The Center of Attention – Funeral Sermon for Erich Sandley

Wordle: Funeral Sermon for Erich Sandley

Text: Romans 6:3-11, John 10:27-30
Preached at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Dallas, TX on February 5, 2011

Dear Ann, Rick, Brent, Scott, family and friends of Erich, and all those gathered here today: grace to you, and peace, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m sorry that your son, brother, and friend has been taken away from you. The wages of sin are a terrible scar on God’s creation and creatures, and it is a tragedy to lose someone you love to those wages. But I’m also glad. I’m glad for the opportunity that Erich’s death affords us all who are gathered, to hear of and speak of the blessed state of those who die – and live – in the Lord.  From Genesis, we hear these words from Joseph’s mouth: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”What God ordains is always good” the hymnist wrote in our sermon hymn.

Over the past couple weeks, as we’ve had the opportunity to sit and talk several times about you all and Erich, I’ve caught the glimpses of a theme. And yesterday, sitting down with you – Rick, Ann, Scott, and Brent – it seemed to be confirmed. We were discussing Erich’s funeral service last Saturday in Alabama, and what a good time it was, everyone gathered together, getting along, remembering and making new memories at the same time. And it was remarked that “Erich would have loved it” because Erich loved making the grand entrance, loved being the center of attention.

Being the center of attention is something that we all want in some way. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. You see, taken too far this becomes a self-focus, a selfishness, an elevation of ourselves above all others and certainly above God, too. Sometimes we see this in our neglect of taking care of our family. It can peek through in conversation, in the way we treat our friends. It becomes a situation where our every thought and deed, in fact our very life is lived for self alone. Did this failing affect Erich? Certainly. But he’s not alone in this. It affects every one of us, corrupted with sin and unable on our own to look outward.

At the same time, though, Erich was the center of attention. And so are each of us. God loved Erich intimately, completely, thoroughly. So thoroughly that He gave His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, into death for Erich. God gave His Son, Jesus, into death for all of us. That death of Jesus was the work of God to take away all sin, to remove it, to thoroughly destroy it, so that Erich, and you, and I no longer have to live for ourselves, but instead can live for one another. That’s what Paul’s getting at in our Romans text: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

But Paul’s remarks aren’t just to point out that we can live to serve one another now. Paul’s declaring an amazing, wonderful promise of God for us. Erich was baptized on August 18, 1987. That means Erich died with Christ and then was resurrected with Christ on that sweltering summer day. This is the same promise for all of us in baptism. And Paul goes on to elaborate on that promise, to reiterate just what an amazing gift we receive from our Lord in baptism: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Do you hear that? You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ! You must consider it because you’ve been buried with Christ and raised with Christ. There’s the promise – and it’s a promise that I want you, Ann, Rick, Brent, Scott, to cling to, hold on to. Baptism brings salvation personally to the one who is baptized. In baptism we’re set free from all the sin of our youth, or even the sin of our not-so-youth, and we’re now free to live to God.

There’s another promise of God that we hear today, too. It’s from our Gospel reading. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” You see, Jesus doesn’t just baptize us and then tells us to “get on with it” and moves on to the next guy. We remain the center of His attention all our days here. He gives us His voice through such things as His Word, that is, the Scriptures, which Erich heard and read; through the preaching of pastors and chaplains; through the Body and Blood which He feeds us at His altar, and which Erich received; through that saving Word-water of baptism, which Erich received Himself and heard again at least twice when his brothers also were brought to the font. God’s attention is so much upon us that we’re in His hand, unable to be snatched away, held there by His Word of salvation for us. What a promise! What a gift!

And there one final promise: in Christ, death no longer has dominion over us, either. On that last day when trumpets sound and He returns, life is forever ours because of His salvation given to us. “Consider yourselves alive to God in Christ Jesus” Paul exhorts us. In his baptism, this resurrection into life eternal was promised and given to Erich. It’s promised and given to you as well. The words of Job truly are ours, in Christ, as well: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27)

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.