Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Time for Everything

In Nomine Iesu
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
August 9, 2010
Chuck Dittmar Funeral

Dear family and friends of Chuck Dittmar,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

Our Savior is a wonderful congregation, made up of wonderful people whom I am blessed and honored to serve. A fair share of our members, however, find it difficult to get here on time on Sunday morning. We are sometimes a good twenty minutes into the service before the last stragglers manage to trickle in. But not Chuck. Not only did Chuck arrive early for Sunday morning choir rehearsals, but he was usually the very first of the choir members to arrive. And he always made a point of stopping by my office to greet me. Chuck was often the first of the “rank and file” that I would see on Sunday morning. For all the years that I’ve known Chuck, he was on-time if not early. I don’t know why that was the case. However, I suspect that being outnumbered six to one by females in the family probably gave Chuck a deep appreciation for getting places on time.

I mention this because as Chuck planned out the details of this funeral service, he requested that the sermon be based on the reading from Ecclesiastes chapter three, a reading that highlights the concept of time: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Tradition holds that King Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, and that he wrote it near the end of his life—perhaps when he (like Chuck) was around 80 years old.

The theme of Ecclesiastes summarized in chapter three is a call for contentment in the face of life’s difficulties and hardships. It’s a very honest appraisal of life in this world—how God’s timing is often so very different from our timing, how all of our hard work, toil and labor often amounts to very little, and how so much of how we spend our time is about as profitable as chasing after the wind. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

I’m sure many of you would agree that time often feels like an enemy in this life—that time seems to be working against us—that there isn’t enough time to do what needs to be done. As much as we might like to go back in time to fix our mistakes and to correct our destructive choices, yet time does not allow it. Whether we like it or not, time marches on and carries us right along with it.

Time certainly feels like the enemy when cancer is your diagnosis. Terminal illness is an un-ignorable reminder that our time in this world is limited. To you, Beth, Debbie, Janet, Sue, Mimi, and Amy—to you I know that in recent months and especially for the past two weeks it felt like time was the enemy as you saw someone you love grow weaker. But in reality that time—these last weeks and days—it was a precious gift. During that time, you graciously helped Chuck to bear the burdens of his illness. You prayed for him and with him. You advocated for him. You comforted him. You surrounded him with love and support—as God enabled you and gave you strength. The time of Chuck’s illness was a gift—your gift to Chuck, and God’s gift to you.

Of course, in God’s original design for this world, time was never the enemy. In God’s original plan for this world, life and work were always a pleasure and a joy. But when sin came into the world, God’s perfect world of life and joy was ruined. With sin came fear and shame and brokenness and death. That sin still runs through each human life. We try to ignore it. We try to excuse it. But there can be no denying the sin in our lives. It makes life miserable. It runs death deep. The good things that God demands from us, these things we do not do. And the evil we ought to be avoiding, these are the very things we keep on doing. The wages of our sin is death, and that’s the one payday none of us can avoid for long (Rom. 6:23).

When it came to Chuck’s sin, he did the only thing he could: He confessed it to God. O Almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. With those words and other similar words, Chuck regularly confessed his sins to God. He asked that for the sake of Jesus’ bitter suffering and death that God would be gracious and merciful to him.

And for Jesus’ sake, Chuck was forgiven and absolved. You see, it’s because of Jesus that we can walk through all the times and seasons of this life—not perfect, but forgiven. (And that is everything!) Scripture tells us that at just the right time God sent His Son into this world to redeem all of us who struggle with the demands of the law (Gal. 4:4-5). In real time and space—when the time was just right—God’s Son lived and worked among us as true man and true God. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.

At some point over the past two weeks, Chuck’s doctors became convinced that what caused his lungs to fail was not the lung cancer he was diagnosed with earlier this year. Rather, they concluded that Chuck’s lungs had been damaged by the radiation treatments he had received. Perhaps the very thing that was intended to cure Chuck ultimately resulted in his death. But with Jesus, it runs in reverse: Jesus’ death results in our cure. His death is now our life. Faith in Jesus brings real healing that lasts forever—healing that Chuck now fully enjoys. “Jesus was crucified for our sins,” the Scriptures say, “and raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).

The same Jesus who died and was buried on Good Friday was raised to life three days later. Jesus Christ has defeated the power of death. He is the resurrection and the life. And that good news is the beating heart of all our hope and joy. “Because I live,” Jesus said, “you shall live also” (Jn. 14:19). And late last Thursday night the Jesus who gave His life for Chuck—the Savior who claimed Chuck as His own dear child in the waters of Holy Baptism, the Jesus who is Lord of all history—He led Chuck right through that place we call “the valley of the shadow of death.” Jesus alone knows the way. He’s been there; done that. He is the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. He is holding on to Chuck with those nail-scarred hands.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Time is not the enemy when Jesus is your friend. Jesus is the Lord of the past. We can’t go back through time and “undo” and “fix” all that our sin has ruined. But Jesus has redeemed us from a past that is littered with sin. He is the God who “forgives our wickedness and remembers our sin no more” (Jer. 31:34). Time is not the enemy when Jesus is your friend. Here and now, at this difficult time, Jesus is here with His comfort and His love. He promises His strength for those who mourn. He will turn our weeping into laughter and our mourning into dancing. Our times—all our days and seasons—are in God’s hands.

Time is not the enemy when Jesus is your friend. Jesus makes our time in this world more precious. Day by day Jesus is at work in those who believe, transforming us with His love and forgiveness. That love and forgiveness were at work in Chuck. I know, because I was so often on the receiving end. When I was feeling worn and frazzled, Chuck would sometimes say, “You look like you need lunch.” And then he’d treat me to lunch and conversation at “The Green 7.” Every year at Christmas Chuck wanted to get something for my little boy who has special needs. And one year my wife told Chuck that Caleb really enjoyed pomegranates, and they had to be organic. And from that year on, if there were organic pomegranates to be had in the Milwaukee metro area, Chuck made sure that some of them ended up under our Christmas tree. And each of you, I know, could tell similar stories. But know this: That was the life of Christ at work in Chuck. Chuck received that life and love of Christ every Sunday right here in this place—in the preaching and proclamation of God’s Word, and in the bread that is Jesus’ body and the wine that is Jesus’ blood. Those gifts had their way with Chuck, so that Chuck could say together with St. Paul, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Time is not the enemy when Jesus is your friend. Today Chuck is with Jesus—his friend. And in heaven, incidentally, time (as we know it) doesn’t really exist. In heaven the sun and moon on which we base our time and seasons are no more. There the glory of God provides the light, together with the Lamb on the throne, surrounded by angels, and archangels and all the company of heaven, and, oh yes, Charles Dittmar. He’s there too—now part of a much bigger and better choir than he’s ever known before. There is no more death or crying or pain. Because Christ is risen, and in Him you too will rise. That time is coming—you can count on it—and it will be here before you know it. Amen.

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