Funeral Sermon for Arnold Ruege
November 3, 2017 / “Whom Shall I Fear?
Psalm 27:1- The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Dear Friends in Christ,
Years ago, I was visiting an elderly man who had fought in World War I, who was a man’s man kind of a man. He was tougher than nails, he trusted in his Savior, he was very hard of hearing. A day or so before he died, I visited him in the nursing home, and I asked him if he was afraid of dying. He couldn’t hear me, so I asked a second time and he couldn’t hear me. About the third or fourth time I was literally yelling this question at Hillcrest Nursing Home, are you afraid of dying? When he finally heard me, grumbled back, “hmff, what the ‘heck’ is there to be afraid of?” Ted knew by faith that the Lord was with him and would not forsake him, that he had no eternal reason to be afraid, that at the end of every day he could be still and know that God was God.
That’s pretty much the attitude of King David in Psalm 27. Remember that David had good reason to be afraid in the various chapters of his life. He had faced at least one lion and a bear wanting to attack his sheep. He faced a giant by the name of Goliath. He had dodged more than one spear hurled his way by King Saul He was forced to part company from his good friend Jonathan. At various times, he had fled for his life, he was without food and weapons, he was hunted by King Saul like a man hunts for deer, he led armies into battle, his infant son died as a direct result of his own sinful decisions, his own sons rebelled against him, his best friend betrayed him, his own wife Michal absolutely despised him – just to mention 8 or ten of his enemies. And in spite of all of that darkness and danger, David cried out, The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? What David truly wanted was to dwell in the house of the Lord in all the days of his life, which is another way of saying he wanted to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple, which is another way of saying as long as he was in the presence of the Lord, as long as he knew the Lord was his good shepherd, as long as he knew that the Lord was following him around with goodness and mercy, he would not be afraid.
No doubt Arnold had good earthly reasons to be afraid, as do all of us. He had chapters of life that were better and some that were worse. He had years that were richer and some that were poorer. He had times of good health and times of sickness. Times when he felt like dancing and times when just wanted to be alone and maybe have a bit of a pity party. Times of laughing so hard his stomach hurt and times of crying so hard he had no more tears to shed.
You all have your memories of Arnie, some of them fond and no doubt a few that are not so fond. I knew Arnie best in the weeks leading up to his marriage to Doris, and then in the months leading up to and following her death and burial. They were days of great joy mingled with all kinds of sadness.
The fact that life is a mixture of smooth sailing days and stormy weather days comes as a surprise to none of us. The Bible teaches from beginning to end that life is short and full of trouble, and our life experience confirms it. We travel through life with all kinds of friendships to enjoy, and at the same time there are enemies to be faced. This Christian man had at least three enemies to face, as do all of us in every one of our days. Enemy #1 was him own sinful nature, which would tempt him to think wrong, to speak wrong, and to do wrong. Enemy #2 was this sinful world which would coax him to stumble and to stutter through life, making all kinds of mistakes and contributing to all kinds of conflict. Enemy #3 was the devil himself with all of his nasty demons who would be lurking and prowling and throwing roadblocks and causing trouble in his family every step of the way.
But in all of his days his Lord Jesus Christ was stronger than her enemies. He was his light and her salvation, as often as he listened to and remembered God’s Word, as often as he held onto the promises God made to him in Baptism, as often as he just sat still and knew that God was God, that often Jesus Christ was his sigh of relief. That often God was his refuge and strength and very present help in trouble. As often as he cried out for help, as often as he sought his Savior’s face, as often as he looked beyond herself for answers, that often he had strength to face one more day.
The Good News for Arnold Ruege was that even if he didn’t have his eyes fixed on Jesus, Jesus had His eyes fixed on him. Even on those days when Arnie was following Christ at a distance, Christ his Good Shepherd was following him with goodness and mercy. Even though Arnie fell short of the glory of God on a regular basis, as we all do, His Father in heaven loved him with an everlasting love. Jesus Christ had paid for every one of his sins with his very life, the Holy Spirit was at work in all the circumstances of his life to work things out for his eternal good.
It’s comforting to know that Arnie was baptized into the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and it’s even more comforting to know that God is faithful to the promises He made to him in that baptism. This is the only good news that really matters from one generation to the other- that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. By living the perfect life none of us can even get close to living, by suffering all that we should have suffered, by offering up a sacrifice to end all required sacrifices, by rising up again on the third day and by ascending into heaven on the 40th day and by sending His Holy Spirit in superabundant fashion on the 50th day, he works in us a heart that is not afraid, he works in our life in such a way that we do hide in his shelter, in such a way that we are concealed under the cover of his tent, in such a way that we do spend our days waiting for the Lord, we do spend our days looking upon the goodness of the Lord, we do spend our days doing all things he is asking us to do through the strength of our Lord.
Perhaps you have heard the story of a Christian woman who was making funeral arrangements with her pastor, and when they were almost done, she had one more request. She asked if she could get buried with a dinner fork in her hand. When the pastor asked why, she indicated that all her life, at church suppers and at all kinds of meals, whenever they said to her that she should keep her fork, she knew the best was yet to come. Dessert was coming! So also as we lay yet one more of our fellow travelers to rest, we do so knowing that the good old days have not passed us by, rather the really best days are yet to come. Paul wrote that he desired to depart and Christ which is far better. And again, for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Years ago, I invited Arnie to join a few men and me for early morning coffee, a fair amount of talking smart, and a Bible discussion. For a time we called ourselves “Men of Integrity” and we would encourage each other to live our lives knowing that we were saved by through faith alone in Jesus Christ, and also knowing that true faith never came alone. It always came with good works, prepared in advance by God for us to carry out. After one or more wives told us that their husbands didn’t feel like they qualified to meet with a group called Men of Integrity, we decided on a new name. Our new name was and is to this day, “Men Who Need Help.”
The fact is that all of us, men, women, and children alike, need God’s help to face every one of our enemies in every one of our days. The last enemy to be faced is death itself. It looks as though that enemy has gotten the best of Arnie, but we lay him to rest in these days knowing that death will not have the final word, our resurrected Lord and Savior will have the final word.
Two lessons to learn again, in closing, in answer to the question, Whom shall I fear? Lesson #1 – no need to fear the old sinful nature, no need to fear this sinful world, no need to fear the devil and all of his nasty demons, no need to fear the valley of the shadow of death itself, all of these enemies have been soundly defeated by our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise and honor and blessing to Him!
Lesson #2 – Whom shall I fear? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Or as Jesus warned, “ Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The death of every loved one is a terrific inventory to take inventory of our own thoughts, our words, our actions, our habits, our lifestyle. And as we take inventory, we find that we have fallen way short of fearing, loving, trusting God above all things. And as we find again and again that we have fallen way short, we get down on our knees, we cry out for mercy, and mercy is ours. We cry out for yet one more chance, one more new beginning, and praise be to God, a one more chance / a new beginning is ours!
There’s something dark and dreary and even worse about caskets and cremation and cemeteries, but as people of faith, we take all of this in, and at the end of the day, we say with the Psalmist, The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
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