*’WHAT’S YOUR SLANT ON FUNERALS?’ (From the Messiah Messenger, Newsletter of Messiah Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wis. The writer is Prof. Em. Paul R. Koch.)
If someone is brash enough to ask the question, the answer depends on what funerals he is referring to. This past winter we have been made aware that funerals of notable people become media events; one of them has garnered about the same TV coverage as a war, the person gazetted to such secular sainthood that recording artists and sweatshirt entrepreneurs are raising gadzillions for her favorite charity. Well, we think, then at least something worthwhile has been salvaged from a life that had more glitter than gold.
We might comment that a good Lutheran funeral is something else again. It’s certainly not a fund-raiser; it’s not orchestrated in the customary eulogies to honor the deceased with accolades and pious platitudes. A good Lutheran funeral becomes a public testimony to what God has done to prepare the deceased for eternal life.
Here we might switch the focus just a bit to ask this related question: “What are you doing to prepare for your own funeral?” (Is that a fair question?)
My first thought is that my funeral preparations are going to be taken care of by my family–surviving spouse and children, assisted by the funeral director; the religious/church part is going to be cared for by my capable pastor. The ladies of the congegation will arrange for a social hour so my relatives from a distance may mingle with my friends at Messiah and share emotional release. The obituary and newspaper notice don’t deserve a lot of study.
But a second concern swirls up from the sidelines: am I concerned only about those external arrangements that can readily be managed by others within the span of a few days after I am gone? Aren’t there other larger, deeper, more important concerns that occupy my mind and my heart as I view my funeral from this comfortable distance? Well . . . yes . . . most decidedly, YES!
I think that God has been interested in my funeral preparations all along, just as He has been concerned about me even before I was conceived. My God has been guiding me all through my lifespan for my return to Him. My God has been orchestrating all my living–so that my funeral preparations dovetail into my whole biography to constitute an unbroken wholeness. Who I am (God’s child) is reflected in how I live (to His glory and service to my neighbor), part of which is preparation to receive His stamp on my passport.
My funeral preparations–exactly as my life preparations–have been in my Father’s hands since He first took me up in His arms at Holy Baptism and adopted me into His family of saints. From that moment on–through my infant years, childhood, puberty, adolescence, and into adulthood–I have been under His loving care, served to me in His Word and Sacrament. He has drawn me to Himself in open-hearted prayer; He has brought to my attention my own spiritual hunger and thirst and He has nursed me on the milk and fed me with the strong meat of His Word; He has filled my hands with good things from His treasure-house.
A Christian funeral marks the finish line, the goal toward which we have stretched, sweated, and panted; our funeral preparations stand accomplished beyond the reach of our own skills and strivings, for they have always been and still are in God’s hands.
We like it that way.
* RE: “EASTER MESSAGES”
1) (By Pastor Daniel Fleischer, for his congregation)
The (1998) Easter message of the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA Lutherans is a tell-tale one. It lacks any reference to Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead. It mentions nothing about the forgiveness of sins and the sinner’s justification before God guaranteed by the Savior’s resurrection.
The ELCA Bishop talks about how “Jesus is not the Jesus of our childhood any more” and “Jesus is not even the Jesus we knew yesterday” but that “he will reveal more of his nature and his power every day of our lives.” Though it mentions that the women came to the tomb on Easter morning and “discovered that Jesus was no longer there,” what actually happened is left hanging in mid-air with no clear testimony to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, thus conquering death for all His believers. The Bishop says: “To say that Jesus has risen from the dead means that he is not where we left him.” What does that mean anyhow?
Shocking, yes. More than that it is all typical, dear friends, of the content-less talk and doctrinally-anemic preaching of liberal (we hesitate to call it “Christian”) theology. While liberal theology uses nice-sounding “Christian” words and terms, you will find little or nothing of the FACTS of the Gospel, which facts are supposedly suspect (as liberalism’s spokespeople, the notorious Jesus Seminar scholars, suggest).
And make no mistake, such “theology”–with its historical critical approach toward the Bible which discounts a divinely-inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God–permeates the ELCA. What remains is what you read above–a teaching and preaching void of doctrinal content and laden with fine-sounding psychic or psychological jargon. As far as Jesus’ not being “the Jesus of our childhood” or “the Jesus we knew yesterday,” we would simply direct the attention of those who read the ELCA leader’s Easter comments to the clear word of God: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
2) Speaking of Easter messages–or rather, the lack of them on the part of those who supposedly should speak them clearly–there is also this (first written for the Grace, Sleepy Eye, bulletin, Easter 1998).
WORLD magazine (March 7, 1998) reported that a recently elected leader of the United Church of Canada, a Reformed (Calvinistic) denomination, denies “the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the existence of heaven and hell, and most directly, the deity of Christ.” The man is Bill Phipps who is called “the recently elected moderator of the church,” a position which is the denomination’s highest office.
Phipps, who admits he is no theologian, is quoted as saying: “I don’t believe Jesus is the only way to God. I don’t believe he rose from the dead as scientific fact. I don’t know whether these things happened. It’s an irrelevant question.” The denominational leader goes on to discount “early creeds” and defends his heresy (as WORLD correctly describes it) in typical liberal fashion: biblical facts don’t matter.
What does matter no one really knows, and I guess is anybody’s guess. As sad as is the UCC leader’s out-of-hand rejection of the fundamental teachings mentioned, we would agree that “the true scandal is in the church’s refusal to deal with the heresy and call the moderator to account” (WORLD).
Here is what the apostle Paul says with regard to whether or not the resurrection of Christ is “relevant”: “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain . . . But now is Christ risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:12ff).
(We don’t have an update on the leader(ship) of the UCC. Nevertheless, what is here written stands.)
* BIRTH ANNOUNCEMENT (UPDATE)
Last month’s Spokesman contained a photograph showing Patrick Udo, his wife, and new baby boy. That photo was taken by our Visitation team in Nigeria back in 1997.
Update: on March 5, 1999 an e-mail came across the sea from Missionary David Koenig who, with his wife Mary, had arrived on February 17th in Nigeria. The missionary’s report told of the family’s safe arrival and some needs of their “Mission House” residence. Then came this footnote: “For those of you who remember Patrick Udo–he remarried a few years ago, and his wife gave birth to their second son the day we arrived.”
Some years ago, Patrick attended some classes at Immanuel Lutheran College and Seminary, and made a speaking tour to some of our CLC congregations.
Congratulations and God’s blessings, Patrick & Mrs. Udo, on the birth of your second child!