Funeral Sermon for Rhonda Ermel / Thursday December 22nd - 2016
Funeral Sermon for Rhonda Ermel at Mount Olive Lutheran Church Thursday December 22nd - 2016 / Pastor Ted A. Giese / Isaiah 38:1-5
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before You in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life."
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. About five years ago Rhonda had been given three months to a year to live, and in the end that diagnosis was not actually true. When the specialists thought she'd only have three months to a year to live why did Rhonda live longer? Why did she live as long as she did? Yes, Rhonda was a fighter, she was feisty and determined, determined to live, she didn't give up, she had reasons to live, this is true. She also prayed. Like king Hezekiah who was told, "Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover,” Rhonda, when she heard her news, like Hezekiah prayed.
As we stand here today and look back on these past years we see a number of answered prayers. In what was nothing but growing darkness God gave Rhonda Light. She was anointed with oil, she remembered her baptism, she received Christ Jesus in Holy Communion regularly, she heard God's Word, she prayed, we prayed, I prayed, the church prayed week in and week out for five years. And like with Hezekiah who "wept bitterly," tears were shed. And, "The LORD [who] is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love," listened, He listened, He heard Rhonda's prayers and our prayers. He heard them when we prayed, "just a little more time," and He answered that prayer. In retrospect we can see God's hand at work.
Why did God give Hezekiah an extra fifteen years? Why did He give Rhonda her extra years? Why didn't God do it for my mom, my wife, my brother, my friend? Why didn't they get extra time put on their clock?
How does God answer prayer? God answers prayers in this way: Yes, No, and not now - not yet. Saint Paul in his letter to young Timothy writes, "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." As Rhonda's body grew weaker, her faith grew stronger, tougher, brighter against the darkness. Right before these famous words from Saint Paul, Paul says, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come." Like Saint Paul Rhonda knew her time of departure was coming and what God gave Rhonda in these last years was more race to run, more fight to fight, more faith to keep, more life to live.
This was not just for her, God gave this to you as well, with Rhonda the Lord gave you opportunities to pray, to trust, to love, to be patient and to be kind, to help in every way, to fight alongside of her, to run the race with her. We are all made stronger in our faith when the Lord gives us opportunities like the ones He gave us in Rhonda. Saint Paul says that the crown of righteousness awarded to the faithful on The Last Day by Christ Jesus will not only be given to him but also to all who have loved Jesus' appearing. This means that the crown of righteousness is for Rhonda and for you and for me. It also means that when we pray "Please Lord, just a little more time," that we can trust that the Lord, in Christ Jesus, will give us more time together. Sometimes that's more time today, and for the Christian it will certainly be more time in the future. Yes, everyone who dies with their faith in Christ Jesus will, along with the crown of His righteousness, be given the promised happy reunion. And in that happy reunion, in Him, we receive more than, "just a little more time," on the other side of this life, we receive eternal life together: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, [who is Jesus the Christ] that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." In that happy reunion, in that eternal life, in Christ Jesus, the Lord puts extra time put on the clock - He puts so much extra time on the clock that there may as well not even be a clock, Jesus puts the balance of eternity onto the clock. "I just want a little more time," in Christ, by His grace, you will have more than "a little more time" you'll have all the time, forever, and more.
In a way this is why Rhonda didn't want to know about timelines, in regard to her cancer, because she didn't want to spend her days counting down a clock, she didn't like the idea of counting days and hours down when she could be living. It's also important to point out that on the whole Rhonda didn't have some kind of paralysing fear of death, like any of us she didn't like the idea but she had long ago made peace with the fact that it was coming. In fact her mother Ruth helped her in that regard. In fact in death she was even looking forward to seeing Ruth, her mother, again. Rhonda knew and trusted in the happy reunion of the faithfully departed who in Christ Jesus have gone on ahead. And because of this she wanted to live life to the full today and then in eternity to live life to the full there in Christ Jesus forever. As she ran the race she didn't want to know where the finish line was set up, as she fought the good fight she didn't want to know how many rounds she had left to fight, she didn't want to know how many times they'd ring the bell, how many times she'd get up while the world was trying to count her out: No, Rhonda just wanted to run, and fight - she just wanted to live the life she was given to live.
And as she ran, as she fought, as she lived; over and over again Rhonda wanted to hear what that Eternal life would be like? She'd ask me to tell her about it and I would come over to the cozy little house on Scarth street and I'd read to her from the Revelation of Saint John, where 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.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment." When Jesus says, “Behold, I am making all things new,” we know and trust that in that Eternal life to come there will be no tumours, no cancer, no illness. None of those things will be found there, all the darkness of this life that we fight against passes away, everything and everyone in Christ will be made new. No tears, no death. We are promised Light and Life eternal, without payment.
Hezekiah with tears in his eyes prayed, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before You in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in Your sight.” And what does God say? God doesn't say .. yes I see that you've been faultless in your faithfulness and have always loved Me with your whole heart, always doing what was right before My eyes so as a reward for all your hard work I'll give you these extra fifteen years," No, the LORD simply shows mercy, sees Hezekiah's weeping and gives the extra fifteen years as a gift out of love. None of us work our way into God's good graces, Oh we can try to bargain with God, but bargaining won't get us anywhere and Rhonda knew that, for as Saint Paul says, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," which we receive by faith, not by our hard work, not by anything we can offer in payment lest anyone boast.
Earlier I said that, 'in what was nothing but growing darkness God gave Rhonda light.' Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In the deepest darkness, in "the fullness of time," Jesus was born to us, that little baby boy born to all humanity laid in a manger, and we celebrate His birth at this time of the year; and on the cross on Good Friday in the mid-morning and in the noon of the day, when there shouldn't have been, there was darkness over the whole land until mid-afternoon. Jesus who was, and is, and ever shall be, the Light of the world hung there in that darkness and for you and me and for Rhonda: And there in that darkness the very Light of the World was extinguished, Jesus died, so that your light in Him will never go out, so that death is transformed into sleep, a sleep from which you will be woke up. When the night has past and the morning of the eternal day dawns you will be awakened. There was nothing gentle about Jesus' death for Rhonda, nothing gentle about how He was put to death by violent men. Yet God took that death and made in that death a path to eternal life for Rhonda and for you and me.
In Christ we are free to rage against the dying of the light, rage against the darkness as it falls, we are free to live our lives full of fierce determination and feistiness because we know that the victory has been won in Jesus. In the falling darkness of the world remember who is your Light.
The Gospel of John says, "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." For this reason we don't need to give up just because someone says you have 3 months to a year to live, we don't need to pack it in. No, we can babysit our nephew, we can walk our daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, we can go on a warm vacation in the dead of winter, we can gather around the kitchen table with family on Sunday for dinner, we can live our life and live it to the full. Like I said to Rhonda on Tuesday the 13th of December, after I read to her that passage about king Hezekiah from the prophet Isaiah, I said, "if you die today, or tomorrow, or another five years from now, or fifteen years from now, what does it matter? You live your life trusting that Jesus has you in the palm of His Hand. Everything's going to be ok."
Jesus said, "I give [all those who the Father gives to me] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand." Love God, love each other, live the life you've been given to live. Trust in the Lord as king Hezekiah did, trust in Jesus as Rhonda did: He will lead you to your journey's end. And that end is not a place of darkness, it is a place of Light and Life. 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.
 2 Timothy 4:7-8
 2 Timothy 4:6
 John 3:16
 Revelation 21:1-6
 Romans 3:23-25
 Ephesians 2:9
 John 8:12
 Galatians 4:4
 Mark 15:33
 The Dylan Thomas poem, "DO NOT GO GENTLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT" from 1947 was printed in Rhonda's memorial card.
 John 10:10
 John 10:28