Funeral Sermon for Leona Gronemeyer

Funeral Sermon for (Helen) Leona Gronemeyer, based on Ps 23; Matt 5:5 & Jn 13:3-5, 12-15 by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Cook-Southland Chapel; April 16, 2014, two o’clock.

TagxedoI consider it a great honour and privilege to be able to participate in this service today to remember, pay our respects, and commend Leona to our LORD’s eternal care. Leona was a special person. I am most grateful to have known Leona and feel very blessed to have worked with her at the Good Samaritan Society’s facility, South Ridge Village for many years. I must confess—and I think if there are other staff here today they would agree—that it was a joy to work with Leona!

   Leona was a deeply caring person. When I think of Leona, one of the first thoughts that come to mind to describe her is the beatitude of Jesus in Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Leona was meek in the sense of being a humble person—she was a friendly, gentle, loving, caring, non-threatening presence. I think many of our staff and residents felt that she was very approachable and non-threatening. Because of her kind, gentle caring presence, people felt that they could talk to Leona. While she served them their food, she was also serving them by going the extra mile and listening to their concerns, and expressing empathy and an encouraging word, and sometimes an appropriate hug to those who needed to be comforted.

   From time-to-time, Leona would come to me for a heart-to-heart talk, expressing some of her personal concerns and the challenges that she faced in her life. She would always thank me for listening to her.

   So Leona was blessed as a meek person, because she inherited the earth by touching the lives of so many people—including, and especially her family members. They too, I’m sure could tell countless stories about Leona’s humble, meekness; her loving and caring ways.

   These days, many people talk about servant leadership. I think Leona is a wonderful example of what it means to be a servant-leader. She obviously learned from and was inspired by Jesus, our Perfect Servant-Leader. In our passage from John’s Gospel, Jesus on the last night that he spent with his disciples, after they had their meal together, took off his dinner robe, rolled up his sleeves, and with a bowl of water and a towel, knelt down to wash and wipe his disciples’ feet. This act epitomized Jesus’ role as the Perfect Servant-Leader. In those days, it was usually the lowest servant or household slave who would wash and dry peoples’ feet. After Jesus finished the foot-washing, he told his disciples that it was an example of servant-leadership for them to follow.

   Leona certainly followed Jesus’ example very well throughout her life. She was a servant-leader, who found meaning and fulfillment in her life by serving her parents and looking after them in their twilight years; by raising her children and providing for their needs so lovingly; by caring for her husband for as long as she possibly could until her health began to fail her; by supporting and encouraging her grandchildren in so many ways; and by so willingly serving others beyond her immediate family.

   Shanda and Diana shared a couple of examples of Leona’s heartwarming servanthood with me. Shanda told of how her mom would sit up into the wee hours of the morning to read Shanda’s long-hand, written, university papers and type them out for her so she could hand them in the next day. Diana told of how her mom would often phone her in the wintertime to encourage her to stay home rather than risk getting into an accident by driving on icy and snowy roads.

Even when she was very ill during her last couple of weeks of life; Leona always thought of the needs of others and didn’t want others to make a fuss over her. Others first, herself last. Doesn’t that remind you again of Jesus and the true meaning of service?

   Speaking of Leona’s last couple weeks of life; one of the important things that Leona and her family were able to do was have several “good-bye conversations” and one of which was to plan this service. Leona requested a favourite Bible passage, the twenty-third Psalm. In the Psalm, of course we have the beautiful picture of our LORD as the Good Shepherd.

   The LORD our Shepherd provides for our needs throughout life’s journey; preserves our life; and protects us. When one is facing a difficult death, perhaps fears try to take over. However, this psalm reassures us; gives us the confidence that our LORD the Good Shepherd is with us every step of the way; leading us through the valley of death. The psalmist reminds us we don’t stay in death’s dark valley; our LORD leads us safely through it.

   Then, once we’re on the other side of death—WOW! Look at what we see, a BIG PARTY with lots to eat and drink! We have the picture of the LORD as the one who prepares and hosts a banquet feast. The picture here reminds us of our LORD’s generosity, the psalmist puts it like this: “my cup overflows.” What a wonderful, appropriate picture as we remember Leona! She too loved her food; she loved to prepare it and serve it—obviously, that’s why she loved her job at the Good Samaritan so much. However, Leona, so her daughters tell me, also loved to eat. She really enjoyed eating her food. Well, now Leona is most likely rejoicing with her loved ones and her LORD as they all partake of the superabundant, heavenly banquet feast. Do you want to join Leona one day? You can by placing all of your trust in the LORD, who during this Holy Week reminds us that he has won a tremendous victory for us by his suffering and death on the cross. He defeated the powers of sin and evil and death itself. Why? Because he is the resurrection and the life. All who place their trust in him and follow him shall also share in a resurrection like his. Then, like the psalmist, like Leona, we too shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Amen.

Funeral Sermon for Irene Serr

Funeral Sermon for Irene Serr; based on Pss 23 & 116:12-19; Jn 14:1-3, 27; by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson; Cook Southland Chapel, Medicine Hat, AB; October 28, 2013, two o’clock. We are gathered here today to draw strength and comfort from God and each other; to remember and celebrate the life of Irene Serr; to give thanks to the LORD for her long and full life; and to entrust her into God’s eternal care.

 Wordle: Peace  Irene was a faithful Christian woman, actively involved in various capacities at Grace Lutheran Church right up until it closed at the end of 2009. She was also a loving wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother.

   As Irene’s pastor at Grace, and later her chaplain at the Good Samaritan Society facility; I was privileged to get to know and spend quality time with Irene. Her devout faith certainly inspired me. During the years that I served as pastor at Grace, Irene was especially active in the ELW-women’s group. She very much enjoyed attending the ELW Bible studies. I know that she also faithfully read her Bible and devotional materials and spent time with Jesus in prayer. When she later moved into South Ridge Village, whenever she was able, she attended the hymn sings and the worship services. So when I think of Irene, the word faithful is an appropriate one to describe who she was and what her life was about: Faithful to her God, her church, and her family and friends.

   Faithful to the end of her life, even in death she knew and trusted that she was not alone, as the comforting words of the twenty-third Psalm promise us: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me.” The LORD was Irene’s Good Shepherd—leading her through death’s valley, safely into heaven and eternal life.

   As I remember Irene, I’m reminded too of our passage from Psalm 116. I think those verses also quite aptly describes Irene. Psalm 116 was most likely written by a servant of the LORD giving thanks for God’s deliverance or healing from some kind of danger or illness. The psalm forms part of a group of Psalms 113-118, known as the Hallel, short for Hallelujah Psalms, which were sung by the Israelites during the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Weeks, and Tabernacles. Our verses were likely part of the offering to God, sung in a spirit of gratitude during the worship service. Indeed, we Lutherans, in our liturgy also follow that Jewish tradition; since during the Lenten season, we sing verses 12-14 after the offering as the offertory hymn—giving to God our gifts with grateful hearts and lives, remembering that every gift comes from the LORD.

   As I think of Irene, verse 15 in particular stands out: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.” After every visit I had with Irene, I realised how precious she was in the sight of the LORD. I’m sure you did too—especially you family members. I don’t mean precious in the sense that God places more value on any one person over all of the rest, no. In God’s eyes and before his holy presence we are all equals. Every life is valuable in God’s eyes. What I mean is that because of God’s grace and love poured out for Irene by Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross Irene and all of us are precious.

   A faithful person’s death like Irene’s is precious in the sight of the LORD because, as a sinner she was daily forgiven by Christ and given new life in him; thanks to being baptised into Christ’s death and resurrection; thanks to the forgiveness received through participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion; thanks to the grace given and her faith strengthened and renewed through the power of God’s word.

   A faithful person like Irene is precious in death because in life God regarded her as a valuable servant. God values the work of those who are faithful; the good they do; their example to others; their witness to others inspired by kind, caring words and deeds. Our LORD regards them as precious in life too whenever they face difficult times and keep the faith when tested to the limits.

   So precious then is a faithful person like Irene that, as Jesus promises in our gospel today that he has prepared a special place in heaven. There is plenty of room in the Father’s house for faithful folks like Irene. Now she is in that heavenly home being welcomed with the loving arms of Jesus—just as her loving arms and hands prepared a wonderful welcome to you family members so many times as she cooked special meals for you on your birthdays, anniversaries and other holidays. Now, with all of her loved ones in heaven Jesus is welcoming her to that heavenly banquet feast.

   So, since Irene is now in the Father’s home, another wonderful promise of Jesus has been fulfilled: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Words of comfort and reassurance.  

   In the New Testament, the Greek word for peace is eirene. In English, it is Irene. Irene’s very name means peace. I think that she lived up to her name too, don’t you? She brought comfort and harmony and kindness to so many of her family members, church members, friends and neighbours. The biblical sense of peace is wholeness, harmony and well-being. Heavenly peace is not based on coercion or the threat of war or legalistic conditions and requirements. Heavenly peace is the complete absence of war; complete love. Heavenly peace is a perfect state: no more sin and evil, no more sadness and tears, no more pain and suffering. That is the peace Irene’s life reflected and that is the peace she now shall enjoy forever. I’m sure that heavenly peace would also be Irene’s wish, her hope, and her prayer for you too.

   In closing, I’d like to share a prayer that the family gave me, which Irene prayed every day, reminding us again of how precious Irene was, the prayer goes like this: Good morning God, you are ushering another day, untouched and freshly new. So here I come to you God, if you’ll renew me too. Forgive the many errors that I made yesterday, and let me try again dear God to walk closer in Thy way. But Father, I am well aware I can’t make it on my own, so take my hand and hold it tight, for I can’t walk alone. Amen.         



Funeral Sermon Roy Woodward


eccles3Funeral Sermon for Roy Irwin Woodward, based on Eccles 3:1-12; Ps 46 & Rom 8:31-39, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, May 31, 2013, St Peter Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat.

Time. Roy was well aware of the Preacher’s truth in Ecclesiastes that: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Roy had a time to be born, and this past Monday was Roy’s time to die. In between these two times, Roy spent a lot of time living. Living very well, I am pleased to add!

   For Roy there was a time to grow up, go to school, and live through those “dirty thirties” when life was difficult, and Roy had his stories to tell about that. Yet, such difficulties were often seen by Roy as opportunities to learn and do what he could to make the best of the situation at hand. For Roy there was a time to go to work and to meet the love of his life, and marry Reita. Roy enjoyed his time at his work for the Government as an assessor. For Roy and Reita there was a time to raise their two daughters. As the years went by, for Roy and Reita there was a time to retire and enjoy travelling.

   During the course of all those years, Roy also devoted his time to serve in many capacities as a volunteer in the community at places like South Ridge Village, and on the Good Samaritan Society’s Board, and, of course, in his church. For Roy there was a time to serve his LORD by teaching Sunday School, sitting on Church Council, and serving as treasurer at Grace Lutheran Church. Roy spent a lot of time in and around the church—puttering around doing various jobs repairing this, and fixing that, and trying to figure out how best to scare away those noisy crows that roosted in the trees and drove the neighbours crazy! J When yours truly went on holidays, I could depend on Roy to devote his time to leading lay services at Grace as well as at South Ridge Village. When the time came to move towards the closing of Grace, Roy was a very articulate dissenting voice. Yet, when all was said and done, Roy was not one to hold a grudge or be unforgiving. He accepted the decision and remained gracious and cordial towards those with whom he disagreed right up to the end. Roy had a servant heart, his loyalty to our Lord and his church was an inspiration to us all. His love of neighbour was very practical, everything from doing carpentry jobs like building a neighbour’s hand-railing; to making the beautiful cross and mobile banner stand for the South Ridge Village chapel; to helping others with their income tax; and more.

   Roy enjoyed life immensely and lived a life filled with meaning. I’m sure he would say, along with the author of Ecclesiastes: “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live.” This, I think, would be Roy’s prayer and wish for you Reita and all of you other members of Roy’s family.

   In the last couple of visits I had with Roy in the hospital; he told me that he knew his time on earth was short and he was at peace with that. The only thing he was concerned about was you Reita, and you other members of the family—especially the grandchildren. He said that he knew there would be sadness and a time of mourning for you. He said he loved you all dearly. Then he said: “Grieving is the price we pay for loving.” How true! I would add that those who grieve deeply also love deeply. So take the words of Ecclesiastes as an invitation to you—this is your time to cry and time to mourn. In the crying and mourning there is healing, for our loving God is with you, and we are with you. One wise contemporary rabbi and author, Noah benShea, I think is correct when he says: “Life’s challenge is to find the gift in our grief.”

   As Christians, that gift is, the LORD our God who, like the psalmist says is: “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Or as Martin Luther re-worded Psalm 46 in his most famous hymn: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The confidence expressed in Psalm 46 may have been based on God’s protection of Jerusalem during the time when the powerful Assyrian army failed to capture the city around 701 B.C. More than the walls around the city, God was Jerusalem’s Mighty Fortress. Why? Because “The LORD of hosts is with us.” The LORD Immanuel—God with us. God who, in the vision of the psalmist sees a future filled with redemption of all creation when God’s kingdom will come and bring complete peace; the Shalom of God by making wars cease to the end of the earth; destroying all weapons of war. God who was Roy’s Mighty Fortress, giving him 86 years to live a life filled with blessing upon blessing; giving him that peace which passes all understanding right up to the end.

   Such divinely-given peace is also a by-product of God’s saving and justifying grace, which the apostle Paul speaks of so confidently in our Romans passage. Through Christ’s sacrificial, atoning death on the cross absolutely nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the language of the courtroom, Paul, like a confident lawyer makes his defence for the saving, redeeming power of Jesus. Then, in verses 37-39, I can imagine Paul visualizes Jesus as  the perfect defence lawyer and God the judge who states with utter confidence the consequences of what Christ has done for us—nothing separates us from Christ’s love the judge declares. We have no worries, no fears, we are in God’s hands no matter what, thanks to Christ’s love for us.

   So yes, we can find the gift in our grief because the gift is Christ’s love for us. A love that is always with us unconditionally, just as Jesus himself is always with us. May you find comfort in the saving work of Jesus; trusting in him always as did Roy who has gone to his eternal reward with him in heaven. So with the confidence of our faith we commend a loving son, husband, father, grandfather, faithful church member, child of God, Roy Irwin Woodward to Christ our Saviour and Lord. Amen.    


Funeral Sermon Chrissie Hittel

Day One-Let there be light by Phillip Ratner

Day One-Let there be light by Phillip Ratner

Funeral Sermon for Chrissie Hittel, based on Ps 8 & Jn 3:16-17. By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson. May 7, 2013 at 11:00 A.M., St Peter Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat.

Chrissie Hittel, a well loved mother, grandmother, wife, aunt, teacher, friend, active citizen in the church and community, and sister in Christ has left us for her eternal home in heaven after a long and meaningful life of 98 years. What a difference she has made too! The world and the church is a better place because of Chrissie. You and I are better people for having the privilege of known and loved, and been loved by Chrissie. She has left her mark in our hearts and lives.

   As a pastor I’m privileged to be with church members to share important milestones. Last Friday was an evening I shall never forget. Chrissie’s friend Trudy and I were with Chrissie. She had one of those special moments of alertness that I’ve observed on many occasions when people are near death. Chrissie recognised us and was able to communicate with us. True to her form, she expressed her gratitude for coming to see her. I asked her if she would like to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. She told me with an enthusiastic “Yes” that she would. So I communed her and then I suggested that Trudy and I would sing “Jesus Loves Me,” and “Amazing Grace,” and if she was able to sing she was welcome to do so as well. Chrissie’s eyes lit up and a big smile came on her face. We started to sing. Guess what? The 98-year-old Saint Chrissie sang along with us. She sang so beautifully, so clearly, so joyfully, so lovingly that it was a wonder to behold! Both Trudy and I were deeply touched. I’ll never forget that last visit with Chrissie. She ministered to Trudy and me as much as we did to her. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Chrissie is singing right now with vigour and joy in the heavenly choir!

   Turning now to our Bible passages, Chrissie—being the well organised person that she was—chose Psalm 8 for this service along with all of the hymns today. Two of the four hymns also refer to either God as Creator or the magnificence of God’s creation—In the Garden, and This is my Father’s World. Psalm 8 is known as a creation psalm. The psalmist, looking up at the clear night sky, stands in awe and wonder at the panorama view of the moon and stars. The scene is beautiful, and the psalmist at first blush feels rather small compared to the vast universe. I think you and I have had this feeling too at times when we look up at a clear night sky and see the moon and all of those stars. We too feel rather small and may ask the same question of God our Creator, as the psalmist did long ago: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” I think the question today is even more pertinent than back in the psalmist’s day because scientists tell us that if we were to travel at the speed of light, it would still take us about 100,000 years to go across our Milky Way galaxy; and beyond that there are apparently billions of galaxies. Yet, implied in the words “mindful” and “care” is the psalmist’s sense that we matter; that in the mind-boggling enormity of the universe God notices us and looks after us; in spite of or perhaps because of our smallness.

   In the next four verses, the psalmist thinks in a paradoxical way by emphasising the honoured and dignified place God has given human beings by making them “a little lower than God” [or perhaps better translated “a little lower than the angelic heavenly court”]; “crown[ing] them with glory and honour” and “giv[ing] them dominion over [all that God has made.”] The phrase “a little lower than God,” reminds us of Genesis 1 and 2, and that we are created in God’s image. Along with our special place in the universe, being given dominion over creation does not give us free license to abuse creation and exploit it into extinction. No! Rather, dominion refers to the privilege and responsibility of being stewards/managers of creation; of being partners with God our Creator in looking after creation that witnesses to God’s love and justice.

   Here I’m reminded of one of Chrissie’s bailiwicks—her social conscience and deep sense of having to advocate for what is right and just. Chrissie was a committed social activist and wrote letters of advocacy—ever ready to stand up for what was true, right and just, hence also upholding the Commandment to love your neighbour as yourself.

   Speaking of love, I think of Chrissie when I remember the words of John 3:16-17. Chrissie knew and received the love of Jesus; if at all possible, she attended church services every Sunday to hear God’s word and receive the sacrament. This was of utmost importance to her. God’s love did not remain dormant—Chrissie willingly and eagerly shared God’s love with the world around her. Anyone who knew Chrissie well I’m certain would describe her as a loving person. A person who, in her words and actions bore witness to the love of Jesus for the world. Chrissie’s love shone through her spunky, sweet and caring ways as: a mother, grandmother, aunt, friend, teacher, fellow church member and more. Her smiles always had a way of melting one’s heart. Her humour too was an expression of her love. One of her last remarks to someone who asked her how she was doing was this witty and humorous answer: “I’m cold and I’m old!”

   Chrissie knew of that greatest gift of all, the love of Christ. I think if you asked her, that she would tell you the love of Christ is the best love of all, and she would want each of you here today to have the love of Jesus. For Chrissie, Christ was faithful—blessing her with his love for 98 years! I think her prayer for each of you would be that you too would be actively involved in the life of the church to receive the love of Christ and his gift of faithfulness in your lives too. So it is that we commend Chrissie now to Jesus the LORD of love, who offers her now the gift of eternal life. Amen.

Funeral Sermon for Bertha Gurke

Funeral Sermon for Bertha Gurke, based on Ps 23, Heb 10:19-25 & Jn 14:1-6 by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

A mother, grandmother, friend, neighbour, resident of South Ridge Village, and sister in Christ, Bertha Gurke, has left this life for her eternal home in heaven. Today we remember Bertha, give thanks to God for her life, and commend her into the LORD’s loving hands.

The last few years have not always been easy for Bertha—having to live and cope with all of her health problems. Nor has it been easy for you, the family members either; with most of you living out of province. Yet, the LORD was there for Bertha during these past few years, just as he was throughout her lifetime. You see, Bertha was a woman with a strong faith in her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Bertha knew and trusted that because the LORD was her Shepherd she had everything she needed.

Bertha’s strong faith in the LORD her Shepherd certainly inspired me as her pastor and, I’m sure many others too. Her close relationship with the LORD her Shepherd reminds me of this beautiful story. The Lord is my shepherd…” A famous actor was once the guest of honor at a social gathering where he received many requests to recite favorite excerpts from various literary works. An old preacher who happened to be there asked the actor to recite the twenty-third Psalm. The actor agreed on the condition that the preacher would also recite it. The actor’s recitation was beautifully intoned with great dramatic emphasis for which he received lengthy applause. The preacher’s voice was rough and broken from many years of preaching, and his diction was anything but polished. But when he finished there was not a dry eye in the room. When someone asked the actor what made the difference, he replied, “I know the psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”1 Bertha knew the Shepherd; I am certain of that—and what a precious gift that is! Bertha knew the LORD was her Shepherd and now she knows the reality of our Psalm’s last verse: “I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

For Bertha, her home was important. On occasion, when I called on her, she would point to the picture of her home where she lived in Maple Creek. I think she was proud of that home, and enjoyed it very much. Looking at the picture, her home certainly had some unique qualities and character. In that home, Bertha raised you her children, and she also welcomed others, so they could feel at home there.

Bertha knew the LORD her Shepherd and she wanted you, her loved ones to know him too. She wanted to dwell in the LORD’s house forever. So Bertha was faithful. During her seven years with us at South Ridge Village, she faithfully attended the Sunday afternoon Worship Services and Wednesday morning Bible Studies. In fact, oftentimes she was the first resident to show up at the Worship Services and Bible Studies. She wanted to be there and she committed herself to be there to worship the LORD her Shepherd and study his Word. Bertha told me that she so looked forward to them, and they were a highlight of her week. Bertha was also a friendly neighbour to Irene—bringing Irene along with her.

Yes, Bertha was a faithful follower of Jesus; and I am sure that her hope and prayer was that you, her loved ones, also be faithful followers of Jesus; that you too attend Worship Services on a regular basis to grow closer to Christ and be at home with him. As I think of Bertha and her faithfulness I’m reminded of these words from Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” For Bertha, a home was important; therefore she attended Worship and Bible Studies to help her be close to Jesus and at home with him. She was a faithful role model for you and others—encouraging them to worship the LORD on a regular basis so that you too can be close to Jesus and at home with him. By faithfully attending Worship and Bible Studies, Bertha grew in her faith in the LORD her Shepherd and received the encouragement of other faithful Christians. Yes, for Bertha a home was important and she wanted, more than anything else, to be at home with her LORD the Good Shepherd.

In our Gospel, Jesus speaks words of encouragement and promise regarding an eternal home, saying: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” And he goes on to say that there is nothing more that he wants for us than we be at home there with him; he wants nothing more for us than to fulfill this promise: “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

You see, as comfortable and friendly and loving as any home can be in this world—nothing, not even the best home on earth can compare with what we have to look forward to in heaven, our eternal home. On earth there are no perfect homes. We gather our loved ones around us and think we can be permanently happy. However, death comes to rob us of our loved ones. Or one of those near and dear to us decides to move far away from us. Our earthly homes are in a state of flux and being broken up. Not so with God’s heavenly home. Our eternal home in heaven is permanent and there death shall no longer rob us of loved ones—nor shall loved ones move far away from us. In heaven there are no broken homes. We shall all be celebrating a wonderful family reunion. The greatest celebration shall be to have the holy privilege of living forever in the presence of God our heavenly Father and Jesus our Good Shepherd who is also known as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Yes, one day you and I shall be in that eternal home; the place of joy and love unending. On that day we shall meet up with Bertha and all of our loved ones again; we shall be with the LORD every day. Jesus promises this to you, me, and everyone who believes that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” My hope and prayer, and I’m sure Bertha’s hope and prayer was and is that you do believe Jesus to be the way, the truth and the life. Amen.

1 Bible Illustrator for Windows, diskette, (Hiawatha, IO: Parsons Technologies, 1994).

Funeral Sermon for Adam Bechtloff

Funeral Sermon for Adam Bechtloff, based on Ps 23 & Lk 12:35-40, by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson. Pattison Chapel, Medicine Hat, 1 o’clock, November 21, 2009.

Adam Bechtloff has now departed from this world. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity or privilege to meet Adam. For those who knew and loved him, Adam was known as a hard-working farmer, a fun-loving person, who enjoyed and loved life. In his retirement years, he became an avid fisherman. He shall be missed as a good neighbour–willing to lend a helping hand in times of need. For example, about a month ago, Adam helped his step daughter Rose and her husband lay down their floor in Taber. According to Adam, a good friend and neighbour is a priceless treasure, and he tried in his life to be a good friend and neighbour.

You who knew Adam well and loved him dearly shall certainly grieve his loss. You will miss him very much. Now however his suffering and battle with cancer is over. When cancer strikes we often question and wonder: Why me? Why him? Why us? Why now?

When someone dies from cancer, we may ask: “What caused the cancer?” There are, as you know, at least three sources of our suffering: it is self-inflicted, or it is caused by others, or it can come from factors seemingly unrelated to human failure.

If we kill ourselves by smoking, it’s our fault. If someone else kills us, it’s their fault. But if, after having done all we could for good health, we still get cancer, whose fault is that? Perhaps it is the fault of the human race. If human beings had worked as hard to destroy cancer as to get rich, travel to the moon, or build bombs, cancer might have been beaten by now. However, we still ask, “Why does God permit cancer in his world?” We don’t know, but, we do know that the healing ministry of Jesus assures us that, as the Good Shepherd, he walks with us–even through the valley of the shadow of death. That is the promise our God gives us in Psalm 23. He is with us no matter what circumstances we face in life and in death.

This message of God with us is, in fact, one of the most important messages during this time of year. In the Christian Church, soon we begin the season called Advent. Advent means “coming.” During Advent, we prepare for the celebrating of Christmas–remembering that God comes to us in the birth of his Son, Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. However, he did not stop coming to us when Jesus died. No, he comes to us in the present time too; he comes to us each day. Psalm 23 reminds us of this promise that Jesus our Good Shepherd is with us. God doesn’t stop there either. He promises that he will come again one day too in the future, at a time we do not know.

That brings us to our scripture passage from Luke’s Gospel, which reminds us of how sudden death can come and the need for us to be prepared when it comes. Luke gives us the warning: “You also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

In a sense, every death is a warning to us to be prepared to wake up; to be alert; because our turn could be next. Life is not ours to control, or to be wasted and abused. Life is never to be taken for granted. Life is a loving gift from God to be lived in harmony with his purposes.

All of us need to be in touch with God our source of life, who is in control of life and death. Those of us who are married, all know that if we don’t communicate with our husband or wife, then the marriage will not be a good one and may end in divorce. Our relationship with God is very much like this too. God, who gives us life, wants us to communicate with him. We need to pray; to read and study and hear his Word; we need to come to church and receive the sacraments; we need the friendship of other Christians too. These are the means of grace through the church that God has provided for us to help us in our grieving; to help us in our living; and to prepare us for death.

As a Christian and a pastor, I have learned that those who handle their suffering best are those who get beyond blaming someone or something for it; who come to accept it; even though they cannot fully understand, for it remains a mystery. For it is in suffering, as Scripture teaches us, that we are often drawn closer to God. My hope and prayer for each and every one of you here today is that you would trust in the promise of God’s Word that the LORD is your shepherd; that he was with Adam even through his darkest valley of suffering and death. My hope and prayer for each of you here today is that you believe and trust Christ is with you now as you bring your sadness and grief to him; for he invites you to trust in his promise that he will be with you today, tomorrow and forever; and he wants you to benefit from his Word and the sacraments and his Church; that he wants you to come to him for healing and peace; and he wants you to be in a loving, trusting relationship with him now and forever. For in Christ alone is our true security and Source of life now, and in the future, forever. Amen.


Funeral Sermon Helen Rutschke

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.

Funeral Sermon Judy Hall

Funeral Sermon for Evelyn June “Judy” Hall, April 24, 2009, at Pattison Chapel, Medicine Hat. Text: Jn 20:11-18 Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Singing Our Goodbyes”

A mother, grandmother, friend, companion, a woman of faith in the Lord, Evelyn June “Judy” Hall, has departed from this life. You who knew and loved her best shall surely miss Judy. Death can be a sad reality for you. However, to grieve is not a sign of faithlessness. Rather, our grief and mourning are natural expressions of the loving care we have for each other, and the genuine sorrow felt when a loved one dies.

Yet, as Christians we are an Easter people, and this is still the Easter season. So, for those of us who believe in the risen Christ, sorrow is trumped by joy; death is trumped by life; grief is trumped by hope. And so we can joyfully sing our goodbyes to our loved one—trusting that they shall share in new, resurrection life with Jesus Christ the risen Lord and Saviour.

The old adage is true: God works in mysterious ways! His wonders to behold. As chaplain of The GSS facility, South Ridge Village, I had the privilege of meeting and knowing Judy for these last few years of her life. Over the years, Judy would enjoy her outings with her friend Henry, and they would sometimes go for drives and, on some Sundays, they would come to the afternoon church services at SRV. Judy was a woman of faith and she loved coming to church—this may well have been one of the legacies she inherited from her grandfather, the Reverend Woods.

Over the years though, I came to realise that Judy especially loved music—both singing and dancing. Whenever musicians came to SRV, Judy would like to attend and participate with great enthusiasm. Attending the weekly Hymn Sings was no exception. Judy seemed to light up with great joy when she could sing her best loved hymns. I would always know that Judy was in attendance at the Hymn Sing, because I knew she had to request her favourite hymn. You see, Judy loved to sing “In the Garden,” which Wally sang earlier. In the garden was definitely Judy’s all-time favourite hymn. And today we included it along with the others to help us sing our goodbyes to Judy.

I find it fascinating and providential that this was Judy’s favourite hymn. Let me explain. In the garden was written by the hymn-writer C. Austin Miles, back in 1912. At heart, it is an Easter hymn, because the garden here actually is based on and refers to the Gospel passage I read, John 20. In the garden, beside Jesus’ empty tomb, on that very first Easter morning is where Mary meets the risen Christ, who calls her by name, and then her grief turns into joy as she recognizes her living Lord and Saviour.

Here is what C. Austin Miles says about the process of writing this hymn: “One day in March, 1912, I was seated in the darkroom where I kept my photographic equipment and organ. I drew my Bible toward me; it opened at my favourite chapter, John 20…That meeting of Jesus and Mary had lost none of its power to charm. As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life, when she knelt before her Lord, and cried, “Rabboni!”…Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared. That same evening I wrote the music.” Miles goes on to say: “It is as a writer of gospel songs I am proud to be known, for in that way I may be of the most use to my Master, whom I serve willingly although not as efficiently as is my desire.” (From: Forty Gospel Hymn Stories, by George W. Sanville). This hymn, some of you may remember, was sung in the movie “Places in the Heart,” which won two Academy Awards in 1984.

Speaking of heart, Judy shall certainly be remembered by her family, adopted family, and friends as a wonderful, big hearted person. She was kind, welcoming and loving to most everyone. Her life was albeit an imperfect, yet beautiful parable of spreading love around. In a way, Judy’s love and loyalty to her family, was similar to the love and loyalty of Mary Magdalene in our gospel passage. Mary being the first to go to the tomb of Jesus, and Mary’s grief were signs of how much she loved Jesus. Mary’s willingness to listen to Jesus and go and tell the Good News of
Easter joy: “I have seen the Lord” is the ultimate sign of her love for Jesus, being the first ever preacher of Christ’s resurrection. Judy’s loving acts and kind words were signs of her love for others. I felt something of her love too—whenever I shook hands with her after the worship services and hymn sings, Judy would have a friendly smile on her face and then she’d always thank me.

My hope and prayer for each of you here today is that you too believe in the risen Jesus, like Mary of old, and like your loved one Judy. For in him you too shall know a joy and hope, a peace and love that endures through all the troubles of this life.

I do not think that it was by accident that Judy has left this life behind now, during the Easter season. Rather, I believe it was God’s plan to take her home to heaven at this time. For as a person of faith, she shall now be given a new, resurrection body, which shall never grow old, get worn out, or break down. Her dementia is over, and all else that brought pain and suffering is gone. She is at peace with her risen Christ. Easter is the season of joy and hope. Life eternal waits for us if we believe that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour who forgives our sins and promises that we shall be raised from the dead to dwell with him and all the other people of faith who have gone before us.

So we sing our goodbyes to Judy, trusting that, one day we shall see her again. I would not be a bit surprised that she’s now a beautiful singer and dancer along with a multitude of other saints in the heavenly garden. Hallelujah! Amen.

Funeral Sermon Nick Paprocky

Funeral Sermon for Nick Paprocky, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, at Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, March 31, 2009, four o’clock. Texts: Eccles 3:1-8; Jn 11:25-26.

When I asked Leona if there was a favourite Bible passage that she would like read for Nick’s funeral, she told me Ecclesiastes chapter three. She said that it was the passage read at her and Nick’s wedding and now she wished for it to be read today. I couldn’t agree with her more, because Ecclesiastes chapter three reminds us that God has a plan for us in every stage of life, a time and a place for everything—including death. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven—it was true for humans back in ancient times, it is true for all of us here today, it was true for Nick. For Nick there was a time to be born, a time to be a child, and a brother. Eventually, there was a time for Nick to be a husband, and a dad, and a granddad. For Nick there was a time to be young, middle-aged, and old; and there was a time to die. The time to die came for Nick last Saturday. Our time to die shall come one day too. For some of us, it will be sooner than later. Are you ready for that time of death? Are you prepared to meet your Maker? One of the reasons why we are gathered here today is to remind ourselves that one day we too shall die, and that we need to be prepared for that day. Nick would say do not put off your preparation for that day.
How do we prepare for that day? Well we need to get our relationships sorted out with each other—and that may mean you need to offer forgiveness to someone and be reconciled with them. Do your loved ones know that you love them? Tell them today, not tomorrow, because it could be too late. Most important of all, to prepare for death, we need to be in a relationship with God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. How is your relationship with Christ? Do you believe in the words of the Gospel that were read today? Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? If you do, then you shall be prepared for death.
Yes, as the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is a time to die, and there is a time to weep and mourn, a time to lose. And I would encourage you to do that here, if that seems right for you to do—since it does hurt when our loved ones die, and we shall certainly miss them, nothing is the same without them. So there is a loss for us and that loss can and often does cause us to mourn and it brings tears to our eyes.
And yet, this is also a time to heal, a time to build up, a time to gather stones together. It is a time to remember and honour Nick. Each of you has your special memories of Nick; each of you has been touched in some way by his life; each of you will remember those things and celebrate them. Nick loved the company of his small grandchildren. Nick also loved music, especially listening to opera—as well as singing, dancing the polka and fiddle music. When he was able to, he enjoyed attending church on a regular basis and ushered here at Grace together with Leona. And at Easter time, he would bake special bread, and present me with a loaf. Just as Nick gave me the gift of his special Easter bread, Jesus, on Easter gave us the greatest gift of all—the promise of eternal life because he is the resurrection and the life.
For people of faith, death is not the end of the story. Death and resurrection go together. Strangely enough, we believe that we are not here to preside over a death. Rather, as Christians we are here to celebrate resurrection. There is a time to die, yet there is a time to live, listen to these wonderful words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” This is a wonderful promise to us all and to Nick, whom we commend to God’s eternal care today.
As we celebrate, and take this time to remember, to heal, to gather stones together, to build up—it is also appropriate that this time be one of giving thanks to God for Nick’s life and commending him into the LORD’s eternal care. We worship a God who has defeated the powers of death, sin, and evil—that’s what Easter is all about. Jesus loved and cared for Nick; Jesus loves and cares for each one of you so much that he is the resurrection and the life. One day we too shall share in a resurrection like his and be reunited with our loved ones, and live with them and our risen Saviour forever. That’s the wonderful Gospel Promise—do you believe it? Nick did. My hope and prayer for all of you is that you do too. Amen.