Funeral sermon for Norman Heinitz
Saved by grace
Ephesians 2:1-9 You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked when you followed the ways of this present world. You were following the ruler of the domain of the air, the spirit now at work in the people who disobey.
This past week has been our church’s soccer camp. We have 72 campers ages 3-13 for three hours each day to teach them soccer skills, but especially teaching them God’s Word about Jesus.
Yesterday, one of the coaches brought me a Kindergartner because he refused to listen to her. I sat him down and made small talk with him. Somehow, we started talking about sleeping. He told me that his dad snores and annoys his mom. He told me how his grandma showed him a video she took of his grandpa snoozing on their sofa.
Then, out of nowhere, the little guy asks, “Why did God have to die on the cross?”
I returned the question, “Why do you think God had to die on the cross?”
He replied, “Because His Father told Him to.”
Very astute. I told him, “That’s true. But why would God the Father tell His Son to die on the cross?”
He answered, “So that we could be cleansed of our sins.”
He knew his stuff. So, I asked, “Jesus died on the cross to pay for all the sins of people who are naughty. Are you naughty?”
He is a naughty kid … and he knows it. He said, “Yes, I’m naughty.”
I asked him, “Do you think I’m naughty, too?”
He answered, “Yes.”
“What?!” I said. “You think your pastor is naughty?!”
He just giggled. He thought that was the funniest thing that he could call his pastor naughty.
But, we are all naughty, aren’t we? That’s what the apostle Paul tells us in our sermon text: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins, Formerly, we all lived among them in the passions of our sinful flesh, as we carried out the desires of the sinful flesh and its thoughts. Like all the others, we were by nature objects of God’s wrath.”
This little boy at soccer camp, Norm, you and me, are all born dead in our trespasses and sins. That is our inborn nature we inherited from our sinful parents, our naughty grandparents, all the way back to our disobedient first parents – Adam and Eve.
There is an unholy trinity that is constantly attacking us. They are the world, the devil and our sinful nature. St. Paul describes them like this: “following the ways of this present world” – the world; “following the ruler of the domain of the air” – the devil; “living among them in the passions of our sinful flesh” – our sinful nature. These three cause us to become objects of God’s wrath – His righteous anger over our sin.
Norm knew this. That’s why over his 80 years, he sat in the pews of the various Lutheran churches he was a member of and confessed: “Holy and merciful Father, I confess that I am by nature sinful and that I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. … Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
I know how much Becky, Betsy and Karl loved their father and considered themselves blessed to have the sweetest Daddy in the world. Yet, Norm knew and recognized his failings as a father, husband, office manager, bookkeeper, church treasurer … and especially, as a Christian. The last two times I visited Norm in his home and at the hospital, he had tears in his eyes as we said the confession of sins together.
That’s because Norm knew his sin. But he appreciated knew his Savior even more.
St. Paul continues: “But God, because he is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved!” God is “rich in mercy.” He is not stingy or begrudging. God is rich in the undeserved love that He gives to His naughty and sinful children.
In this mercy, God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in trespasses. It is by grace you have been saved!” God did that for Norm on September 5, 1937 at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Sebewaing, Michigan. There at the baptismal font, God poured out His grace over Norman Clifford Heinitz. Norm was born dead in sin and unbelief. Yet, through the power of God’s Word connected with the means of water, the Holy Spirit gave Norm life, faith, and eternal salvation. He was made a new creation. He was made alive with Christ.
There is no life apart from Christ – only death. The amazing thing is, it took the death of Christ to undo death. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, so something had to be done with those trespasses and sin. We couldn’t do anything. We were dead, remember? So, God the Father told His Son to come to earth to be born as one of us. Jesus allowed His sinless divine human body to be nailed to the cross. He took our sins and gave us His righteousness. He took our trespasses and disobedience and gave us His holiness and salvation. He took our death and gave us His life. He took the wrath of God that we deserved as punishment and made us children of God through faith in Him as our Savior.
Norm lived in this saving faith all of His life.
It is that Christian faith in Jesus Christ as His Savior that formed Norm into the father, grandfather, and friend that you all knew and loved. It was the love of God in Norm since his baptism and confirmation, that allowed him to be a loving husband for 57 years to Mary Ann. It was living under the constant care of the Triune God that allowed Norm to care for and touch so many people’s lives as an office manager, tax consultant, and bridge player.
Norm and his family became members of Epiphany in Pastor Kraus’ first year here in 1967. Norm served for many, many years as the treasurer at Epiphany. I sat in many Church Council meetings at the table with Norm. Many churches struggle financially. Ours is no different. I’m guessing that a lot of church treasurer’s will tell their pastor and leaders that they cannot afford to do certain ministries because the money isn’t there. Norm, and our present treasurer, were not like that. If we didn’t have the money in the bank to do something, Norm would always say, “We’re just going to do it. We’ll find the money somewhere.” He knew people’s wallets weren’t always generous. But, Norm knew even better how generous the Lord of the Church is. From little on, Norm had a strong faith in God. It was a faith that he passed on to his children, was seen by his friends, and appreciated by his fellow church members and pastor.
Norm very much wanted his children to have a Christian education. The kids remember sitting on his lap to do their memory work. All three children attended our church’s grade school. Betsy and Becky then went to Racine Lutheran. Karl attended Shoreland Lutheran High School. Norm wanted his children to learn every day about the grace of God through His Son Jesus. It’s that simple.
St. Paul explains grace succinctly: “Indeed, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— ”
We are not saved by who we are, by what we do, by how good we are or try to be. We are naughty, sinful, dead trespassers. We are deserving only of punishment and wrath. That’s why we need grace. Grace is God’s undeserved love for us in His Son, Jesus. Though we deserve to be separated from God forever because of our sin, Jesus came out of His grace to rescue us from the horror of hell. He shed His divinely human blood to provide full payment for all our sins. Through Him we have the free gift of having the gates of hell slammed shut and the doors of heaven flung wide open for us!
This grace sustains us every day. Our loving Savior is always with us. He guards us from harm and danger; He strengthens us against temptation; He assures us of His unfailing love; He supports us with His faithful promises; He hears us when we call on Him in prayer; He comforts us with His forgiveness; and leads us always closer to resting from our labors as one of His saints around His throne. There, we will see our resurrected and ascended Savior with our own eyes.
Norm always looked forward to the salvation His Savior won for Him. But, that salvation never looked sweeter than when his precious MaryAnn died. The Sunday after MaryAnn’s funeral, as people were talking together after church, Norm stood in our Friendship Room and told me that the doctors gave him only a few months to live. With tears in his eyes, he said, “I’ll get to go see MaryAnn soon.” I replied, “And Jesus?” He said, “And Jesus, too.”
Norm rejoiced because the grace of the Lord Jesus opened heaven for MaryAnn. The grace of the Lord Jesus opened heaven for him. And now, as Betsy, Becky, and Karl mourn the loss of both parents in only a few months, they can rely on that same grace of God.
When the apostle Paul prayed for God to remove his extremely painful thorn in the flesh, God’s answer to Paul was: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Sustaining grace. That’s what all of us need. God does not promise the absence of struggle. He doesn’t promise the removal of cancers or debts or pains or sufferings or death. What God promises is the removal of sin through the grace and forgiveness Christ Jesus won on the cross. This grace is sufficient to sustain us.
When you read Norm’s obituary or talk to Norm’s children, you can hear them proudly boasting in their daddy – his devotion to their mom, his love of baseball, his camping, fishing, or cow buying, his ability to buy cars for them or trade tax services for favors, etc. And, they should. But, Norm did not boast in any of his accomplishments. Instead, like Paul writes, Norm boasted in the grace of God.
The grace that made Norm a child of God in baptism.
The grace that allowed a nurse’s aide in Kenosha to fall in love with him.
The grace that fashioned Norm into a faithful husband, father, and friend.
But, most importantly, the grace that took all of Norm’s naughtiness and nailed it to Jesus’ cross. The grace that made Norm alive in Christ’s resurrection. The grace that has opened heaven so that Norm is with MaryAnn … and Jesus. Amen.