May 29, 1916-January 21, 2019
The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, OH
Feb. 2, 2019
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ — John 14:1-4
I am honored to be sharing a message today at our service to bear witness to the resurrection and to celebrate and give thanks for the life of Elva Sauer–and all the gifts she gave to us.
I include myself as one who has received gifts from her and have been blessed by her, though we haven’t yet met. I say “yet” because our faith tells us that we will meet again in our Father’s house of many rooms, in resurrected and glorified bodies. Healed and made whole, the good work that God is doing in our hearts and minds right now will be complete.
And there will be joy! No more sorrow or sighing. Only life everlasting.
At 102 years and 8 months, Elva was our oldest living church member, with a wealth of stories to share. But she didn’t dwell in the past. She always read the paper and kept up with current events. Living through the terms of 17 U.S. presidents beginning with Woodrow Wilson, she didn’t miss an opportunity to vote!
She was a tech savvy great grandma, having a computer for more than 20 years and emailing before some of her children were emailing. And she had an IPAD, like the one I am using for worship today, and used it to connect with loved ones, visiting via Facetime with her 7 grandchildren and 13 great grands.
She had a Facebook page that went back to 2009– longer than I have been on Facebook! I couldn’t see her posts and photos last night when I checked, and it was all I could do to keep myself from sending her a friend request, half hoping that she wouldn’t be too busy in heaven to update her FB page and “friend me.” If only I had come 6 months earlier, as I am sure she and I would have been FB friends, as well as real friends. She had always been close with the pastors in Coshocton and had made every effort to get to Pastor Jon Carlisle’s retirement celebration, in spite of her health concerns. She might have read my sermons at my blog and responded with her own thoughtful and gracious comments, for that was the kind of person she was, always looking to lift up and encourage others.
She was a lifelong volunteer, serving Hospice, the Coshocton Hospital, Roscoe Village and her Church, this church, which she attended since the 1940s, save for 5 years when she and her husband, Wally, moved to Cleveland for his job and returned in 1963. She was ordained and installed to active service in our church as a deacon Dec. 14, 1971 and as an elder Jan. 15, 1978. She was a leader of the Morning Circle of Presbyterian Women, and in 1990, she was honored with Presbyterian Women’s Lifetime Membership Award.
She was creative and generous with her creations, giving away quilts and cross-stitch projects that she had made. She joined with other creative women in a sewing group that met on the second floor of our church. She had a heart of compassion and helped with dinners at funeral receptions, seeking to comfort families who had lost their loved ones. She helped with rummage sales and children’s Sunday school. She was generous with the church she loved and desired to see it continue in its ministry, giving thousands of dollars to establish a scholarship fund to help children, youth, and adults for years to come to be blessed, renewed, and refreshed through camp and conference experiences.
She was curious and adventurous, traveling with Wally on vacations around the world. After Wally went home to be with the Lord in 2002, she continued to live on her own in their house on Pleasant Valley Drive since 1964 until 4 years ago, when she moved to Windsorwood. She was driving her own car and giving rides to others who were no longer driving until she was 98.
She was a woman of prayer, who knew the importance of Bible study, devotional time and the spiritual strength that is found when 2 or more gather in Christ’s name. For many years, she attended the prayer and fellowship group that meets at our church Thursdays at 10.
She was a woman of love and joy, an avid Cleveland Indians’ fan, who saw them play in all three ballparks. She was the Ping Pong champ of her family and played bridge and golf; she was a dog lover who went on vacation at least once with her husband and the dog and left the kids with the grandparents. She was the mom and grandmom who sang the children to sleep with Brahms’ Lullaby and was always a sympathetic listener to share tears and joys. She is remembered for watching her portion size and being careful about what she ate, never eating the bottom crust of a pie. She exercised every day that she could and looked equally classy and comfortable in jeans or formal wear. She is remembered for her double chocolate crisps and the chocolate cake with white icing she made from a “family recipe.” She is remembered for her pride at the college graduations of her kids and grandkids, who followed in her footsteps!
She is and always will be, says daughter Jo Ann, “my hero.”
Knowing what I know about Elva, I know she wouldn’t have wanted this service to be all about her. A faithful Presbyterian, she would have wanted this service to be a witness to God’s love and gracious work in Christ for our redemption. Elva chose all of these scriptures, long before she went home to be with the Lord.
In the scriptures she has chosen, the heart and life of the Lord shines through her. We are urged not to look back and dwell in the past, but to look to the future with hope, as Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, for God has a plan for each of us. Don’t despair or feel sad for what is no longer, for the Lord is doing a new thing, proclaims the prophet Isaiah, in our personal lives and in our church. We can’t imagine what it’s going to be! But we who belong to the Lord know that the new creation that he is making of us will be for His glory! We can trust in the one who has made this promise of life-giving water–God’s Spirit with us in all our dry deserts and wilderness journeys. The writer of Hebrews reminds us to keep on loving each other, but don’t turn inward and forget our community. Elva was a people person! She wants us to continue looking to the needs of the stranger–the friends we haven’t yet met–and by welcoming them we may be welcoming angels in our midst.
She assures us that in our life and in our death, through all trials and tribulations, our God loves us and abides with us forever. Paul in his letter to the Romans tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Elva doesn’t want us to be sad for her or feel sorry for ourselves. She wants us to persevere, rejoicing in the Lord. Paul is writing to the Philippians when he is in prison and knows the end of his life is near. He tells those who are grieving him to turn their worries into prayers so that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The apostle assures us that we can and should control our thoughts and feelings, so that negativity, doubts and fear won’t creep in and overwhelm us. We can find our strength, instead, in dwelling on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable” and “if there is anything of excellence and … anything worthy of praise.”
And finally, we can be comforted by Jesus’ words to his frightened and troubled disciples in John 14. He has just told them that he must suffer and die and be raised from the dead, but that this is part of God’s plan for good. We can’t have resurrection without death! He is going ahead of them and us–the first to rise from the grave, the author and finisher of our faith. He is going to prepare a place in His Father’s House for all His followers, in every time and place.
By ending the readings with Christ assuring us that we do know the place where he is going, Elva is telling us that she knew where she was going. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, John will go on to say. And that we should all cling to the Christian hope that our Lord is coming again to take us to himself. For he longs to gather us in.
So that where he is, we may also be.
Elva chose all of the songs, except For All the Saints, which I chose, to honor and give thanks for Elva and the lives of all the saints who have gone before us, all our loved ones, who through the witness of their lives, encouraged us to KEEP THE FAITH.
The ageless hymn begins:
For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who Thee by faith before the world confessed;
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.