Melville, for instance. And he is also a very winsome fellow. It’s worth taking some time to listen to his hour long interview, Episode 30 on The Christian Humanist radio show, online. He’s fascinating.


A Contested Faith

Now when thinking about these two professors and their wonderful books, I was reminded of the 1977, Oscar winning Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall. Toward the end of that movie is my favorite scene where Woody Allen is standing in line with Diane Keaton to see a movie, and they are listening to a man ahead of them talking about the famous social critic, Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980), and his 1967 award winning book, The Medium is the Message. Allen thinks this guy is bragging about how much he knows. He would like to shut him up and put him in his place, but alas, he can’t. So he fantasizes about Marshall McLuhan himself (no family relation here, by the way) showing up to put this guy in his place, which he does. After that, Allen laments: “Boy, if life were only like this!”

          The more I thought about this scene in regard to my own fantasy about defending Sandee’s faith at her very own funeral, the more I realized that Christianity isn’t like that either! No, it is instead contested because it’s contestable. It’s a fight, after all (1 Timothy 6:12). It doesn’t bowl over all opponents and settle matters once and for all. No, it’s an ongoing contest that continues until the end of the world (Matthew 24:13). Martin Luther (1483–1546) knew that—believing that it’s actually the struggle with unbelief that keeps faith alive (Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. J. N. Lenker, 1:274, 3:282, 5:267, 300; Luther’s Works 45:347). And so rather than being cocky victors, Christians are sympathetic and persistent listeners. We want to know why unbelievers don’t like what they hear from us. And we want them to consider other options. Therefore we stay in the fray—talking up a storm, if you will. To be like this, Christians must be long suffering, and never impatient people (Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; James 5:7).


Preached into Heaven

Because of that, we aren’t obsessed with forcing faith on one another. We know that arguments don’t produce faith, even though we take up conversations left and right, with no end in sight [Jennifer Faust, “Can Religious Arguments Persuade?” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 63:1 (2008) 71–86]. And that’s because faith comes as a gift when we hear Christianity preached (Romans 10:17). It’s the force of preaching that gets us over the hump of hesitancy and disregard and even disdain. You would think the sermon wouldn’t be a very good vehicle for that. You would think the give-and-take of a classroom, or a one-on-one conversation would be better. But not so.

          I once had a teacher—a Princeton University PhD—who said he had been preached into the kingdom of heaven by his father’s sermons. He didn’t much like going to church. He didn’t even like his father, if truth be told. But hearing the Bible preached did something to him. It changed the way he weighed matters. It even eventually, over many years, changed his mind altogether—much to his surprise.

          And we don’t get just one shot at this either (Acts 26:28). Faith can take many years—or it might never appear (Romans 9:18). It’s just not up to us and our wiles. It’s rather sent from on high (James 1:17).


Going Home

So this is Sandee’s faith—properly understood. It sustained her all her days. It taught her to quit relying on her own insights (Proverbs 3:5). And it gave her a Savior of surpassing worth (Philippians 3:8). So when she finally went down that valley of the shadow of death, she feared no evil, for the Lord was with her (Psalm 23:4).

          One of the last things she said to her husband, Richard, was that she wanted to go to heaven—she was ready to go home (Philippians 3:20). She was tired of fighting her disease. She was worn out (2 Timothy 4:7). “I want to go home,” she said. And she did. Amen.


(printed with some changes, as preached from notes)