A funeral sermon

In Memory of Ronald Eugene Bowhay
Psalm 116:15
May 25, 2011

Psalm 116:1-15 I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!” 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. I believed, even when I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted”; I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.” What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord; I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

I arrived at the Whatcom Hospice House at 2806 Douglas Avenue in Bellingham, Washington just as Ronald Eugene Bowhay breathed his last. A nurse met me in the lobby and quickly escorted me to the hallway leading to Ron’s room. “You arrived just in time,” she said somewhat anxiously, “The family will need you.”

My heart was already heavy with emotion because the news wasn’t a surprise. That morning the doctors had given Ron just “24-72 hours” to live. And with the memory of him the day before lying in his hospital bed at St. Joseph’s fresh in my mind—body ravaged with decades of physical wear from various illnesses, including kidney disease, cardiac arrest, and cancer—Ron’s death was not unexpected. Selfishly, I had hoped for another conversation and glimpse of Ron’s ever-present smile. It was this smile, and the warm heart behind it, that endeared me to Ron and his family just 9 months ago when we first met.

But in the all-wise providence of God, Ron’s smile is not what I was to see that day. Instead, I was confronted with three sobbing family members huddled on the floor in front of Ron’s closed door, arms wrapped tightly around each other. Melissa looked up and, through deep anguish and tears, motioned me inside saying that Noni would like to see me. I opened the door and entered into an extension of the grief outside. Tears flowed steadily on the faces around the room. The first hand I shook was Ken Bowhay’s, though brothers Dave and Dan’s were close behind. Their eyes each displayed strength and sorrow that, I trust, makes Ron and Noni very proud. These are men who loved their father very deeply and their grief at this moment was powerful testimony to that love.

I looked to my left and, as we would all expect, saw Noni at Ron’s bedside holding his hand. I walked up beside her, put my arm around her, and gave Noni a hug that with all my heart intended to convey some small sense of solidarity, an embrace that said without words, “I’m with you in this sorrow; I’m with you in this grief. But far more importantly, God is with you.” Noni put her hands on my shoulders and looked at me through tears with that steely-eyed look we all know, and asked rhetorically, “Is it okay?” I answered with words of promise and assurance, “Yes, yes, it’s okay. Ron is with the Lord and suffers no more.”

This was the scene I came upon just one week ago today. This is what I saw: a family in anguish, weeping and lamenting over the death of the patriarch of the family, their dearly loved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend. And this grief continues today. For some it may not be as acute as it was just days ago, but there are no timelines for when grief ends. In fact, it may never end this side of heaven. But there is a perspective that penetrates grief; a perspective on the death of a Christian that we need to see so that it can overwhelm our grief with hope. Gospel hope.

The perspective I’m referring to is God’s perspective on the death of His saints. And we see it in Psalm 116:15 where the psalmist says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”

Why “precious”? Why so deeply valued? Why so highly prized? Why so abundantly treasured in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints? The simple, yet profound, reason the Bible gives is that when Christians die they receive the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls. The psalmist knew this: “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” (116:8-9). For the Christian death is swallowed up in victory, tears are wiped away forever, and we will stumble no more as we walk before the Lord in the land of the living—not of the dead, but of the living.

How is this possible? The psalmist roots this great hope in the character of God: “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful” (116:5). A gracious, righteous, and merciful God is He.

Noni, you have told me on more than one occasion, that whenever Ron prayed he never failed to work in a brief gospel message. Something like, “Thank you, Lord, for dying on the cross for our sins.” I love this because it’s a clear reminder of how it is that we are delivered from death. God’s mercy and righteousness met perfectly at the cross. At the cross God punished sin in a substitute—Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. It’s the simple gospel of 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God …” It’s the simple gospel of Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” It’s the simple gospel of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The cross is why Jesus could say absolutely radical things like, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51). The cross is why Jesus could look at Martha who was grieving the loss of her brother and say with incomparable compassion, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). The cross is why the Apostle Paul could be in prison not knowing if he would live or be executed and yet proclaim, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21, 23). The cross is why “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”

Through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Ronald Eugene Bowhay has been delivered from death; delivered from tears; delivered from stumbling and has, even now, entered into an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. And yet we grieve, and rightfully so. But by the grace of God let us not grieve as others do who have no hope. Let us grieve standing on the promise that in Christ Jesus surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever—with Ron, and the countless other saints throughout the ages that have received the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls.

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One Response to A funeral sermon

  1. Mary says:

    I have just found your blog and tonight it has meant so much to me. Thank you!
    My father has just been admitted into hospice. He’s 88. We’re members of a church and have been all our lives. The minister has yet to visit him . . . he’s been home bound 3-4 years and in the nursing home since February. No visit. Breaks my heart. Your words in this post have meant so much.

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