I like funerals. I know, that might sound a bit odd. Sure there are some bad parts: the tears, the pain, the loss that caused the funeral. But the good far outweighs the bad. For one, it seems that funerals are times people who don’t listen too often are really listening — listening to what God has to say. So, yes, I like funerals, because what God has to say at the funeral of a believer is pretty amazing.
We had one this week. The woman had lived a long and beautiful life, but her time came. The family chose Psalm 23 as the text of the sermon. So fitting. It’s one of the best known, most loved, most beautiful chapters in the Bible, and one that has been used at every funeral I can remember being at. Why?
Walk through it. It is a psalm that puts words to the status of a heart that is in step with God, a heart at peace with God, a heart that has learned life’s lessons and has found the solution to all of life’s problems. It reminds us that life is not about what we’ve accomplished, but what God has.
"The Lord is my shepherd." Realize what that is saying: I am a sheep, needing help, needing guidance, needing protection and nourishment, but because the Lord is my shepherd, "I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name sake." He does it all.
So, "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," even though things don’t go the way we want them to and life looks scary and confusing and hard, "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death — I will fear no evil, for you, God, are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows."
Now, a funeral could be a time to talk about all the great accomplishments of the deceased, but honestly, none of them matter to the deceased now. In fact, if that’s what it would be about — not one of us reading this would have accomplished enough to make a funeral good news. Our sin, our weakness, our failure (that death reminds us of so clearly) — they all deserve God’s wrath. But instead, because he is our shepherd, because he lay down his life for the sheep — wrath is not what we get. Instead, like excited puppies nipping at our heels, it says, "Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life."
Sure, there are days, like a funeral day, maybe, when sadness tries to overwhelm the goodness and love in our lives — but when you remember your shepherd and what he has done to change everything, even death, into a celebration — you’ll see that the goodness and love are following you. And they stay with you.
So the conclusion fits: "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." This is more than just being in church. This is being where God is — in the presence of God. Because God’s love does not fail, because his goodness is with us always — our eternity is certain. We get to be with him forever.
So may that be your goal for eternity, and for now — to dwell in the house, in the presence of the Lord, forever: studying him, growing in him, worshipping him — now so that you never stray from the Good Shepherd’s fold, and you see more and more his goodness and mercy following you through life and into eternity.
In Christ, Amen.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.