FIRST LESSON Psalm 90
1 Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. 3 Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. 4 For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. 5 Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which rowth up. 6 In the morning it flourisheth, and rowth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth. 7 For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled. 8 Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. 9 For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. 10 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 11 Who knoweth the power of thine anger? Even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. 12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. 13 Return, O LORD, how long? And let it repent thee concerning thy servants. 14 O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. 16 Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. 17 And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.
SECOND LESSON John 14:1-6
1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. 5 Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? 6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
GOSPEL Ephesians 2:1-10
1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Grace and peace to you this day from God our Heavenly Father and from Jesus Christ, the author and giver of eternal life.
Dennis, Diane, Wanda, family, friends, and children of our heavenly Father. We gather here today, to say farewell to Mary Carolyn Robinson Kiser; a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, daughter and sister. And while we gather here today with grieving hearts, we don’t assemble as those without hope. We come here today knowing, that our separation from Carolyn, and all our departed loved ones, is but a temporary one, for we know in our hearts that in Christ, we have eternal life.
It’s poignant that we gather in the midst of Holy Week; because this, of all weeks, reminds us of God’s promises to us in Jesus Christ. Today, Maundy Thursday, reminds us of the price Jesus paid for our sins and on Sunday we will celebrate the hope of every Christian; the Resurrection of Jesus and the promise of eternal life for all who believe. These are promises that Carolyn believed in and lived. These are the promises that she taught her children and the assurances that gave her comfort in her final days.
As children of God and joint heirs with Christ in God’s kingdom, we have hope as well. We’re optimistic because of the knowledge that death does not have the final word. Through Christ’s obedience unto death, and by the power of God, He overcame death, so that we might be reconciled to God and live with Him forever. Carolyn believed in these promises and lived her life not only as an example for all of us, but in praise to God. She lived her life to the fullest. One could even say, she lived her life as if each day could be her last.
It was Ray Charles who said, “Live every day like it’s your last, ‘cause one day you’re gonna be right.” The Bible often reminds us that this is the way we should live our lives, with the end in view. One of those scriptures is found in Psalm 90. “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our heart unto wisdom” (vs. 12). George Bernard Shaw once said, “Life’s ultimate statistic is the same for all people: one out of one dies.” This admonition is set against the backdrop of the eternal nature of God.
The Psalmist begins, “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” “Teach us to number our days,” prays the psalmist. And each of us would do well to ask the same of the Almighty. For, can we truly appreciate life or fully enter into it, until we’ve learned how short the span of our years will be? Can we become really mature, “Get a heart of wisdom,” until we’ve faced squarely our own death and lived accordingly? “Teach us to number our days” – that’s a lesson we all need.
And, the psalmist indicates that in this subject, the best teacher is death itself. For death instruct us about life in several ways. First, death punctuates life. It marks the end of life. It underscores our time limitations. We arrive at one point in time and depart at another.
Carolyn was born April 25, 1932, and died three days ago on March 31st. We’re all aware that we don’t have forever here. What we plan to do in this life must be done in a definite period of time. You may say, “That’s obvious; we all know that!” But, I must respond by saying that if we do know it, we don’t always act as if we do. Some of us act as if we have forever. We keep putting off things that we ought to do. The basement needs cleaning. The income tax forms need to be filled out. Someone in the family is waiting for an email. My friend deserves an apology. We all have our list of things that need doing don’t we? You know what’s on the list, and you know what we tell ourselves and others about it, don’t we? “I’ll get to it bright and early in the morning.” “First thing next week, I’ll do that.” “As soon as I get some free time, I’ll attend to that.” “When I retire, I’ll get that knocked out.” But our teacher, death, breaks in and asks, “What makes you so sure that you’re going to be given that time?”
The psalmist figures that the normal life is seventy, possibly eighty, years. Carolyn lived just three weeks shy of eighty-three years. She was fortunate, and seventy years is only the average. We know that death is no respecter of age. Sadly some infants don’t survive birth. Youth are cut off before having tasted much of life’s sweetness. And middle-aged people are snatched away before finishing their work. There is a natural progression to life.
“Like grass which is renewed in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.” But we have no guarantee that we will pass through all the stages. We best do what we have to do in each stage. Later on, we may not have the opportunity to do so. Carolyn understood this well and lived life as if each day was her last.
Carolyn would retreat from time to time to the lake house. While there she’d visit her favorite shopping place the “Denver shopping mall”. We all know it as Denver Christian Ministries. It was amazing the bargains she could come away with. But for Carolyn, life was more than relaxation and shopping, it was about family, church and friends.
For Carolyn, aside from God, family was the center of her world. Monday nights would find the family all gathered in her home. Anytime the kids were there, there would be popcorn, brownies and peanut butter crackers. And if that wasn’t enough, there was a special cabinet where she kept her chocolate. And boy could she cook!
For nearly 48 years she kept Herman and the kids fed. On a moment’s notice it seems, she could whip up a plate of fried chicken, a pot of her delicious chicken and dumplings or even a cake. And from what I understand, recipe contests were a delight to her because she would often win. And anytime there was food, it was always accompanied with God’s blessing. It’s a blessing we say at Youth group each time we meet. “Bless this food and us to thy service.” Her faith was strong and she shared that faith with her family. But cooking wasn’t her only gift to those around her.
I encourage you to look around the Sanctuary, the Education Building and even my office. The evidence of her love for God and her talents are everywhere. For example, each one of the bells on the All Saints banner were lovingly assembled and marked with each name by Carolyn. Many of the banners you see hanging here, in our worship space, were either made, donated or maintained by Carolyn. The three small banners that hang in my office and the four that hang in the Education Building hall were, all carefully embroidered by her. Her talents were many and she generously shared those gifts with others to the glory of God the Father. Carolyn had so much love to share that it’s impossible in the short time we have this morning to remember them all. So, in remembering her, let us learn from her and devote ourselves to the tasks, the challenges and the dreams that present themselves to us now. “Satisfy us in the morning with thy steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.” The second thing we learn from death is that it purges life.
Death reveals what is worthwhile and what’s not. Many of us are devoted to security. We’re preoccupied with accumulating goods, power or fame. But these things have no staying power of their own; they, too, will pass away or will be taken away. Ironically, we acknowledge this truth by attempting to lay our hands on more and more and by taking all kinds of measures to preserve and to protect what we gain. We may succeed for a while in keeping our hoard from moths, rust and thieves. We might even reach the point where we declare, with the rich man in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12, “I have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” But Jesus warns that we cannot be separated from what we have: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Carolyn learned this lesson early in her life. She laid up her treasures in heaven. That is to say, she devoted herself to God, by serving others. As a member of Bethel for 60+ years she dedicated much of her time in service. She was a faithful member of the choir, ensured we always had baptismal cloths, cooked meals for the sick, started the Golden agers secret Pals program and was a prominent member of the Lutheran Women’s circles. She was indeed a pillar of the church, always doing her part and supporting us in ours. The psalmist prayed, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” A more recent translation renders the last part: “Make all we do succeed.” (The Jerusalem Bible) God certainly blessed and prospered the efforts of Carolyn.
I thank God for the favor that was upon Carolyn – no, for the favor that Carolyn was. She was successful in all the ways that count, in all the ways we have come here to witness to. And all this, and more, all points to the third way death teaches us. It promotes relationships.
We’re here to celebrate all the ways that Carolyn’s life enriched ours and all the ways we were able to enhance hers. We are thankful for the love we have shared; sorrowful that we have been separated from that love. But, Carolyn’s influence will remain with us, won’t it? Let it move us to cultivate more deeply the friendships we have and to develop new relationships. Finally, death helps us understand life by raising the question of eternal life: “If a man dies, shall he live again?”
The psalmist didn’t give a direct answer to that question, but he did remind us that God is God of all time. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations … from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” This conviction is expanded upon by our Lord, who has assured us that, ” In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:2-3)
Carolyn was a faith filled, loving, supportive and independent woman and I will miss her. In closing I’d like to share one last thing with you. Carolyn planned the entire service today. Tuesday at the funeral home Diane brought a pad and in it were all the details we needed to plan today. It also included some surprises. Some of these surprises you’ve already heard. At her request all the scriptures read today were from the King James Version of the Bible. The two poems printed in the bulletin at the end of the service are ones that she either cut out or wrote herself and she had one final surprise and that you will hear shortly. Carolyn was a woman of love, courage and strong faith. And it was her faith in God that guided her and her family all the days of her life. It was a faith that she learned from her parents and a faith that she passed on to her children! Those who are parents and grandparents need to take that to heart!
Carolyn took great comfort in the promises God has given us and she shared God’s love freely with all those around her; family and friends. Let us do the same. And, let us also express the faith and hope that is ours in Christ Jesus, as we stand and sing one of Carolyn’s favorite hymns, “Abide with Me.”