Funeral Sermon for Bill Wirll / Monday December 22nd 2013
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Bill Wirll Funeral Sermon / 2 Timothy 4:6-8 / Monday December 23rd 2013
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing.
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. Some people die unexpectedly, they don't know it's coming, and no one but God could know. In these days many people do know, they may not know precisely the day or the hour at first but they know, they know because their doctor has provided them with good information and because they know their own bodies. Like a runner running a race they come round the corner on death and see the finish line. This is what it was like for Bill, he knew he was dying, and when he went into the Hospital this last time he knew that he was not coming out of the hospital. Saint Paul near the end of his earthly life wrote a letter the younger Timothy saying "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come," Like Saint Paul Bill knew the time of his departure had come. In fact laying in the Palliative care at the Pasqua Hospital when they talked of moving him to the William Booth Palliative care Bill said no, because he knew the end was just so near.
Saint Paul was imprisoned and was facing execution for his faith in Christ Jesus when he wrote to Timothy and asked Timothy to come and see him before his death; Bill's death was not by the edge of a sword brought low upon his neck as it was for Paul, Bill's death was because of an inoperable tumour that the surgeons couldn't cut out of him. Why are we speaking so frankly about Bill's death today? Isn't it almost Christmas? Shouldn't we be focused on visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in the heads of sweet children as they await their toys? Death has no place in Christmas, does it? While the World doesn't always think so, and while some might fail in this regard, the Christian faith is an honest one. It does you an injustice if we gloss over the fact that Bill died, because it is this very hard fact that Jesus came to remedy. What's the use of running the race of faith through life if at the end there's nothing there.
In 1 Corinthians earlier in Saint Paul's life he wrote these words, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air." The love of friends and neighbour is grand but the friendship and love Jesus has for Bill is greater. Jesus didn't give Bill the task of running the race of faith through life without doing it Himself, without guaranteeing that there's something on the other side of the finish line. At Christmas we remember the coming of the Lord as a baby, born to the Virgin Mary, helpless and vulnerable and right from Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit to the cross on Good Friday Jesus ran the race. At the Cross He obtained the crown and now He gives it to others, this crown of righteousness is the imperishable wreath that he gives to Bill at the finish line; this gift of eternal life is not just for Bill, it's not just for others, it's for you, and for all those who die in the faith, for all those who run the race trusting in Christ Jesus.
This way of talking about the Christian faith, envisioning it as a race run through the good and tough times in life isn't just an idea found only in God's word recorded by Saint Paul, in the book of Hebrews the writer there has these words of encouragement to you as you run, reminding you of people like Bill, he writes, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [all those who have run the race ahead of you], let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
Endurance is not something we all sign up for, we in fact often avoid things that require endurance, yet it's a comfort to know that Jesus endured hardships and trials, even death itself and in His birth, life and death Jesus endured what you endure, temptation and trial and physical death. Bill endured what was set before him, Bill ran the race hard, especially at the end. Bill took for his strength the gifts of God, God's Word from the Bible, the prayers of friends and family both in the church and in the community, he took the gift of the Lord's Supper where Jesus who ran the race before him came to Bill and gave him strength to keep running, Bill took the gift of love given by God to him through all of you.
In his letter to Timothy Saint Paul says with confidence, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. [From now on] there is laid up 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 loved His appearing." If you have stumbled remember Jesus will pick you up, if you need forgiveness, Jesus forgives you, ask and you shall receive, if you need strength to endure Jesus gives it in His Supper. And when you see Charismas trees and gifts and nativity sets and candy canes and you find it hard to deal with because you miss Bill and other family who are no longer with you remember that all these things the Trees and the gifts, the Christmas songs, all these things celebrate the beginning of Jesus' prefect running of the race, all these things are there to bring to mind that because He ran that race ahead of you perfectly you are saved. He is with you as you run just as He has been with Bill, past the finish line Jesus waits, He is behind you, beside you, before you and waiting for you. Christmas is a reminder that you are not alone in your trouble just as Bill was not alone in his. The same crown of righteousness that was laid up for Bill is laid up for you in Christ Jesus.
I leave you with these words that I read to Bill and Ruby at their apartment back in October, these words are from Revelation Chapter 21 and they give a picture of what waits just past the finish line, Saint John writes, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I Am making all things new.” The one who says this is Jesus, Jesus will wipe away every tear, death is no more, the race has been run, the race is done, Jesus is making Bill new. 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.