Beloved in the Lord: Grace to you & peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have a number of things today that I’d like to say about Steve. Now I’ve only been his pastor for two months, but one of the things that struck me in the short time I got to know him was that he seemed tough. I saw Steve in the hospital several times, but you wouldn’t have known by our conversation that he had cancer all throughout his body. He didn’t let on about the pain he was in. Instead, he maintained a pleasant disposition and talked about the Bears and Blackhawks.
That Steve was tough was confirmed for me by Linda. In her words, “Mazaks don’t complain.” Linda tells me that when he was sick, his mother would tell him to go throw up, then he’d feel better and could go to school. And they weren’t ones to waste anything. Moldy bread? No problem, just scrape the mold off. He didn’t let his diagnosis stop him from enjoying life to the best of his ability, either. He could have spent his final days in the hospital, but he opted to come home so he could enjoy his final days in the comfort of familiar surroundings. I’m pretty sure Jeopardy was the last show he ever watched.
We could say many things about Steve: he was simple and loyal; he loved his family, and was an avid fan of sports; short and to the point, resilient, tough, mischievous and maybe even a little stubborn.
It is also most certainly true that Steve was a sinner. Sin afflicted him during his lifetime—as it does us all—for Steve, it meant the loss of family and friends to his own cancer and death. The evidence of Steve’s sin is undeniable: the wages of sin is death. We can live in denial about a great many things, but there is no avoiding the grave. Death came for Steve, and short of Christ returning during your lifetime, it will come for you one day, too.
But there’s one thing that’s even more certain than death. Isaiah says, The grass withers, the flower fades; surely the people are grass. Like grass, we wither and fade. But the prophet continues: The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever (Isaiah 40:7—8). God’s Word remains forever. Death is no match for the Word of God. When death claimed the Word made flesh, it went too far. Jesus didn’t avoid the grave, but neither could it contain Him. For three days later, the women came looking for a corpse, but instead they heard the Gospel: He is not here, for He has been raised! Come, see the place where He was lying (Matthew 28:6). For this reason, St. Paul says, Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting (1 Corinthians 15:55)?
We grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Steve was a sinner, but even more than that, Christ was His Savior. Jesus covered Steve with the robe of His righteousness in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism right here at Zion in the Divine Service on the morning of August 17, 1930. On the last Sunday of March, 1945, Steve confessed his faith in Jesus before this very congregation, trusting in the Lord’s promise: whoever confesses me before men, I will confess before My Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32). He and Catherine entered into Holy Matrimony here in October of 1960. Steve heard the Gospel and here at Zion from cradle to the grave. Here, the Lord nourished Steve with the Bread of Life. As the Lord says, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh… Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:51, 54).
Steve remained in Christ all of his days because he knew His sin. But like old Simeon, he also knew the consolation of Israel. Steve would not have you mourn those who have no hope, he would have you trust in his Savior’s victory over sin and the grave that you might have an eternal reunion with him around the throne of the Lamb. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace; they rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness (Isaiah 57:1—2).
Steve is now in that happy place, beyond all tears and sinning. Just as surely as Christ lives, so also He has given Steve to share in His life through the waters of Holy Baptism. We can’t see this, but we believe it, because there is nothing more certain than God’s Word. St. John says, Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared (1 John 3:2). What we will be has not yet appeared, but it is nevertheless more certain than anything you can see. As we just sang: But lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day: the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of Glory passes on His way, Alleluia! Alleluia! (LSB, 677; st. 7).
Jesus died for Steve’s sin. He died for yours, too. When the Lord Jesus was dying on the cross, He cried out to God in faith, even in the midst of deep anguish: Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit (Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:46)! He would invite you to join Him in His prayer in every time of need, to commit your Spirit into the Father’s hands, especially when confronted by death. The Father did not spare Jesus from death, but neither did He leave Him in the grave. He will never abandon anyone who is baptized and believes (Mark 16:16). He has promised: never will I leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5).
We could say a lot of things about Steve, but above all, He was a baptized child of God. Whatever else he may have been and done, his identity was found not in Himself, but in Christ. And nothing can separate him from Christ’s love, not even death.
Soli Deo Gloria
+ Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Luke 2:25—32
In Memoriam: +Steve Mazak, 1930—2013+
Monday of the Last Sunday of the Church Year, 2013
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