Art Wirth Funeral Sermon - Psalm 139 December 13th 2019 / Search Me, Known Me, Lead Me
Funeral Sermon for Jacob Arthur (Art) Wirth - Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Friday December 13th 2019: Season of Advent / Psalm 139 verse 1-10, 17-18 and 23-24 "Search Me, Known Me, Lead Me"
O LORD, You have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from Your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there Your hand shall lead me,
and Your right hand shall hold me.
How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with You.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. While visiting Art in the Hospital I read to him from the section of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians that we heard in our Epistle reading today where Paul teaches that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Paul gives some examples saying that “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger” wont separate the Christian from God in Christ Jesus, neither will, “height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” “nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers” not even “death nor life” can separate the Christian from God in Christ Jesus. I reminded Art that Jesus has him right where He promises to have him securely fixed in His almighty Hand and that no one could snatch him out of Jesus’ hand. This same section of Romans includes a passage I read to Art in which Paul likewise teaches us that “the [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
I read this to Art because when Christians are in Hospital they do a lot of praying, and even when you as a Christian know that you are firmly fixed in the hand of Jesus you may still find yourself worried about those times when you can’t pray, maybe you’re asleep; maybe you’re in pain and can’t form the words on your own, or maybe it’s a drug that clouds your perception and sharpness of thought, whatever the reason in those moments we have these wonderful words from the Bible to remind us that the Holy Spirit prays for us and knows what we need. Art liked this a great deal and it lightened his mood. He was in distress and he needed to hear these promises from God, he needed to hear that they were for him; that was back on November 14th which strangely seems like a long time ago now.
Included as part of these promises is the promise that the Holy Spirit searches hearts, and we heard also this same kind of thing in our Psalm reading this morning when the Psalmist says, “O LORD, You have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it altogether,” these words are words I read to Art within twenty four hours of his death back on Friday December 6th and they were some of the last words I said to him in this life. They brought Art great comfort and peace, they calmed his body, they calmed his mind, they calmed his soul.
You might be wondering how this could be? How this can bring comfort? Some people will find it terrifying to contemplate that God actually searches their heart that God actually knows them because they know themselves and they know what’s in their heart and what bubbles up there is not the kind of thing you want God to know about. Jesus says “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” If God can’t see what is there, if He can’t know what is there how then can He forgive it? There is no hiding your heart from God, in fact when you turn to God in repentance, in grief and shame over the sins of your life, seeking His mercy you don’t just acknowledge that God knows your inmost thoughts and feelings, every nook and cranny of your heart, you actually want God to know everything because that way He can forgive everything, that is when the Christian can confidently call out and ask for help, when you with all honesty can cry out to God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!,” That is, ‘I can’t hide anything from You o LORD, forgive me and guide me in Jesus Christ Your Son.’ That’s how Psalm 139 ends, it ends with a plea for God to intervene to bring me the forgiveness I need, to lead me in Christ Jesus. And that is how such words brought comfort to Art. In the end, at the last, when all was stripped away, all Art had was the Word of God and the promises of Jesus the promise that God does these very things, all Art had was the prayer Jesus had taught him to pray, the prayer we will pray together today, the prayer that asks for help, that asks for forgiveness and eternal life. It was our last prayer together and he knew that prayer inside and out, Art knew it from a lifetime of practice.
When I asked if Art could pray the Lord’s Prayer with me He instantly snapped to it and with incredible resolve said “yes” and when we proceeded to pray it together He received everything we prayed for: Continued care in his last hours the daily bread he so needed; forgiveness by the grace of God in Christ won at the cross of Good Friday and first delivered to Art in his Baptism; deliverance from every evil of body and soul; and then finally that Christ Jesus would graciously take Art from the valley of shadow of death to Himself in heaven. Art knew this prayer was the prayer of the Christian who was held firmly in the Will of God and that even though things were hard and challenging at the end all things where in fact working for good because Art was one who was called according to the purpose of God. As we prayed the Lord’s Prayer those words from Psalm 139 where racing through my head, “[O LORD] You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me.” From the time of his baptism on May 16th 1932 until that very hour, until the very hour of his death Art had lived his whole life with the hand of God upon him, and in the end it was very important to Art that God knew him just as it is very important that God knows you for who you are, that He has forgiven you, keeps you just as He did for Art. It was and is vitally important to remember that no matter where you go, no matter where you are God is there with you, just as you cannot hide your heart from God you cannot hide your body or any other part of yourself from Him either.
Today the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing over you, and like the wind you didn’t see it coming and you don’t know where it’s going next, but now right here in this place listen to the sound of His voice: ‘For God so loved you, that He gave His only Son Jesus: Believe in this Jesus and you will not perish, you will have eternal life just as Art has it in this same Jesus.’ This love of God is for the whole World and you are not excluded from it. It doesn’t matter what you have said, what you have done, what you have failed to do, all can be forgiven, ask and you will receive it. The fact that Jesus extends this to you, gives it to you as a gift may seem too wonderful for you; it might seem too high; like something you cannot attain, the good news is that you don’t have to attain it by your effort or by your understanding, it is yours because of Jesus’ blood sweat and tears, no amount of blood sweat and tears of your own can take hold of it.
Dear ones these truths can be forgotten, they can be far from your mind, it is the grace of God that days like today bring them to the surface, Art knew these truths even when he was ill these last months because they had been impressed upon him by countless sermons, and countless times in Church hearing the Bible read to him, a lifetime of receiving the Lord’s Supper, countless hours in prayer, these became treasures to him when everything else was slipping away. Within his family Art handed these treasures down as best he could at different times along the way often by example (his Church attendance, with His offerings, his ushering in these last years and in the many and various other ways that he served God at Mount Olive Lutheran Church so that people would come to know Jesus and have their hope and faith and trust in Him), and while you might not have perceived it, these very gifts of God in Christ Jesus that spurred him to serve God and neighbour were the things that enlivened his marriage to Lauretta and his life with his friends and family, camping and cards, and bowling and all the things he loved to do along the way. Yes all of these things were made all the more precious because of the gifts Art had received in Christ Jesus beginning with his baptism. So it is with the Christian life, at our best at our worst we have Jesus and Jesus has us, we live our life for today seeking to help our neighbour, trusting God above all things, while we also live our life in the now not yet eternal life of heaven with Christ Jesus and all those who have gone on ahead of us with their faith in Him.
For today, we embrace honesty concerning our faults, failures, our sins just as we embrace God’s forgiveness and all these Holy treasures in Christ because a Day is coming for us all when we will meet our maker and our faith and the grace and promises of God, our baptism into Jesus, will be all we have on That Day: The walk of life then for the Christian is one in which we pray to God, “lead me in The Way everlasting!” In the Gospel of John Jesus says of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” He is The Way for you, for me and Jesus was most certainly The Way for Art. And like I said at the beginning of the sermon today, no distress, in fact nothing in all of creation, not even death can separate Art from God in Christ Jesus and while we are sad to be parted from Art now we know that all things have worked together for his good, at least we can see this from where we stand today, as St. Paul also says in his letter to the Roman Christians “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Art like the rest of us needed to hear this Good News, to be reminded of it, and in the hearing of these Words of promise Art had peace at the last, I pray that in the hearing of these Words today you will also find peace in Christ Jesus who knew suffering and death and loss as well as joy and life and love. Jesus knows your grief; the Holy Spirit searches your heart and knows how Arts death troubles you; God the Father is acquainted with all your ways and is more ready to give His gifts than you are to receive them and yet He keeps giving them to you at every turn because of His Son Jesus and His great love for you. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Romans 8:39
 Romans 8:35
 Romans 8:38–39
 John 10:28, Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.”
 Romans 8:26–27
 Matthew 15:19
 John 3:16
 John 14:6
 Romans 8:18