We are gathered here today to lay to rest the earthly remains of Byron L. Gebhardt. As we do so, we seek comfort, and the ultimate comfort can be found in the pages of the Bible.
In Isaiah 41:10 we read these words,
do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
We believe the truth that God is with us today, even as we grieve. We also cling to the hope that this life is not all there is. Jesus told us,
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
This is our hope today, belief that there really is life beyond the grave and that God has made it possible for us to experience eternal life and be reunited with our loved ones again. We cling to God’s promises as we gather this day. Will you pray with me?
Father, it is difficult for us to understand how quickly our circumstances can change. Though Byron had many health issues, his death was still unexpected. In many ways, this sharpens our grief. Help us today to remember the blessings of Byron’s life rather than the sorrow of his death, and to grab hold of the hope you have given us in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Byron L. Gebhardt was born May 11, 1954 in La Harpe to Edward and Maycel Bundy Gebhardt. Byron was a lifelong resident of La Harpe, graduating from La Harpe High School in 1972. He worked most of his life as a carpenter, but was truly at home in the timber. He enjoyed fishing and hunting (especially deer hunting) as well as running coon dogs, trapping, and shooting pool.
Byron died on Monday, February 11, 2013 at Memorial Hospital in Carthage, IL
He is survived by his parents, Edward and Maycel Gebhardt of La Harpe, one son, Joshua Gebhardt of La Harpe, one daughter, Tara Olson of Fort Myers, FL and three brothers, Ed (Carol) Gebhardt of Burlington, IA, Kerry (Beth) Gebhardt of Sciota, IL and Marvin Gebhardt of Blandinsville, IL and several nieces and nephews.
Today we want to focus not so much on Byron’s death, but on remembering and celebrating his life. As many of you shared with me, Byron was a man who sought to enjoy life while he was living, though he never seemed to get in much of a hurry to do so. Byron was happy to move at a leisurely pace in almost everything he did.
He was never happier than when he was in the timber, hunting or trapping. The only thing that could make that experience better was sharing it with his family and friends. As a result, Byron did so each year, even after he was no longer physically able to do much of the hunting. He just enjoyed coming out to “watch the show.” The camaraderie of the group was enough to keep him coming out. From what I gather, there are a lot of hunting stories to be told, though I suspect I only heard a select few that were fit to tell to a preacher! I imagine that deer season will not be the same without Byron this year.
Byron was far from a perfect man (as none of us are) and his personal relationships were sometimes strained, but he had a unique way of connecting with people and forging special bonds with them. Whether it was greeting a receptionist with “Hi darlin’” or calling Beth’s mom “Dorabell” or greeting Kayla by saying, “There’s my girlfriend!” he had a way of letting you know that you were special to him. This may be why children always seemed to love him. He was not one to carry a grudge, but he was willing to look past the mistakes others had made. He didn’t believe in passing judgment on people. He truly cherished his family, even if it was not always readily apparent. One of his primary concerns as he knew he was approaching the end of his life was to make sure they knew he loved them and to help them with the transition after he was gone.
Though we remember and celebrate Byron’s life, as we stand here today we are also acutely aware of his death. Jesus, when speaking to his friends, Mary and Martha, after their brother died said these words,
I am the resurrection and the life whoever lives and believes in (or relies on) me will live even though he dies.
To some people that sounds like wishful thinking—a nice story that has no basis in reality. The thing is, Jesus proved to us that he had power over death because he actually rose from the dead! We can believe him when he promises that he will give us eternal life if we believe in Him.
The Bible doesn’t teach that everyone goes to Heaven when they die. It teaches us that God leaves the choice up to us. God has provided a way for us to be forgiven for the bad (sinful) acts that we have committed. He provided that for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God allows us to choose whether to trust in what Jesus has done or whether to try and do it our own way. The choice is left up to us.
I hope you see the good news in this truth: death in this life is not the end. Those who place their trust in Jesus Christ spend eternity with Him in Heaven. If Byron had faith in Jesus Christ, then today He is in Heaven. If we trust in Christ, one day we will be reunited with those who have gone before us.
We face a choice today. We can blame God for taking Byron from us, or we can run to Him for the comfort that He offers. We can turn away from Him in anger or we can follow Him in faith, believing that this life is not all there is.
I want to leave you with an image that I think is helpful while standing at a graveside. If you have ever watched a family as they send a loved one off to military service, it is a time of sadness. They say their goodbyes, unsure of when they will see their loved one again. The scene at the departure gate is one of great sadness.
Contrast that with the scene at the arrival gate. When that same family member returns home there is great joy and celebrating. There may be tears, but they are tears of joy. The arrival gate is a place of great celebration.
Today we stand at the departure gate, and it is a time of sadness, but we remember that there is also an arrival gate. If Byron’s faith was in Jesus then he has been greeted with great fanfare by those who have gone before and by Jesus himself. We must remember that the same awaits us.
It helps to try to maintain perspective that though today is the worst of days for us, it is the best of days for Byron. Though we mourn, he will celebrate.
This doesn’t mean that there won’t be tears. There will. It doesn’t mean that we will not have times where we long to see Byron once more. We will. It does mean that we cling to the truth that this is not the end; it is only the departure gate.
Will you pray with me?
Father, it is often hard for us to see beyond the pain of this moment. We are left with so many questions, most of which begin with Why? We may never get answers to those questions, but help us to see the bigger picture. Help us to catch a glimpse of the arrival gate and to be encouraged by what that means for Byron.
Most of all, Lord, help us to trust in you. Help us to look to you for strength when we find that our strength is gone. Help us to trust in the promises that Jesus made to us—that if we will follow Him, we too can live, even though we die.
Comfort this family as they grieve. Keep their memories fresh and draw them close to one another and to You, for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen