Sermon 99



The Strength of Christ

The Funeral Sermon

for Naomi Natiello (1928–2019)


July 22, 2019



When I think of Naomi and her life as described by her family today in their written tribute to her, I think of Saint Paul’s spectacular words about knowing how to both abound with plenty – as well as be abased in hardships (Philippians 4:12).

     And hardships there were for Naomi – as there are for all Christians (Luther’s Works 56:264)! Recall her life. All those years – nearly 60 – with her verbally abusive husband. All those early years – putting up with her teenage derelict son. All those years – up until 2012 – taking care of her mentally challenged daughter. And all those years – up to her very death – being cut off from, and disowned by, her first born daughter. How did Naomi do it? Why didn’t she collapse under the weight? How could she plow ahead in spite of these calamities – helping her family move frequently, always having meals ready, and keeping the house clean for them all?

     Some would say it was due to genetics. Others would say it was because of her environment. But Saint Paul explains it all very differently – “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). What a claim! It sounds crazy! But Saint Paul is no sociopath – deprived of all feelings for the losses he endured. That isn’t why he endured his hardships – simply because he couldn’t feel any of the pain. No, it rather was because of Christ! And he adds that this thought is a secret – the business about Christ getting you through the messes of your lives. That doesn’t mean it is hidden and kept for a few elite people. No, it’s instead a secret because nobody pays any attention to it – and if they were to, they would dismiss it. Saint Paul will have none of this wayward understanding – and so he rather lets it be known, far and wide, in hopes that it will be adopted and implemented daily – that Christ is the one who strengthens.

     While that’s very helpful – and Naomi knew all about it, we also need to know more. We need to know how this strengthening comes about. Again, the explanation comes from another neglected part of the New Testament. In addition, then, to the first secret we have this second one too – “I consider that the sufferings of this present time,” Saint Paul writes, “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18)! Amazing thought, wouldn’t you say? And Saint Paul repeats himself – “This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). So Christ strengthens us by holding out something better than anything in this world – that then makes it possible for us to put up with bad people and tough situations, since we know that what’s coming in the end will offset any pain now.

     And that eternal weight of glory – that “better country” (Hebrews 11:16) – is heaven, where all bad things and all difficult times are over (Revelation 21:4). This is what Naomi now has. This is her reward for believing in Jesus and his strength. Christ’s fortitude, which kept him up on the cross, to save us from our sins, when he was tempted to come down and save himself instead (Matthew 27:40, Philippians 2:8) – that strength, that fortitude, he now shares with all who believe in him. That was Naomi – and may it also be the rest of us when meet our final day. Amen.


(printed as preached but with some changes)