Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Psalm 111:10, Bertha's Funeral Sermon

Psalm 111, Bertha
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111:10, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There’s lots to tell about Bertha.  As for me, well, most of the time when I visited her she was in that sleepy daze.  I just didn’t get to know the Bertha that you did.  She didn’t react to me much.  She knew who I was but, we didn’t get in any really good conversations.  Mostly, I think she just missed Clarence.  I think I got a glimpse of the real Bertha a couple of times when that mischievous twinkle popped up in her eyes.  It said playfully, “You’d better watch out, I’m gonna get you.”  Still, I was never the target.  I just got the impression I was gonna get it…  maybe for me that was the thing, always expecting it but never actually getting it.  How many of you have a “Bertha” tale of mischief?  You know what I mean, a story about how she teased you or something, and it made you love her all the more?  Well, that was a part of who Bertha was.  She had another side to.  The perfectionist.  I think she ran the store that way.  Everything had its place and it should be in that place.  The folks who worked for her can tell you all about that.  Maybe she was a little hard on people from that side, I don’t know.  Being a perfectionist has its good qualities for business but sometimes it can be hard on personal relationships.  And there are also the folks who thought that Clarence and Bertha thought a little too much of money.  Well, I don’t know anything about that.  I know they had a successful business, and that takes very hard work and dedication.  There’s good and bad in that too.  As far a Clarence was concerned I’ve heard that Bertha was a very dedicated wife.  Submitting to Clarence in everything, she was a real helper to him, a real partner and spouse.  Some of that reflects exactly what God intended for a man and a woman.  Yet, some of you may have wondered if she was a little too dedicated to him.  There’s more to say, but you knew her.  She had good qualities and bad qualities.  Bertha was a real person loved by some and not as much by others.  It’s a good thing to say the good and the bad today.  That’s what funerals are for.  One temptation at funerals is to only say good things about the person who had died.  But believe me; they don’t care if we remember the bad stuff too.  In fact, Christians who die want you to remember that it is sin that brought them here.  In our church we confess our sins in our Sunday Worship.  We say that we are by nature sinful and unclean.  When death comes to us we know that we deserve it.  As much as we are loved by people, by family and friends, that doesn’t take away the fact that we’ll all end up here.  The most important reason we are here today is because we need to be told again that God has done something about this (death).  When Christians die they want you to remember sin, so that you remember that God himself became a human being in Jesus Christ to save sinful people from this.  They want you to remember that your sin will lead you here, but that Jesus Christ hung on a cross and died for you.  He died a painful death for you.  And then He rose again out of death and promises life again to everyone who believes in His work for the forgiveness of sins.  
As for me, I only knew Bertha from a very narrow perspective.  I’d like to highlight that by talking a little about the verse that was given to her at her confirmation:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111:10, ESV)
Very simply it says that those who live their lives knowing that God is God and we are not have a good start on living the way that God would have us live.  I think that Bertha lived that way.  How do I know?  Well, very simply she showed me her faith.  I know, I said I didn’t really talk to her (or she never really talked to me).  And yet, I’m confident of that she had faith in Jesus Christ.  She showed me that she knew she was a sinner in need of forgiveness.  I’ll tell you how.  As I said, most of the time that I visited with Bertha she was quiet.  She’d sit in her wheel chair at Good Sam without a word during the church services I did there.  Sometimes she would even droop her head and sleep.  It’s not uncommon to see that in nursing home residents.  After the service I’d go to each person and greet them usually saying “God’s Blessings to you.”  Then it was time for the St. John’s folks to have communion.  I’d go to Bertha and say in her ear, “Do you want communion?”  “Yes.” She’d say very clearly.  You see no matter what happened she was always clear about that.  Bertha knew what God offered to her through the Body and Blood of Christ there.  She knew that Jesus promises to come and bring her the forgiveness of sins that He earned for her on the cross.  Holy Communion is a way that Christians let God be God and do things the way he wants to do them.  Holy Communion is one of those “Great Works” the psalm talked about and Bertha delighted in it.  Right there she showed that she knew her sin needed Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  In faith, she held out her hand and took the bread and ate it, and opened her mouth and drank the wine.  And Jesus gave to her the forgiveness he got for her on the cross.  
The last time I saw Bertha alive was Saturday morning several hours before she died.  That morning she was really unresponsive.  I touched her forehead, she was cold and clammy.  Death was coming.  I sat beside her bed and read God’s Word to her.  Some of the same words that we’ve heard today and that we’ll hear again at the grave yard.  I sang several hymns to her and though I think she heard them, she didn’t really react all that much.  Finally, before I left I said the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  I could see her lips move as she said those words of faith with me.  You know, I’m convinced of Bertha’s faith.  But really I shouldn’t be surprised because that’s what God promises, because Great are the works of the Lord. (Psa 111:2, ESV).
At the beginning of the service we stood and remembered God’s Great Work for Bertha in Holy Baptism.  That’s where God connected her to Jesus death and even more important for us to remember on this day, His resurrection.  All those years ago the pastor spoke the name of God (auf Deutsch) and poured water over her head.  That’s when Bertha’s life of faith began.  You see, I really don’t have to depend on Bertha’s actions, even though they are very comforting, I can depend on God’s Words and promises.  Like where St. Mark says, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. (Mark 16:16a, ESV)  or where Paul says, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7, ESV)  And my favorite that we began this service with For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5, ESV)  That’s the Great Work of God, right there.
So, today we look forward to God’s Great work, His promises.  We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, Bertha’s resurrection, and yours and mine.  Bertha’s confirmation verse ends with His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111:10, ESV)  That’s what we’ll do then, Praise God for His great work for us in Jesus Christ.  And that’s a good way to end.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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