A video recording of the funeral is posted on the Zabka Funeral Home website HERE
Psalm 73:1-17, 23-26
Dear Family and Friends of Herman,
As you all know, probably even better than I, Herman loved to visit and to tell stories. He also loved to play his accordion and bring joy to others through music. I enjoyed hearing him sing and play, and I enjoyed his stories about his childhood, the war, farming, machinery and vehicles. It was sad when he became too weak to play the accordion. And it was very sad when he even became too weak to talk.
When we know someone like Herman and watch as they become unable to do some of their favorite things, we can’t help but wonder why? That’s why I thought of this Psalm that has often been helpful to me when I’m tempted to wonder why so many of the ungodly seem to have health and prosperity, while so many faithful believers face illness and troubles. It’s not a new question. The Psalmist asked the same question thousands of years ago.
The Psalmist says that this question, why do bad things happen to good people, or why don’t more bad things happen to bad people, almost caused him to lose his faith. He says, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
Not only were those who arrogantly mocked God and faith healthy and prosperous, they seemed to be able to get away with all kinds of sinful acts. They were bullies, they were violent. They even blasphemed the one true God, using the fact that they had not been punished for their sins as evidence that God either doesn’t exist, or isn’t omniscient and almighty. They claimed to be know-it-all’s and people flocked to listen to them and buy their books. When we see these things still happening today, like the Psalmist we are tempted to say, “What’s the use?” What good is believing in God and trying to live a Godly life?
When we feel this way, it’s good for us to remember the words of God through Paul, the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. And God says through Peter, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
The Psalmist was deeply troubled untill he entered the sanctuary of God; then, he says, I understood their final destiny. Then he remembered the truth of God’s word. In his word God reminds us not to compare ourselves with what others have, or what others might seem to get away with. He tells us to compare ourselves to him and his commands that demand perfection. When we do that we will never say, “I deserve a better lot in life than I have.” When we compare ourselves to God and his commands, we will always conclude that we deserve much worse than whatever we are experiencing. What we deserve is God’s judgment and eternal punishment; something much worse than we could ever experience here on earth.
But the question still lingers, why do the ungodly seem to have it good? Why doesn’t God punish them? Jesus gives us part of the answer in his parable of the wheat and the weeds. If you pull up the weeds you might also destroy some of the wheat. And, by the power of the gospel, God has the ability to turn weeds into wheat, or unbelievers into believers. After all, you were once a weed. You were born dead in sin just like everyone else, but God brought you from death to life, from darkness to light, from unbelief to faith. God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance. As God was patient with you, he is being patient with them.
The Psalmist realized that even if the ungodly never face any punishment on earth, either from God or the courts, they haven’t escaped. Everyone must stand before the judgment seat of Christ. In Jesus’ story of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus we are told that when Lazarus, who had a miserable existence on earth, died he was taken to heaven, Abraham’s bosom. He trusted in the promises of God, Moses and the prophets, and was declared righteous through faith as Abraham was. The rich man, who enjoyed all the pleasures of earth, died and went to hell. He had no use for God, or love for others in this life, so he would live without God in torment forever. The Psalmist was jolted from his jealousy as he remembered what’s most important, not what you have in this life, but where you spend eternity, your final destiny. He understood what we heard Paul write to the Romans, our present sufferings (whatever they are) aren’t worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.
What a blessing it was that, on June 9, 1929 God worked through the word connected with the water of Baptism to create faith in Herman’s heart. What a blessing that his faith was nourished as he continued to hear the word of God at home, school and church, so that he willingly and publicly confessed that Jesus was his savior at his confirmation on March 25, 1945. What a blessing that God enabled him to continue to confess that Jesus was his savior throughout his life. What a blessing that our members were able to sing Christmas carols to him the Sunday before God called him home. What a blessing that he had the desire for and that I was able to visit him regularly and share hymns, and Scripture, and the Lord’s Supper with him, because God promises that the Holy Spirit works through these things to strengthen and keep us in faith.
Herman wasn’t perfect. None of us are. He could get a little feisty, as Bernadine called it. He had his strong opinions about things. But, in less than a week, we will be reminded of why we can be sure of Herman’s final destiny, and our own. The one and only, almighty, eternal God chose to become one of us, Immanuel, God with us. Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, he is who he needed to be to rescue us from sin and death, and the punishment we all deserve. He put himself under the law, but unlike us, he kept it perfectly, as our substitute. He satisfied God’s demand for holiness. He was born into this world so that he could suffer and die on the cross, taking on himself the punishment we deserve for our sins, and the sins of the whole world. But we know that he didn’t stay in the grave. He rose from the dead on the third day and because he lives, we too will live. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the first-fruits of those who sleep in death. When he comes again in glory he will raise all the dead, and we will be reunited with all our loved ones and everyone who has died trusting in Jesus as their savior.
Because Herman knew and confessed who Jesus was and what he had done for him he could say with the Psalmist, I am always with you, Lord; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 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 long as this sinful world endures we will have questions. When we, like the Psalmist, wonder why believers have to suffer while unbelievers seem to prosper in this life, remember what the Psalmist learned. This world isn’t all there is. This isn’t your final destiny. Everyone will spend eternity either in heaven or in hell. The most important thing in life is not health or wealth, it’s Jesus. It’s knowing and believing who he is and what he has done for you. It’s entering his sanctuary and listening to his word so that the Holy Spirit can bring you to trust that, because of what Jesus has done in your place, your final destiny is heaven.