TEXT: JOHN 10:14, 17, 27-30
IN CHRIST JESUS, GOD HOLDS SELMA IN HIS HAND!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

 

Dear Roger and Marilyn, Alan and Marie, Diane and Tom, David and Penny, dear grandchildren and other family members and friends of Selma Byhardt. As you mark the death of you mother, your grandmother, your friend, your sister in Christ, please give ear to the words of Jesus in John chapter 10, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.


These words of Jesus’ were the text for the last brief sermon I spoke to Selma at Horizon hospice care at St. Mary’s Mequon. Her breathing was heavy and aided by oxygen. Her coughing was persistent and difficult to see. When asked about receiving the Sacrament of the Altar her answer was a clearly expressed “yes”. During that service she clearly expressed her “yes” to the confession of sins – and she heard again the forgiving words of absolution that the risen Christ commanded be spoken to repentant sinners. In her room, she received again the heavenly food of her Savior’s true body and true blood for the forgiveness of her sins. It was an undeserved duty and delight to serve her the gifts of her Lord – on Thursday last and so many, many times in her home.


It is through His gifts in Christ that God holds us in His hand. His holding of 3 pound baby Selma began immediately after her birth. As her physical health and life was uncertain, God’s gift of holy baptism was administered to her right away. Life for a tiny infant back then was without the intensive care units of today. Baby Selma – so small as to held in one’s hand! Her life as a little girl was again threatened by a severe case of pneumonia. “If she makes it through the night she may live” – said the doctor. And she did back then. The report from Horizon hospice on Saturday would have been that 93 year old Selma did not make it through the night. And yet dear Christians – she did – for Christ has conquered death and in Christ Jesus, God holds Selma in His hand.

FUNERAL SERMON FOR SELMA BYHARDT – 5/27/2015
TEXT: JOHN 10:14, 17, 27-30
IN CHRIST JESUS, GOD HOLDS SELMA IN HIS HAND!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

Dear Roger and Marilyn, Alan and Marie, Diane and Tom, David and Penny, dear grandchildren and other family members and friends of Selma Byhardt. As you mark the death of you mother, your grandmother, your friend, your sister in Christ, please give ear to the words of Jesus in John chapter 10, My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.


These words of Jesus’ were the text for the last brief sermon I spoke to Selma at Horizon hospice care at St. Mary’s Mequon. Her breathing was heavy and aided by oxygen. Her coughing was persistent and difficult to see. When asked about receiving the Sacrament of the Altar her answer was a clearly expressed “yes”. During that service she clearly expressed her “yes” to the confession of sins – and she heard again the forgiving words of absolution that the risen Christ commanded be spoken to repentant sinners. In her room, she received again the heavenly food of her Savior’s true body and true blood for the forgiveness of her sins. It was an undeserved duty and delight to serve her the gifts of her Lord – on Thursday last and so many, many times in her home.


It is through His gifts in Christ that God holds us in His hand. His holding of 3 pound baby Selma began immediately after her birth. As her physical health and life was uncertain, God’s gift of holy baptism was administered to her right away. Life for a tiny infant back then was without the intensive care units of today. Baby Selma – so small as to held in one’s hand! Her life as a little girl was again threatened by a severe case of pneumonia. “If she makes it through the night she may live” – said the doctor. And she did back then. The report from Horizon hospice on Saturday would have been that 93 year old Selma did not make it through the night. And yet dear Christians – she did – for Christ has conquered death and in Christ Jesus, God holds Selma in His hand.


I loved what Selma said as she considered her life amid her family coming and going in those last hours. “Pastor – I have been so blessed by God in my life.”  Indeed, God’s blessings overflow and so they did to Selma. Adopted by an Uncle and Aunt when her mother died in childbirth Selma did right well on the Henn family farm on Mequon road. She attended St. John’s Lutheran Church there as a little girl and once told me that for a while she thought heaven was on the other side of the church because the pastor would always motion toward the church cemetery (in a certain direction) when he would speak of those called to heaven. Little Selma’s sense of heaven’s location was not quite right. But now it is – being with Christ which is better by far. In Christ Jesus, God holds Selma in His hand.


God intended His blessings – His good gifts - to go on forever. As Selma from her bed spoke of how blessed she had been I added also the explosion of blessings that was yet to come. Can that be true? The blessings He gave to Selma included husband Joe, who took her as his bride when she was 19 years old. Soon they were living on Beverly Road and Selma has known the stability of that home and that neighborhood for over 70 years. Can it be true that present and future blessings for Selma – whose soul is now called from this earth far surpass what she knew here. Consider that God’s blessings here included four children and then their spouses whom she counted as four more children of her own! Add to that six grandchildren and two great grandchildren! Add to that the neighborhood children with whom she loved to visit – your friends around her table – or the children who came to the soda fountain at Beverly Drug. Add to that Julie and Joe – next door neighbors and close family friends for over fifty years. How often does that happen in a city today?


Selma as a young lady thought she might like to be a teacher or a hair dresser. Those professional and educational dreams never came to pass in a formal way. And yet in her home she taught her children. In her neighborhood relationships, she passed on bits of advice and used her skill at setting hair. Visiting with Selma one received the impression that she enjoyed the vocations of wife and mother and grandmother and neighbor and helper - vocations that God gave to her. Even in later years of weakness, she gave thanks for being in her home, for the kind care of Debra, for family attention and outings. It is such a blessing to see life as God’s gift and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving from His hand. Whether these numerous gifts or enjoying music or the beauty of her flowers, Selma was grateful for her blessings from God.


She also knew that earthly life had its struggles and suffering. She commented some on sad and harmful changes in society. I recall one fall visit and her words about trick or treats. She remembered early generations being so thankful to receive an apple as a treat while children of today are easily spoiled expecting a boatload of candy and not appreciating it. Selma knew the realities of difficult times. She knew the commitment needed in giving care in her home to Joe in His days of weakness. She also knew the limitations brought on by loss of sight and broken bones and rehabilitation and heart valve issues.


It was the worsening of the latter that brought Roger to her house just two weeks ago on a day when Selma had scheduled a Lord’s Supper visit. The trouble breathing had been noticed on Mother’s Day, and had grown some worse. After testing and conversation, plans were kept to see her physician the next day. On the day of that visit, however, the Great Physician gave her His healing medicine in Word and Sacrament. The message she heard focused on Christ’s Ascension and is well reflected in our final hymn.


When I called on Selma two days later at St. Mary’s hospital, she was comfortable and there was growing knowledge of the severity of her heart’s decline. In a short devotion with her there, I used our first reading from Psalm 51 – Create in me a clean heart, O God. Selma was reminded that her heart before God was in perfect health, created new by the forgiving gifts of her Lord, even as we prayed for help and healing according to God’s will for her congestive heart condition. You see the greatest blessing God gave to Selma came through the speaking of His Son. Alan and David, you mentioned one time you made other plans after work and didn’t communicate with Selma that you would be quite late in getting home. You also conveyed how clearly you heard about that and were reminded of it through the years. Your mother communicated her love and her concern very clearly.


So God has clearly communicated His love to this world of dying sinners. His greatest blessing for Selma and for us is what He has spoken and continues to speak to us through His Son (Heb. 1:1, 2). He put His name on Selma in her baptism – clothing her with Christ (Gal. 3:27). She began worshipping and confessing the faith here at Luther Memorial Chapel in the mid 1940’s and a decade later her influence on Joe helped lead to his confirmation in the faith in in the same year that you were born Diane and baptized here. You children know her encouragement to you concerning that which Christ gives – seeing to your baptisms – bringing you to God’s house. With all the blessings God gave to her in this life, Selma knew that our outer nature is wasting away – that everything here wears out. This is why he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us …into his presence…For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:13-18).


Selma treasured the things see could see, including your presence - your holding of her hand – your conversations with her. The hold of none of us, however, could change her wasting away here or the reality of death and the grave for her. Nor can we change that for ourselves. But God could and God did! For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 6:23)  In Christ Jesus, God holds Selma in His hand. 


It took the hands of God the Son in the flesh to do that - to gather us sinners into the embrace of the Holy Trinity. The one through whom the world was created and who holds it together had the tiny hands of an infant. It is the miracle of the ages. However, the fullness of their redeeming work was done not when they held anything – but when they were held fast with spikes to the tree of the cross. It is the center of human history. This is how we know what love is – that Christ laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16). He went into death’s dark valley that He might take us through that shadow land to dwell with Him. In Christ Jesus, God holds Selma in His hand. 


The Psalm (116) Selma spoke and heard here ten years ago for Joe’s funeral service says it well today for us as we consider the entangling cords of death. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.  Yes, Selma made it through the night last Saturday – through the night of this troubled world to the land of the living.


We rejoice that in Christ Jesus, God holds Selma in His hand. We also rejoice that her body that we lay to rest tomorrow will be raised by Him on the Last Day. The rich blessings of this life are limited and they are transient. Selma was right to say of them – I have been so blessed by God. However, her thanksgiving to God was raised in Christ – knowing her sin and depending on the cleansing power of His blood.  In Christ, God’s blessings to her did not come to an end on Saturday. Rightfully considered they have exploded in the presence of her heavenly Bridegroom and they will continue eternally in the new heavens and the new earth.


As the risen Christ comes among His gathered people to teach them and feed them in worship each week they are right to cry out again and again – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. That’s what Christ comes among us to do until He calls us to Himself where all is new and where joy is full. 


My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. God comfort you with the Lord’s eternal gifts to Selma through Jesus Christ our Lord. In His name, Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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