Sermon for the Funeral of Ronald C. Schoenbeck, September 20, AD 2021

John 11:17-27; Job 19:23-27; 1 Peter 1:3-9

As often happens in death, Mary and Martha grieved differently for their brother. People came from all around to console them. It wasn’t until Jesus came that they really moved. At least Martha moved. Mary stayed home. Martha went because she was the kind of person who could not sit in grief.

You see, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were all good friends of Jesus. Lazarus had died, and Jesus did nothing. Jesus healed many hundreds of people, but not Lazarus. He waited to let Lazarus die. So when Jesus came to heal Lazarus, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Lazarus was quite far gone. Martha wanted answers. Maybe you are this kind of person, like Martha. In the short time I knew Ron, I saw that he was like this. He wanted answers. In Bible class, he didn’t let things pass, he always wanted to get to the bottom of it.

That’s a kind of faith Jesus welcomes. Jesus welcomes Martha. She says to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” She wasn’t accusing Jesus or disbelieving in Jesus. If you listen closely you know she still believes in Jesus, in spite of her brother’s death. This doesn’t mean she understands what Jesus does. Nor does she make excuses for Jesus. She simply says, “Jesus, I know you could have healed my brother. But you didn’t. I don’t know why. But I know you can do anything still. For some reason you have let this happen, and there is a good reason, and it is God’s reason.”

Jesus always welcomes questions. Jesus always welcomes complaints. For when you bring your questions and complaints to Jesus, you are bringing them to the One who can give a solution. This is why Ron valued the scriptures so much, why he was always looking for what they say. He knew that they are the very Word of God, the good news of Jesus Christ. He knew that in the Scriptures was life, and he made that important in his life.

Martha too, knew the scriptures, so when Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again,” she already knew this was her hope. She said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” That is true. That is our hope for Ron. That is the hope for all Christians. As St. Peter writes, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” The hope of all Christians is in Jesus. As Jesus rose from the dead, so will we too.

Yet often circumstances blur sight of this fact. A loved one dies. Other suffering occurs. People look to comfort in other things. Everyone wants to control their life so they don’t have to think about death. It can be taboo even to talk about death, so no one knows how to deal with it when it comes. A world that wishes to keep quiet about death and push it to the side will never give true answers to our most important questions – why do people have to die? What will happen when I die? Is there any hope in death?

A man named Job in the Old Testament had these very questions. Job was a very good man and a very rich man. God allowed him to lose everything, his land, his wealth, even his many children and his own health. His friends tried to explain it. They said, “look Job, such evil is happening to you, you must have done something wrong!” The friends wanted to break everyone into good people and bad people. See, bad things happen to bad people. They said, Job, if you want to look to your solution to your suffering, look to yourself. Improve yourself.

Job knew though that he was not evil. He was born sinful, as all of us are, and this led to sin throughout his life. But there was no reason for his suffering in this. There was no explanation to be divined from himself. So he confessed his trust in his redeemer. This is in the hymn we just sang. “I know that my redeemer lives.” What is Job? What are Job’s answers? They are nothing. Yet when Job has long rotted away, His Redeemer will stand upon the earth. The one who he trusts, the one who paid for his sins, will last forever.

That Redeemer is Jesus. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Jesus answers Martha’s questions, Job’s questions, all questions with this – I am the resurrection and the life.

We often seek in vain for answers about death in other places. We often seek in vain for comfort in death in other places. Our solution to death – our resurrection and life is only in Jesus. This is what Ron knew, and he wanted everyone to know. All of us are born in sin and continue to sin throughout our lives. We can do nothing to help ourselves, nothing to stop the slow march towards death. And what is on the other side of death – heaven or hell? Ron would tell us to look to Jesus, look to the Word of God which Ron read and sought throughout his own life – Jesus says, I am the resurrection and the life.

The answer Jesus gave to Martha is the answer for you today. It’s not about having everything figured out. Martha knew some, but she didn’t know everything Jesus was going to do. It’s not about following a set of rules, or your own goodness. Job knew his goodness wasn’t doing him a whole lot of good. What Martha and Job both knew was Who to look to when death is in their face, when they were grieving loss. Not to themselves, but to Jesus, to their Redeemer. They would cling to his mercy, trusting in the resurrection and life He gives.

Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead. He would restore Job double what he had before. Even more, Jesus would die for your sins and rise from the dead himself. He took on himself all the punishment that even death can give so that you can live forever. This is what Ron had. Ron received that resurrection life in baptism way back on October 20, 1935. As a baby, he received the washing of Jesus’ blood poured out on the cross through that water. Then throughout his life, he continued to be strengthened by the life of Jesus given to him by hearing the Word of God and receiving Christ’s body and blood. That is why Ron was here every week. He knew here Jesus gave out His gifts which are the only comfort in both life and death.

This comfort is for sinners. Ron didn’t do this because he was a better person than anyone else. He did this because like all Christians, like Martha and Job, the Lord saved him. The Lord worked to save Ron the sinner and pull him out of sin. That fruit of God’s work was seen in Ron’s life. The same is true for all sinners who believe in Christ. The question Jesus poses, as he posed to Martha, is, “Do you believe this?” For all those sinners who confess “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world” can mourn with hope. For they will see Ron with Job, Martha, and all believers in Christ in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

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