Professor John T. Pless of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, preached a memorial service sermon at the seminary on Saturday, Oct. 3., for Dr. Maggie Karner, former director of Life and Health Ministries. His sermon, reminded her family, friends and colleagues that “For Maggie and for all believers in Christ whose life is defined by His death, death is never the end of the story.”
Read the text of the sermon below or watch an archive of the entire service online.
Memorial Service for Maggie Karner
Preached at Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Oct. 2, 2015
Saturday in Trinity 17
Hidden with Christ in God
Dear brothers and sisters of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and especially you, Kevin, Mary, Annie and Heidi:
Death defined Maggie Karner. I’m not talking about the death that she experienced last Friday night but another death. The apostle Paul writes to the Colossians who were very much still living and breathing, “You have died.” Past tense. Maggie died to sin in her Baptism into Christ, and there her life was tucked away safe and secure in His wounds. Her life was hidden with Christ in God. And it still is for the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is not a God of the dead but of the living.
Maggie spent a lifetime living with death not just these past few months. She was baptized into the death of Christ, and given over to that one atoning death, she daily died to sin and by the Gospel was raised to live before God in the newness of His saving righteousness.
Hidden with Christ in God, the life of the crucified and risen Lord was made manifest in Maggie’s life. Maggie was a possessed woman. She was possessed by Jesus Christ. She belonged to Him. She still does. She learned and loved the catechism, which declares faith in Jesus Christ “who has redeemed me a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessed just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” That was most certainly true for Maggie. She belonged to Jesus Christ in this life. Now she belongs to Him for all eternity. Her life is hidden with Him in God.
Today we come together in this chapel to give thanks for the way that Christ’s life was made manifest in Maggie’s living and dying. What can be said of her? She was a daughter to Robert and Marietta Sattler and a sister of David, John, Robert and Karen. For thirty years, she was wife to Kevin. And she was mother to Mary, Annie and Heidi. She was tireless champion for the cause of the weak and unwanted, a passion that led her to devote her considerable energies to serve as director of Life and Health Ministries in our church. All of this was given by our Lord to Maggie. It was her vocation and in the comings and goings that made up her calling in this life, Christ was made manifest. You see, our Lord travels incognito. He hides Himself behind masks, as Dr. Luther puts it. He is there behind the nascent life of the unborn, and He resides behind the disfigured faces of the sick and the dying. In word and deed, Maggie spoke for those who could not speak for themselves, and she spent this life the Lord had given her down to its last drops so that Christ might be made manifest.
In her living and her dying, the fact that she belonged to the Lord was put on display. Hearing and trusting in the voice of the Good Shepherd, she followed Him recognizing that she had a calling even in dying. Paul Althaus, a Lutheran theologian of the last century wrote, “To die willingly means to accept God as God, to honor Him as the One who alone has immortality, who is God by the very fact that He gives us life and the right to take it back. We die to honor God. This is true all the more because He wants to be praised through our faith, and nothing calls for faith as much as dying. There is no other divine service like that in which man, with all his hopes and desires, with all his thirst for life, obediently submits to God’s call to die, and in his own end relies on God, commits himself into the hands of the Invisible when all things visible fade away. The perfection of the Son of God lies in His obedience to death. So we, too, must joyfully accept as God’s grace that He calls us to the divine service of dying. By our death we are allowed to give praise to God.” In her living and in her dying, Maggie did praise her God and Savior. She did not choose death as a way to claim dignity and bypass suffering, but heeding the Lord’s voice she followed Him through death to life.
Now her life is hidden with this same Christ in God. This is the Jesus who tells His disciples that in His Father’s house there are many mansions and that He goes on ahead of them to prepare a place for them. Maggie is there in this place Jesus has prepared by His cross and resurrection. Maggie is there, her life hidden with Christ in God. There is yet more. Paul says that when Christ who is our life appears, we will appear with Him in glory. For Maggie and for all believers in Christ whose life is defined by His death, death is never the end of the story. Jesus’ empty tomb is the guarantee that even though the grave hides our bodies for a time, when He appears, Maggie will appear with Him . . . no longer in a body worn out and bloated by cancer but in a body clothed in Christ’s righteousness and remade in the likeness of the Lord’s resurrected body.
Now Maggie’s voice is silent and we miss her face, but we will see her again for she is with the Lord and on the day of His appearing, our dear Maggie will show up as well. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” says the voice from heaven in the Book of Revelation, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds do follow them.” Maggie is now enjoying that rest hidden away with Christ in God. And her deeds, well, they are certainly following her. She didn’t take them to heaven where there is no need for them; she left them here on earth! Look around this chapel! The life that she lived in Christ will continue to bear fruits in the family that she leaves behind, in a church whose witness to mercy and life were so deeply enriched by her tireless efforts and in ways beyond counting in places to the ends of the earth like Madagascar, India and Indonesia. She is at rest but there is still work for you in this old dying world, plagued as it is with sin and suffering. We feebly struggle; she in glory shines. Let Maggie’s life be an example and encouragement for your life, lived by faith in Christ and fervent love for the neighbor.
You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. There is no better place to be for Maggie or for you.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24–25).
The Rev. Professor John T. Pless is assistant professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions and director of Field Education at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.