End of an Era (Genesis 49-50)
- Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching
- Hymns: LSB #892, 760, 781, 673
So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt. (Genesis 50:26)
Joseph's death was the end of an era. Not only the end of the patriarchal age in Canaan. But also the beginning of the end for Israel's security in Egypt. Exodus 1:8 says, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph.”
After Joseph's death, his reputation faded into history. Even as Joseph saw Ephraim's children to the third generation, Pharaoh's third generation of children might have known Joseph. But what about the fourth? What about four hundred years later? They would just know Joseph as a historical figure. Some foreign guy from the past who really didn't mean much today.
That's how many people feel about Jesus. Even some Christians could care less about Jesus. They enjoy His teachings, but his actual existence and work doesn't matter to their everyday life. Again, He is just some foreign guy from the past who really doesn't mean much today.
Where do they get this idea? Jesus isn't in their pulpits. The sermon they hear on Sunday morning is all about how they can have a better life. For them, church is all about them and who sees them there. Not who they see there.
This attitude is most evident at your sickbed or deathbed. Places where people want to be surrounded by their loved ones and the doctors who might save them with science. Places where people want to be surrounded by doctors but want Jesus far away.
This attitude is one of several irritants which cause somewhere around 1500 pastors to leave the ministry every month. They are surrounded by people who believe that a pastor's place is in church and nowhere else. That's man's arrogant word. Not God's Word on the matter.
When I was installed as pastor here, you vowed to “honor and uphold your pastor as he serves Christ in all his God-pleasing responsibilities.” What are these God-pleasing responsibilities? Certainly preaching and teaching. Absolving sins as well. But also to “minister faithfully to the sick and dying, and … demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry centered in the Gospel.” You vowed to accept my pastoral care. Just as Jacob and Joseph accepted the pastoral care of their family.
Pastoral care shines the Light of the World upon the people sitting in darkness. The Light shines on you when you hear God's Word proclaimed. Especially the Gospel's Word of forgiveness. Forgiveness is deliverance. Joseph remained in Egypt after Jacob's death. He was buried in an Egyptian coffin. He would never again see the land of Canaan, the land of his birth. That land was lost for a while. But God would bring Israel back. Not the seventy who settled in Goshen. Hundreds of thousands of their descendants.
Even on his deathbed, Joseph told his children, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” God visits His people in their despair. God is a visiting God. He visited Abraham in the midst of an idolatrous generation. He visited Joseph in the depths of prison. He visits you in the depths of your sin.
When God visits, you receive God's kingdom. As the Catechism states, “God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”
God visits you in the bleakest moments. Even in the darkness right before death. God visits His people through the people closest to them. One day, you too will be gathered to your people. Hopefully your day will be like Jacob and Joseph, surrounded by your family. Also being blessed by your pastor. God visiting you through His Word.
In our Agenda, we have a service for the Commendation of the Dying. At the bedside of the dying, the Pastor begins with Confession and Absolution. He continues with God's Word that focus on the forgiveness of sins and the reward of everlasting life. The Creed is confessed and the Litany for the Dying is prayed, ending with the Lord's Prayer, Nunc Dimittis and the Benediction. The liturgy of death completes the liturgy of life. Giving the dying the peace, “which surpasses all understanding,” to guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.
Normally, those words would end the sermon, but the sermon is not done. Jacob and Joseph had this peace as they were gathered to their people when they died in Egypt. They were content with what God had given them in their lives. They had no regrets when they died.
What about you? Will you be content? Or will you have regrets? Will you have God's peace? Or will you be drowning in death's sorrow?
As a Christian, the answers should go yes, no, yes, no. But we struggle with ourselves because we're not content. We have regrets. We want God's peace, but we want to run when we feel the sorrow of living a fully human life. We find it much easier to wallow in self-pity over our sins. Believing the devil's lies that we're not good enough to receive God's peace. That we're not doing enough to be at peace. He distracts us as he has since the Garden of Eden. He reminds us of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but he makes no mention about the Tree of Life. The Tree standing in the midst of Heaven. Whose leaves “were for the healing of the nations.”
Death is not the only time when a Christian needs pastoral care. Any struggle a Christian undergoes is a struggle where pastoral care is needed. But many in this congregation seek refuge not in pastoral care but in science. Don't get me wrong. Science is one of God's great gifts. I can't count how many times someone has asked how a member is doing after surgery. A surgery I was never told about. Why is that? Or the members who struggle greatly, and appear on death's doorstep, and I find out from the newspaper. Again, why is that?
This doesn't bode well for pastoral care. It's the stuff that causes 1500 pastors to say, “I quit.” Causes the end of an era. A very bitter end. But that need not be bitter. Be like Jacob and Joseph. End your era with God's Word. You need God's Word not only when things are good. You need it even more when things are bad. The devil makes you think that science will take over when Jesus leaves you. But Jesus never leaves you. And you should never leave God's Word.
Jacob and Joseph never left God's Word. They died in a foreign land. But they died with God's peace. “What God ordains is always good: His will is just and holy. … He leads me in His righteous way, and never will He leave me. I take content what He has sent; His hand that sends me sadness will turn my tears to gladness.” And this is yours through God's Word. Amen.