In “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
January 6, 2019
My wife, Patty, said it yesterday: “How can we be preparing for Karen’s funeral? We just saw her on Christmas Eve.” And one of our folks told me this morning that, when she read the news about Karen’s death, she realized that Karen had e-mailed income tax preparation documents only minutes before.
Karen’s death is a shocking tragedy. I would expect that some of you here are just beginning to think beyond your shock.
We gather here, realizing that not a single day of life can be taken for granted. And we are gathered in the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is only because of that sure and certain hope that we can gather to give thanks for the life of Karen Steinmuller VanRosendale.
In the church year, today is The Epiphany of Our Lord. The gospel reading for this day, from Matthew, is the story of the wise men arriving where the newborn Christ child is – and immediately falling on their knees in worship! That’s a remarkable thing that would have shocked and even offended those who first heard this story. These “wise men” are Gentiles “from the east,” you see. That means they are considered unclean by the religious rule-keepers. They are outsiders, not included in the covenant that God has made with God’s people. They are the last ones you would expect to be led to faith! And, in the gospel of Matthew, they are the first ones! That is a mystery of this day.
Why are we led to faith – to sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ? How are we led to faith? Who is this Jesus, the Christ, the object of our faith and the model for our response? Those are some of the questions for our contemplation during this Epiphany season.
Sometimes you hear someone say, “I don’t believe in God”; as if it’s a choice that we make. Instead, when we are drawn into God and motivated to respond in faith – by loving God and loving others as we do ourselves – then that is the result of what God is doing to us! God leads us into God’s self: through other people (what they say and teach and do), when we experience God’s compassion. It is God who forms us in faith.
All of this is very mysterious, isn’t it?
Faith in the risen Christ is far beyond any intellectual or rational capacities that you or I have, or the ordinary categories that we devise to define reality and to keep it under control. For instance, there is mysterious language that we use, in liturgical words that are said at a graveside: “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ…” If something is “sure and certain,” how can it be only “hope?” If we’re hoping for something, are we “sure and certain” that what we hope for will happen? This is language much different than what we use, when we try to reduce what’s true to something we can define and rationally understand. “In sure and certain hope”: we’re into something much bigger than ourselves, something mysterious, something that is God. That’s what we do, when we gather as church: we spend time in this mystery that is God; God who we cannot understand; but God who we grow more and more deeply in love with.
This is what drew Karen Steinmuller VanRosendale to this place, for years and years: through her days as a student at the College of William and Mary, and into her professional life, and into her marriage with John, and into her life as mother of Brian. She was a reserved and humble, intellectually curious, questioning and believing pilgrim on the journey of faith, the journey into the mystery that is God.
God leads us into faith, into sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, through other people: what they say and teach and do. And so I pray that Karen’s example of humble and intellectually curious and questioning faithfulness will be a model for all of us who are still in our pilgrimage, and who walk as yet by faith; and even for those of us who are reluctant to allow God the Holy Spirit to expand our vision so that we can be led into the mystery of God’s salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus the Christ.
Because the wise men followed the star, we have stars all over our worship space during this season. They are symbols of the light of Epiphany! If there is no light, then there is only darkness. But we have just celebrated Christmas: the birth of the Christ who is our light and our salvation! We live in that light – in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rest eternal grant Karen, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon her.
In the name of God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Andy Ballentine
 Liturgical words said at a grave side, from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 284
 Matthew 2:1-12
 Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Funeral Prayers of Intercession.
 Psalm 27:1
 Liturgical words said at a grave side, from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 284.