Funeral Sermon for Helen Rutschke, based on Ps 23; Gal 6:1-10 John 14:1-3. By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, at Prairie View Cemetery, Medicine Hat, AB, 11:00 A.M., April 28, 2009.
There are many different kinds of death and a variety of circumstances that surround death. In some cases, death is indeed viewed in a very negative, tragic way, and it is seen as “the enemy.” In other cases, death is viewed in a positive, hopeful way, and considered a blessing. I believe that in Helen’s case that death was a blessing, as her life’s journey here on earth peacefully ended last week after a long and fulfilling life of 95 years.
Those of you who knew and loved Helen will indeed miss her. Over the years, without doubt Helen touched your lives in many ways. Each of you here today will have your special stories and memories of Helen. You who are family members certainly shall remember Helen for her caring, generous, kind spirit. She loved her family; she also loved visiting with her friends. She could be described as “a people person.” In addition to that, Helen enjoyed knitting and crocheting, gardening, and, of course, her pets. She also supported the SPCA.
I’ve only had the pleasure of knowing Helen the last 7 years of her 95 years, as her pastor. During those years, Helen and I enjoyed many visits together in her home, and later at Riverview Care Centre. While she was still in her own home, she would always offer me her warm hospitality, insisting that I could not leave without having a cup of tea or coffee and something to eat with her. When I left she would shake my hand and hold onto it for some time, reluctant to have me leave.
Speaking of hands, we trust that Helen was and is now in the hands of Jesus the Good Shepherd, whom Psalm 23 speaks of so confidently. Psalm 23 was Helen’s favourite Bible passage. The LORD, the loving, caring Shepherd of us all: it is he that journeys with us throughout our life on earth. It is he who promises to be with us in life, in death, and beyond.
The 23rd Psalm follows a special line of thought, and when we concentrate on the words with heart, soul and mind, a new way of thinking and living are born. In only 112 words, we discover the power and inspiration, the comfort, guidance and strength we need to see us through life and death. Whenever you are sad, discouraged, feeling lost and alone, or sick, when life isn’t what it should be, here’s an exercise for you. Read out loud or recite from memory the 23rd Psalm several times. Slowly read every word. Let it sink into your heart and mind and soul. You will be astounded with the blessings you shall receive.
In Psalm 23, we are given a beautiful picture of a God who is like a loving, caring shepherd. A God who is always with us, providing for our needs, and protecting us from danger and harm. A God who walks with us even to the end, to lead us through the door of death, into life everlasting. And so, we can give our thanks to God our Good Shepherd, God our loving Father, and Jesus his Son, who provides us with all that we need in this life and the next. We can give thanks to God for the life, memories and love of Helen. God who offers you here today his comfort and love, and provides for all of your needs now and in the future. God who, one day, shall call us all to that better place, to dwell with him and our loved ones forever.
In our passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we learn too of our need to be connected with each other; to share each others’ burdens and joys; to, as Jesus taught us, do to others what we would have them do to us—which was certainly integral to who Helen was and how she lived her life. Paul, in this passage also exhorts us to “work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” Helen obviously had a strong work ethic, as she worked into her 70s at Woolworth’s, Eaton’s and K-Mart. As a people person, she was able to serve the needs of others through her work and receive great satisfaction from her contacts with people by serving them. What a blessing that is, because 99% of any work involves loving what you do.
The gospel passage from John 14:1-3, in the language of love and deep intimacy, describes further this comforting reality of death and the hereafter in terms of utter trust and hope. Jesus, speaking with his disciples reassures them, first of all with these comforting words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” In others words, he invites the disciples and us to trust in him as well as his message. “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Here we have a wonderful example of relational language. Language spoken in the context of family life. Just as Helen no doubt showed her love to you by valuing family-life and being loyal to each of you as family members and providing for your needs—so too Jesus teaches his disciples and us that as members of God’s family, we are assured of an eternal dwelling place, a home. It’s a place where we can feel safe and secure, understood and respected, valued and loved. It is our LORD’s deepest desire that all of us, each and every one of us, be in loving relationships with him and other members of his family that we may all one day dwell in the Father’s house.
So, family and friends, let us give thanks to our Triune God for the long and fulfilling life of Helen; for all of the memories that you will cherish of her; we also give thanks that her suffering is now over; she is at peace and will dwell in the presence of our loving God and Saviour forever. Amen.