Summary: This is a funeral sermon, outlining God's grace in the beginning, the middle, and the end of a woman's life story.
First Presbyterian Church
Wichita Falls, Texas
June 29, 2011
Witness to the Resurrection
Betty Patricia Newman
(March 2, 1925 - June 23, 2011)
THE FINISHING TOUCH
Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
They say that every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. If that’s true of stories in general, it is certainly true of the story of faith, and it is true of Betty’s story.
In his letter to the Philippians, when Paul writes about how God ‘began a good work in’ us, he has in mind the beginning of our life in Christ. So, let’s begin at the beginning. Let’s start with how God’s great ‘good work’ gets started in us and, more particularly, how it got started in Betty.
God was actively engaged in Betty’s life long before her birth -- in fact, long before creation. Does that surprise you? If so, then it may surprised by the Bible’s claim that this is true of you as well. In Titus, chapter 1, verse 2, Paul talks about ‘a faith...resting on the hope of eternal life, which God...promised before the beginning of time.’ He confirms this in Ephesians, chapter 1, verse 4, when he claims that God ‘chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world.’
Before God ever uttered the words that set creation in motion -- before he ever said, ‘Let there be light’ -- he made plans for you. He knew the day of your birth. He knew the extent of your years. And he promised ‘before the beginning of time’ that, in Christ, you would live forever. You and, of course, Betty.
But, if that seems too remote, too distant for comprehension, consider this. God once said to Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, [even] before you were born’ (Jer. 1:5). And David says to God in Psalm 139, ‘You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.... My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.... Your eyes saw my unformed body’ (vv. 13, 15).
That knowledge alone should provoke praise from our lips! How awesome is our God that he has planned for every detail and every need of our lives!
But now let’s fast forward a bit to a more proximate beginning. Recall, if you will, the day of your birth. Of course, you were not aware of anything on that day, at least, not consciously. Others were taking care of you; others were seeing to your needs. No doubt, you brought smiles to the faces of the people around you. Your parents and others probably looked upon you with awe.
God was there, too. The Scriptures say of him, ‘He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing’ (Zeph. 3:17). Betty was born on a spring day in rural Oklahoma, and, if you could have listened that day, you might have heard God humming!
God was at work in Betty’s life even in her childhood. Paul writes how God ‘began a good work’ in us, and, from the start, the grace of God was visible in Betty’s life. She was raised in a loving Christian family with her brother, Harry, and her sister, Maureen, and there in that setting she began to develop the unique features of her personality that would in time disarm us, each one, and win the favor of all who knew her.
Paul says not only that God ‘began a good work’ in us but that he ‘will carry it on.’ God doesn’t just shove us out of the nest and leave us on our own. In fact, he says to us, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5).
Betty was twenty-one when she married Dan Newman, and what a force they were in our lives -- in this whole world, really. One of the great purposes of marriage is for us to learn, as Paul says elsewhere in Philippians, to ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility [to] consider others better than’ ourselves (Phil. 2:3). Betty and Dan modeled this for us and gave us a glimpse of what God intended when he designed marriage. They loved each other, honored each other, and made it seem natural and easy to show deference to one another.