Summary: Funeral message for Mrs. Betty Parker, a member of our church who had known for some time that she would die, and who had carefully thought through her relationships, her responsibilities, and her faith.
FINISHING TOUCHES (Philippians 1:3-11)
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
Some tasks are never finished. No matter how much effort you put in, they are never finished. There is always more that could be done.
Take housecleaning, for instance. To the truly fastidious, there is no such thing as a clean house. There is always a nook or a cranny that hides dust. There is always a fingerprint on the woodwork, always a heel mark on the kitchen floor. There is always something that could be cleaner. But you stop cleaning, because there is more to life than a clean house. You just stop and accept it the way it is. It’s not perfect, but it is presentable. It’s not complete, but it will be enough. I always marveled that the Parker house looked so immaculate, every time I visited. I don’t know how Betty did it, with her health challenges. She would always say that it needed more attention, more work. But it looked fine to me.
Yet to the truly fastidious, there is no such thing as a clean house. Some tasks are never finished. No matter how much effort you put in, they are never finished. There is always more that could be done.
Works of art are like that too. Painters, writers, musicians – they keep fiddling with their work. They try to get it right, they try to improve it. A dab of paint here, a rewritten paragraph there, a change in the orchestration – artists are never quite satisfied with their work. Those finishing touches are never quite complete. But the time comes when you have to stop tweaking and just let go. The time comes when the painting has to be hung in the gallery, the book has to be sent to the publisher, the concert hall is filled and ready. Finishing touches or not, the artist has to release his work and let it fly. Let it go, even though some tasks are never finished. There is always more that could be done.
When God purposed in His heart to give us Betty Jean Parker, He began a work of art. He shaped a mind that was quiet and yet clear. He made a heart that was sensitive and yet wide open. He created a work of art. In these last few weeks, God began to put the finishing touches on this work of art. God began to complete the incomplete, and prepared her to fly. We wanted her to stay in the workshop. We would have loved for her Lord to have taken yet more time to add those finishing touches. But the time comes when, finishing touches or not, the artist has to release His work and let it go. And you and I then marvel at His handiwork and glory in its beauty. And we know, with the apostle Paul, that “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
I was first privileged to see God sculpting this work of art more than fifteen years ago. I received a call from a lady whom I had not yet met; she told me that her husband lay ill at Walter Reed Hospital, and that his illness was likely terminal. She went on to say that his plight had spoken to her about his spiritual need and about her own. I visited Betty Parker that very day, and Ernest Parker as well. In that hospital room her husband, your father and grandfather, reached out to the Lord of life and death. He acknowledged his need of a personal Savior, and he received Christ as His Lord. Takoma Park Baptist Church considered Ernest Parker as one of our own, knowing that the Lord had claimed him. A Sunday or two later, Betty came forward, receiving Christ as her Lord and following Him in baptism. God had begun a good work in her. God had started a magnificent work of art.
But it was not yet finished. It was not yet complete. But that’s all right, for, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
Betty was not one of those people who impress you right away by their leadership qualities. She was not somebody who would grab you by the lapels and insist that you give them a place of prominence. Far from it. In fact, she worshipped here for quite a while unnoticed by many of our members. She made no speeches, she offered no public testimonies, she did nothing that would call attention to herself. I don’t think we ever even asked her to serve on a church committee. It’s a small miracle if you can stay around here for any length of time without being corralled to do some job! But Betty did begin to serve behind the scenes, and she did begin to give hints that God was preparing a very special work of art in her life.