Cliff DeJaeger Funeral (Hebrews 12)
- Order of Service: Funeral Service
- Hymns: LSB #801, 744, 537, 662
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Sherry and Denny, Ricky, Brad and Kelly, Brenda and Kraig, Donnie and Theresa, Jodi and Dave, all the grandkids, and everyone who loved Cliff, grace to you and peace from God our Father through His resurrected Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text this morning shows the difference between this life and the next. Between the scary and the awesome. And in the midst of it, we find that we cannot endure the scariness of this world by ourselves. And we cannot endure the awesomeness of the world to come by ourselves either. We need help. Help from above. Help from beside. As part of this help, Jesus sends His Word to tell us it gets better from here.
This world is scary. God first appeared to Israel at Mount Sinai. The mountain looked like it was ready to explode. God's holy presence shone as a blazing fire on top of the mountain. Threatening to burn those who disobeyed His commandments. Gloom fell over the Israelites like a dark cloud. The dark cloud of sorrow.
Sorrow's dark cloud is no stranger to you. Over the last two weeks, sorrow's dark cloud has hung over you. Two weeks ago today, everyone thought it was the end. But he defiantly hung on. The days went from bad to worse as sorrow's darkness made itself at home while Cliff fought for his last breaths.
Death's tempest settled over Cliff. The tempest that brought him to its brink and back again. Several times death seemed ready to take him, but it would pull back just short. He would be left to continue his fight.
A fight that was not a stranger to him. He had overcome cancer once. He had beaten MRSA and staph. He could beat this as well. He wanted to fight. To keep going. Until he heard the victor's trumpet.
But the victor's trumpet is seldom heard. Death's success rate is 100%. We will all die. The tempest will eventually take us. Each in his own time. But each one of us will go.
When Cliff finally passed, many tears were shed, wails echoed through the hallway. The mixture of sorrow, joy and relief welled up its own tempest among you. Was it wrong to be happy? “Am I a horrible child for being happy he's gone?” Absolutely not! His struggle was over. He was finally at peace. That is reason for rejoicing. Reason for smiles in the midst of tears.
Everyone's greatest fear is death. It is the one thing each of us knows is coming in the future. It is the one mystery of this world that we can't fully understand. Our inability to understand increases our fear.
This fear shows you that you can't endure this world on your own. You can say with Moses, “I tremble with fear.” You seek to do the right thing. You seek to be faithful. But you know that one day you will die. This thought drives everything you do. This thought gives rise to the “Carpe diem” philosophy. Seize the day. Throughout my visits, we all wished that Cliff would quit seizing the day. But he held the day close with a tight grip. Every day was a blessing, but the pain increased each day. His physical pain. The family's emotional pain.
Cliff was a man with strong faith. A faith he instilled in his children. And he is a wonderful example of how a Christian faces death. He had his sins. He wasn't perfect. His death is solid proof of that. But he also had faith. Faith that brought him to confess his sins. Faith that overpowered his fear. His fear was real. But Cliff wasn't afraid of death.
Cliff was afraid of dying. The dying process was not part of God's eternal plan. Death came into the world because of sin.
Cliff wasn't afraid of death. He told me that many times. Everything that he had suffered gave him a stronger faith. A brighter outlook because he knew that he wasn't enduring the suffering alone. Cliff believed in the Mediator who had shed His own blood to forgive his sins and open the gates of Heaven for him.
Cliff believed in Jesus. The “Mediator of a new covenant” who takes fear away. His shed blood was sprinkled for the forgiveness of sins. With this forgiveness, Jesus gives two gifts. Two gifts to help us endure this world.
First, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit, who strengthens the Christian's spirit. To show you that you are not an orphan. You have a heavenly Father who loves you. Who gives you strength to do all things. To endure the hardships of this world. To endure the scary parts of this world. To know that it gets better from here.
The Holy Spirit doesn't make you invincible. The Holy Spirit doesn't take away your pain. The Holy Spirit reminds you of everything Jesus taught. Jesus taught a loving heavenly Father who forgives your sins for His Son's sake. This forgiveness allows you to face any danger or distress, knowing that He is with you. Knowing that with Him it gets better from here. And this is a very powerful gift.
The second gift is the Church. Jesus doesn't leave you alone to fight your battles. He gives you the communion of saints so that we can help one another. To bear one another's burdens. The Church is a united communion because she is the assembly of all the baptized. Those who suffer in this life but find their hope in the next.
In a little bit, we'll all pray for the ability to reach out to and find comfort in “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” We confess all these things in the Creed. We pray to rely on these gifts which God gives to us. These gifts will bring us through because they come from Christ. To help us believe that it gets better from here.
Jesus uses these things to help us beg to hear God's Word. At Mount Sinai, the Israelites begged not to hear God's Word. They didn't have faith. They only looked on the mountain and saw the terrifying. They couldn't look beyond the mountain to see the awesome. To the promises God gave them.
God had promised to bring them out of Egypt and to give them a new land. But they couldn't see it. They just saw the terrifying. But God was offering them much more. God was telling them, “It gets better from here.”
God is also offering you much more. If you are hearing this message, He is giving you the chance to see beyond the troubles in your life to the great riches and rewards He has prepared for those who believe in Him. Rewards that come to fulfillment in the world to come.
Sherry, Ricky, Brad, Brenda, Donnie and Jodi, it really does get better from here. The mourning doesn't ever end, but the sorrow fades. The joy of faith increases because you know your father doesn't want you to dwell on his death. He wants you to dwell on your life. Your family. Passing on what he instilled in you. What makes you such a close-knit family. It gets better from here, but only if you rely on the help that Jesus gives you from above and beside.
Everything gets better because the next world is awesome. You don't stand before the terrifying Mount Sinai. You stand before the awe-inspiring Mount Zion. The city of the living God. The heavenly Jerusalem. You don't see fire and darkness and gloom. You see God's brilliant Light and innumerable angels and the assembly of the Firstborn. You see beyond the material and find God waiting for you.
He has prepared the heavenly Jerusalem to be a joy that will never end. The joy never ends because all is made perfect. “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” Everything that darkens your lives will be taken away. “[God] 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."
Cliff is enjoying that perfection now. He no longer needs the speaker. He has his voice back to talk the ear off any of the heavenly host. No sign of the cancer. No pain. He has the joy of Jesus, which shaped his life, in full measure now. He is waiting for you to join him.
He is with your great God, whose Amazing Grace answers your prayers. Cliff's prayers were answered when God called him home. Home to the mountain where God gives a “festal gathering” filled with “rich food” and “well-aged wine” for all who believe. “He will swallow up death forever.” “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Victory promised to you. Victory will come to you when He calls your name. “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
One day, the wait will be over. Your “Beautiful Savior” will call your name. Where you can be at peace. At peace because Christ will gather you as His precious lamb.
So what do you do in the meantime? You march on. March on as a Christian soldier through the scary world, knowing that He is with you. That He abides with you through the scariness because He is the “help of the helpless.” Helping you to know that it gets better from here. Amen.