Friday, July 29, 2016

Joyce Haynes Committal Service Sermon

The Lord is MY Shepherd

            It is often during times of serious illness that a pastor discovers what words from Holy Scripture can really comfort and offer hope to a person.

            There was absolutely no doubt what Word from God gave comfort and hope to Joyce Haynes – the beloved 23rd Psalm.

            As we talked during that last week of Hospice care, Joyce kept coming back to Psalm 23.  She would say “Jesus has taken care of me.  Jesus has been good to me.  He has blessed me.  The Lord is MY shepherd.”  That’s how Joyce saw it – Jesus really was her shepherd.

            That’s the way David saw it too.  He could have written, “The Lord is like a shepherd” or “The Lord is the shepherd.”  But no! The name of the Lord takes the first place in this Psalm.  Surely David does this for emphasis – The Lord is my shepherd!

            Because Jesus was Joyce’s shepherd, she could sincerely say, “Jesus has taken care of me.”  Joyce wanted for nothing.  She had everything she could ever want.  God had blessed her with a loving and devoted husband, kids and grandkids and great grandkids whom she adored, friends and church family who gave her joy.  Today’s advertising is designed to create in each of us the need to want more.  But Joyce had all she needed.  As we confess in the First Article of the Creed, God had provided all the basics – clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, everything needed to support her body and life. 

Jesus led Joyce to His Holy Word where she found nourishment and rest for her soul.  We lamented that moment at Hospice when it was decided that there would be no more food or water to nourish and help Joyce.  But she was never without the Holy Food of God.  Every time you read the Bible to her, every time you prayed God’s Word with her, the Holy Spirit was feeding Joyce, strengthening and nourishing her faith in her shepherd.

Joyce could also say, “Jesus has been good to me.”  The 23rd Psalms drives that point home with the words, “He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”  These paths are those which lead to eternal life.  But these paths are not of our own making.  We had nothing to do with their construction.  This path is opened to us by Jesus.

            When the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep, the path of righteousness was opened wide for you and me and all who believe.  We are waved on to travel down this path because Jesus’ righteousness has been credited to us.  This happened at the cross where Jesus died.  He died with all our sin and disobedience piled on top of Him.  In return, His perfect righteousness was given to us.  This righteousness inspires us to want to live Christian lives every day.  It also makes us holy and acceptable to a holy God.  Jesus the Good Shepherd made it possible for Joyce to travel down “Righteous Road” and through the gates of heaven.

            The 23rd Psalm reminds us of something very important.  The Shepherd not only provides for His people; He protects His people too.  We read in verse four about “the valley of the shadow of death.”  The words could also be translated, “the darkest valley.”  So it’s fair to say that the Shepherd is with His sheep, like Joyce, during all those times in life when darkness threatens to overtake us.  We become discouraged or depressed; we get hurt and feel pain; all that was good in our lives suddenly seems to have vanished. 

            David reminds us that we do not deal with these difficult times alone.  And we do not travel down dead ends, destined to live with doom and gloom all our lives.  Remember how David put it: “For you (O Lord) are with me!” When you can confidently say, as Joyce did, “The Lord is MY shepherd,” then you know that your shepherd will lead you through the darkest valley ever, even death.

            Are you aware that sheep have a big problem? They cannot protect themselves.  Sheep have no dangerous bite.  Their hooves cannot do the damage that sharp claws can cause.  They’re not fast.  When it comes right down to it, a sheep’s only security is its shepherd.

            Joyce knew and believed this important fact.  She could not deal with her sin.  Unless taken care of, it would have crushed her to death.  That death would have been for eternity.  And Joyce could not have protected herself from Satan.  The devil, left unchecked, would have devoured Joyce, gleefully causing her destruction.

            But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was with Joyce.  Jesus redeemed Joyce with his own blood, paying the penalty for her sins.  His resurrection on the third day makes possible for Joyce to live again, on the Last Day.  And through His death and resurrection, Jesus took his rod and staff and gave Satan a beating from which that the old evil foe will never, ever recover.  

            And yes, Joyce could say, “The Lord has blessed me.”  Interestingly, in the last two verses the 23rd Psalm seems to change focus from a Shepherd to a King.  But I’ve read that in the Near East Kings were often referred to as shepherds of their people.  A king invited his most honored associates to live with him.  In the palace they were treated to the most sumptuous banquets.  Every need or whim was accommodated.

            But in the 23rd Psalm the place being referred to is heaven and all the feasting and celebrating represents the joys of eternal life with God.  In heaven we will have nothing to fear – our enemy, the devil will be vanquished forever.  There will be no more sadness or pain.  We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  And in the greatest irony of all, the Good Shepherd who made all this possible for Joyce and all who believe will be the Lamb who died for us.

            Get the picture.  This is why Joyce kept coming back to David’s beloved Psalm.  Trusting in the Shepherd, Joyce faced death and, through faith, has won the victory.  Today, she rests in Jesus.  Someday, she will rise in glory.  And I can tell you, that was her prayer for each of you here today.  Repent of your sins.  Turn to Jesus.  Receive His forgiveness, peace and salvation.  Grow in your knowledge and love of the Lord.  Then you’ll start talking like Joyce and we’ll be glad to hear you say, “The Lord is MY Shepherd!”  Amen.