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FUNERAL SERMON FOR GERALD ZIMMERMAN

February 22, 2020, at Luther Memorial Chapel

Pastor Michael Larson

Let us pray: O Lord, our Good Shepherd, You lead Your sheep in goodness and mercy as we pass through with You through the valley of the shadow of death to Your eternal home. We give You thanks for the holy life of faith given to Your servant, Jerry, who now rests from his labors. Give to us who mourn comfort in our grief, that we too would press forward to our heavenly goal, listening to the voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus, and following Him to the green pastures of eternal life. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Some say that talking about death is the hardest discussion to have. And harder now, because we live in a society that so often hides from death, avoids it, and denies it. But the old saying remains true: “Two things are certain, death and taxes.” And so the rate of mortality for us all hovers steadily right at 100%. It comes to us all.

Still, for an event so common to us all, death remains a difficult subject to discuss. Why is that? Well, probably because it forces us to confront the big questions in life. Questions that we so often try to avoid or turn away from. Like what happens when I die or one of my loved ones passes away.

Well, if you know Jerry, he was not overly shy to take up a difficult question or an uncomfortable discussion. Marie, neither are you. And I think we’re all thankful for that. Anyway, Jerry met things pretty well head-on. He was a straight talker. He didn’t shy away from difficult conversations and big questions. Whether at church, at home, or at work.  

If you serve in the Armed Forces for any amount of time, like Jerry did, discussion about life and death and mortality can hardly be avoided.

As a good insurance agent, you might say it was Jerry’s vocation – his unique calling from God to take up those big questions, even with his own clients. So at State Farm Insurance, if you stepped into his office, he’d ask some pretty big questions himself. Like, what if something unforeseen should happen to you? He dealt with this dilemma of our 100% mortality rate just about every day. And He knew there were no ifs, ands, or buts, about it, so just when. He had to deal with the tough questions head-on. And he did! Questions about life and death, and people’s hopes for the future.

Again, Jerry didn’t shy away from the big questions in life. In fact, he went right up the chain of command – all the way to the very top. He went to God’s own Word in Scripture to answer his very deepest questions. Such as, who is God? Who am I? What am I here for and where am I going? You see, as Christians, we don’t avoid the difficulties of this life but face them head-on with the truth of God’s own Word.

And these are the answers we have. The straight facts. Straight talk right from God’s own Word. You see, death was not part of God’s original creation. When God spoke the heavens and earth into being along with mankind, life was flourishing, in God’s words, it was all “very good.” Death had no place in God’s good creation.

God created man to flourish and reflect His sacrificial self-giving love. So way back in that original creation there was nothing but pure delight, perfection, and bliss.

But sadly, an insurrection began against the very author of life. Sinful man rose up against the God of love and stopped up his ears from that very Word that was the very source and foundation of his life – and so death entered in. And now, every human being born since, every descendent of Adam, has an inheritance of sin and death. Each of us a sinner. You see, the Bible says, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” You see, there’s nothing we can do to eliminate death. No human accomplishment, no effort or technology, nothing can ever beat back death and restore us to life and immortality.

This is the straight talk that today folks sadly try so hard to avoid. It takes courage to face this truth. But Jerry dealt with it head-on.  

But the story doesn’t end there. It can’t end there.

Because even before the foundation of the world God planned a rescue. To send His Son, Jesus, true God and true man – to come into this dying world of ours to do something truly incredible. To take upon Himself our sin. To take upon Himself our death, the punishment for sins, and condemnation that we all deserve. To lay down His life for us. To die so that we would live eternally with Him.  

And this is the thing. Death went too far when it tried to take hold of Jesus. Death made a fatal mistake when it tried to keep Christ in the tomb. And when death overstepped, death became undone, and lost its claim on all humanity. What happened? Well, because Christ was without sin, it was absolutely impossible for Him to be held within that grave. So on the third day, the earth opened up and Jesus walked out – shattered the power of death. Risen from the tomb, He showed Himself alive to the disciples. To hundreds of eye-witnesses, in fact. Proving to this whole world that death and hell had been vanquished, and life was springing up, flourishing in its place.

This ministry of the risen Christ continues among us, in His church. In fact, for the last 65 years Jerry has been taking comfort in the forgiveness of sins. And receiving the Lord’s Supper, the life-giving body and blood of Jesus. The very antidote to death and the medicine of immortality. Jerry listened attentively to the voice of his Good Shepherd, recognized the truth of His words and followed Him.  

This Gospel came to Jerry when he was a newlywed with Marie. They were devastated by a bitter loss of new-born twins, Steven and Stephanie. There is no sadness so bitter as the death of children. In that time of sorrow a pastor from this congregation knocked on their door and brought to them the comfort of Christ. Jerry went through a new member class. He asked the tough questions. He got straight-talk answers from God’s Word to his deepest questions. And a miracle happened. He was called to faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit. And just shy of his 22nd birthday, he was baptized right over there at that font. On June 8, 1958. Jerry and Marie were blessed with the joy of two more children, Jerry Jr. and Wendy. And Jerry saw to it that they received those same heavenly treasures of salvation that he himself received.

This day isn’t easy for any of us. We’re not in heaven yet. We still experience death in this life. In fact, we’re staring right at it today, but we’re not afraid. It’s just a very temporary setback, after all, with a very long-term, wonderful solution. The resurrection and eternity with Christ in His glorious kingdom.

Next week, on Ash Wednesday, Jerry will be committed to the ground. It’s a day when Christians receive ashes on their foreheads – a sobering reminder of the harsh reality of death – of our 100% mortality rate. But those ashes are smeared on our foreheads in the shape of the holy cross. The very emblem and sign of our salvation and eternal life. And these bodies of ours will be raised by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. And let me tell you how!  

You see, in holy baptism, Jerry was clothed, covered, with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all his sin. St. Paul asks this rhetorical question: “Don’t you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” Don’t you know, don’t you understand, that “we were buried 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. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainty be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

In other words, in baptism, we die with Christ. We are united with Him both in death and in life – so join in His resurrection – when He’ll descend from the heavens and gently lift us from our graves. 

Today let’s not avoid the big questions of life. The difficult ones. The ones that pertain to life and death, and our future lives in Christ our Lord. Jerry didn’t shy away from those and neither should we. Because the same God who gave Himself in love for Jerry has done it all just as much for you as well. That you too may be confident in Jesus’ great love for you, confident in His cross and His resurrection. Jerry had that. May God grant that same faith to us. That each and every one of us would have a cheerful hope in the resurrection, the life of the world to come, and a happy reunion in heaven.

And finally, when our time comes, let us all approach our own graves with a confident faith in our Lord Jesus, saying with St. Paul, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). In the name of Jesus. Amen.