Memorial Service for Linda Danielson Ellis
December 5, 2011
I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord.
Those who believe in me, even though they die,
will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Rev. 21:6; 22:13; 1:17-18; John 14:19
I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end,
the first and the last.
I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever;
because I live, you also will live.
Come to me, all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
The Reformed theologian Karl Barth once said
that people come to church on the Sabbath
with only one question on their minds: Is it true?
The providence of God…
the saving power of Jesus Christ…
the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit…
the resurrection from the dead…
the forgiveness of sin: Is it true?
When we come to church at 11:00 on a Monday morning
for a memorial service for one who died so suddenly,
and as far as we are concerned much too soon,
the question is even more compelling. Is it true?
Can God be trusted on a day like today?
Sisters and brothers,
we are gathered this morning to answer that question
with a resounding “YES!”
Though we still can’t really believe Linda is gone…
though our grief is almost unbearable…
we have come together to witness to our faith that it is true –
God has provided and will continue to provide…
there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Jesus…
Christ’s Spirit will comfort you
with a peace that passes all understanding…
through his resurrection from the dead
Linda has now entered
the beauty and joy of eternal life.
It is all true.
And then, we are also gathered
to join with John and Lisa and Laurie, Otis and David…
with Linda’s four beloved “grands” –
Katherine and Caroline, Fuller and Millie…
with Linda’s brother Dan…
and her dear, dear friends the Laughlins and the Martins…
we are here with them
to remember and celebrate the life
of one of God’s most compassionate,
one of God’s hardest working,
one of God’s deeply faithful servants.
Each of us knew Linda in a different way –
some as family… others as friend…
some from here at church
and others from her work out beyond these walls…
some very intimately and others less so.
Yet, all of you are meant to be here…
all of us are essential to our witness to Christ’s resurrection
and our celebration of Linda’s life.
Linda’s family looks forward to greeting you
following the service in the Fellowship Hall.
We won’t be having a formal receiving line –
family members will spread themselves out around the room
and they hope that you will take time not only to greet the
but to enjoy the food
and each other’s company around the tables.
One last thing.
Many of you probably know
that Linda absolutely loved Christmas.
You may also know that she was absolutely devoted
to finding just the perfect tree.
Well, I don’t know whether our Chrismon tree here would qualify as perfect,
but it is beautiful and hopefully it is comforting,
even as we grieve,
to have so many reminders
of the true meaning of Christmas all around us.
Call to Worship
Leader: Our help is in the name of the Lord,
People: who made heaven and earth.
Leader: When we were baptized in Christ Jesus,
People: we were baptized into his death.
Leader: We were buried, therefore, with him into death.
People: So as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father, we too, might live a new life.
Leader: For if we have been united with him in a death like his,
All:We shall certainly be united with him
in a resurrection like his.
Matthew 18:1-5, 10
18At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 10“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
As a preacher I have frequent opportunities to talk.
Yet, over the past four days
I have had frequent opportunities to listen.
I have listened as John and Lisa and Laurie
have remembered their wife and mother.
I have listened as church members
and folks out in our community have shared
what an impact Linda had on you and on so many others.
Though I did not have the privilege of knowing Linda for very long,
I have had the enormous privilege
of listening to Linda’s life as it has been told to me.
And very simply, I would like to share with you what I have heard.
What do we hear when we listen to Linda’s life?
I listen to Linda’s life and after awhile I picture
an “activist” Christian in the best sense of that word.
Linda was an activist,
NOT so much in the sense of being a rabble-rouser,
but in the sense of walking her talk…
of seeing a need and responding.
She was the kind of person who woke up every morning and asked:
“OK God, what GOOD can I do today?”
And once she got her answer, she did it!
I have to say that for Linda to have been such a good Presbyterian,
in some ways that is so un-Presbyterian.
We Presbyterians tend to see a need
or have an idea about how to serve and what do we do?
We form a committee, of course!
Presbyterians know the drill.
It is all well-intended,
but sometimes we never actually DO anything.
In ways both big and small, she DID so much!
Whether it was showing up at your door with a meal
or pulling together the “Act of Love” book…
whether it was taking care of her “grands”
or helping found the Children’s Resource Center…
whether it was setting up for a Stewardship Dinner,
as she was just last Wednesday,
or joining with a group of Muslims in Morganton
to break the fast of Ramadan…
whether it was organizing the Sanctuary Guild
or visiting a friend in hospice care…
whether it was serving in our Good Samaritan ministry
or taking minutes in a session meeting
teaching Sunday school
or networking with others who shared her passions
through the Peace and Justice Committee of the presbytery
and the Congregations and Community group
here in Hickory.
(The point is that I could go on and on.)
For Linda it was about doing the things that mattered…
doing things that helped other people.
And nothing was either too small or too big.
Second, I listen to Linda’s life
and I see an activist Christian
who had a heart that was touched by Jesus.
And the way I know her heart was touched by Jesus
is by knowing whom she chose to serve.
Linda’s heart was with those Jesus called
the least of these his sisters and brothers.
The ones Linda sought out to serve
are the very same ones Jesus came to serve –
those who were struggling…
those who were particularly vulnerable…
and children… always the children.
In fact, one of Linda’s last acts of kindness…
two days before her death…
she rushed into the office of the Children’s Resource Center
bearing clothes and toys and books
that her “grands” had grown out of…
and before she left, she handed Monica Thomas a ten dollar bill
and said, “Do you think you can buy batteries for those toys?
I don’t want to give them without batteries.”
When I listen to Linda’s life
I hear of an activist Christian
who had a heart touched by Jesus
and whose activism was rooted deeply in her faith
and nurtured day-by-day by spiritual practices.
I’m an activist Christian, too.
I know all about being a doer.
Yet sometimes, in my desire to walk my talk…
sometimes wanting to be a pencil in God’s hand…
sometimes in my passion to get things done…
I neglect my relationship with the very One I am trying to serve…
with the One who I know can give me
the strength and wisdom and encouragement I need.
Though I don’t know this for sure,
my hunch is that Linda
may have also struggled with this along the way;
“doers” often do.
Yet what I hear when I listen to her life
is that by attending to her spiritual life –
by participating in Bible studies and a book club for some thirty years…
by developing deep and lasting friendships…
by making sure she spent devotional time with the Lord each day…
and by coming here each week for worship and fellowship…
she was able to develop a very strong internal compass.
So that when I listen to Linda’s life I hear of a rootedness…
a kind of groundedness and spiritual maturity
that allowed her to be very intentional
and deliberate about her life.
Finally, when I listen to Linda’s life
I begin to hear just how her life continues to echo even now.
More than one of you has heard this echo and said to me,
“You know, Linda was involved in so many things.
Because she is not here to do them,
all of us are just going to have to step up
That’s one thing.
And then, of course, Linda’s giving of herself
continues even now…
for as a donor she has truly made life possible
for so many others…
people who never knew her
but who will forever be grateful for her final act of love.
Many of you know that in 2009,
Linda was honored as a lifetime member
of the Presbyterian Women of this church.
And for that occasion her daughters, Lisa and Laurie,
collaborated to compose a tribute to their mother.
Well, as some of you may remember,
among other things they recalled
a particularly memorable sermon their pastor preached
when they were elementary school age.
We preachers always like to hear that!
It seems that as folks entered the church that Sunday morning
the pastor gave each person a round disc
on which was printed the letters TUIT.
His sermon that day focused on how important it is in life
not be idle… to not put things off… but to get “around to it.”
Lisa and Laurie thought this
was an apt description of Linda’s life
both in this congregation and community.
She was one who both inwardly and outwardly “got around to it!”
Well, that message Lisa and Laurie heard so many years ago
is, of course, timeless.
It is a message OF which you and I need to be continually reminded:
to get around to doing the really important things in life…
that we truly aren’t guaranteed a tomorrow…
that there IS a sense of urgency to every day.
One of Linda’s last projects here at church
was to encourage each of us
to “put our affairs in order,” as we say…
and then to sit down and record this important information
in one place… in one document.
Linda believed this was such an important thing to do…
such a loving thing to do…
that she initiated what is called “An Act of Love.”
Together with our Family Ministry Committee
every adult in our church received one of these booklets
in which we can record everything
from bank accounts and passwords
to our wishes for the end of our lives and funeral plans.
Doing this is truly an “act of love”
and the Ellises believe this is so important
that one of the ways they can honor Linda
is to make booklets available
to any of you who would like to have them.
So please take however many you may need
for yourself or your family members
and as you do, please imagine that
in addition to this little booklet
you are also being given a little round disc
with the letters T-U-I-T on it.
Linda would want you to get around to filling it out
just as soon as possible.
 From the introduction to “The Only Question,” a sermon by Joanna Adams published in A Chorus of Witnesses, edited by Thomas G. Long and Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (Eerdmans-1994), 268.
A Prayer of Comfort
God of unending love and compassion, comfort us as we mourn the death of your servant Linda. Comfort her family; comfort John, Lisa & Laurie in these days of confusion, grief and sorrow. God of mercy, Linda’s death leaves an empty space in our lives, as space where there are no words and where numbing quiet holds our breath. You are a God who promises to fill that space, so Lord make good on that promise.
You promise to hold our tears in your bottle and the keep count of our sleepless tossing, so Lord make good on that promise. Help us find you-for you are grieved by our sorrow; you are moved by our tears. God be the peace we need, the peace that passes all understanding, this day, this very moment.
We give thanks for the beautiful ways in which Linda was your servant, making your love known in her hands, in her words, in her beautiful heart. Linda gave of her very self- for that and for all the ways you revealed your love through Linda, O Lord we are grateful beyond our ability to name.
In our living and in our dying we belong to you. Give us strength in Christ who lived, died and rose again assuring us of God’s eternal love and life everlasting. May we find your presence in each other and your Spirit always at work, always confident that you hear our prayer. Be with us now as we pray the prayer of God’s family…