Blog / Book of the Month / Donald Richard Leir Funeral Sermon - Matthew 28:16-20 July 29th 2022 / Together in Christ

Donald Richard Leir Funeral Sermon - Matthew 28:16-20 July 29th 2022 / Together in Christ

Donald Richard Leir Funeral Sermon - Matthew 28:16-20 July 29th 2022 / Together in Christ

Donald Richard Leir Funeral Sermon - Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Friday July 29th 2022: Season of Pentecost / Matthew 28:16-20 "Together in Christ"

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Dearest Marlene, good Christian friends and relatives of Don Leir even the expected can come in an unexpected way. And while Don was not well and had struggled with his health for many years we did not expect that this last Sunday morning was going to be the day of his departure from us. And when someone like Don departs from us in death he leaves a large hole in our lives because he had a great big friendly and sociable personality. And Marlene after fifty one years together the house will be particularly quiet in the days and weeks and months and years ahead: the good thing is you know how to invite people over and spend time with people, which is a wonderful thing, but there are going to be many quite moments. To a greater or lesser degree, depending on our personal closeness with Don, all of us gathered together here today will be tempted into feelings of loneliness when we find one so close to us gone from us whether they go from us expectedly or unexpectedly. And these accompanying solitary emotions have a tendency to creep up on us when we least expect them, sometimes even when we are with others. The question is whether these feelings are to be trusted, are we really as alone as we sometimes end up feeling? Is there a more lasting promise of togetherness for the Christian, even in the face of death?

Our Gospel reading today comes from forty days after the first Easter. And for the previous three years the disciples had traveled with Jesus all over the Roman Province of Palestine, they had been out fishing together on the sea of Galilee, they had eaten meals together, walked long miles together, sang together, prayed together, healed the sick, learned how to care for those in need and while they had split up to go out two by two for brief periods of time Jesus was always there at the very centre of everything teaching, preaching, and healing. They knew He would die, He had told them as much on many occasions and yet when the events of Holy Week came to their conclusion on that first Good Friday they were at a loss for words, they fell apart, acted out of sorts and when they came to their senses they gathered together into the same upper room where Jesus had shared with them His Last Supper the Thursday Night before His Crucifixion. Locked away in that room they were in grief, they were afraid for their future, they were filled with anxieties and uncertainties. A couple days passed and then they started to hear word that maybe Jesus was alive, but puzzling all of this over they at first believed that it was idle talk yet when Saint Peter and Saint John saw the empty Tomb and marveled at what they saw. Perhaps they had started to think about what they would do … if Jesus was not risen from the dead as the women claimed He was would they all just go back to their lives like nothing happened over those last three years? Perhaps Peter and John would just go back to their fishing nets? Maybe the rest would do the same leaving them alone with their thoughts and feelings over everything that had happened, everything they had become witness to. But that is not what happened. Jesus did not leave them alone, late in the day on that first Easter Sunday Jesus appeared to them in that upper room, where they were gathered with the doors locked out of fear, and He said to them “Peace be with you,” Jesus had not left them alone.

In that forty day stretch between Easter Sunday and the day of the Ascension which we heard today in our Gospel reading Jesus didn’t only appear to the remaining eleven disciples Scripture tells us that He’d even “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time.”[1] There were many times in those days when they had opportunity to spend time with the risen Lord Jesus. Our Gospel reading however was the last time that the eleven laid their eyes of Jesus in the flesh, the last time they heard His voice with their own two ears, as they had those previous three years. And the last sentence that Jesus spoke to them was this most comforting thing of all, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is a promise that whatever they were to encounter along the way Jesus was going to be with them and they were most certainly not alone.

This is the same sort of promise that we hear in Psalm 23 when King David writes of the Good Shepherd, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”[2] Jesus our Good Shepherd takes our hand and leads us along life’s way, He does this when we are deeply aware of it, in times of struggle and sorrow of sickness and illness, and He does this also in times of joy and happiness when, in times where if we stopped and thought about it, we might think to ourselves we aren’t in that much need of being led by Jesus and yet there He is leading us. Marlene when it was just you and Don you were never alone because in addition to having each other Jesus was right there with you as He promised; and Don in the moment of His death was not alone because the risen and ascended Lord Jesus was with Him just as He promised to be, for Jesus in John chapter 14 promised, “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also,”[3] and now with Don gone on ahead of you in the faith Marlene you are not alone because you have the same promise of Jesus that He gave the eleven disciple, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Wherever Jesus goes Don is there with Jesus along with all the company of heaven just as Jesus promises. All Christians have that promise and, “The LORD is faithful in all His words and kind in all His works.[4] He Keeps His promises.

And yet even without the death of a loved one, “loneliness is now so widespread [in our day and age that] it has become, paradoxically, a shared experience,”[5] but you dear ones do not need to share this experience. Jesus doesn’t give empty words in what He said that day as He ascends into heaven; with all authority given to Him Jesus provided those remaining eleven disciples, and each of us, with concrete practical Words and commands that link us together and keep us together in Him as Christian. He commanded those disciples to go and make disciples of all nations baptising and teaching them, bringing them into the Christian faith “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and by these words the Holy Spirit works both inside and outside of the Church to call, gather and enlighten, to implant faith and tend that faith keeping us in Christ Jesus and thereby protecting us from being alone in this fallen World. If the World wants to keeps us apart, wants us to sit down with our deck of cards and play Solitaire all alone remember Christ Jesus says pick up your cards and come play Bid Whist with Me and with your brothers and sisters in The Faith. In Baptism we are made one with Christ Jesus, just as we confessed at the beginning of the service today as the Pall was placed over Don’s Urn, and in the Communion of the Church we are made one with one another in Christ Jesus as Saint Paul says in Romans chapter 12, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”[6]

If you have been away from church, listen carefully … the Holy Spirit is calling you back into the church. If you are tempted to stay away for one reason or another, listen carefully … the Holy Spirit is continually gathering you into the company of your brothers and sisters in The Faith. And even though, because of health issues, Don found it hard to be physically at Church for the Divine Service these last years, he was nevertheless kept by the Holy Spirit with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; and in this Christian Church the Good Lord daily and richly forgave Don all his sins and the sins of all believers. And now, as always, Don has the promise that on The Last Day the Lord will raise Don and all the dead up, and give eternal life to him and all believers in Christ.[7] Do not believe the lies that loneliness pedals to you in your distress or grief, in Christ you are never truly as alone as you might find yourself feeling: Remember “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit,”[8] … yes, “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”[9]

When the Lord Jesus had called Peter and James and John out of their fishing boats, away from their fishing nets, at the sea of Galilee saying, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,”[10] they would never be alone again, for Jesus’ promise “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” had already taken root, and even in their most distressing moments along the way over those three years before Jesus’ death and resurrection He was always with them and as Jesus departed from them into heaven — sending them out again to be fishers of men to baptise to teach — that promise was theirs yet again, and it is yours as it is Don’s: hold onto that promise remembering you are now part of God’s family in your baptism, and Jesus is yours in His Holy Communion and together we are one in His church, together in Christ Jesus for the body of Christ is not half alive and half dead, the body of Christ is alive and living. Those who have gone on ahead have their life in Christ Jesus and you have the same. If you are hearing this for the first time today, or if you are hearing it anew today take it all to heart, be baptised into Christ Jesus if you are not already baptized and if you are a drift in life with no Church home of your own, speak to Marlene, talk to me or someone else from the church; come on in the waters fine, come and join us, be gathered together, the Holy Spirit is at work in you today pointing you to Jesus so that you may have what Don has had through his life, what Don has even now in Christ Jesus: faith, salvation, and eternal life together with his brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:6
[2] Psalm 23:4
[3] John 14:2-3
[4] Psalm 145:13
[5] Alvin Toffler quote, Quotations for the Fast Lane, McGill-Queen’s University Press 2013, Page 327.
[6] Romans 12:5
[7] Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, Page 17-18.
[8] Psalm 34:18
[9] Psalm 34:17
[10] Matthew 4:19

Photo Credits: Main Photo provided by Mount Olive Lutheran Church and family; detail of painting of Jesus with disciples from wikimedia commons; detail of stained glass window of Jesus Holy Communion from pxhere; detail of shepherd with sheep from unsplash; detail of Solitaire from pixahive; detail of Bid Whist from unsplash; detail of fishing with nets from pexels.