Funeral Sermon for John Robert Albin Bergstrom, based on Ps 23 & Jn 14:1-6, by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, at Zion Lutheran Church, Bashaw, February 12, 2020, at one o’clock.
We are gathered here today to remember John Robert Albin Bergstrom; to mourn his loss; to support one another; and to give thanks for his life as well as commend him into God’s care.
As I met with family members earlier this week to plan this Service, they chose our two Scripture readings from the twenty-third Psalm and John chapter fourteen.
In Psalm 23, we find some very comforting words. Indeed, this psalm contains some of the most comforting words in the Bible—and I think that’s why so many people choose it to be read at Services like this one. God is pictured as a Good Shepherd, who knows, loves and cares for his sheep in every way. God is our provider of life and all of our needs; and God is like a shepherd bringing us comfort in times of suffering and trouble.
As the family spoke of John’s life, one of the qualities that they mentioned was his strong work ethic, which gave him a passion for his calling in life as a farmer. In doing so, John was reflecting to his family and to others who knew him something of what God the Good Shepherd does for us as our provider. God is hard at work to provide for our needs throughout our lifetime—just as a real-life shepherd does for their sheep.
The psalmist reassures us that: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and staff – they comfort me. We all know that for many years, and especially during the last while, John had dark valleys to walk through due to several health issues. Life was not easy for John. His valley likely at times tested him to the limits. Valleys that caused John to suffer from several limitations. Yet, through these valleys, John had a strong will to live and enjoyed life as much as possible, even with his limitations because of illnesses. It would be wrong however to blame God as the cause of inflicting these sufferings upon John. It would also be wrong to pass judgement on John by saying that he somehow brought it on himself. It would be more accurate to say that God allows suffering. He does this not because he’s a bully; not because he takes delight in causing people pain; not because he likes or enjoys punishing people. Rather, he allows suffering to draw us closer to him; to rely more upon him for endurance, strength and comfort. The psalmist says: for you are with me. Even in John’s darkest valley of suffering, God was with him. God was there to share the burden of his pain, his limitations, his frustrations, and discouragements. God the Good Shepherd was there to give him the ability to endure; God was there to strengthen and comfort him. God is also with us; now and always; at all times; in all circumstances.
That is one reason why I especially like the ending of this Psalm. The psalmist writes: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The Hebrew word which is often translated into English as “follow” would be just as accurate if it were translated “pursue.” God is an active God—pursuing us, chasing after us, wanting us to have his goodness and mercy so much that he never gives up, making sure that he gives them to us. We will never be able to run away from God—he will always catch up to us.
What I heard from the family about John’s life, I think that God did bless him in many ways with his goodness and mercy. God the Good Shepherd blessed John with many years of good health so that he could enjoy his work and providing for his family. God blessed John with his goodness and mercy through many loving relationships with his family members. He loved his family and showing up for his children and grandchildren’s activities, and spending quality time with them—which brings us to our passage from John’s Gospel.
This passage gives us a comforting picture of Jesus’ promise to us. He tells us that for those who believe in God and in him: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” In other words, there is lots of room, so much room that it is beyond our ability to even comprehend it on this side of heaven. The promise doesn’t end there however. Jesus goes on to say: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also.”
What a beautiful promise this is! As the old saying goes: “There’s no place like home.” Isn’t that true? Especially if we’ve been gone away from home for a long time—it is so good to be home. If you have been away from your spouse and family, isn’t great to have them welcome you back home? Picture it in your heart and mind: Jesus who is our way, truth and life, has gone ahead of us to heaven to prepare our eternal home. He has organized everything—all that we need for the whole of eternity is looked after. WOW! Isn’t that wonderful! What a gift—that’s why we call it God’s grace.
As you know, John enjoyed being with family and friends. Think of how much he will enjoy meeting up with his friends and family who are already in heaven waiting for him. Perhaps he’s enjoying a good cup of coffee and visiting with them now. As the psalmist speaks of God’s abundance: “My cup overflows,” and, as John might say: “More is better.”
So, too, my prayer for each of you here today is that you believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; that the LORD is your Shepherd; that one day you too, along with John may enjoy eternal life, in God’s dwelling place, where there is plenty of room for you, and more is better! For that, thanks be to God! Amen.