Summary: Funeral sermon for Michael Ellis, avid golfer and new believer. God has done definite things in Michael’s life, has provided a definite plan of salvation, and has given the definite gift of eternal life.
I know almost nothing about the game of golf. I do know that Michael Ellis was an avid golfer. Even there in the hospice it seemed to comfort him to watch golf on television. I’m not sure he appreciated it when I compared looking TV golf to watching the grass grow. He laughed, but I’m not sure he appreciated that comment.
I know very little about the game of golf. I do know that you must avoid sand traps and water and rough patches, and that if your ball lands in one of those, it’s going to be hard work to get it out.
I know only a few names of famous golfers. I do know names like Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. I have read about Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie. I know that golf is where my doctor is if I need her on Thursdays, and I know that golf is what some of my fellow pastors expect me to do, along with them, when I retire. I have news for them! Not going to happen. I don’t need that kind of frustration; I’ve had enough of that just pastoring a church!
I know very little about golf, but one thing I do know, and that is that it’s all in the stance, the stance and the swing. How you flex your knees, how you address the ball, how you follow through on your swing. I know very little about the game, but this much I do understand – that if you approach it hesitantly, you will never win. If you are tentative in your stance, your score will be very poor. But if you take a definite stance; if you are confident; if you hit the ball cleanly and squarely; if you follow through definitely, you have a good chance to succeed. The key thing is to be definite in the way you approach the game.
Over several visits with Mike, I picked up a word from him. I heard a word that told me something about him. I heard him use the word “definitely”. “Definitely”. Once he was thirsty, and said he needed some water. Then he said it again, “I definitely need some water.” And when we gave him the water, his response was, “I definitely needed that, definitely, definitely.” It felt as though the idea of approaching things definitely was important to Mike.
And then another time, when this preacher had read too many Scriptures and had posed too many questions, Mike was candid enough to say, “I need a break. I definitely need a break from this. It’s good, pastor, but I definitely need a break.” I understood.
These things gave me a clue to Mike and to his spiritual needs. I found them interpreted by the apostle Peter in the Book of Acts. In the middle of Peter’s first great sermon following the resurrection of the Lord, he cries out to the people of Jerusalem:
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say. Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through Him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised Him up, having freed Him from death, because it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.”
The definite plan ... of God. Definitely. We saw Michael grow from tentative to definite, from hesitant to confident, from unsure to sure. Michael grew from duffer to champion. Definitely.
In Michael’s life God did some definite things. God provided some definite signs and wonders. Just as Peter said that Jesus was affirmed by God with signs and wonders, so also I believe that Michael was brought from hesitant to confident, from tentative to definite, by our the work of God.
Michael professed faith in Christ early on, as many of us do. I have no doubt of his genuine faith in those early years. But again, as many of us do, Michael put the practice of his faith on hold, in order to pursue other things – his business, his work, his family, his sports interests, and yes, maybe also his golf. You will understand, I’m sure, that I am by no means being critical. I am not discounting anything, if I say that for some while Michael’s approach to his faith was hesitant and tentative. It was not definite.
Several years ago I went to see Michael and talked with him about Christ, about making a firm commitment. Michael said that he was a believer, and, yes, at some time soon he would make that into a definite commitment. But I didn’t see Mike come forward, I didn’t see him express that commitment. It was not yet definite.