With Thanksgiving for the Life of Carmen M. Brandt 1Aug29+19June14
Psalms46, 71:1-8, John11:25
It is a privilege and honor to be with you for this gathering. I say that intentionally and wholeheartedly, because, as I also said, I didn’t get to know Carmen or his wife Edna, or really any of you his family and friends. This isn’t my typical church, leaving me a bit out of place, and so again I want to say I am honored for the opportunity to be here today with you, to serve you, to bring a word for you.
See, just as you don’t know me and don’t really know what to expect from me, that same perspective could be about God. Since we can’t see God, God could seem notoriously difficult or even impossible to pin down. We could wonder throughout life’s events what God is or isn’t up to. We may say we see God in a beautiful sunset, or picture a benevolent aura that surrounds us, or a miniature muscled swordsman riding as a guardian hood ornament as we speed down the road. But those may just be our imaginations, right?
When the storms hit, what does that do for our image of God? If God was in a sunset, is God also in the tornado? Our Bible readings today confront the hardest moments and situations head-on, as a city is under attack by a foreign army, and even into the very face of death. That is also what we’re doing as we gather here. We are looking at death, and somehow having to ask what it means. So, I’m grateful for the words of the eulogy, for the reflections of Carmen in you, his family, for photos and more, looking back at life with smiles of joys, the struggles overcome, all the twists and turns that 84 years of life brought.
But even as I can’t tell those stories, still there is something I can say. Staring at death, there’s the question of where God is. What does God have to say about this? For that, I am, again, privileged to proclaim to you it’s not an uncertainty or a hidden mystery. I may be unfamiliar with Carmen’s life and you may be unacquainted with me, but we do have a God of certainty, a God of promise. That enables me to stand in front of you at this moment. See, in spite of being incomprehensible in so many ways, our God nevertheless desires to be known to you, to be found by you, to be a blessing and resource for you.
Far from being odd or foreign, this is actually more of a homecoming. That makes it an especially appropriate symbol that you return here today, to this place where Carmen’s life began, that we’ll be committing him to the earth that nurtured him as he began his life. Even coming back here to Hope Lutheran marks a return to God’s promise as a resting place which is never strange or distant. We indeed know this God has held Carmen close throughout his life, and even now he is held dearly in our Lord’s strong arms.
God began offering assurance for Carmen in his baptism, a promise that he was a beloved child, a guarantee that God’s Spirit would remain with him throughout life and even beyond death. Nothing could finally separate him from that relationship. It’s the reminder that God’s love would celebrate with him in the best moments, and remain with him through the hardest of times. That enormous promise in baptism begins our lives and removes much of the mystery. You may always know that God is striving for life, is insistent on abiding with you, is present in blessing.
Because you know that identity of God, and because you know your own identity as baptized children in this God, it enables you to say things that would otherwise never be expected.
This is exactly what we hear in this service, as you did with these same words for Edna. Our Bible readings were doing this. With Psalm 71, we entrusted ourselves to God, who brought us through birth and youth. That word of trust continued in spite of surrounding injustice and enemies, in the words of the Palm, and reminds us that God is also our refuge. It’s being assured of blessing when signs may indicate otherwise.
In the words of Psalm 46, even though waters roar and mountains shake, even if nations collapse, still the Lord is with us, a very present help in trouble. Again, an assurance of blessing, though times be difficult.
With the verse from the Gospel of John, we heard the clearest revelation of God in Jesus. We know God’s promise for Carmen because of Jesus, who unveiled eternal life by nevertheless going through suffering and death, who weeps with us at the side of graves and yet will open those graves to a new day of blessing. This is the assurance of life, even though confronted by death.
These same surprising guarantees are in the hymns, which our voices proclaim to each other. Our opening hymn that sang of peace was famously written on a ship near the place where the writer’s four children had drowned in a shipwreck. The writer also lost a child to scarlet fever and all of his real estate investments in the Chicago fire, yet he was able to give us those words, “it is well with my soul.” “Nearer my God to thee” we also associate with tragedy, calling to mind the sinking of the Titanic. Our other hymns bring it closer to home, that we trust this promise of life most especially and truly when our eyelids close in death.
This is the value of knowing who your God is, a God who abides with you in compassion and mercy for all of your days, whatever may come. It is a God who is not far off, but near. Not unknown, but revealed to you.
And it enables me to speak on behalf of Carmen, to offer proclamations of blessing, even though I never met him to declare that God’s favor rested on him, to proclaim that resurrection to eternal life now waits for him, and that you will be brought together with him again, through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Amen