In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Death always fills us with questions, especially a death that is unexpected. We ask questions that cannot be answered: “Did I miss something?” “Could I have done something to help?” We have a tendency in tragedy to turn our focus inward. The problem with the questions, with looking inside is that there is no certainty. In death, in tragedy, and in all of life’s uncertainties we need to cling to that which is sure and certain, that which is unchanging. That’s why we sang what we just sang: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Dear family and friends of Cliff, turn your eyes to Christ. Look to Jesus. He may not be able to answer your questions, but that’s okay. Instead, He will point you to Himself and to His love for Cliff, and His love for you.
This love of God in Christ Jesus gives us happiness and peace. But we will still be sad, and that’s normal. It’s okay to cry, to miss Cliff, to reminisce. Death takes away someone who is dear to us. And I know that Cliff was dear to all of us in many ways. Maybe you remember his humor. Maybe you remember his willingness to lend a helping hand, to give back to those around him. Maybe you remember his technical skill, fixing things others deemed unfixable. I know that for his church family at Mount Olive, Cliff and his brother, Bob, are remembered and hailed as the saviors of the church’s furnace. He knew what made it run and with his brother’s help was able to fix it when outside companies told us the only hope was to replace it. I know that for me, Cliff will always have a special place in my memory. I remember May 12, 2012 like it was yesterday. Just days before I had sat in a crowded chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, waiting to find out where my first Call would take me. I was a scared Seminary student about to become a Pastor. I found out on May 2, 2012 that I was being sent by the Lord of the Church to Mount Olive Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Early in the morning of May 12, my fiancée Ashley, now my wife, and I got into the car very early in the morning and made the drive from Fort Wayne to Cleveland to start looking for an apartment and to meet the people at what was to become our new church home. We spent the morning looking at apartments and then it was time to go to the church to meet some of the members. We pulled into the parking lot about a half hour earlier than we were supposed to, and out in the front yard was a man mowing the lawn. The man stopped, came over, and introduced himself and asked if we wanted to know more about the church. I explained who I was and he put away the lawn mower, and led us inside and sat with us and talked with us and made us feel at home. I will always remember Cliff as the first person I met at the first place I served as Pastor. He immediately welcomed us in, and acted like we were lifelong friends. I will always be thankful for that kind of relationship that Cliff and I had, the same kind many of you also had with him.
But for all the good memories we have of Cliff, we know that there were darker days. Cliff was no stranger to depression and how it could completely affect a person’s body, mind, and spirit. Though those days would hide the Cliff we knew, they did not affect his salvation or his standing in God’s eyes. Remember what St. Paul said to the Romans, as we heard in today’s Epistle: “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus Our Lord.” Depression can never affect Cliff’s status as a Baptized, saved child of God. Though the clouds of depression may have veiled his eyes, they never hid him from God’s eyes. Remember, also, what we sang in the hymn: “When darkness veils His lovely face I rest on His unchanging grace; in every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” No matter how many storm clouds may have gathered, no high or stormy gale, not even the devil himself, could have blown Cliff from his Savior’s nail-pierced hands. Rest in the Words of Jesus: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:27-28).
Why is it that no one could snatch Cliff from God’s hands? First and foremost, because Cliff is Baptized. In 1950, Clarence and Esther took Cliff to church, to Zion in downtown Cleveland, and brought him to the waters of Holy Baptism. In that water with the Word of God, all of Cliff’s sins were washed away. He became God’s own child! The death and resurrection of Jesus were given to Cliff, and no one could take that away from him. Scripture tells us that Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the Words and promises of God declare. As we said together at the start of this funeral, Cliff is covered in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Because He is covered in that righteousness, covered in Christ, he is promised a resurrection like Christ’s! That’s a big promise, and the best place to turn in times of sadness.
If Holy Baptism put Cliff in God’s hand, what kept him there? He heard God’s Word and he received Jesus’s very Body and Blood in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of his sins, for life and salvation. When Cliff came to the Divine Service, he heard God’s Word, and that Word is powerful. As God promised through the Prophet Isaiah, “My Word will not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11). When God makes promises in His Word, He keeps them. So we trust God’s Word more than what our mind might have us believe. And remember, too, what we just sang about the Blood of Christ, which Cliff received in Holy Communion: “His oath, His covenant, His Blood support me in the raging flood; when every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay.” This Blood of Christ forgave all Cliff’s sins and strengthened his faith, giving him a Hope and a Stay, even when all else failed.
These promises of God, given in Holy Baptism, in His Word, and in the Lord’s Supper, point us away from ourselves and from our trials and tribulations, and point us to the life Cliff has received, the life you have received, in Christ Jesus. In Christ, in the heavenly home He has prepared for all those whom He calls by His Word, there is no sin or sorrow, no sickness or disease. This life in Christ, which Cliff received in his Baptism, points us outside of ourselves, away from our unanswered questions, and points us to Jesus. So rejoice. The same forgiveness, life, and salvation which God gave Cliff He has given to you, too. May He keep you steadfast until He calls you to be with Himself and all the redeemed in the eternal peace of heaven.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).