Download or listen to the Funeral of Robert Goergen: “Do Not Let Your Heart Be Troubled” (John 14:1-7)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Carrol, Sharon, Donald, family and friends of Bob: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Hear what the Lord Jesus says to you today, “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.” That seems like a tall order, maybe even an impossible one. How is it possible to have untroubled hearts, when all that we seem to feel is trouble? Death brings nothing but trouble; nothing but heartache, and breaking hearts, and hearts weighted down with grief and tears and loss. At this point, in this place, it seems almost irrelevant to our feelings that Bob lived a long life, 93 years. It is irrelevant in the sense that no matter how many years you have with a person, no matter how many memories you have, no matter how relieved you may be that he does not have to suffer any more, I know that you would love to have one more day, one more hour, with Bob. Death always comes too early, even after 93 years. And, whatever cliches, whatever greeting-card sympathies, you may say or hear, they cannot fill the hole that death leaves. I would even venture a guess that it may not help to say that Bob is in a better place. Intellectually, you may be able to affirm it; physically and emotionally, it rings hollow.
Let me tell you: in John 14, Jesus is not telling you that Bob is in a better place. He is not trying to comfort you or untrouble you with shimmery and sugary platitudes about death being natural or mansions in the sky. Jesus knows that death is not natural to His Creation. He knows it is not a friend, not something with which to be reconciled, not something to “accept.” Death is an enemy. It is an intrusion into God’s creation of life, not a part of it. Jesus knows, because in John 14 He is talking about going to His own death. He went to the cross to prepare a place for His disciples; He went to the cross to prepare a place for Bob; He went to the cross to prepare a place for you. Your sin, my sin, Bob’s sin had crowded us out of the presence of God. We try to fill ourselves up with things that can never last, that will rust, that will rot, that will dry up and blow away. The poster that is on the garage out there is true not only of things in that garage: there is nothing here, in this world, worth your life. We try to fulfill our selves, we chase after whatever we think will make us happy, but all we do is turn in on ourselves and our selfish desires. Even when we serve other people, our motives are less than pure! And it is exactly those actions, those desires, those motives; precisely our attempts to fill up our lives with anything but Jesus, that is, with death; that Jesus took to the cross. He was nailed up there with all of that, in order to carve out for you a place with His Father, to make a place for He and His Father to come and dwell with you, as He says in John 14:23.
The dwelling place that Jesus made within His Father’s House is not just something to wait for, not just a place you go to when you die. It is the place that Jesus makes to dwell with you here on earth. Jesus is not just the destination, He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is Life itself. And He has given His Word and His Baptism and His Absolution and His Supper—which I had the privilege of sharing with Bob and Carrol numerous times in the past four and half years—these are the foundation, the walls, the roof, the rooms in which we dwell with Jesus and His Father here on earth. If you see and know Jesus as He wishes to be known, then you see and know the Father also. But we should be clear: the dwelling place Jesus has prepared is not only for this world and this life, either. He has prepared you a place here so that you will dwell with Him into eternity. And that does not mean a bodiless existence in the clouds. It means an actual, physical dwelling with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus will come again, and He will raise up Bob and you and all the dead, and He will give eternal life to all believers in Christ. He will remake this creation; He will remake bodies so that they speak and think clearly; He will put bodies and souls back together again, because He never meant them to be separated. The same St. John who recorded Jesus’ words in his Gospel said, “Then I saw a new heavens and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:1-5a, ESV). So do not let your hearts be troubled. Peace I leave with you, Jesus says. My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27). Your Lord has prepared a place for you by His death and resurrection. And He joins sinners to His death and resurrection by Baptism, as He did for Bob 93 years ago. You will pass, like Bob, through death as through a doorway, but all who hear and believe Jesus when He speaks, who dwell and remain with Him here on this earth, will live forever in the Resurrection, when the Lord comes to take Bob, and all Christians, to be with Himself on a new earth under a new heaven.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/24/11