Funeral Sermon \ Ruth Schick \ March 25th, 2015 \ Pastor Terry Defoe
The Bible text that I’ve chosen for this morning is found in the book of Second Timothy in the New Testament, chapter 4, beginning at verse 6. 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 on 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, something comes into our lives which changes things. The death of a loved one is one of those times. When death arrives for a loved one, things change. In a sense, we can go back to our memories and re-live the times we had together. We can remember the good times and the not-so-good times, too. But there’s a very real sense in which we cannot go back. In a very real sense, a door has closed. And life – this life, anyway – will never be quite the same again.
For me, as a Christian pastor, the basic teachings of the faith come to the fore at a time like this. At a funeral, the teachings of the Christian faith are put to their ultimate test. I’ve had people tell me that the funeral of a Christian believer – a person like Ruth Schick – is very different from the funeral of someone who had no faith. The Christian faith enables those who believe in Jesus to experience something that you might not expect at a funeral – and that is a sense of hope. For Christians, the sense of loss they experience is tempered by God’s promises. Now, don’t get me wrong. There certainly is grief at a Christian funeral – often very intense grief – as you would expect. But, for God’s people, that grief is tempered by hope. The Bible says:
Brothers (and sisters) we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of those who have no hope.
Many people today are lacking hope. Increasing numbers of people believe that death is the end of everything. Period. There’s no doubt about it. Death has an unmistakable finality to it. That is certainly true. But, I believe with all my heart that the way we come to terms with death affects our daily lives in many ways. In the Bible text I’ve chosen for this morning, the writer, the Apostle Paul, says,
…the time has come for my departure.
When friends or loved ones depart, we go through a painful process of separation – of saying goodbye. This morning, you and I are here to say goodbye to a friend – a relative, a loved one – an important part of our lives in years past. Attending worship services was an important part of Ruth Schick's life. If Ruth wasn't sitting in her favorite pew on Sunday morning, something wasn’t quite right. Today, Ruth has come to church for the very last time. Because of her faith, which was evident for all to see, there is hope, not despair here in this place.
Over the years, Ruth came to the Lord’s house often – she came to hear God's life-giving Word preached; she came to sing God's praises; she came to receive the forgiveness of her sins through Holy Communion – the Lord’s Supper. Ruth Schick’s life has lessons to teach us today – lessons about faith in God and service for others in God’s name. Ruth’s faith, her unconditional commitment to Christ, speak loudly today. She would agree with the Apostle Paul, who says:
I have kept the faith.
For me, as a pastor, a Christian funeral is not an admission of defeat. It’s a statement of victory. And that victory is made possible only because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That victory is delivered to God’s people by faith. It’s true. A Christian funeral is different. Christians do not grieve like those who have no hope. Consider the following words, found in the book of Psalms. The Psalm-writer 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. (N.I.V.)
We can rejoice even today, even at a funeral, or maybe I should say, especially today, because one of God’s saints has gone home to be with her Lord. I’m sure Ruth wouldn’t want us to make her the focus of this worship service. She would want the focus to be on her precious Lord instead. Ruth wouldn’t want to be placed on a pedestal. She knew that her life was enriched many times over by her faith.
Ruth Schick lived a long, full life – 98 years! She knew many good times and a good number of not-so-good times, too. She loved to visit with others. Family was super important to her. As I say, Ruth’s faith was the foundation of her life. It was evident in many ways. Her faith made a positive difference in day-to-day life. It grew stronger over the years and deeper when it was tested. At her confirmation, Ruth promised to serve the Lord over the long haul. And that’s exactly what she did. When it came to faith, Ruth ran a marathon, not a the 40-yard dash. Now, as our text says, she can say,
I have finished the race.
Like all believers, Ruth’s faith was tested from time to time. I knew Ruth well. Both Pastor Ted and I had many opportunities to visit with Ruth. We prayed with her, and offered words of encouragement. We shared the Lord’s supper with her on a regular basis.
Along with the Apostle Paul, Ruth could say, with all sincerity,
I have fought the good fight.
Ruth Schick held tight to God's promises and never let them go.
One of the hymns we sing here at Mount Olive 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 Ruth died last Saturday morning, I can imagine the Good Lord welcoming her into his presence, with these comforting words:
Well done, good and faithful servant ... come and share your master's happiness!
This morning, Ruth’s faith speaks loud and clear. This morning, we all know that, when it came to her trip to heaven, she had her bags packed and her tickets ready many years ago. That way, she could get on with her life without worrying about what the future might bring. She’s made use of that ticket now. She knew that it was paid for by her Savior. It granted her entrance into heaven – into eternal fellowship with the Lord and with those who are already there. The Lord Jesus was there to meet her on the other side. Verse 8 of our text this morning says:
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.
The faith that Ruth had – the faith that was such a blessing in her life – is God’s free gift of grace bestowed on all who simply trust him. The faith that Ruth had brings comfort and hope to all of God’s people. Ruth would be pleased to know that her funeral was a time when faith was renewed, or even sparked for the first time. She would be pleased to know that God was at work in the hearts of those who heard his word at her funeral. Ruth believed what all Christians believe: that Jesus Christ died for her sins on the cross – that he died to forgive her and give her a brand new start in life. She believed that he went on ahead to prepare a place for her – an eternal home in heaven.
Today, we say good-bye to Ruth Schick. Today, here in the church, and later at the graveside, we commend her to the Lord’s gracious care and keeping. The Apostle Paul reminds us that, for a Christian, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Ruth Schick is present with the Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.