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Sermon for the Funeral of Linda Ritchie

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Note:  As always, click the link for mp3 audio  15 Sermon for the Funeral of Linda Ritchie.mp3

Just a side note, thanks to all the folks who helped feed the family and friends after the funeral.  It’s such a nice thing to do for a grieving family; I’m glad so many folks got together and made it happen.

Also the photo here is one of the “east” window at Augustana.



February 8, 2013

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Jerry, Brenda, Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Jesus is speaking privately with his disciples as he did often.  The special occasion for these words is Holy Thursday, the night when Jesus gave us his Supper.  The picture for our minds is Jesus gathered at the table with his disciples and this is what He’s saying to them.  Jesus is saying some very encouraging words.  What become Jesus’ last words before he died.  He promised them the Holy Spirit and he kept on teaching until it was time to go out and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested and He began His last steps to the cross.  Jesus’ last words, at his last supper shortly before his last steps to the cross.

Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for what they were about to experience over the next two and a half days—a whole lot of misery and suffering, denial and guilt and grief.  Not too much unlike what we feel as we grieve the loss of our dear sister, Linda, today.  Linda’s passing was quiet and peaceful but the hole left in our hearts is just as big.

There was one dimension that was simply lost on the disciples throughout the entire episode of the Last Supper.  They had watched Jesus take Passover and turn it into something completely new but they did not fully understand that the eating and drinking of his body and blood would be the way in which Jesus would abide with them until the end of the age.  They missed out on the cosmic significance of Jesus washing their feet, of his humble ministry to them in this way.  It had never been done that way before and therefore they didn’t know what to make of it.  And so when Jesus says, of course you know the way to the place where I am going on ahead of you, they did not understand and Thomas blurts out, “how can we know the way?”

We are all tempted to be a little like Thomas today. We are tempted to think that this is just a nice way to say goodbye to someone we loved.  We are tempted to think that this service, these words we say, this ritual is just a way to wrestle with something that is beyond our comprehension, some measure of closure, they say.  But Jesus’ words here in John 14, on the very night that he was betrayed, will not let us settle for something so trivial.  Jesus speaks on the night before his death..  From the other evangelists we know he said at that table that whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim my death until I come.  Jesus said these words about going on to prepare a place for us in his father’s house not just for our comfort as though he could simply teleport to His Father’s house and start making beds and setting out fresh towels.  No, he said these words to them so that they might know not only was he going to prepare a place for them but that he was going to do it by His dying, by dying on the cross for us.

Many years ago, God spoke to Linda and called her by name and declared Linda Diane to be a daughter of the Heavenly Father.  At holy baptism, Linda died in those waters.  She was crucified with Christ and buried with him.  That’s why we read that passage from Romans 8 at our funerals.  Because when Christians die, they know they have nothing to fear, they have already died once, they have nothing to fear by dying again.  Jesus said, I am the way the truth and the life not to show that we must follow his example and say the right words to receive eternal life.  We are often tempted to think that we can make our own way through this world and that we can search out and find our own truth.  But if we are to go to the Father’s heavenly house we do it only by dying and only by dying through the death of Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” to show us the way.  We know he came and suffered so that all people might come to know him and be saved.  And he did this not so that we would think that the way to heaven is acting like him, or that the way is being able to correct expound certain theological truths.   If salvation is dependent on our being able to say the right words, believe the right things, we are still lost.  We cannot even believe rightly and purely.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by Him, most specifically through His death on the cross.

Those of you who knew Linda, knew that she was a little different than the rest of us.  She had a different set of abilities.  She was very talented with her hands.  She could sew.  There are two dolls over in the parish hall that Linda made by hand.  She was an accomplished baker.  I’m a cook and I know that baking is quite a bit more difficult than cooking.  Even in the midst of her injuries and illness over the past three and half years or so, she was still ever so very kind.  She never became embittered by what she was going through.  And Linda was given a strong faith in Jesus Christ.  Linda believed when Jesus spoke, “Let not your heart be troubled.”  And she didn’t.  She believed.

Linda confessed that faith with her mouth when she was confirmed here and she confessed that faith in her home and among her co-workers and her family, specially her parents before they passed and with her brother and sister.  That’s what a Christian life is, a daily living out of what is believed in the heart and confessed with the mouth.  A couple weeks before she died, I made a call on Linda at Bryan Center.  She didn’t know who I was but knew I was the pastor at her church, Augustana and she was happy for my visit.  It was the first time in several visits that I had found her awake and talkative so we had a lovely visit.  I read Scripture and we prayed.  And we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together.  It turned out to be my last visit with her awake. Not two weeks later, Linda had what appeared to be another stroke and I went to visit again and she was not the way I had seen her.  She’d stopped eating.  On Saturday she was close to dying and I went and we prayed the commendation of the dying.  For one last time we heard together those comforting words from the Lord, Psalm 23, comforting words of the Lord from the Gospels, Revelation 7, those deep sources of our strength from the Lord and we prayed, at last, to commend Linda into the hands of her Lord, Jesus who had gone before her through this valley to prepare a place for her in His Father’s house.  And I gave her the blessing of the Lord for one last time and she was gone in less than a day.  A last visit, a last word, a last blessing from the Lord.  But there was one last thing happened.  Mid-morning on Sunday Brenda was at the bedside and Linda was struggling a little to breathe.  And calmly began to sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  Linda’s breathing became less labored and soon she had breathed her last, at was rest with her Lord to awake the Day of Resurrection on the Last Day.  Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.”  “I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

I want to make something perfectly clear this afternoon.  We’re here because Linda was not perfect.  Jesus loved Linda not because she was so sweet a lady in our eyes but because that’s what he does and that’s why he was born.  Jesus did not come down from heaven and wave a magic wand to forgive people’s sins.  He came to suffer on the cross and die for the penalty for sin, for Linda’s sin, for your sin, for my sin, for all sin.  And because death is what it is, no matter how we might like to dress it up, death is not something we can quietly let pass.  It won’t let us.  The pain is too great, the grief too deep.  The message from the Lord today is stronger than our pain and greater than our grief.  Today in the face of death, do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in the God who sent His Son to save the world, to save Linda, to save you, purely out of His divine fatherly goodness and mercy, His great love.  Believe in the One He sent, Jesus His Son, who died to sin, who died to death.  He knew no sin, who should not have died and yet allowed Himself to die.  He died to cancel out death, to nullify death for you.  Believe in that God.  Believe in that God who cancels out death by dying to it.  Believe in that Jesus.  Linda did, by the gift of the Holy Spirit through the Word.

I know that death looks sure and certain.  But even more sure and more certain than death is Jesus.  The death that could not hold Jesus, cannot hold Linda, cannot hold you.  Don’t fall for death’s tricks to despair as we walk into that cemetery today on the way to the grave.  Whatever tempts you to despair, to think that God has quit, that He doesn’t care—between that and you stands the Lord Jesus, crucified for you and risen for you. Before death or illness can destroy you, they have to destroy Him first, and they’ve already done their worst.  Jesus has the last word because He lives, and by His true Words and Spirit puts death to death and His life into you just as he put his death and life into Linda.

“Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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