Bernice Rudolph Funeral Sermon
I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
Matthew 11:28-30 – Come to me, all those laboring and having been loaded down! And I myself will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, that I am gentle and lowly in heat, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is pleasant (easy), and my load / burden is light.
Dear Friend in Christ,
Just yesterday, I was out and about and visiting a few of our shut in and elderly members with Holy Communion. I knocked on the door of one of our dear and elderly members. I heard a little voice say “come in” and so I did. She wasn’t feeling very good, still in her bed clothes even though it was 5 in the afternoon, and she was having a pretty bad hair day. What I saw her doing made my day. She was sitting there reading and underlining her large print Portals of Prayer, and underneath was her large print Bible. She welcomed me, as Bernice and so many of our elderly members do, with open arms. She yearned, as Bernice and so many of our home bound friends yearn, to hear the voice of her shepherd, to confess her sins, and to receive her Lord’s Supper. In contrast to so many of us who are younger and still in the busy stages of our lives, she and Bernice and so many of our sweet and aged Christian men and women have learned to be still and to pay close attention to the Voice of their Good Shepherd.
One of the hymns Del and Erv chose for this funeral is “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”. This hymn was written in the mid 1800’s by a Scottish pastor named Horatius Bonar. A glance at his life story indicates that he had married his wife Jane in 1843 and five of their young children died in succession. Towards the end of their lives, one of their surviving daughters was left a widow with five small children and she returned to live with her parents.
And so he writes, “I heard the voice of Jesus say, “come unto Me and rest, Lay down thou weary one, lay down, Thy head upon My breast. I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn, and sad; I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.”
Story of my days as a newspaper man here in Janesville, delivering papers to 30 customers or so every morning, including Alvin Rudolph. Most days it was a breeze, but on Sunday mornings and the day after Thanksgiving, the load was heavy, almost unbearable. One paper at a time, the load would become lighter, more bearable, and before long, all was well.
We come to Jesus with our burdens and our weariness as often as we cry out to Him for mercy. As often as we come with hearts that are at the same time sorry for having fallen short and believing that Christ has not fallen short. Hearts and minds that are at the same time terrified by the Law and comforted by the Gospel. At the same time tired of so many good intentions gone awry and resting in plan of salvation intended and carried out by God in perfect fashion. At the same time burdened with loads so very heavy and overwhelming but on the other hand resting in the knowledge that in Christ, all is well.
As we lay Bernice to rest in the Iosco Cemetery today, we do so with the confidence that her sins have been paid for at the cross, that there will be for her a resurrection of the body and life everlasting. In the waters of Baptism, she received the sign of the cross both upon her forehead and upon her heart, marking her as a holy and redeemed child of God. From her mother’s knee, she heard again and again that Jesus loved her and that she could take her sins and her sadness and her sorrows to her Savior in prayer any time and anywhere. She is famous in my mind for having a beautiful smile on the outside and a quietness on her inside, both suggesting that she had found in Jesus Christ a resting place, and that He had made her glad.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, behold, I freely give. The living water, thirsty one, Stoop down and drink and live.” I came to Jesus, and I drank Of that life giving stream; My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.
The rhythm of Christian living is that God gives and we receive. Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians that by grace are we saved, through faith. This is not of our own doing, faith is the gift of God and not of works, lest any of us should boast. In Divine Service, God serves and we are served. In the words of absolution and in the reading of Scriptures and in the preaching and teaching of His Word, the Good Shepherd speaks, and sheep listen.
Jesus said it this way, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. Bernice’s nursing home family and friends tell us that in the last few months of her life, she would have episodes where she would be unkind, unpleasant, and impatient.
I am reminded of the familiar Footprints poem, with a new twist, When the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back. I noticed that at some times along the path there was only one set of footprints. At other times, there was one set of footprints along with gouges and irregular lines in the sand. I also noticed that this happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life. This bothered me, and I questioned the Lord . . . "Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you would walk with me all the way. I have noticed that during my most troubled times, you were not with me". The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child, I love you and would never, ever leave you during your times of trial and suffering". "When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you and dragged you, kicking and screaming..
Even in her last months, as often as her pastors would visit her, that often she would receive us. As often as we asked her if we could pray with her, she agreed. Every time we asked her if she was sorry for her sins and believed in Jesus as Savior and desired to amend her sinful ways, she said yes. With all of her heart, she believed that with goodness and mercy her Good Shepherd was following her around, and that she would dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, I am this dark world’s light. Look unto Me; thy morn shall rise And all thy day be bright. I looked to Jesus, and I found In Him my star, my sun; And in that light of life I’ll walk Till trav’ling days are done.
One of Bernice’s favorite things to do was to listen to and watch the Twins’ games. Whenever the Twins won, she knew that they won, she could tell me what the score was, and she was as pleased as she could be. When they lost, which some years was more often than not, she knew that they lost, and she never seemed to get to down about it. Pretty even keeled she was in her day. She had figured out that even if the Twins lost and lost bad, the sun was still going to be coming up in the morning.
Dear friends in Christ, the Bible says that although there will be weeping in the night time, joy comes in the morning. No matter how faulty and full of failure your days may be, the mercies of God are new in every one of your mornings. No matter how dark is the darkness in your soul, it doesn’t have a prayer in the presence of Jesus Christ.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, Jesus says, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. In Jesus day, the religious leaders spoke of the yoke of the law as a glorious obedience to God. They thought that obedience to God would free them of obligations to the world and give them rest. Jesus described that yoke as heavy, and He offers us the alternative that we would be yoked to Him. As often as fix our eyes on Christ crucified, resurrected, ascended, and coming back again, that often life gets easy. Easy in this way – a great light has come into this world, and in His presence, darkness doesn’t have a prayer. Amen.
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