A Good Life and a Blessed Death: Sermon for the Funeral of Dorothy Williamson
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“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15).
Dear family and friends of Dorothy. Sometimes people will say about someone who has died, “She had a good life.” There’s a problem with that. The world’s understanding of a good life is at best inadequate, compared to God’s understanding of what constitutes a good life. Now there could be several similarities. A person who has a good, God-pleasing life might be blessed with a loving and caring spouse, loving and respectful children, a job or vocation that brought meaning and fulfillment to her life, enjoyable hobbies and interests, and more than adequate material blessings.
By those definitions, I think you could say that Dorothy had a good life. Married to Elmo on June 14, 1946, the couple enjoyed over 60 years together in a union which has been further blessed with four children, twelve grandchildren, and twenty great-grandchildren. A farmer’s wife, who took on all the activities that includes, yet still found time to volunteer at church and in the community, as well as hobbies like sewing, knitting, entertaining, and golfing. And then there were those special trips with Elmo and winters in Mesa, Arizona. I don’t remember who it was that said to me, “It’s too bad you didn’t get to know her a few years ago.” After hearing stories about Dorothy and watching her tribute video, I’d have to agree: it seems she lived a very fulfilling life, a good life.
But from God’s perspective, there are even more important ingredients that make a life good and pleasing to Him. Christians look to the goodness, kindness, and compassion of our Lord for the key to a truly good life. To begin with, we give God the credit, honor, and glory for all of the good gifts and blessings we enjoy. By faith we can say with the psalmist, “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful… when I was brought low, He saved me” (Psalm 116:5-6).
Christians know that there is no higher calling in life than to walk in step with the Lord and His purposes, following Him and serving Him all the days of our life. Christians know that our true meaning and fulfillment in life is found not in money or the things that we accumulate, but rather in the love, kindness, and forgiveness that our Lord moves us to share with others, during our daily life and daily relationships. Christians know that the motivation for our life of Christian love and service to others comes from the love of Christ living in us. As the Bible tells us, “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
For Dorothy, that walk with the Lord, began at the baptismal font, here in Trinity on March 3, 1926. There she received the Holy Spirit with His gifts of faith, forgiveness, and eternal life for the sake of Jesus Christ. That faith was nurtured at home, in church and Sunday School, and in Catechism class. She confessed that faith publicly in the Rite of Confirmation here at Trinity on May 28, 1939. Her confirmation verse was Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” No doubt, this promise of the Lord provided Dorothy great comfort and strength and encouragement as she faced the trials and triumphs, sorrows and joys, in the following years.
As Christians, we also may know from our faith and life experience that when we are confronted with struggles, sickness, and sorrow—which are an inevitable part of life in this fallen world—we have a sure source of comfort, strength, and hope in Jesus Christ, His Word, and His promises. When we live by faith in our Good Shepherd and Savior, we know that He will lead us through all the valleys and shadows of life, until that blessed day comes when His angels will welcome us to our eternal home in heaven. Then we will finally grasp the full meaning of the words of our text, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
That is what constitutes a truly good life—living with Christ and for Christ, living each day in His love and forgiveness He earned for us on the cross, sharing His grace and mercy with those around us every chance we get, and living always with the assurance than nothing in this life, not even death, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
There’s another phrase I’ve heard much more in recent years, probably because of the hospice movement: “She had a good death.” People might mean various things by that phrase, not all of which would be in conformity with God’s will and purposes. As Christians, we might mean by that phrase some of the following: Despite a long and difficult illness, toward the end of her life, the person’s pain was largely under control. The person was able, during her final days, to be alert enough to communicate with her family or to have her family there with her. The person could die rather peacefully, gradually slipping away from the struggles of this life to the glories of God’s eternal peace.
Based upon those definitions, I suppose we could say that Dorothy had a good death. But from God’s eternal perspective, as well as in the eyes of those who live by faith in Christ, there are even more important things that would make it a good death. It depends upon who walks with us.
You see, in the whole history of the world, in the whole human experience, only one man has lived a truly good life. Only one man loved the Lord His God above all things. Only one man loved His neighbor as Himself. Jesus lived the sinless, obedient, righteous life that you and I are required to live, but could not, would not. Consequently, only one man has died a good death. To be sure, it did look so good at the time, as He hung from the cross, bloodied and beaten. It looked as if death had the final say. But His life was not taken from Him, the Good Shepherd willingly laid down His life for His sheep—for you and me and Dorothy. And then He took it back up again on the third day.
Risen and ascended to the Father’s right hand, Jesus promises to be with us always. As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, either by ourselves or with a loved one, we know with great assurance, that our Good Shepherd walks with us every step of the way. What matters is knowing that we have a Savior who on the cross paid in full for all our flaws, faults, and failures, and continues to love us and forgive us unconditionally. What counts, when the going gets tough, is to know we can count on God’s sure promise that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
What matters most of all is to be able to live—and to die—with the sure confidence that when our Lord calls His people to their eternal home, the Good Shepherd Himself “will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).
Living and dying in faith in Christ Jesus—that is the truly good life and blessed death. That is the sure and certain faith by which Dorothy lived—and in which she died. By God’s grace, may you and I be able to say the same. May you and I be able to confess along with the psalmist and Dorothy our faith in the saving power of Christ in His good life (a perfect sinless life), His good death (the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world), and His victorious resurrection and the resurrection of our own bodies unto life everlasting:
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 116:7-9).
The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.