Funeral Sermon-David Hasheminejad
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the risen Lord and Savior,
Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Having been an avid sports fan throughout his life, David, certainly would have encountered “the sign” that usually accompanies every sporting event. One sees it in almost every game, from hockey to baseball, to football and sports in between. Sometimes, in rare moments, it’s even broadcasted on live television. For those who know sporting events well enough and heard the Gospel lesson read on this day, you likely know where I am going with this. The sign is usually white with plain black letters held by a random fan at the game bearing that verse of today’s gospel lesson, John 3:16, a verse from sacred scripture that has become so common that one not even need be Christian to know it. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. To this, verse seventeen should also be added, because it is equally as powerful a witness to our Christian faith as verse 16; For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. In these two verses stand the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our own beloved Martin Luther, after whom we Lutherans are named, called these verses, “the heart of the Bible, the Gospel in miniature.” Thus all that the Bible speaks to us of is the love of God, who withholds nothing from His children, not even His own Son. That in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father born of Mary, fallen humanity with its sin and its death, is forgiven, healed, and given life everlasting. We Christians cling to this most gracious and holy promise of God, because in these moments when death surrounds us, we grieve and mourn, as St. Paul writes to the Church at Thessalonica, not as others do without hope. But, rather that in Christ, in His death and in His resurrection, we are a people of great and everlasting hope, even in grief. We have the hope of the Almighty God who does not wish His children to perish, but to live with Him forever in His kingdom. For this He sent His Son into the world. For David, He sent His Son into the world. For you, He sent His Son into the world.
As well as we might know or be familiar with these verses from St. John’s Gospel, we likely are unfamiliar with their context. They have been so singled out and lifted up before the world that we forget the story in which they are spoken. Jesus is not simply speaking to the crowds or to the masses in a big block of teaching that we might find, say from St. Matthew’s Gospel. Nor is Jesus speaking to his disciples privately as we find him doing in other places, teaching them about the Kingdom of God or of the fate that will befall Him in Jerusalem, he will suffer, be killed, and on the third day rise again. Rather our Lord is speaking to the unlikeliest of men, He is speaking to a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name. The story of Nicodemus and his relationship to Jesus becomes one of the subplots of John’s Gospel. In total we hear of Nicodemus three times: here at the beginning of chapter 3, then once more in chapter 7, and lastly in chapter 19.
Here at the beginning of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness, at night to ask Him questions about what He has been teaching and preaching. He comes at night to protect himself against the watchful eye of his counterparts. He comes at night to avoid their ridicule and their shame. To Nicodemus, Jesus seems like a true rabbi come from God, but he knows others do not see things that way. Thus he seeks out Jesus and inquires more from Him. Hidden away at night, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the new birth, the birth of water and the Holy Spirit, the birth of holy Baptism which opens the eyes of men to see the Kingdom of God at work in Jesus Christ. He speaks to him of the work of the Holy Spirit who blows where He wills, bringing the Spirit of Life to all those upon whom He lands. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the fate that must befall the Christ, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. Lifted up upon the wood of the cross for all the world to see—like the bronze serpent in the book of Numbers who healed all those who looked upon it—so too does Jesus heal all those who look upon Him crucified for us and for our salvation. Lastly, Jesus speaks to him the words of the heart of the Bible and the Gospel in miniature that we heard earlier. In this opening conversation, Nicodemus comes to learn of Christ and to hear His Word. It is the beginning of his relationship to Jesus Christ, one of seeking and finding, asking and answering.
Looking to David’s life, we might see a parallel in this beginning relationship of Jesus and Nicodemus. I do not know for certain, and I will have to ask Salme this later, yet I’m going to wager that both their relationship with each other and their relationship together in the Church of Jesus Christ began in a similar way: under the cover of darkness, not in secret, but rather in the dark of unknowing. I can imagine there was much asking and answering, coming to know Jesus throughout his life from this odd bunch Christians, called Lutherans. And even odder than that, Finnish Lutherans, with their pula, coffee, and other Lutheran things like hot dishes, potlucks, and a love for all things jello. I can almost hear those perhaps nightly conversations David and Salme had about us Lutherans: who we worship, how we worship, and what a Small Catechism is. David’s own life of faith began like Nicodemus’, by hearing about Baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit who brings faith in Jesus Christ, who upon the cross has shown the Father’s love and redeemed the world. A life of faith that began not only by his questions, but by questions asked of him, “Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in God the Son? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?” Then, being born anew by water and the Spirit to see the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God mirrored in the relationship of bride and groom, of Salme and David. In their love for one another, David and Salme in their over forty years of marriage, with their joys and sorrows, their care and dedication for one another, showed us the Kingdom of God and the love of God for us His bride, His people.
A few chapters down the road, we again encounter Nicodemus: this time in chapter 7 where he no longer appears under the cover of the night’s sky, but rather is found in broad daylight. There he stands, this time not with Jesus, but rather surrounded by his fellow Pharisees. They are arguing among themselves about what is to be done with Jesus. Should he be arrested, tried, denounced, and condemned? The prevailing thought amongst the chief priests and Pharisees is yes, yet in the brightness of day, Nicodemus stands up and defends Jesus before his brethren. In only a single verse, Nicodemus is lifted up by John as one who now speaks openly and in defense of Christ. He becomes not only a seeker of Christ, but a teacher of the scriptures, and one might say a meek and humble proclaimer of Jesus.
Here again we find a counterpart with David’s own life as His marriage blossomed and bore fruit: two sons, and later, grandchildren. There in their home, David and Salme raised their sons in the faith. They taught them and spoke to their sons of Jesus and His love for them. David taught them in his humble way to see God throughout the splendor of His creation as he took them camping and vacationing to parks all over the country. As he traveled with them to visit new lands, including going to Finland to see what Finnish Lutherans are like in their native land, he exposed His sons to the world and the goodness that is found in all people and the love that God has for us all. He undoubtedly even had to defend Jesus to them, as parents have to do with each of their children when they ask, “Do we have to go to church this Sunday?” Having three kids of my own, let me say that no parent, not even clergy, are immune from such questions. Throughout those years he taught his sons what it was to be a man, to be gentle and humble and to be faithful. He taught them the Bible, often pointing to Jesus’ words in Matthew, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, as the source for why he never won the lottery.
Here, in all of those ways, Daniel, Kia, Tiffany, Lola, and Leia, David taught you of God’s love for you. Through his care, play, teaching, and gentle spirit, He showed you in his way the Father’s love for you all. In his humble and caring nature, he showed and taught you the humble and caring nature of the Son, who loves you and is with you always to the close of the age. Who is with you now in this time to comfort you and remind you of the hope that we have in Him and in His resurrection.
Lastly, Nicodemus appears for the final time on Good Friday after the crucifixion, After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. The one who had come in secret at night, who had stood up for Jesus among his brethren, now lovingly takes care of this rabbi sent from God. Here at the end of the gospel, Nicodemus walks with Jesus into the tomb.
Today, in sadness and grief, David walks with Jesus at the last into the tomb. Death is the great enemy of God and of man. It is that which separates us from one another, that which causes this body to fall apart and to fail. It hushes the breath of God that breathed the breath of life into us when we were born. The tomb is death’s victory over man, but it is not the victory over God. For David’s tomb is Jesus’, and that is the place where God speaks and acts and shows His great love for us in the raising of His own son from death. Jesus’ death, his tomb, undoes death, so that the apostle writes, “neither death nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is the place where God acts with all power and love, shattering death, removing the failings of this body, healing and making whole his creation that he loves so much. Death becomes not the condemnation of man, but the gate by which we enter life-everlasting. O Death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we walk with David and will this afternoon carry him to his own tomb, but we do so knowing that it is the place where God acts with the power of His love. In death David now knows fully the goodness of John 3:16-17.
And we who walk with him to the grave, go too with our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that the good byes we say this day are only good-byes for now. We know that in the glory and splendor of the resurrection, Jesus’ bursting from the tomb on the third day, we too by faith shall be raised with Him, with David, and with all the faithful. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. For God sent His Son into the world so that death would no longer have the final word of our lives, but rather that we might have life. Life eternal. Life forever united to our beloved father, grandfather and husband. Life together with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.