Text: Psalm 23
Maurice, Patti, Tony, David, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ: our Lord has seen fit to call our beloved Mary to Himself. “What God ordains is always good.” That’s a hymn text you can cling to over these next weeks and years. What else can we say but “Amen”?
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus.
That same Lord Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, and indeed He is. He was Mary’s shepherd. He’s my shepherd. He’s the shepherd of all his sheep. And like a Good Shepherd, He goes out and seeks and finds and saves the lost. He found Mary.
When she was born she was wandering, like a sheep gone astray. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned — every one — to his own way.” But the Lord Jesus, Mary’s Shepherd, called her by name and made her His in a wonderful flood of forgiveness. Mary was baptized. For 91 years Mary has known Jesus as her Shepherd. On Friday at 5:15 p.m., her Shepherd took her into His arms, to give her rest until the Last Day. On that Day He will call her by name and she will rise from the grave to be with Him forever. She’ll be perfected in body and soul for all eternity. “Yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” Mary will stand there, glorified, and see Jesus by the same eyes with which she beheld each of you.
Mary’s Shepherd cared for her throughout her long life. He cared for her through her parents. He cared for her by faithful pastors and teachers who lovingly helped her to grow in trust of her Good Shepherd Jesus. He cared for her through the gift of her beloved Vern, who became her husband on April 22, 1945. For 51 years, the Good Shepherd Jesus cared for both of them through each other: good times and bad, sickness and health.
The Shepherd cared for Mary by giving her a loving home with Maurice. The Shepherd cared for Mary by faithful visits from brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our Lord is a Shepherd, and He cares for us all. He cared so much for Mary that He kept her in the one true faith unto life everlasting. And He used Mary to care for others. The Shepherd used Mary to care for Maurice and his children in their great hour of need. I know she faithfully prayed for so many.
Truly Mary’s cup ran over with the blessings of her Lord. In the relatively short time I knew her, she told me again and again how good the Lord was to her, and how thankful she was. I’m sure Pastor Koschmann or anyone gathered here would agree.
But in all this worldly care for her, and her care for others, we don’t really get the big picture of just how much the Lord was Mary’s shepherd. As I mentioned, the Lord saw fit to wash away Mary’s sins in her baptism. He continued to feed her and care for her for all of these years. She would come to church and hear His Word. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That’s what Mary’s shepherd taught her. And she believed it.
“This is my body..this is my blood.. given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Mary’s shepherd taught her this, too, and she believed it. It was a joy to bring her the Lord’s Supper. It was a joy because I had the privilege of being a hand of the Shepherd for her, hearing her respond in faith, rejoicing in the forgiveness that her Shepherd was feeding to her.
I chose Psalm 23 for the sermon text today, not only because it’s a good and standard funeral text, but also because it meant very much to Mary. She knew her Shepherd, and she rejoiced that she was His. I was blessed to be able to recite this psalm with her, along with the Apostle’s Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, on my visits to her; and several times over the past week with her family gathered around her bedside. I want to ensure you all, even in her great weakness Mary’s faith heard the words of the Shepherd and believed. That’s how faith works. Mary heard in faith, and believed!
Now this psalm isn’t all peaceful – though we pass green pastures and still waters, we also travel through the valley of the shadow of death. Without the Shepherd there with us it would be quite terrifying. But He’s there – He was with Mary, He’s there for all of us too. The Good Shepherd loved Mary and the world so deeply, that He took all the sin – Mary’s, yours, mine, all – upon Himself and paid for it with His own life. Our Good Shepherd gives us hope, comfort, and peace. Through His death he destroyed the power of death. He has cast light into death’s darkness.
With His death and resurrection, we have the promise and hope of the same. Mary sleeps now, in Christ, awaiting the Last Day when she will rise bodily and be with her Shepherd forever. The plan of the Good Shepherd for Mary and for all of us doesn’t involve an escape from our bodies, but instead He intends us to be with Him bodily – physically – forever. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has a body, too, you know, even now! Just as His body is glorious now, we also hope for that Day when we will also have glorified bodies with Him.
Mary has a Good Shepherd, and she now has the eternal joy of being with Him forever. We, too, have a Good Shepherd. He cares for us and all our needs now, in this life. But most importantly, He has defeated death and brought life and immortality to light. And His gift to us is that His victory is now ours. The Good Shepherd Jesus grants faith, forgiveness, and life everlasting to all who are baptized and call upon His name.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…” This is true, and good, and wonderful. But even better are the last words of this psalm: “[A]nd I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That is a blessèd gift, and it’s the gift that Mary’s Good Shepherd has given to her, and gives to all of His sheep. As we sang in the hymn just a bit ago: “He lives and grants me daily breath; / He lives, and I shall conquer death; / He lives my mansion to prepare; / He lives to bring me safely there.” Jesus is that Good Shepherd who lives, and who lovingly seeks and cares for His sheep – Mary and you. He gives eternal life to all who trust in Him; all who call upon His name; all who know and believe that He is the Lord and is their Shepherd.
– Pastor Michael Schuermann