“Remembering Betty” (Isaiah 43:1-3a, 25; Hebrews 10:11-25; Luke 23:33, 39-43)

Funeral Service
March 10, 2020

“Remembering Betty” (Isaiah 43:1-3a, 25; Hebrews 10:11-25; Luke 23:33, 39-43)

You know, it’s funny, sometimes, what we remember–and what we don’t remember. Oftentimes that’s the case with how we remember someone who has recently died. We tend to focus on that person only as they were in their last few months or their last couple of years. Take, for example, our dear friend and sister, Betty. What’s most recent in our memory of her is how she was in declining health these last few years, especially the last few months. We think about how her memory was going, and so on. But there’s so much more to remember about Betty than that.

How do we remember Betty here at St. Matthew’s? I remember when I first met her, oh, probably about twelve years ago. She was not a member of our church at that time, but one of our members had talked to her, and recommended St. Matthew’s. So I had the opportunity to go visit Betty when she was living over here on Benham Street. I found out that Betty had been a Lutheran, having been confirmed many years ago in St. Louis, but she had been away from church for a long time. So I then proceeded to re-catechize Betty over the next few weeks, and soon she became a member of our congregation.

And she took to it like a duck to water! Betty was regular in worship and in Bible class. She sang in our choir. She joined our Ladies’ Guild. She served as secretary and stewardship chairperson on our church council. And I remember just in the last year or so, when Betty could no longer drive, her dear friend Diane would pick her up and bring her to church. And Betty was always glad to be here.

Betty was a friend to everyone. But I think the thing I’ll remember the most about Betty was her special gift in life–which was to make me laugh! We’d be in Bible class or at a Ladies’ Guild meeting, having a conversation, and then Betty would come up with some random comment that got everybody laughing! It was great! We all loved her for this. And we will miss her dearly. She always put a smile on our face.

And for you the family members, Betty was your beloved grandmother, great-grandmother, and so on. And you have many memories of Betty I’m sure you’re sharing these days. Treasure those memories. They’ll stay with you for the rest of your life.

Also, in talking with your family, I’ve discovered that just in the last fourteen months or so, this has been a real time of loss for you, with three close family members departing this life in that time. And I want to assure that the promise the Lord spoke to Israel in Isaiah is a promise for you also. He says: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” Take that promise to heart. The Lord is with you and watching over you and caring for you. We know this in Christ.

How do we remember Betty? What do we remember and not remember? Today the most important thing I have to tell you is how God has remembered Betty, what God remembers and what he doesn’t remember. This is the only thing that will give you hope and real lasting comfort. What does God remember? And what does God not remember? This is what made the difference for Betty, and it will make the difference for you, too.

The fact that God does not remember something sounds a little strange. How can God not remember? But that’s what God’s word tells us. God has something of a “selective memory,” and that’s good for us. In the Old Testament reading from Isaiah, the Lord God says, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” “I will not remember your sins”: That’s good news, isn’t it? If God were to remember our sins, all of them, then we’d be in a whole heap of trouble. There would be a whole lifetime of sins to remember, for each one of us, and there wouldn’t be enough gigabytes of memory to hold them all. All the unkind words, all the selfishness, all the lack of consideration and love for both God and neighbor–this is what would weigh us down and condemn us to death, eternal death and damnation. But God says, astonishingly, “And I will not remember your sins.”

How can this be? But it is. We hear it again in the reading from Hebrews, where it quotes a passage from Jeremiah about the new covenant. Again, God promises, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” It’s that same promise of selective memory when it comes to our sins. And then the writer of Hebrews adds, “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” Now we’re getting at it. In order for there to be forgiveness of our sins, so that God does not remember them anymore or hold them against us–in order for there to be forgiveness, there had to be an offering that covers our sins and atones for them. But there’s nothing you and I can do, there’s nothing we can offer to God, that makes up for our sins. All our good works, all our best efforts, everything we think that makes us a good person, or at least better than others–none of this amounts to a hill of beans in God’s sight. There is nothing in us that merits forgiveness. Another offering must be found.

That’s where Jesus Christ comes in. Jesus, our Savior, Betty’s Savior and yours. He it is who makes the one, once-and-for-all, effective and eternal sacrifice for sin. He removes our sin, so that God no longer remembers it. Christ Jesus, the one and only Son of God come from heaven, he alone is able to make a holy and acceptable offering that atones for all our sins. This is what Jesus did on the cross. “This man has done nothing wrong,” the thief on the cross recognized. Indeed, Jesus did everything right! He is the one righteous man, suffering unjustly, carrying in his body the condemnation of all our sins, so that now God can declare us not guilty, justified and righteous for Christ’s sake.

This is the great good news! This is the gospel that Betty believed, that she staked her life on. This is the gospel into which she was baptized, her heart “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” and her body “washed with pure water.” This is the gospel Betty received into her mouth each time she partook of the blessed Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, doing this in remembrance of him, that is, by faith in him. Betty’s faith, her trust, in life and in death, was in Christ Jesus her Savior, who took away her sins and gave her hope for the future, an eternal future in the bliss of heaven.

Think of the thief on the cross. Recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah, he says to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “Remember me.” Yes, remember me too, Lord Jesus. Remember not my sins. Remember me in mercy, O Lord. “According to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.”

“Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” the thief on the cross says to Jesus. And Jesus replies, saying to the man, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Because on that day, by dying on that cross, Christ Jesus was establishing his kingdom and opening the gates of Paradise to all believers. It all hinges on the forgiveness of sins won for us by Christ on the cross. This is what opens heaven, Paradise, to us.

Today Betty is with her Lord in Paradise. Her soul is with the Lord, at peace and at rest. No more declining health, only peace in Paradise. And on the Last Day, when Jesus comes again, our Lord will raise up her body, in a new and glorified state, then to enjoy the blessings of eternal life, in both body and soul. This is our hope, the sure hope that Christ’s own resurrection gives us.

How do we remember Betty? As a beloved family member, church member, and friend. Yes to all of those wonderful memories. But more than that, I want you to remember Betty the way that God has remembered her: As God’s own baptized child, forgiven and righteous for Christ’s sake, now enjoying the peace of Paradise with her Lord forever. Even when Betty couldn’t remember much, the Lord remembered Betty. He kept her in his loving care.

And I want you to remember how God remembers all of us–both by what he does not remember and by what he does. He does not remember our sins–Jesus took care of that on the cross. God does remember his covenant of promise, sealed with the blood of Christ. God remembers us in mercy and according to his steadfast love. He remembers us all the days of our life. He remembers us in our dying hour. God remembers us when he welcomes us into the joy of everlasting life. Therefore, dear friends, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

Published in: on March 10, 2020 at 9:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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