Summary: Funeral sermon for Ruth Gossage, age 97, one of the first female U.S. Secret Service agents.
But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God
decreed before the ages for our glory.
Life is mystery. It is not just that life contains mystery, nor
that there are so many unsolved questions. It is that life
itself is mystery, secret and hidden, as Paul says. It has
often been said that the great puzzles we never quite solve
are the puzzles of our past, our present, and our future:
where did we come from, why are we here, and where are
we going? I submit to you that, while sages and
philosophers, scientists and pundits in every age have come
up with answers, no human answer is completely satisfying.
Every answer to those questions leaves much to be desired.
And if you struggle honestly with those issues, you are left
with one unsettling truth: that life is mystery. Where we
came from, why we are here, and where we are going
remain unclear for most of us.
And that is why it is so remarkable to be able to celebrate the
life of one who did have answers to those questions, one
who was comfortable with her responses to the great issues
of life. Few of us arrive at the kind of quiet certainty that
marked Ruth Gossage. Few of us achieve the kind of
blessed assurance she had. Ruth Gossage was comfortable
in her own skin. She knew where she had come from; she
knew who she was and what she was doing here; and,
praise God, up to and including the very end of more than
ninety-seven years of life, she was confident of where she
was going. She had found the answer to the secret.
Part of the lore about Mrs. Gossage’s is that she was among
the very first women to be an agent in the United States
Secret Service. By some accounts, in fact, she was the very
first woman to qualify to carry firearms. She served her
nation, protecting the president, some sixty years ago, in the
White House. And so, though there are many other facets to
Ruth Gossage’s life, I want to pick up on this item, and, with
a nod to the James Bond genre, I want to think with you
about what it means to be “On His Majesty’s Secret Service.”
For just as Agent 007 served the Queen of Great Britain, “on
her majesty’s secret service”, in the 1963 Ian Fleming novel,
so also agent Ruth Gossage served the King of High
Heaven, on His majesty’s secret service. She found and
served the secret of life’s great mystery.
First, consider with me that Ruth Gossage served our Lord
with the simplicity of her witness. She did not attempt to
overwhelm, to argue, or to bowl you over. But you felt the
power of her convictions and the strength of her
commitments, as she shared them lovingly and beautifully.
Paul tells the church at Corinth that when he came to preach
among them, he did not come with lofty words or wisdom, but
came with simplicity of speech and with the determination to
let his life speak as his witness. Paul knew that he could
have dazzled the Corinthians with his logic and could have
overpowered them with his rhetoric. But, says the apostle,
he knew that if he were truly to be successful, it would not be
because he had argued them down, but because he had
lifted them up by the Spirit of God.
Ruth Gossage had an active, alert mind. Almost until the
very end, if she could hear you, she could comment with
intelligence and insight. I learned a long time ago that she
did not accept everything that you said without examining it.
I received a few inquiries here and there about some of the
more outrageous statements I made in my sermons! But
when Ruth came questioning, it was not to be critical, and
not even to seek new information, but rather to exert a
witness, to share what she knew. And to do it not with lofty
words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s
Read her poems, and you will see. Listen to the directness
and the simplicity of her language, and you will know. She
writes of love and friendship and family. Even when she
writes of complex issues, like racism or intolerance, she
writes as one who brings straightforward values and a clear-
eyed insight. There are sweet touches of humor and
poignant observations that open a window through which we
can see. Like the psalmist before her who said that he did
not trouble himself with things too high, Ruth Gossage
unraveled some of the secrets of human life with direct and
simple wisdom, with pure and lovely logic.
Oh, she was on His majesty’s secret service. She served