Sermon at Grace Lutheran Church, Grass Valley, published via the power of IFTTT.
Saturday of Pentecost 13, (August 20, 2016)
Funeral Service for Agnes Olson
TITLE: “The Steadfast Love of the Lord”
Dennis, Susan, grandchildren, great grandchildren, family and friends of Agnes: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Agnes’ confirmation verse from Isaiah chapter fifty-four as follows: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”
Agnes Olson née Tietjen was born on August 8, 1915 in Los Angeles, and was baptized on August 22 of that same year. She was confirmed in the Lutheran faith on February 24, 1929 in Van Nuys, California. She married Virgil Olson on December 20, 1941 in Yuma, Arizona. They were married for sixty-four years, and had three children, Dennis, Susan, and Joel. Both Virgil and their son, Joel, passed away in 2005. Agnes died in Christ on Friday, August 12 in the year of our Lord two thousand and sixteen, at the age of one hundred and one years and four days. “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”” (Rev. 14:13 ESV)
What do you say about someone who died in Christ at a hundred and one years old? There is no way to recall a life of that length, there is no way, really, to sum up so many memories of so many people, the lives she touched, the care and love she’s shown to generations of God’s children.
But God’s understanding of time is different than yours or mine. While a hundred and one years sounds like a long time to all of us, it is but a moment to our Lord. While we think of generations, His eye is on eternity, a time without beginning or ending, just as our Lord is the Alpha and the Omega.
So it is that God says in Isaiah: “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”
A hundred years and more is a long time, but the faithful mercy of God is forever, and the peace of God never leaves. And it is that mercy, that peace, that compassion which has sustained Agnes for so many years.
And this mercy and compassion isn’t just a good feeling. No, the mercy of God moved Him to act for Agnes, and for you and for me. God’s mercy moved Him to send His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for her on the cross so many years ago. God’s mercy moved Him to see her baptized into His death in 1915, while World War I was going on throughout Europe and the world. And it is those same waters, imbued with God’s Word and Promise, which have sustained her throughout the years. God fed her with His Word, and with the Body and Blood of His Son. It wasn’t too long ago when I communed her with that same Body and Blood that has sustained the Church for millennia.
But all of these are not the greatest promise that our Heavenly Father has made for Agnes. When she was baptized, God promised to raise her from the dead on the Last Day, and give eternal life to her and all believers in Christ. Now let that sink in for a minute, because it is a truly remarkable thing that God has promised for her. God promises that her body will be remade, and that she will live again, forever.
This is why, as Christians, we have such a strange relationship with funerals. A hundred and one years is a long time, and she is very dear to many of us hear. Her death is painful, because it is a sign that things are not right with the world, that the wages of sin is still death, and that she is a part of that life of sin just like all of us. And frankly, we miss her. Her loss leaves a hole in life that will not be easily filled. So do not be surprised that you weep and are sorrowful, because Jesus Himself wept at the death of His friend, Lazarus. It is okay. God feels your tears.
But it is that same God who says that the mountains themselves may disappear but His steadfast love and mercy will never leave. Agnes is in God’s hands, where there is no more cancer, no more broken hips and other ailments. She is with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and that includes Virgil, and Joel, and loved ones near and far who are in the presence of the Almighty God who is love.
Agnes is at peace and rest, because she is in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for her so that she would be raised from the dead on the Last Day. Be at peace and rest, for the same Jesus who saves her saves you as well, and we will be reunited with her at the Last Day, and what a glorious reunion it will be.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.