Sunday, February 26, 2012
Sermon for the Service in Memory of Carla Lipps (February 26, 2012)
“Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death” (Psalm 23)
The Lord is my shepherd. What do shepherds do? They care for their flock. You may be wondering, “How was God caring for Carla? How is God caring for us right now?”
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. “Oh, but I do want something,” you say. “I want Carla back. I want my wife back. I want my mommy back. I want my daughter back.”
The shadow of death has darkened your world. It looms large, like a huge weight pressing down upon you. But you need to know that death was never meant to be a part of this world. Death came into the world because of sin. When Adam and Eve first disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, their punishment was death. They died a spiritual death … they were out of relationship with God. They would one die a physical death … their bodies would finally stop working all together. And death has been the inheritance of every human being since that day. Why does it strike some earlier than others? That’s a question I can’t answer. All I know is that this world is broken.
And so you probably feel more like crying out in the words of the psalm right before this one in the Bible, Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You wonder, “Where is God in all of this?”
Jesus spoke those words when he was hanging on the cross. The shadow of death had darkened his world. The weight of the world’s sin pressed down upon him. The innocent Son of God felt the pain of being separated from his Heavenly Father, and he cried out “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” Jesus suffered and died in our place so that we don’t ever have to fear being forsaken by our Heavenly Father. Jesus earned for us the forgiveness of sins. Now, all who believe in him as their Savior have forgiveness and life everlasting as a free gift of God’s grace … his “amazing grace.” That’s what that famous hymn is all about: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
At the cross, God was loving the world in the midst of suffering and death. And although it may feel otherwise right now, this is what God is doing for you right now. He is loving you in the midst of suffering and death. God was faithful to send Jesus to be your suffering Savior. He will be faithful to you and will continue to love you in your suffering and grief. And Jesus understands your grief, too. The Bible says that he was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). At the tomb of his close friend Lazarus, the Bible says, “Jesus wept” … and this even when Jesus knew that he was going to raise his friend from the dead. Jesus wept over the ravages that sin and death had caused in the world.
But Jesus also conquered sin and death for us when he rose victorious on Easter morning. The light of the empty tomb overpowers the darkness of death. Death no longer has the final word. “Where, O death, is your victory?” St. Paul writes. “Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we get to walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death. We don’t have to stay there. And Carla, too, has walked through the valley of the shadow of death. She is now in heaven in the presence of her Savior. She, too, will rise to life again on the last day when Jesus returns, just as he promised to all who have been united to him in Baptism: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5).
The Lord is my shepherd. What do shepherds do? They care for their flock. How was God caring for Carla? He was caring for her when he made her his own in Holy Baptism. He marked her with his own Name and adopted her into his family, the Church. He washed her sins away. He gave her the Holy Spirit who created faith in her heart that trusted in Jesus as her Savior. He spoke his words of grace to her in the Bible. He gave her the body and blood of Jesus to eat and drink in Holy Communion, personally touching her with his life and salvation. He gave her many blessings throughout her brief life, especially a loving family whom she cared for deeply and loved to spend time with. And like the faithful mother she was, she made sure that she brought her children to the waters of Holy Baptism, too.
How is God caring for you? Jesus is indeed your Good Shepherd who is caring for you. You are his tired, thirsty, injured lambs. He wants to give you rest and comfort in the green pastures of his Word. He wants to bind up your wounds and give you healing. Your Risen Savior Jesus has prepared a table before you where you get to commune with him often and be assured that he is truly present with you to give you strength and endurance for the days and weeks and months ahead. And he has also given you loving family and friends to support you and to share God’s love with you and to pray for you and with you.
None of us knows when we will breathe our last breath here on earth. Only God knows. For some of us, it could be sooner rather than later. It’s important for each of us to be ready for that day. Be prepared by believing that Jesus is your Savior, that he is your Good Shepherd. Come to the waters of Holy Baptism, and cling to the promises God makes to you there to forgive your sins and bring you into his family. Then, when your last hour comes, you, too, can walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In Christ Jesus, you get to walk through to the other side. And when that time comes, the closing words from Psalm 23 will apply to you: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."