Funeral sermon for Faith Kionka
Psalm 116:15 Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints.
Faith loved the Green Bay Packers. But, since she lived in New Orleans, she also loved the New Orleans Saints.
The Packers received their team name because the uniforms and equipment were sponsored by the Indian Packing Company. Indian Packing was purchased in 1920 by the Acme Packing Company which put Acme Packers on the jerseys of the Green Bay players.
The New Orleans Saints is an allusion to November 1 being All Saints Day in Catholic and Lutheran history. New Orleans has a large Catholic population, and the spiritual “When the Saints Go Marching In” is strongly associated with New Orleans and is often sung by fans at games.
Faith may not have ever been a Packer, but she was a saint for 82 years. Not a New Orleans Saint, but a Christian saint.
Being a saint isn’t about being a really good person. It’s about being perfect. It’s about being holy. In fact, the biblical words “saint” is actually derived from the word for “holy.”
How did Faith become a saint?
She certainly did not start out life as a saint. On December 17, 1935, Faith was born into this world sinful. The Bible say, “Surely I was sinful at birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Faith was sinful because her parents, Theodore and Carol Liebenow were sinful. Like us, Faith, her parents, our parents – everyone - has inherited sin from our very first parents, Adam and Eve.
Faith was born as an enemy of God. The Bible says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). She was born dead in sin. Ephesians 2:1 teaches, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.” She was born belonging to the devil. The Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) and “the soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
None of that sounds very saintly. That’s because from conception in the womb until December 31, 1935, Faith remained a sinner. A sinner without Christian faith or eternal salvation.
But, all that changed on January 1, 1936. It was on that glorious New Year’s Day when Faith was brought to the baptismal font at St. John’s Lutheran Church here in Racine. When the pastor baptized Faith in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that’s when she became a saint in God’s Kingdom. She still remained a sinner, but now she was Saint Faith.
At the font, the Holy Spirit ripped Faith out of the hands of the devil and placed her into the hands of her heavenly Father. She became a child of God, an heir of the “glorious inheritance among the saints” (Ephesians 1:18). Her sins were washed away and faith was created in Faith’s heart. She didn’t apply to become an heir. She didn’t go to college or take classes to become an heir. She was reborn into the position through water and the Word of God.
There at the font, the Holy Spirit covered her sins with saintly white robe of Christ’s righteousness – His holiness. She wasn’t holy in God’s sight because she was so good. She was holy in God’s sight because whenever God looked at Faith, He saw His holy, righteous Son covering her.
Faith stood before the St. John’s altar 14 years later at her confirmation. The Triune God had made His vows of faithfulness to her at Faith’s baptism, as He covered her in a white baptismal gown symbolizing the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. Now, she was standing in another white gown promising to remember her Baptism, strengthen her Christian faith through God’s Word, and feed her soul through the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Faith knew how important her Christian faith was to her. In fact, that was the most important thing to her. And, she wanted to pass that Christian faith on to her children. She made sure that they were baptized and confirmed and checked that they went to church.
At age 50, Faith started to learn how to play the harp. According to her kids, she wasn’t very good … in the beginning. But, to her credit, she continued to practice and eventually became good enough to play her harp in church for worship.
When Faith and Bob’s home was damaged in Hurricane Katrina, Bob made sure that their house was one of the first ones the insurance company fixed. That worked out well, since their house was big enough to be able to host the worship services for Crown of Life Lutheran Church, after it was flooded from the hurricane. Bob and Faith also hosted four college students who came to New Orleans through our WELS Christian Aid and Relief to repair the church.
If you knew Faith, she was like the rest of us as Christians – struggling between the sinner that she was born as and the saint she was reborn to be. You might say that she was a little headstrong and strong-willed.
She liked to color intricate pages and hang them around her apartment. One time when I went to visit her to give her a devotion and communion, I complimented her on her coloring, but then teased her by saying that on one of the pages she had colored outside the lines. She told me, “Oh, shut up!” I immediately texted her daughter and granddaughter and said, “You mom and grandmother just told me to shut up.” With a smile on my face, I said to Faith, “You can’t tell your pastor to shut up.” She replied, “Well, I just did.”
That was Faith.
When I would go to visit her, she only had a little time for small talk, then it was time to get down to the important stuff – hearing God’s Word and receiving His Sacrament. She appreciated it dearly when I would come to bring her God’s comfort in Word and Sacrament. She also appreciated it when our Epiphany Visitation Committee members would come by to visit, and have a devotion and prayer with her.
The sinner part of her being was also evident the last days of her life. She did not take the news well that she had cancer. Initially, there was fear and tears. The first two days were very difficult. But, by the third day, she relented and was ready for the Lord to bring her home to heaven. Her children read the Bible to her and shared Bible accounts with her about Jesus taking the repentant thief on the cross home to paradise. It took her a little while, but her saint side overtook her sinner side and she was ready to receive the inheritance that Jesus had died to give her. She was ready to leave this vale of tears and enter paradise.
It is popular in our American culture to say that when a Christian loved one dies that she goes to heaven to become an angel. I know that sounds comforting, but it’s wrong. The angels were created during the six days of creation. They are God’s servants to protect us, fight the devil and his evil angels on our behalf, and carry our souls to God’s throne in heaven.
As humans, we are greater than the angels. We were created in God’s image – the angels weren’t. We were given an immortal soul – the angels weren’t. Greatest of all – Jesus did not die for the angels. He died for us. He died and rose from the dead so that through faith in Him, we might become His saints.
Through trust in Jesus as her Savior, the angels ushered Faith to God’s throne at 2:00 pm on Monday afternoon. She was no longer a saint and sinner, at the same time. Now, and forevermore, she is only a saint.
Upon her arrival into heaven, she wasn’t given a harp and wings. Instead, she was clothed in white garment of Christ’s perfection, just like at her baptism and confirmation. Jesus Christ died on the cross to cover Faith with His holy, righteous blood. As we read in John’s vision of the saints streaming into heaven, she has had her robe made white in the blood of the Lamb.
She was given a palm branch to hold. The palm branch is an ancient symbol of victory. Palm branches were waved in the air as conquering kings entered the city, just like the people waved their palm branches when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Faith is waving that palm branch to praise her King of kings and Lord of lords.
A golden crown was placed on Faith’s head. Faith didn’t earn this crown because she was so good. She, along with the rest of us, pounded a crown of thorns into Jesus’ head with our sins. Yet, Christ Jesus has replaced His crown of thorns with a crown of glory. He gifts His Christian brothers and sisters a golden crown, symbolizing us as heirs of salvation.
Jesus won this white robe, palm branch and golden crown for us through what He accomplished on the cross and in the grave.
Jesus touched our filth, so we might be bathed in His glory.
Jesus suffered our death, so that we might enjoy life eternal.
Jesus endured our hell, so that the gates of heaven might be flung open for us.
Jesus cried out on the cross, so that we might sing His praises around His throne.
Jesus became dirty with our sins and covered with His blood, so that He could wash us from our sins with His blood.
Jesus appeared defeated during His time on the cross, so that we would emerge victorious forever and ever.
The white robe of righteousness, the palm branch of victory, and the golden crown of glory were not given to angels to wear – only to saints.
The sinner portion of Faith is gone. No more tears. No more sadness. No more wheelchair or cancer.
That means we can rejoice with Faith. She was made a saint to battle her sinner side at the baptismal font. Christ’s forgiveness, Word and Sacrament continued to sanctify her as a saint and sinner throughout her 82 years as a Christian.
Now, she is only a saint in heaven. White robe, palm branch, and golden crown. Around the throne of the Lamb. Singing Christ’s praises for all eternity. Saint Faith, by the blood of Jesus.
That’s why we can say with confidence with the psalmist, “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints.” Amen.