Funeral Sermon \ John Wilde \ January 30th, 2015 \ Pastor Terry Defoe
The Bible text I’ve chosen for my message this afternoon is found in the book of Second Timothy in the New Testament, where the early Christian leader, the Apostle Paul says:
"...the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me an that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (N.I.V.)
Every once in a while an event comes into our lives which changes things. The death of a loved one is one of those events. Sometimes we have time to plan for it. Sometimes we don't. When it arrives, we know that life will never be quite the same again. In a sense, we can go back and re-live our times together with the one who has died. We can go back in our memories. We can remember the good times and the not-so-good times. But, in another sense, we can never go back. The door is closed.
It seems to me that the basic teachings of Christianity come to a focal point at a time like this. It is here that we put these teachings to their most important test. I’ve had people over the years tell me that the funeral of a faithful Christian believer is very different from that of a person without faith. And the one outstanding feature of a Christian funeral is that there is a strong sense of hope. As God’s people, our sense of loss is tempered by an equally strong promise for the future. One early Christian writer put it this way:
Fellow believers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of humanity, who have no hope.
By “falling asleep,” the writer here, the Apostle Paul, meant death. Grief for those without faith is different from those who trust the Lord. There’s no doubt about it. Death has an unmistakable finality about it. The way we understand it and the way we come to terms with it, affects our lives on a daily basis. What we think about death affects how we deal with life. And it is here that the Christian faith has one of its most valuable contributions. In our Bible text for this afternoon, Paul the Apostle says,
"… the time has come for my departure."
Death is a departure. When loved ones are departing this life, we go through the painful process of saying "Good‑bye." In a sense, a funeral is just that, a time to say good bye to a loved one who has been an important part an our life. Attending worship services was an important part of John Wilde's life. While has was physically able, if John wasn't sitting in his favorite pew on a Sunday morning, something wasn’t quite right. Today, in a sense, John has come to worship for the very last time – at least on this side of the divide between life and death. Over the years, John came to worship to hear God's life-giving Word preached; he came to sing God's praises, he came to receive the forgiveness of sins offered in Holy Communion.
Today, John’s faith still speaks. His faith speaks about his relationship with God. His faith speaks to acts of service in God’s name. As our text says, "I have kept the faith." John's funeral is not an admission of defeat but a statement of victory. And that victory is made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and by the fact that John believed these words with all his heart. One of the Psalms says:
Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise His holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
WEEPING MY REMAIN FOR A NIGHT, BUT REJOICING COMES IN THE MORNING."
We are comforted this afternoon in knowing that a special saint – and, in the Bible, as saint is anyone who has faith in God and in His Son, Jesus – has gone home to be with the Lord. John wouldn’t want us to make him the focus of this service today. He would want the focus to be on the God He worshipped. John wouldn’t want to be put on a pedestal. John Wilde's life was like a coin with two sides. His humanity was balanced by his faith. Each one balanced the other and made him who he was.
John was a strong‑minded man. He was more than willing to share his opinions about things. Like the rest of us, John wasn't perfect. He had his weak points. Those who knew him knew these things. Years ago, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said, CHRISTIAN'S AREN'T PERFECT ‑ JUST FORGIVEN. That’s our story and it was John’s story, too. John lived a long, full life. He knew good times and bad times, especially during these last few years.
John Wilde’s faith was a given factor in his life. It was always there. It bubbled up to the surface of his life in many ways. John was not a super‑saint whose every thought or word had to do with Christianity. But his faith was visible to those who knew him. It was the kind of faith that grew stronger as the years went by and deeper when it was tested, as it certainly was in the last few years.
John generously supported the Lord’s work at Mount Olive Lutheran Church. John's commitment to Christ was deep and strong. It was a commitment made to serve God over the long haul. In terms of athletics, which had a special place in his heart, John ran the marathon, not the 40 yard dash. As the Apostle Paul, quoted in our text this afternoon says, "I have finished the race." John didn't serve the Lord just when it was convenient. He was in it for the long haul, day in and day out. John's faith was tested most severely in these last few years. He was in and out of hospital. Lately, he walked through the valley of the shadow of death.
I was able to visit John regularly. And many times we shared Holy Communion and the Lord’s Prayer. When I prayed the Lord’s Prayer, John prayed along with me. Many times when I visited, you could tell John was uncomfortable, but he never complained. As our text says, "I have fought the good fight." John was a fighter. And he didn't give up until the very end. He held tightly to God's promises and refused to let them go. When I think of John, I think of the words of the hymn that says:
Be still, my soul, the Lord is on your side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain .... through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
When John died last Sunday, I can imagine the Good Lord welcoming John into his presence with these words so familiar to Christian believers:
Well done, good and faithful servant ... come and share your master's happiness!
I mentioned earlier that John often worshipped with God’s people. He faithfully came to hear the Word proclaimed and to be strengthened by Holy Communion. But today, it’s John's turn to speak to us. His faith speaks loud and clear as we remember his faithfulness and his commitment to His Lord. The faith that was part of John's life is meant for everyone. Listen to verse 8 of our text again:
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day ‑ and NOT ONLY TO ME, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
John would be the first to say that the faith that meant so much to him is available to everyone. John's story is an encouragement for all of us to trust the Lord Jesus. John's funeral provides us with an opportunity to see what difference faith can make in one person’s life. It provides us with a chance to reflect on our own personal relationship with the Lord. Every once in a while you meet someone you'll never forget. For me, John Wilde was one of those people.
As I say, a funeral is a time of departure – a time to say our good‑byes. It’s a said time. But for Christians it’s not the same as it would be if we had no faith. We know that, as the Bible says, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Like all of us, John Wilde was a sinner saved by the amazing grace of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. John wasn't perfect. But he was forgiven – by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. We thank God for John Wilde. And we commend him to the Lord’s care and keeping for eternity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.