God Knows You: Funeral Sermon for Margaret E. Kantola

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” 1st Corinthians 13:12

I checked the weather forecast for tonight and it seems like a storm is blowing our way. I think that is appropriate as that certainly goes right along with the overall impression I got about Marg. Even though I never got the privilege of knowing her personally, I think I can best sum up Marg’s character in this short phrase: she was a force of nature! Since we’re in the U.P., let’s just call her a real “Blizzard”! The Marg I got to know was truly a whirl-wind of activity who touched the lives of many, many, many people. However, unlike many of the bad storms we encounter in nature that only bring us problems, when Marg blew your way good things happened. She was a problem solver. As I spoke to friends and family alike, everyone described a lady who had a heart of gold. Wherever she went, and Marg was a world traveler, she had a friendly greeting for everyone and instantly tried to get involved in their lives to make things just a little bit better if she could. She clearly enjoyed people and worked hard to help them and the larger community. Family & friends told many, many stories of the good times they spent with her both at work and at play in Covington & at Bethany Lutheran Church. Her daughter Eva, whom she loved deeply, shared with me many stories about a Mom who taught her how to love the right way by trying to put other people first. Eva said Marg had her on the go so much with the activities they were doing that it seemed like the only time they ever stopped was to sleep! In fact, Eva said in one two year period she and Marg once put over 80k miles on the car – think about that for a second! There probably wasn’t a highway, road or goat trail in the Western U.P. that they didn’t burn some rubber on while out being good neighbors. Marg was especially civic minded as well. She loved her Finnish heritage and the Covington community and did a lot of service on behalf of both. I was told that she helped start the Covington Parks & Recreation Department and served on so many boards in the township that I would drown you in an alphabet soup of letters if I even tried to name them all!

Marg was also a baptized Child of God & a longtime member of Bethany in Covington and was called by the Lord to be a leader of the congregation for many years. As a new Pastor, when I first arrived at Bethany and started reading the old council minutes & church histories, one name kept popping up over and over again: Marg, Marg, Marg! For decades, Marg volunteered and served on every council and committee the church had all while working at every event too. She & Helen Lepola led the centennial renovation of the church’s historic artwork & building. I can literally say we wouldn’t have a roof over our heads at Bethany right now if it wasn’t for Marg! But Marg wanted our church building to last years after she was gone not just because it was beautiful art & a historic structure, but because she knew that is where the Good Shepherd came to serve & save His sheep. I’d like to share one short story with you that I think showed how deeply Our Lord’s walk with her meant to Marg. It’s a story that Peggy Vervish actually told me on the night before Marg died. It’s about her last visit with Pastor Pete Suomela over to Bayside to see Marg. Marg, Peggy said, always made it a point to attend services and receive the grace of our Lord in Holy Communion. Well, this time, it was just a little bit more interesting. Oh, Marg prayed with them & received Christ’s body & blood as usual. But after the Communion service, when Pastor Pete politely inquired about how she was doing, Marg’s response was unique. She yelled at him: “Give me more!” Simply put, Marg couldn’t get enough of her Lord!

I could go on and on with other stories about Marg’s life, but I will end with that one because it shows pretty well the joy she took from being with our Lord. It’s also clear that, through Marg, Christ was able to live and bring quite a bit of good into this world. I wish I had gotten a chance to know her personally. But, I can honestly say that, through all the wonderful stories that her beloved daughter Eva and many of you shared with me, she became a part of my life too. So I am truly grateful that you shared your memories of Marg with me. So I too join you in mourning her death. She truly was a devoted mother, sister, family member & friend to us all. So it’s right that we remember Marg & give thanks to God for the gift of Her life. God definitely blessed us with a lot of love and joy through Marg.

However, I think Marg would definitely approve of what I have to say next. I think I can safely say this because her daughter Eva made darn sure that I knew that when Marg was determined to do something, she always got the job done. What I mean is, as nice as it is to share memories of Marg, while they are indeed a gifts of comfort from God to help us in our grief, they don’t eliminate the reality of death.

Something else I think Marg would insist I do is to tell it to you straight: death is not our friend, it’s our enemy. And no matter how hard we try, no matter how much good we do, no matter how many other people love us, death still comes to us all. It’s also a fact that it doesn’t come as an accident either. It comes because we are by nature, even the very best of us, even Marg, in our hearts, rebels against God.

God created Humans and has given us many gifts. The most basic of these being our bodies & minds. He has given us these gifts to be His image here on earth for the express purpose of taking care of this His good creation. But all of us, even on our best of days, fall far short of doing that. When Jesus was asked about the essential business of being human, His answer was unequivocal; “Love God and your neighbor as yourself.” Simply put, Jesus was saying that a genuinely human life is only possible when love is the center. And that is our dilemma as human beings. In life, no matter how hard we try, our love often times gets mis-ordered. The love we are supposed to give to God and our neighbor gets turned instead to ourselves. We think we have to take matters into our own hands because it often appears to us that God our creator has forgotten us and left us all alone in a hostile world. So we put ourselves at the center instead of God & Neighbor. The bible tells us this misplacement of our love is called sin and its wages are death. Left alone to face sin and death, they totally destroy us.

But the good news for us is God was not content to lose Marg or anyone of us. He loved us too much to allow death to get the final say over us. So He sent us a Savior named Jesus who died on a cross for us to defeat sin and abolish death forever. In Christ Jesus, God has come down to us to close the distance created by our lovelessness with His everlasting grace and mercy. To be in Christ is to be brought to rest by Him in the knowledge that we are known by God. Even when we stray & get lost in life, we are known by Him. Even if the ravages of old age and fading memories reduce us in mind and body to almost nothing, we are still known by Him. Even if we can only understand God’s love for us dimly for now, the truth is that we will always be fully known by our gracious heavenly Father no matter what.

Now this isn’t the first time God has told you that He knows us – that He knows you. God came and said it to you and Marg in the waters of Baptism because He wanted His decision to be God for you to be personally and publicly known. On that day, in those waters, God spoke your names, forgave your sins, and promised that Jesus would come and take you and Marg to be with Him someday. God made an unbreakable commitment to you and Marg in your Baptisms to do all these things and God doesn’t lie. God always remembers even when we cannot so today He has fulfilled the baptismal promises of forgiveness and eternal life He made to Marg. She now rests in paradise with Jesus and someday you will too because He has also said that He knows you as well. But, just to make sure there is no uncertainty at all in your heart about your future, God continually sends His Holy Spirit to you through His Word to remind you He will never forget about you. So the Holy Spirit is here today to say once more that He hasn’t changed His mind about you. So by Christ’s authority, not my own, I am here today to declare that: “All your sins are forgiven & you will live forever in your Father’s house.” What this means is that you aren’t saying your final goodbye to Marg. You will see her again & when you do the Lord promises that your joy will never end. May this Gospel of Christ give you peace always. Amen!

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