We gather this afternoon to mourn the loss and to celebrate and remember the life of Rhonda Morris.
Today we look for comfort and the best place to look for that comfort is in the Word of God.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our rebellious acts as far away from us as the east is from the west. The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he understands how weak we are; he knows we are only dust. Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone as though we had never been here. But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments! Psalm 103 (NLT)
Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my fathers house are many mansions; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. You know the way to the place where I am going…Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me. (John 14)
The Apostle Paul wrote
We do not lose heart. though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 5)
With these promises in our heart, let’s turn to the Lord in prayer.
Our Father, we turn to you this afternoon as the Lord of life. We are numb from the shock of the activities of this last week. One week ago we would have never dreamt we would be here today. We turn to you for comfort and for strength. Draw us close and help us as we seek to see beyond the heartache of the present. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Rhonda L. (Cameron) Morris, age 41 of Burlington, Iowa, formerly of LaHarpe, IL., died at 12:19 A.M. Saturday July 9, 2005 in the Great River Medical Center in West Burlington, Iowa. She was born June 20, 1964 in Fort Madison, Iowa, the daughter of Solon Bruce and Doris Lou Reed Cameron. On April 24,1996, she married James Morris in Middletown, Iowa.
Mrs. Morris was a 1982 graduate of LaHarpe High School and graduated from Southeastern Community College in West Burlington in 1994 where she graduated with a degree in Auto mechanics and Autobody repair. Finding it difficult to get a job as a mechanic because she was a woman she had to look other directions. She worked as a machine technician at Vista Bakery in West Burlington for the past 9 years, She was a member of the Burlington Women of the Moose Lodge.
Survivors include her husband, 2 daughters- Krystal Shannon and Jamie Wills of Burlington, one son James Wills of Burlington, 5 step children- Timothy Wilson and Andy Wills Jr., both of Keokuk, IA., Amy Wills and Jennifer Wills, both of Missouri, Courtney Whitworth of Burlington, 10 step grandchildren, and 3 brothers- James, John and Norman Cameron, all of LaHarpe, IL. She was preceded in death by her parents, a sister- Doris Cameron and a brother- James Cameron, both in infancy.
I did not have the privilege to know Rhonda. As I listened to her family talk about her I can only conclude that she was a unique woman. She was not an easy person to describe.
Rhonda was committed to her family. She loved her children, step-children and her step-grandchildren,. She also loved all of their friends. In fact, She not only had a number of her own children to care for, she also cared for a number of other children as well. Her children comment that many times their friends came over to the house because they wanted to spend time with Rhonda. She understood their world and shared many of the same tastes and interests with the kids.
Rhonda was a good cook. She always made too much food so whatever you had for dinner might be the same thing you were going to eat for the next couple of meals. When the family complained about what she served her simple answer was: “this is not a restaurant. If you want to eat you will eat what is served.”
Rhonda was handy with her hands. She like to crochet, do counter cross-stitch, latch hook and other craft kinds of things. She was a good Volleyball player in high school and also was a good mechanic. However she also loved getting under a car and working on it. She had a set of tools any man would be proud of.
Rhonda liked to collect things. She collected all kinds of Mickey Mouse items. She also collected a hundred or so skulls! She might sit and listen to the country sounds of Alan Jackson or be just as likely to rock to the music of Rob Zombie or Metallica. She enjoyed doing puzzles and also enjoyed playing pinball on Play Station. You might find her watching the soap opera Days of our Lives, or watching Vin Diesel in an action movie. She might have Unsolved Mysteries on television or Law and Order SUV, America’s Funniest videos, or Sponge Bob Square pants. She had a variety of tastes.
Rhonda was known to be ornery. She had a nickname for everyone (some nice, many not-so-nice). Her language was, shall we say, colorful. She would tell her kids not to swear while swearing at them herself! She was a person who was never intimidated. She was a tough lady. Yet, at the same time she was a person who was easy to talk to. She had a tender heart and was willing to do anything she could to help somebody. She may have seemed hard, but she was actually a very nurturing person. She was incredibly stubborn but also incredibly soft and giving.
I guess you could say Rhonda Cameron Morris was a woman with varied interests. She was unique; one of a kind. Rhonda lived a hard life. Things didn’t come easy for her. She carried a great deal of stress and put a great deal of stress on herself when she saw a job that needed to be done. She wasn’t afraid of hard work. In fact, her toughness and stubbornness were probably the two things that kept her from going to the hospital to have the pains in her chest checked out.
I’m sure there were many people who didn’t understand Rhonda. However, the people who had the chance to get to know her knew that she was a special lady that enriched the lives of those she touched. She had so much more to give to others. Our hearts are heavy at her death.
Let’s just be honest, there is nothing fun or enjoyable about a funeral. As we gather today our hearts are heavy. Nobody wants to be here. All of us wish we could be together under different circumstances. You are never ready to let go of the people you love. In this case things are even harder. Rhonda Morris was to young to die. The shock of what has happened makes us numb.
This afternoon I want to share a couple of things with you. First, I want to underscore the fact that grief is normal. It’s ok to cry. It’s normal to be angry. It’s appropriate to be numb and perhaps feel nothing. When you love someone, it hurts to lose him or her. When you love someone sometimes you care so much that you physically can’t comprehend the loss, so your system shuts down for a while. You get numb. This is God’s way of helping us cope.
The Bible tells the story of King David who was known as a man after God’s own heart. At one point in his life David’s infant son was dying. David fasted, prayed, and pleaded with God to save the child’s life. Still the child died. David also buried two older sons. When these boys died David wept loudly. It is never easy to let go of someone you love.
We see a similar circumstance in the life of Jesus when His friend Lazarus died. Jesus knew that He was going to bring Lazarus back from the dead, but still he wept. The thought of losing His friend and the reality of the loss to his family brought him to tears. Tears are appropriate. Author Max Lucado writes,
Those tiny drops of humanity. Those round, wet balls of fluid that tumble from our eyes, creep down our cheeks, and splash on the floor of our hearts. They are always present at such times. They should be, that’s their job. They are miniature messengers; on call twenty-four hours a day to substitute for crippled words. They drip, drop, and pour from the corner of our souls, carrying with them the deepest emotions we possess. They tumble down our faces with announcements that range from the most blissful joy to darkest despair.
The principle is simple; when words are most empty, tears are most apt.
A tearstain on a letter says much more than the sum of all its words. A tear falling on a casket says what a spoken farewell never could. What summons a mother’s compassion and concern more quickly than a tear on a child’s cheek? What gives more support than a sympathetic tear on the face of a friend?
That task, my friend, was left for the tears.
My point is this: grief is normal and appropriate. Please do not be embarrassed by your grief . . . your grief testifies to the depth of your love and the magnitude of your loss. Your tears honor Rhonda and express what words cannot.
But there is a second thing I need to emphasize: there is more to life than what we see.
It’s easy to dismiss the whole notion of life beyond the grave as something we say because we can’t face the reality of loss. Some believe that our belief in life beyond the grave is really but an illusion to help us get through the hard times. Life beyond the grave is not an illusion. Our hope of Heaven is anchored to the resurrection of Jesus. The evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming. If Jesus rose from the dead (and He did) then He proved that there is life beyond the grave. The resurrection of Jesus brings hope in the time of sadness. The resurrection of Jesus proves that Jesus was a man worth following.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Jesus was talking to his dear friends, Mary and Martha at the death of their brother, Lazarus when he made this statement. There are three things in His words you need to see. First, notice the promise: “He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Jesus says there is life beyond the grave. At another time Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you so that you may be where I am.”
The Bible’s teaching is consistent. There is life beyond the grave. This life is described as a time and place filled with unimagined joy and the elimination of all that is evil or painful. We are told “God will wipe away every tear from their eye.”
For the Christian, death is not the end of the story; it is merely the end of the introduction to the story. Death is a time of transition. It leads to a time of reunion and celebration.
Second, notice the condition of the promise, “He who believes in me.” There are two common views about Heaven. One view seems to say that everyone who dies goes to Heaven . . . . .except maybe the really really bad people. The other view says that those people who live good lives go to Heaven. The Bible says neither is true.
The Bible tells us that none of us have lived good enough lives to earn Heaven. Heaven is for those who are holy and none of us meet that requirement. Even the best of us sin . . . and that with some regularity. According to the Bible, sin is anytime we ignore, disobey, or neglect to honor God in our lives and living. Sin, in God’s eyes, is much more pervasive than most people think. Even if we only sinned (did what was wrong in God’s eyes) three times a day (which would be a staggeringly very good day for most of us), that would be 21 times a week . . . almost a thousand times a year! Our sin-debt is greater than we could ever hope to pay.
The Bible tells us that Jesus died to pay for the sin we commit. It tells us that our only hope is to receive the gift that Jesus offers us. The Bible is clear, only those who sincerely and truly trust Jesus Christ will be granted Heaven.
I told you that I don’t know Rhonda Morris. I suspect Rhonda heard the truth about salvation and eternal life. I can tell you today that if she trusted Jesus Christ as her Savior and sought to follow Him as her Lord, Rhonda is in Heaven today. She will be there not because she was a decent person (and she was) but because she trusted a perfect Savior. Our hope of Heaven (fortunately) is not anchored to our goodness but to God’s mercy and grace. If Rhonda trusted Christ there is no reason for us to be sad for her. Our grief is really for our loss, not hers. For the one who trusts Jesus, death becomes a graduation day.
There is one more thing to see. Jesus asked a key question to the sisters of Lazarus, “Do you believe this?” He had basically told them what I have just told you. Jesus got down to the main issue: Do you believe what I am telling you?” This is the same question you must face today. Will you believe the promise of God or won’t you? Will you affirm the message of life beyond the grace through Christ or will you follow the way of despair? Will you place your trust in Jesus or put your hope in your own ability or supposed goodness? As you can see, it is an important question.
No matter how you answer the question your loss is still going to hurt. Rhonda is still gone. But the question is: will you grieve with hope or without it? Will you trust God or turn away from God? It’s an important question. Face it squarely and answer it carefully.
No matter where you have been or what you have done, the arms of God are open to you this day. The love of Jesus for you is staggering. It is natural for you to be angry today. It is even understandable that you may be angry at God. However, He is also you anchor for this storm-tossed time of life.
Grieve fully but at the same time get hold of Christ. Use this time to address the issue of your own eternity. Take this opportunity to turn toward Jesus rather than away from Him. Use this time to make whatever changes are necessary in your life. God loves you more than you can possibly imagine. He loves you, just like He loved Rhonda.
From our perspective this has been a terrible week. Life has changed for every one of you in this room. I urge you to hold on to the One who is willing to hold on to you. And as you do, celebrate Rhonda’s life. Remember some of the things she taught you,
- You don’t have to fit into any kind of mold. Be your own person.
- Life if filled with variety and it’s good to have a variety of tastes and interests. . . even if your friends think you are odd.
- Oatmeal is always a good option for breakfast (or not)
- Life is too short, we should enjoy the journey and have fun along the way.
- Everybody needs a friend and we can be that friend to others..
- We need to tell people how we feel about them while we still have time.
- And finally, Rhonda reminds us that it is always a good time to make sure you are right with God . . . you may not have the time you think you will have.
Will you pray with me?
Gracious Father, we thank you for the life of Rhonda Morris. We thank you for her energy, her varied interests and her caring heart. We pray now that you would receive her into your kingdom by your mercy and grace. Introduce her to the life that you promised all who believe. If possible, let her know that she is missed already.
Father, I pray for this family. Prop them up during this time of sadness. Fill their minds and hearts with warm and rich memories. And as time passes help them to remember when they think they have forgotten. Comfort them when sadness and loss threaten to swallow them. Help this family and these friends to know you. Impress upon them how much you love them. Give them faith that they might hold fast to your promise so that might know hope in the time of sadness and life in the time of death. Draw us to You so that some day we might be together again, in your house. We ask all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.