Funeral sermon for Susan P. Tangerstrom

Last Thursday, God called home to heaven Epiphany's beloved and faithful secretary, Sue Tangerstrom. It was a tough week, but God's Word and resurrection comfort brought joy in the midst of our pain and mourning. If you missed the funeral service, you can read the sermon that was preached for Sue's Christian funeral.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Psalm 118:24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

How odd those words sound on a day like today. “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” How strange those words sounded last Thursday as we stood by Sue’s side or heard the news.

Let’s be serious. We can’t really rejoice and be glad today. Think of what we lost. A beloved wife, mother, daughter, aunt. A faithful friend, coworker, godmother. My boss.

Shouldn’t the Bible verse say for funerals, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us mourn and be sad in it?” That makes much more sense doesn’t it? Because we do mourn today, don’t we? We mourn our loss. As King Solomon said, “There is a time to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4). Today is a time to mourn and grieve. Face your griefs with tears and time. And even if is a long time, you never really “get over” grief. Don’t let anyone tell you that you do. Watching a fire truck go by on the 4th of July, hearing a whistle blow, walking into the church office, seeing a latex balloon will bring back a flood of memories and a deluge of emotions. And that’s okay. That’s good.

To be honest, in fourteen years in the ministry, this is the toughest sermon I’ve preached. So it may take a while to get through. But that’s okay, too, because the funeral director said that we don’t need to be at the cemetery until 3.

Eventually we will move on and get by. We will adapt to our loved one’s death. But we will never quite get over her absence. Nor should we!

The Bible says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Your beloved sister in Christ is precious to you; she is precious to the Lord. You can only do what He does: Embrace Sue in her death knowing she is safe as one of the sheep in the Good Shepherd’s hands.

Face your grief with tears. Face it with time. But especially face your grief with truth. The apostle Paul encourages us to grieve, yet not like the rest of the world who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

This is the day to rejoice in the truth that God has the last word on death. And if you listen, He will tell you the truth about Sue and all of the Christian loved ones who have died in the Lord. They have been dismissed from this hospital called Earth.

You see, it wasn’t really Sue’s heart or lungs or kidney or liver that killed her. It was something much more hereditary, degenerative and debilitating. It is something that infected Sue already in the womb. In fact, it is the same pandemic disease that has infected all humanity. It is sin.

What really killed Sue last Thursday is the same thing that will eventually slay all of us. It is an adulterous heart, a murderous mind, an acidic tongue, thieving hands, covetous eyes. It is the cancer of sin that is in our marrow, that courses through our veins. Eventually every one of us will be laid in a casket and our soul will stand before the Judgment Seat of God.

The Bible says that “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Sue received the wage and now we are left with the fringe benefit of grief. The wages of sin may be death, but “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Sue has now taken hold of this gift of life. The great Physician of body and soul has given her the medicine of eternal life. The same medicine that He holds out to us, to take, to receive, to cherish and use.

Jesus is the Physician. His blood is the antidote to sin’s poison. We make use of the same medicines for the soul that were applied to Sue and granted her life beyond this one. She had the filth of her sins washed away in Christ’s baptismal waters. Her faith was nourished with Christ’s true body and blood every time she knelt at this communion rail with her family to receive her Lord’s Supper. She heard and read God’s Word that drove the devil out of her heart and applied forgiveness to her soul. She sang Christ’s Gospel (not well), but she loved her Christian music for driving away despair and bringing joy and gladness into her life.

While we are still stuck in this hospital called Earth, we roam the halls, cover our nakedness with flimsy gowns, and eat green beans and Jell-O off plastic trays. Meanwhile, because of Christ’s medicines applied to this former nurse’s soul, Sue is right now picnicking on the green pastures, throwing a party beside the quiet waters, running allergy free through knee-high flowers and inhaling the eternal springtime.

So today is a bittersweet day. We mourn our loss but we thank God for Sue’s gain. We have plenty of tears to shed. And yet our tears of sorrow for our loss should be overtaken on this day by our tears of joy for Sue. For her last breath on Thursday morning was followed by her first step into eternal paradise. Now she has no more bad teeth or allergic reactions. No more cramming people into her house for another party or spending weekends folding bulletins. No more eating fast food or making sure everyone else is taken care of. For now she is in heaven where there is no more crying or pain. There is plenty of room for she has been given a reserved room in the mansion of heaven. No more work to do, only praise to be given. She is right now sitting as an honored guest at the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. And she is being taken care of by her Savior Jesus.

“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

You may have noticed that I haven’t told you any stories about Sue. That’s because you all have more and better stories than I have. Well, I guess I can tell you one story. It is the story of a relationship. A relationship built on love, on friendship, on commitment, forgiveness and marriage. Sorry, Scott, although you are certainly in the story, it is really a story about Sue and another man in her life – the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

For as much as Sue loved all of us, she loved her Lord and His Church even more. But Jesus loved Sue even more than that. Think about it. Firefighters risk their lives going into a burning building to save a person’s life. Jesus willingly laid down His life on the cross, suffering the horrors of a flaming hell, in order to rescue Sue’s soul. Doctors and nurses work with patients to prolong their life. Jesus shed His blood in order to prolong Sue’s life for an eternity. The Tangerstroms like to throw parties for family and friends, but Jesus has invited Sue and all of us to the eternal wedding feast for Christ who is the groom and we are the bride.

This the life-long relationship of love that existed between Jesus and Sue. This is the relationship of love that Jesus wants with every one of you. As funny as the other stories about Sue will be today, this is the only real important story. For it is the eternal story of Christ’s love, the Lord’s forgiveness, God’s mercy and Spirit-granted faith. It is the story of Sue’s love in return, her faith, her faithfulness, and now her being home with the Lord in heaven. And for that we rejoice and are glad.

I know a big question we all have right now is “Why?” “Why Sue?” “Why now?” In the hospital room as the machines were turned off, Sue’s mom cried out, “Why not me?” Let me share a real brief version of what my family and the Tangerstoms witnessed at my house last Saturday. While my family and I were standing in the driveway talking to the Tangerstroms, my next door neighbor lady called for me to come to her backyard to talk to her. She was falling down drunk. No matter how many breath mints she had in her mouth, she couldn’t hide it. After repeatedly trying to get her into her house to sleep it off, she became belligerent, berating me, trying to push me, cussing at my wife and kids and even my dog. She terrified my daughters. She made this difficult week even worse. It was like an episode of COPS. The whole neighborhood stood on their front lawns as she threatened to kill herself and was finally subdued by her husband and police officers and eventually taken away to the psychiatric unit.

After the incident, someone said to me, “I know this isn’t right. But why didn’t God take her and leave Sue with us?” Why would God leave a foul-mouthed, addicted, unbelieving woman behind while taking a strong, faithful Christian woman to heaven? There’s the answer! If God would have allowed my neighbor to commit suicide, in her unbelieving state, she would spend an eternity in hell. But God in His infinite wisdom has given her an extended time of grace to hopefully, prayerfully come to faith in Him.

But God’s work with Sue must have been complete. She had accomplished all God wanted her to do in this world. Maybe He needed a good secretary. We don’t know why. And we don’t deserve to know why. We simply trust that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are beyond our understanding (Isaiah 55:9). We have confidence that everything He does is right and all His ways are just (Daniel 4:37). We have the certainty that God works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

We rejoice and are glad that in all things, even in tragedy, God works for the welfare of His children. He doesn’t always explain how He works. He doesn’t have to. But He gently invites us to place our trembling hands in His loving hand and, with our eyes firmly fixed on the cross of our Savior, follow Him from tragedy to triumph, from grace to glory.

These last few days have been tough as we say “goodbye” to Sue. But as Christians it really isn’t a goodbye is it? We say with a sincere and heartfelt faith, “God be with you till we meet again.”

That is the promise of the resurrection! That is the Christian faith! Though this is a day of sadness for us, it is also a day of rejoicing for Sue! That is why we can shout, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Amen.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” Amen.

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