Summary: Funeral message, for Ekerete Akpaete, Nigerian, who died suddenly in the arms of his infant daughter.
Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, Dc, March 25, 2000
To experience great loss is difficult enough. To experience that loss in a far country, with few who understand, few who are close, is even more difficult. And when that loss means that those who depend on you will need you even more, yet the resources to help them will be scarce – that is truly a burden. That is truly a moment of immense difficulty. Our hearts go out to Grace, not only for her loss, but also for all that lies ahead for her; and to Hannah and Benson, who so much want to be all that they need to be for their mom now; and of course to little Mfon, who I know down in her infant heart senses her loss even though she cannot put words to it. Your loss is great. Your burdens are many. And your future looks heavy. We know that. But God is good, and God will provide. He will make a way where there is no way, He will open up a path where now there seem only to be obstacles, He will be a father to the fatherless and a friend to the friendless. Our God will be with you, and so will God’s people.
Many years ago there was a woman who faced much of what you face. Her heart was weighed down. Her mind reeled from all that had happened to her. Her imagination staggered at the thought of all the responsibilities that were to come her way. This woman, this bereaved and suffering wife and mother, found some things, that helped her. I pray that her example will help you today.
Ruth 1:1-3: In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.
Painful and difficult circumstances. A situation that tugs at your heart over all these centuries. A man dies, unexpectedly, his wife and his children are left alone. And in a far country as well, in a place where things are different, customs are not quite the same, a place where there is no family around and where others, however well intentioned, may not understand. We feel for Naomi and for her loss; we know that she had many serious decisions to make. Who can blame Naomi for weeping? Who can criticize Naomi for believing that the hand of the Lord had turned against her? Who cannot understand that, after a while, Naomi just had to do something about her situation. She could not forever linger in sorrow; the time came when Naomi had to take steps to go beyond her loss. Naomi found a path that led to wings of refuge. Naomi found a path to the protection of God Himself and of the people of God.
Let’s trace her steps. Let’s discover from Naomi some spiritual riches, just for you.
First, notice that Naomi trusted that there would be help among God’s people. Naomi understood that, despite her loss, she was not alone. There were those who would understand, there would those who would care. Naomi remembered that among the people of God, there was love, acceptance, help, a refuge. And so Naomi, recognizing her limits, understanding the weight of her responsibilities, reached out to ask for help, and it came. She trusted the people of God with her need, and they responded. They gave her refuge.
There is great hope in that. I know that you have seen that already. Caring people have come to your apartment. They have brought food, they have cared for your children, they have taken care of arrangements for you, they have worked on your behalf. They have been the wings of refuge for you.
Maybe you are afraid that after the service today, it will all stop, and you will be on your own. But it will not stop. It must not stop. It cannot stop. I encourage you to trust the people of God. The wings of refuge will be spread for you for many days to come.
For is it not true that we have come together today not only to say farewell to Ekerete, not only to speak words of praise for this servant of God, this man of dignity, this loving father? Is it not true that we have come together not only to pray with Grace and the children and for them? We have also come together to witness to our ongoing concern for them. We have come to provide evidence for our continuing commitment to be there for them. As Naomi in the Scriptures knew there was a people on whom she could depend and to whom she should go, so also I would hope and pray, Grace, that you would turn to those around you today. Turn to your friends for help and counsel. Turn to your church for strength and prayer. Turn to us when the sorrows are deep and you think you cannot go on; we will respond. Turn to us when the responsibilities are too many, and we will work. Turn to the people of God, as Naomi did, and there you will find a home and will be protected under the wings of refuge.