Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wrapped in God's Promises

Funeral Sermon for Pastor Mary E. Hansen
July 28, 2014
Calvary Lutheran Church, St Hilaire, MN
Romans 8:31-35, 37-39

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Of all the words I’ve heard used to describe Mary this last week—one word I haven’t heard is “worrier.”

Mary was a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend and pastor.  

She was also a lifelong learner, gifted musician, accomplished cook, lover of fine things, justice-seeker, inhabitant of a very large world—to name just a few.

But “worrier” isn’t on the list of labels applied to Mary.

To say that she wasn’t a worrier is not to say that she never worried.   Mary was human after all.  She lived all of her 73 years in a fallen world marked by sin, suffering, mortality, and irrational evil.   Worrying simply comes with the territory.

Mary no doubt worried--but worrying didn’t define her.  She was not obsessed by, consumed by her worries.

And the primary reason for that shines forth in today’s memorial service (which she planned)--the centerpiece of which is this magnificent text from Romans 8.  

Here in Romans 8, the apostle Paul meets worry head on.  Paul tackles all that could ever haunt or threaten us, confronts every “awful awful” with the powerful, effective promises of the God whom we know in Jesus Christ.

For Paul none of this was abstract, armchair theologizing.  Not by a long shot!   Paul named all the things that could dismay us, beat us down, hold us back...Paul ticked off a veritable laundry list of worries—threats that could derail everything….powers and forces that might somehow wheedle their way in between God and us.

I picture the Apostle Paul in the midst of his own anxiety-laden life--wracking his brain, combing through his memory bank,  recalling obstacles he himself faced…and then just putting them right out there:    Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Now there’s a worry list to end all worry lists!

And what does Paul do with this fearful worry list?   He takes his pen and brazenly crosses out all those potential threats and obstacles….”X”es them right out of his vocabulary……writes all over them this word:  “NOTHING!”

NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING can come between us and the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing, no one, nada can veto God’s decision to be for us—not against us—because of Jesus Christ.

That’s the main reason why Mary was not a worrier.  Because very early in her life Mary was grasped by the best news ever:  that God had not withheld his only Son but had given him up for us all….that God had designs on Mary, God had called dibs on her, God was “for” her, come what may!   

Early in her life God wrapped Mary up in his promises of forgiveness for every failing, life beyond all that threatens, and a future without end in the power of Christ’s resurrection.   The wondrous grace that worked its way deep into Mary’s bones assured her that if God is for us—who can be against us?

When Mary was just a little girl, that promise first washed over her in her Baptism, that promise was planted by her encounter with God’s Word, and it was sustained by her life in the community of faith.

And this great life-altering, future-opening promise of God in Christ gave Mary a place to stand, a source of security that could not be shaken—even in the face of some of the awful-awfuls Mary herself would face.

But God’s promises didn’t just make Mary feel secure.  They also furnished her life, infused her days on this earth with meaning and purpose.

That’s the second great way God keeps us from being all wrapped up in worry.   God gives us a brand new life, filled with better things to do than worry about what might happen to us.

Because God made a deal with Mary—to bear all the things that might ever dismay her—God thereby opened up space for Mary to live the life he intended her to live….to live now in this world as if God’s promised future was already hers.

So Mary carried that awareness into all of her life….living as if God’s new creation was already dawning.

So Mary studied and grew and developed a hunger for lifelong learning…

And Mary sang and led others in song and cultivated a love affair with the great music of the ages….

And Mary was given the gift of family….Dawn, Heather and Kevin…and an adoring, faithful husband named Carl…

And Mary was given a heart full of care for her neighbors, especially those most in need of compassion and justice, including neighbors across the whole globe….

And God also gave Mary a fulfilling life of service in the church…service through which she could live out her passion for the Good News of Jesus that had claimed her.

When Mary was just 12 years old, she first head God calling her to become a pastor…..and that was a pretty tall order to fill because back when Mary was a young girl women weren’t getting ordained.   

So certain was Mary of God’s compelling persistent call in her life that she declared that if God wanted her to be a pastor, God would have to figure out a way to open up ordained ministry for women like her to do just that.  Young Mary said she was ready to wait until God made that happen—which God finally did!

So twelve years after marrying Carl, Mary embarked with him on the adventure of pastoral ministry together….serving congregations for 30 years in Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, South Dakota and finally here in northwestern Minnesota.

Mary’s work as a pastor didn’t just provide her and her family with a living—it also offered them a life, a way of wedding work with the Word of God that had first laid claim to Mary years and years ago.

And now Mary’s rich life has come full circle.  She has been buried deep in her baptism into Christ.  She has been removed from this fallen world and all the potential sources of worry that it brings.   Mary is wrapped up, finally, not just in the promises of God, but in the arms of God--the fullness of God’s own unending life is hers as well.

So we say:  thanks be to God for giving us Mary to know and to love.   Thanks be to God for calling Mary to be a pastor and then making good on that promise!    Keep us wrapped up in your promises, O God…free us to live as though your new creation was already dawning…and make us ready, as Mary was ready, to die in Christ as we have lived in Christ.

In the name of Jesus.

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