Wednesday, November 23, 2016

With Jesus, in Paradise

In Nomine Iesu
St. Luke 23:33, 39-43
November 21, 2016
Robert Schulz Funeral

Dear family and friends of Bob Schulz,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

Robert Schulz was born into this world on October 26, 1939. Later that same year he was born again in the waters of Holy Baptism at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Milwaukee. He made public confession of his faith on the day of his confirmation in 1953. Ten years later he was married to Karen Wilke—on June 8, 1963, right here in this very sanctuary. That holy union was blessed with four children and ten grandchildren. Bob departed this life to be with Christ on Tuesday, November 15th. Today we feebly struggle; he in glory shines.

Bob departed this life at a time of transitions here in the church. Yesterday was the last Sunday of the Church Year. On Thursday we will celebrate Thanksgiving. And already on Sunday the Advent wreath will be hanging, sporting one lit candle. For us Christians, all of time—all of history—hinges on what happened on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The gospel reading you heard a few minutes ago took us there. Much of what happened on Good Friday is hard to hear.

But in the midst of all the “bad” things connected with the Passion of our Lord, we hear of one very good thing. Tucked away in St. Luke’s gospel is one little exchange filled with good news for us, for Bob, for every follower of Jesus. You heard it just a few minutes ago—that conversation at the cross—the exchange between Jesus and the repentant criminal crucified next to him. That dying man made a request of Jesus—an amazing, faith-filled request: “Jesus,” he said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

That dying man’s request teaches us what it means to walk by faith, and not by sight. When that criminal looked at Jesus, he saw one thing with his eyes; but he saw something quite different by faith. With his eyes he saw a bleeding man, a dying victim, a powerless casualty of Roman brutality. But by faith he saw Jesus as a powerful king and a mighty redeemer. He trusted Jesus so much that he placed himself in the Savior’s keeping: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That is faith.

That’s also the faith that resided in the heart of Bob Schulz. The Lord showered Bob’s earthly life with so many good gifts and blessings—so many good years. A spirited wife in Karen, lively children and grandchildren, playful canine companions, a place on Green Lake, friends, co-workers, and a church family here at Our Savior. But as wonderful as all these gifts were, faith in Jesus was still the greater gift. In the waters of Holy Baptism, God gave Bob that gift of faith. By faith Bob knew that this life isn’t all there is—that in all things God was working for his eternal good—that the sufferings of this present time aren’t even worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us. When Karen died five years ago, it seemed like a part of Bob died too. But even that loss only focused Bob’s faith with more clarity upon Jesus—the Savior of sinners.

I was surprised to get the message last week that Bob had died; and yet, I wasn’t surprised either. It seemed like Bob had been on his last leg for a very long time. Bad knees, bad heart, bad lungs—the medical problems just seemed to snowball. There was one bad diagnosis after another, but very few remedies. Bob knew with more certainty than most of us that his days on earth were numbered. Like that criminal crucified with Jesus, Bob could see the end coming. Like that criminal, Bob regularly confessed his guilt to Jesus here in this room with the words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner.” And like that criminal, Bob placed himself in the Savior’s care: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus can’t help but respond to that kind of faith. Even as Jesus was crowned with thorns and pierced by nails, He spoke a wonderful word of promise to all who die with faith in him: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” By faith we believe those words. By faith Bob believed in the promised paradise that Jesus earned for him.

From this conversation on the cross we learn how God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, and how His glory is revealed in the midst of shame. By faith we know that God does His best work in us when we are at our worst. When we are weak, when we are powerless, when we are helpless, when we are most like that crucified criminal—then and there Jesus is most powerful. His grace is sufficient. His power is made perfect in our weakness. Bob came to know this when he lost Karen, and in subsequent years when health difficulties made everything a challenge. Nothing was easy anymore. But in the midst of that burden, God was at work in Bob’s life—strengthening his faith, forgiving his sin, reminding him that Jesus had prepared a place for him in paradise.

I’m so glad that we’re gathered here at Our Savior tonight. This was Bob’s church home for many decades. Certainly there are bigger and more beautiful churches than this one. But it’s good to be here tonight because this is the sacred space where God did His best work in Bob’s life. It was right here in the Divine Service, decade after decade, that all the blessings Jesus earned on the cross were poured out into Bob’s life. Here he heard the promises of paradise preached and proclaimed. From this altar he received the body and blood of Jesus, bringing forgiveness, life and salvation. Here Bob was able both to taste and see and hear that the Lord is good, that His mercy endures forever. Here Bob came to know and believe that one day he would be with Jesus in paradise.

Through faith in Jesus, that promise is also for you. What happened to that repentant criminal will also happen to all who repent and trust in Jesus. When we depart this life—at that very moment—we are with Jesus in Paradise. Last Tuesday Bob was escorted through the valley of the shadow of death and—in an instant—he was with Jesus in paradise. No wait. No line. No limbo. No purgatory. No paperwork to complete. No ghostly existence. No soul sleep. Just with Jesus, in paradise—awaiting the day of resurrection. And that is everything.

I don’t know how or where the Schulz family usually celebrates Thanksgiving. But I do know that this Thursday there will be an empty place at the table, and also an empty place in your hearts. Here at Our Savior on Thursday there will be an empty spot back in the back corner. Bob won’t be with us. But despite all that—despite our loss and sadness—there is every reason for thanksgiving this year—every reason to give thanks to God. He’s the one who gave Bob to us—to know and love as a companion on this earthly pilgrimage. He’s the one who gave Bob the gift of faith. And with deep thanksgiving we will not forget—Bob is already where we all long to be: with Jesus, in paradise.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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