While I generally attempt to keep my posts short and sweet, this post is a little bit longer. It is the manuscript of the funeral sermon preached for my father-in-law, a very dear man, a man through whom the Lord blessed many, many people. A child of God first and foremost, he is now blessed to enjoy his eternal “afterward.”
THE CHRISTIAN MEMORIAL OF MARTIN LUTHER SCHWARTZ
St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church – Hastings, MN (WELS)
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
It happened again only yesterday, during the visitation, which saw a line of lives touched by Martin Luther Schwartz that extended out of the funeral home and spilled into the parking lot for the duration of the visitation hours. The question was asked or discussed by more than one close family member, “What’s going on afterward?” Was there a planned get together? Would people be meeting up somewhere to catch up more over a late meal? You may have been wondering the same thing already this morning – when that guy up front is done talking and everyone wakes up again, what’s happening afterward?
Really, we never stop asking the question in life, do we? As one stage of life comes to an end, we’re already thinking about what’s next. Graduation from high school – where you going to college? Graduation from college – where you going to get a job? Landed the first job – when are you getting married? Married – when will you start having kids? We’re always asking what’s next, what’s happening afterward?
Did you hear Marty’s “afterward” in the words from Psalm 73 this morning? The question “What’s happening afterward?” doesn’t need to be asked of him anymore, because he’s received the final answer. The psalmist Asaph put it this way: “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (v.23,24). “Afterward you will take me into glory.” Marty knew glory on the football field. He now knows a glory that transcends touchdowns and supersedes sports. He now knows in glory the One who made him, redeemed, him, and set him apart as his own through the gift of faith. He now knows in full what he preached and taught so many of us only in part. He now knows from experience the peace of God that elusively transcended his mere human understanding of it. He now knows perfection. He now knows Jesus in a way that not even the finest Christmas carol or Easter hymn could never come close to capturing. All of this, and so much more, is Marty’s “afterward.”
Why do we give such precious little thought or preparation to that afterward? Why do we focus on one earthly, temporal afterward, and then another, and another, but put off the afterward that awaits us all, the one that comes when this short life is lived out to its close and the funeral is our own? Why do we not give more attention to the afterward that will last into eternity? Why is our afterward so often nothing more than an afterthought?
I can say this with certainty: if we could see so much as a sliver, a glimpse of the glory of heaven that Martin Schwartz is now experiencing, there would be a cataclysmic shift in our priorities. Every excuse under the sun that we can drum up for not taking our spiritual health more seriously would be shattered. We’d be scrambling to discover more of what the psalmist meant in verse 28, “But as for me, it is good to be near God” and we would crave feverishly to be near God.
So why don’t we? Well now, you didn’t think the devil was just going to up and call it quits because of an empty tomb, did you? Did you think because the Lord Jesus himself descended into hell on his victory parade that the Evil One would politely acknowledge it and throw in the towel? Hell no! Easter once again reminded us that Jesus’ resurrection means death has been defeated, that all who are in Christ will rise again and live eternally, just as Jesus rose and lives and rules eternally. The devil can’t undo that.
Easter once again reminded us that Jesus’ resurrection means death has been defeated, that all who are in Christ will rise again and live eternally, just as Jesus rose and lives and rules eternally. The devil can’t undo that.”
But he doesn’t have to. All he has to do is keep you too busy to be concerned about it. All he has to do is keep you so preoccupied with earthly afterwards, so focused on what’s next in this life, that you lose sight of your heavenly afterward. He seeks to do that by keeping you not near to God, but as far away from him as possible, so that you fit the description of those in verse 27, “Those who are far off from you will perish.” Find a good reason to not be in worship this Sunday, and the next, and the next after that. Ignore history and evidence and facts and instead believe the naïve lie the skeptic sows about the Bible being mere fable fabricated by men. Keep it closed. Forget your baptism. Leave your spot at the Lord’s table vacant when He offers you His body and blood to eat and to drink for forgiveness. Keep away from all of these gifts of grace that God gives you to stay close to him, and rest assured, you will drift away from God as far as you like. I guarantee it. And your afterward will remain an afterthought, and your eternity filled with utterly painful regret.
But there is another way. And it is a way that was modeled for us by Martin Luther Schwartz through the faith by which he both lived and died. I expect that down to just about the last person here, we would agree that Pastor, brother, dad, grandpa, uncle, Marty, was genuinely one of the finest people to have been a part of our lives. Now, we can let it remain at that and presume that the best way to honor him, to show how much respect we had for him, is to simply acknowledge what a great guy he was. Or, we can take it a step further and seek to discover if there was anything that could be attributed to his being considered such a good guy. What was it that made it feel like he was genuinely interested in you when you spoke with him? Why was he willing to drop virtually anything he was doing to lend you a hand or help you? How did he so rarely lose his cool? What accounted for his gentle kindness and overall peaceful demeanor? How was it that so many enviable qualities and characteristics could be embodied in one man?
Friends, I believe it is because these verses from Ps. 73 could have just as easily been written by Marty himself. Throughout his life, he knew what it meant to be able to say, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel… Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. As for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds” (v.23-26, 28). And only one change need be made. Instead of “and afterward you will take me into glory,” he can now say, “and afterward you have taken me into glory.”
What made Marty who he was is simple. He knew what it was to be near God. More specifically, he knew and trusted in Jesus. He knew his Savior. His life was about Jesus. Trace that back to his own father, who passed the Christian faith down to his children, Marty’s brothers and sisters, who all still today know what it means to be near Jesus. Follow the trail of faith from there to the next generation of Schwartzes, which know what it means to be near Jesus, a handful of whom, like Marty, as pastors, have determined to spend their whole lives helping others be near Jesus. Follow the trail further to the next generation, including grandchildren, who know what it means to be near Jesus. Do you see the common thread? And, no, it isn’t “be more like Marty so you can get to heaven, too,” but rather, “be more like Marty who knew how important it was to be near the only One – Jesus – who can open heaven for anyone.” Marty, good as he was, was a far cry from the perfection required for entrance into heaven. His sin disqualified him, too. But he knew his Savior, Jesus, took care of that. He knew the Jesus who paid for his sin in full through the perfect sacrifice of himself, and rose again to guarantee the glory that Marty now knows in his heavenly afterward.
Now I want to also acknowledge that there may be some who are thinking, “Pssshhhh… I know plenty of other good folks like Marty, and they aren’t Christians. You don’t need Jesus to be good.” Let me just say, you’re right, you’re absolutely right! I also know lots of genuinely good people who, sadly, won’t be in heaven if nothing changes. I’m sure we all do. But that doesn’t mean we make the exception the rule. Just because there are some good people in the world who don’t have faith in Jesus as Marty did, doesn’t in any way diminish the correlation between Marty’s character and his Christian faith. Nor does it change the reality that salvation still only comes through faith in Christ Jesus. No, we don’t let exceptions to the rule govern our life. There’s a chance you could zip through a stop sign or a red light on your way home and not get in an accident and die, sure. But just because that may happen, you’d be foolish to presume that would be the norm! You know you are better off and much safer by not living according to what may happen, or what you think could happen, or what you feel might happen.
Instead, like Marty and the psalmist, let God hold you by your right hand and guide you with his counsel. Let God be your strength and portion forever. Let the Sovereign Lord be your refuge. See that it truly is good to be near God, to remain always near Jesus. Then, dear friends, through Jesus Christ, you’ll enjoy the same afterward as Marty, you, too, will be taken into glory. May God in his grace – and only by his grace – grant it to you, as he has his servant, Martin Luther Schwartz. Amen.
May 10, 2017