Brief Graveside Sermon for Helga Gushulak

Brief Graveside Sermon for Helga Solvejg Gushulak, based on Eccles 3:1-8 & Jn 14:1-6 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Bawlf Cemetery, 8/09/2018.

 

There are some deaths that we would speak of as “untimely.” These deaths often come as a surprise, and are tragic, premature, and unexpected. Then, there are other deaths that we speak of as “timely.” These deaths are often not a surprise. Rather, they seem to bring to completion a life well lived. Although those of you who knew and loved Helga will most certainly miss her; and mourn her loss; it is quite fitting that you can also remember her and give God thanks for her life.

In our passage from Ecclesiastes, the writer speaks a lot of timeliness. He tells us there is a time and purpose for everything in life, and then proceeds to name the various stages and experiences of life’s journey. For someone like Helga, these stages and experiences of the life cycle ring true, as the LORD blessed her with a ripe old age of 92 years.

Even though the LORD saw it fit that it is Helga’s time to die; her life shall remain a part of yours as you cherish your memories of her. Even though there is a time to mourn and cry; Helga’s time now with the LORD in heaven is a time of laughing and dancing and rejoicing—just as she met her husband Pawlo/Paul at a dance hall, so now she’ll meet him again and the LORD of the dance in heaven and they will dance to their hearts’ content. A time to live in perfect peace with God.

During Helga’s time with us at Bethany Meadows, she quite enjoyed staying in her room. There she passed her time doing puzzles and reading mystery-romance novels, and welcoming visitors.

Let me tell you about the greatest mystery-romance, and it’s not a novel, rather it’s true and real. Let me also tell you about the greatest welcome of all. In our Gospel passage, Jesus promises that he’s preparing a place in heaven for us, so that eventually he will come and take us to himself, telling us: “so that where I am, there you may be also.” What a wonderful promise that is! The sense of what Jesus speaks of here is something we can all relate to—namely, that of entering your house after a long journey and finding it has been made completely ready for you to live in by someone who loves you. Isn’t that great when we discover that all of the details have been looked after; all is prepared for us; all we do is arrive and wow! what a surprise! Isn’t it great to be welcomed like that. What a joy that will be! What a gift that is! We call it God’s saving grace. And Jesus offers it to each of us—including Helga. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.

Funeral Sermon for Doreen Anderson

Sermon for Doreen Avonne Anderson funeral, based on Ps 23, Prov 22:6, Gal 6:6 & Jn 14:1-6 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Burgar Funeral Chapel, Camrose, AB, March 21, 2018, twelve o’clock.

Doreen Avonne Anderson has left this life behind and is no longer with you. All of you who knew and loved Doreen will miss her. Yet, as the psalmist reassures us, even though Doreen had to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the LORD her Shepherd was with her, leading her through death, so that now all of her suffering is over.

For the last years of her life, Doreen was a resident in Spruce Cottage at Bethany Meadows. As her pastor there, I came to know Doreen as a quiet, soft-spoken person. She told me about her life as a teacher and, in her retirement years, how she enjoyed travelling, she also was an avid reader until her eyes were no longer able to focus. So with that in mind, I thought a couple of Bible passages were appropriate as we remember Doreen today and give thanks to God for her life.

The first passage is from Proverbs 22:6: “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.” Or as the Good News Bible puts it: “Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their life.” What a privilege it was for Doreen to be a teacher for thirty-seven years and do exactly what this proverb describes! She taught the young children for over three decades and, I’m sure she made an impression on their lives—teaching them things that set them on the right track to succeed in their lives. Teaching them so that they could go on to live meaningful lives by making a difference in the world. Perhaps her teaching even inspired one or more children to become teachers like herself. In any case, I’m sure that all of those years of teaching had their rewards for Doreen, because she spoke to me about a couple of her students—one of whom I know, and today he is a well-respected teacher and scholar in the church, Rev. Dr. Gordon Jensen. What a privilege it is to be a teacher and set students on the right path, which they will remember all of their life!

Another passage from St Paul’s letter to the Galatians 6:6 also reminds me of Doreen, teaching and education: “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.” I would hope that after teaching for thirty-seven years at least a few of Doreen’s students shared the good things they learned from her. I would also hope that Doreen having been taught by other teachers in order to get her degree was able to share good things of what she learned from her teachers—teachers who inspired her and made a difference in her life.

Turning now to John’s Gospel, which is a favourite passage of the Anderson family, we are given another reason to place our trust and hope in God. Jesus speaks to us, saying: “Let not your hearts be troubled,” or, as the Good News Bible puts it: “Do not be worried and upset.” He goes on to say: “Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” What wonderful words of promise and hope Jesus speaks here!

This picture of “my Father’s house,” as Jesus describes it here gives us the sense that there is plenty of room for us there to enjoy—a location where there are “many dwelling places.” In the old King James Version of this passage, it is translated “many mansions.” It’s rather interesting that Jesus speaks of heaven in this way as a place where there is plenty of room for us—since in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, the word for salvation actually literally means: to be open wide, to be unconfined, to be free. The word in Hebrew is yasha, which interestingly enough is closely related to Jeshua or Joshua, which is the Hebrew for our English name, Jesus, meaning “God saves.” You can find comfort and peace if you trust and hope in this Jesus who is one with God and saves. Jesus is our way, truth and life through placing all of our trust in him and following him, we are given the gift of eternal life.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the other things Doreen enjoyed talking with me about was her travels. She was blessed to be able to travel to several places, including: New Zealand and Australia, Europe, several of the United States, and down to Eastern Canada. However, as much as we travel in this world, it is always good to arrive back home. As the old adage goes: “There’s no place like home.” Now Doreen has gone on her final journey, and she has reached her final home—that dwelling place, that room, that mansion in her permanent heavenly home to be with Jesus and those whom she loved who are already there.

So, let us all place our trust, our hope, our lives into the hands of this God who is our Loving Shepherd; whose love is completely and always dependable; who is the greatest, most inspiring Teacher of them all; who is our loving Saviour providing us an eternal home with lots of room; and a place where we shall dwell in perfect freedom; living under the power of his love. Amen.

 

 

A brief funeral sermon for Carla Harris

A brief funeral sermon for Carla Gwen Harris, based on Ps 23 & Jn 14:1-3 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Burgar Funeral Chapel, Camrose, AB, December 16, 2017, two o’clock.

 

A daughter, sister, sister-in-law, aunt, friend, neighbour, and member of God’s family, Carla Gwen Harris, has departed from this life. With death, comes a sadness, especially for you members of Carla’s family. You will miss her.

When I asked family members to tell me a bit about Carla, they said she was short and sweet-pun intended. She touched their lives with her honesty, forth-rightness, sense of humour, spontaneity, at times strong-mindedness, as well as being upbeat, and having a positive, hopeful view of life. She was also known and respected as the family historian for both sides of the family. She loved and was proud of her family; they were the most important part of her life. Carla, I’m told, also was a caring person, and looked after her mom and aunt. Some of the things she enjoyed in life were knitting and crocheting, movies and reading, as well as country music, especially Johnny Reid.

When a family is close-knit, and a member departs from this life, there is a sadness and there can be a loneliness and emptiness. One of the most comforting gifts that God gives us at times like this is God’s Word. So we turn to God’s Word now, starting with Psalm twenty-three. This beautiful psalm is one of the most popular and comforting passages in the Bible. Even though it likely wasn’t originally written specifically for funeral services—countless Christians and Jews choose Psalm twenty-three for funeral services.

The words describe God as a loving, caring shepherd, as well as a host and chef who serves up a banquet feast. God our shepherd provides for our needs; is with us to lead us through death’s dark valley; and is generous in providing a banquet feast—“my cup overflows,” says the psalmist. God’s deepest desire is that every human being knows him as a loving, caring God who provides for our needs, and who is always with us through life and through death.

There’s a true story I love about a house party in one of the big English country houses. Often after dinner at these parties people give recitations, sing, and use whatever talent they have to entertain the company. One year a famous actor was among the guests. I’ve been told he might have been Charles Laughton. When it came his turn to perform, he recited the Twenty-third Psalm. His rendition was magnificent, and there was much applause. At the end of the evening someone noticed a little old great aunt dozing in the corner. She was deaf as a post and had missed most of what was going on, but she was urged to get up and recite something. In those days people used to memorize a lot of poetry! So she stood up, and in her quavery old voice she started, The Lord is my shepherd, and went on to the end of the psalm. When she had finished there were tears in many eyes. Later one of the guests approached the famous actor.

“You recited that psalm absolutely superbly. So why were you so moved by the funny, little old lady?”

He replied, “I know the psalm. She knows the shepherd.”1

Speaking of knowing the shepherd, that brings us to our passage from John’s Gospel. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his death, which he knew was coming soon. In this farewell talk, Jesus uses highly relational language, the language of love to comfort, reassure, and give his disciples peace of heart and mind. He tells them not to let their hearts be troubled—in the Good News Bible he says it like this: “Do not be worried and upset.”

Then Jesus goes on to tell them why they shouldn’t have troubled hearts; why they shouldn’t be worried and upset. He says to them and to each one of you: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, many rooms, many mansions.” Then he says that he’s going there to prepare a place for each one of us. So there is plenty of room there for each one of us. Even better yet, Jesus promises that when the time comes, he will come to get us and take us to that eternal home, he wants us to be with him there. Now he has done that for your loved one Carla, and one day he will do the same for each of you, so that you will meet her again there.

So my hope and prayer for each of you is that you place your hope, your trust, your lives into the hands of this God who is a loving shepherd. A God who loved us so much that he died on the cross for each one of us. Jesus, who still loves us so much that he wants everyone to be in a relationship with him and to live under the power of his love. Amen.

1 Madeleine L’Engle with Carole F. Chase, Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts And Reflections (New York & San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers & HarperSanFrancisco, 1996 & 1998), pp. 317-318.

A Brief Graveside Sermon for Lois Kerr

Brief graveside sermon for Lois Jean Kerr, by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Eccles 3:1-8 & Jn 14:1-3, Edberg Cemetery, November 7, 2017.

A mother, grandmother, friend, neighbour, resident of Bethany Meadows, and child of God, Lois Jean Kerr, has left this life for that better place we call heaven. You who loved and knew Lois will certainly miss her. Life is not the same when a loved-one dies.

I am sure you will find comfort in celebrating and sharing the memories that you have of Lois, as she touched your hearts and lives over the years.

Lois was a generous, kind, caring and loving person. Family was very important to her. Lois shared her gift of cooking with her family, and she loved entertaining friends and family. You family members were grateful to have shared one last special meal with Lois at Thanksgiving.

I’m told that Lois’ chocolate chip cookies were a big hit among you. This legacy lives on as Judy now uses her mom’s recipe and makes these cookies for the students at the school where she is chef.

Lois’s gifts of generosity, kindness and caring were also shared with us at Bethany Meadows, where she spent the last years of her life. She was always most kind toward her fellow residents. While living at Bethany Meadows, Lois loved it when the therapy horses came to visit. She also enjoyed participating in Hymn-Sings, Devotions, Worship Services, and our Music Appreciation Group.

As we turn to God’s word for comfort and hope, we hear those words of the writer of Ecclesiastes who tells us that there is a time and a place for everything in life—that is the way God planned it. For Lois, each stage of life prepared her for the next one, until finally, the LORD called her to her eternal home. Lois enjoyed the gift of time that God gave her, and now she will enjoy being reunited with her husband Bill, whom she missed and longed to be with again.

Turning to that wonderful passage from John’s Gospel, we have the promise from Jesus and the hope that comes with that promise that he has prepared a place for us in heaven. The Father’s house translated as many mansions, many rooms, many dwelling places.

Home, as you knew it, was a place where Lois loved and accepted you, and cared for your needs. A place where you could feel secure and be yourself. How much more that will be true in our heavenly Father’s house.

That reminds me of a morning at Bethany Meadows when I was making my rounds. I asked Lois, “How are you doing today, Lois?” She replied, “I’m good enough to go home.”

So now Lois can be at peace and celebrate the joy and love that is hers as she lives in the full presence of God in his heavenly home, thanks to what Jesus our Lord and Saviour has done for her and each one of us. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.

Funeral Sermon for Allister Burke Ferguson

Funeral Sermon for Allister Burke Ferguson based on Exod 20:12; Rom 5:1-11 & Jn 6:37-40, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson. Bethany Meadows Chapel, March 8, 2016, 1:30 P.M.

Image by Dimlamp

Image by Dimlamp

A son, brother, friend, and child of God, Allister Burke Ferguson is no longer with us in this life. Death came unexpectedly, like a thief, and robbed Burke of a long life. We can never take life for granted; each day is a gift from God. When death comes so suddenly, as was the case for Burke, we are left shocked and in deep sorrow. Burke’s parents and you other family members shall certainly miss him, and your lives will not be the same without him.

Although I didn’t know Burke real well, and only for a short time, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of him is the fourth commandment: “Honour your father and your mother.” Burke respected and loved his parents dearly and he willingly and faithfully served them. Joyce you told me that he phoned you very often, and would end the conversations by telling you that he loved you. Allan you recall how he stayed with you while you were in the Edmonton hospital, and he visited you faithfully in Wetaskiwin hospital. He also ran many errands for both of you.

Allan and Joyce, you told me that Burke was a presentable person in the sense that he was concerned about people, conscious of them and their needs. One of the things he would do is take your dog Jumper around to other patients.

Burke, you said, was a person of faith in God, and was conscious of his relationship with the LORD, and he attended church on a regular basis. He also read the Bible and came to you Rev. Allan with his questions.

Even though Burke was diagnosed with OCD, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and certainly had his struggles with that; yet he was able to go to the University of Brandon and graduate with a degree in computers. He worked for a time in that field, and later he had his own business writing computer programs.

I think Burke had to deal with a lot of suffering because of the OCD. He was conscious of his disabilities, and that caused him to withdraw more from other people. And that reminds me of our passage from Romans.

The apostle Paul also endured a lot of suffering in his life. Yet, speaking of the process whereby we are made right with God, Paul is very confident. He emphasizes it by saying: “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” In other words, it wasn’t that we had to be perfect in order for us to be worthy of God’s love and grace. No! Rather, it is the opposite. Even such a thing like an obsessive-compulsive disorder will not stop God from loving us and making us right with the LORD. No! Paul twice in this passage employs a phrase that emphasizes how confident he is of Christ’s saving work on the cross. The phrase consists of three words, “much more surely.” Paul still has much of the Jewish rabbi in him here, as he employs a method of comparing or contrasting called from the lesser to the greater. However the sense of what he says in this phrase “much more surely” is that thanks to Jesus the greater is so great that it leaves the lesser so far behind that it cannot really be compared or contrasted. “Much more surely…will we be saved through [Christ] from the wrath of God. …much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by [Christ’s] life.” In other words, thanks to the saving work of Jesus on the cross we are both justified and reconciled to God. To be justified means that God makes and declares us righteous. To be reconciled means that as sinners we are God’s enemies, yet now thanks to Jesus we have been made God’s friends. Our friendship with God is based on the perfect grace and perfect love of God freely given to us thanks to Jesus.

The third passage of scripture from John’s Gospel is also one of deep comfort in that it pictures all those faithful Christians who believe in Christ as their Saviour as safe and secure with him; and, on the last day, they will be raised from the dead. In John’s Gospel, to believe in Jesus is much more than accepting a set of doctrines. Rather, to believe in Jesus means to place all of our trust in him as the final and best authority on God, on us human beings, and on life. To believe in Jesus is to act upon our beliefs through deeds of lovingkindness—inspired by the power and creativity of Christ’s forgiveness. To believe in Jesus is to willingly obey him.

So, as we continue this service today we come to commune with our LORD and with one another—the saints on earth and in heaven, including Burke. As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together we are united with Jesus and with one another, thanks to his saving work on the cross and his grace and love poured out to each one of us. Reminding us that in this meal we have a foretaste of the eternal feast to come, when we shall all be gathered together with our risen Saviour. Amen.

 

 

 

A brief funeral sermon for Wayne Schuller

Image by Dimlamp

Image by Dimlamp

Funeral Sermon for Wayne Schuller, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, based on Romans 8:35, 37-39, Weber Funeral Chapel, Camrose, February 23, 2016, two o’clock.

For Wayne and his family members, the last few years have been challenging. Alzheimer’s and dementia can be a cruel disease. A person who is struck with Alzheimer’s and dementia suffers from both physical and mental losses. Family members can feel rather helpless at times as they see their loved one suffering from these losses. Family members observe how their loved one changes as Alzheimer’s or dementia takes its course and robs them of their faculties; so they no longer are the person that they once were. They can forget so much, even the names of their family members as well as their own name. Past memories of their family history and their own life story disappear. The mind becomes more and more like fog, unable to think clearly.

They also lose their ability to talk and walk, and even eating and drinking can become a challenge. They can become totally dependent on others. When death does come, it may be mixed with both sadness and a sense of relief. Sadness because you certainly shall miss your loved one and your life will not be the same without them. Relief because now your loved one’s suffering is over. Relief also for those who place their faith in God—trusting that their loved one is now in the loving, eternal presence of God.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know Wayne very well. However I’m told that even though he was not a “religious” man, he did believe in God. A God, who as the apostle Paul tells us in the passage from Romans, is always with us. Even though Paul faced many hardships and much suffering in his life, he was still very confident that nothing could separate him from Christ’s love—not hardship, not distress, not persecution, not famine, not nakedness, not peril, not sword. If Paul were alive today, and if you were to ask him about this, I’m sure he’d say that Alzheimer’s and dementia could not separate us from the love of Christ either.

Paul doesn’t stop there either, he goes on to speak with confidence that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from God’s love in Jesus our Lord. What a wonderful, encouraging, and hopeful message that is!

Why is it true? Well, because in the end, God has won the victory over all of these things. It may not seem like it right now, just like it didn’t seem like it for Jesus’ disciples when he died on the cross on Good Friday. Yet, surprise! surprise! God raised Jesus from death on Easter Sunday. God has the power to give life even after death. In this way God won the victory over the powers of death and evil.

So, for Wayne Alzheimer’s disease is not the last word, nor does it have the ultimate victory over Wayne. No! Rather, thanks be to God that Jesus, through his death on the cross and his resurrection have ultimately defeated Alzheimer’s disease and all other powers that work against God.

In closing I’d like to share this poem, “I Understand,” by Joy Rembert:

How difficult it must be for you,/To watch me become less of the person you once knew./My body is here, but my mind is not./The things we once shared, I may have forgot./This will be our longest goodbye./For the mind of the person you love, is slowing and will die./I will not act or behave like the person I once was./But please remember, it’s not something I have control of./I’m sorry for this burden I put on you./There will be some rough days, with teary eyes and hearts of blue./But let the love of so many years carry us the rest of the way./Because this is not forever and our souls will meet again one day.

Yes, thanks be to God that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! For Wayne, there is a final victory over and life after Alzheimer’s thanks to Jesus. That is Wayne’s hope! That is your hope and mine! Amen.