The Sheep Belong To Jesus

The following 'Funeral Sermon' is posted with family permission.  May the Lord give to the family of Lydia Rotenberger, and all who mourn, comfort in their grief and a sure confidence in the Lord's loving care. 

Texts:  Psalm 23 and John 10:11-16

Judy, Randy, family, and friends, grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The shadow of death is not very much fun, for it brings forth darkness and terror.  Indeed, as we sheep enter into the shadows of death, the darkness obscures our vision and prevents us from seeing the unknown in front of us.  Furthermore, as we sheep descend into the valley of death, we can also become insecure from the cry of wild beasts tucked away in the caverns of the mountainside.  The valley of the shadow of death is no picnic; it is not to be taken lightly.  It takes confidence out of our hearts as we approach death itself or as death pulls us into its valley and darkness. 

The valley of the shadow of death might not be that scary if we sheep were a bit more powerful; however, as you and I know, we sheep do not have fangs or claws.  We sheep are typically not able to lash out and attack predators like the wolf of death.  We sheep are powerless to defend ourselves.    

All of this is true, especially in regard to our funeral service this afternoon. As we all know, for the last several weeks the shadow of death has been creeping overtop of Lydia.  The shadow has grown darker and bigger and then, this last week, Lydia entered into the valley of death.  She has gone into the shadow of the valley of death, where there is no turning back. 

There is a temptation for us though when we consider the dark valley of death.  That temptation is for us to try and convince ourselves that the dark valley of death is not as dark as it seems and not as dangerous as it appears.  If it is not this, we then can try to think that we are brave enough, good enough, and strong enough to walk into the valley.

But the reality is that we are powerless sheep, not mighty predators.  We do not have fangs, we do not have claws, and we are powerless to defend ourselves.  Furthermore, at the end of the shadowy valley, the wolf of death is there to devour us, and that wolf of death is just too big, just too crafty, and his jaws are just too powerful.  

What does this mean for Lydia though?  …for she is a sheep! 

Dear friends, in this afternoon’s Gospel reading we heard the good news that sheep, like Lydia, have a Shepherd.  Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  We also heard in our Old Testament reading from the 23rd Psalm that there is a Shepherd that cares for us.  What does this mean, though?  It means that we can take great comfort that Lydia was not some abandoned sheep all on her own.  It means that we – as sheep – are not alone in this life or in death.  It means that we have a sheep-shepherd relationship.  It means that we can take great comfort in being a sheep of Jesus.  We can know with certainty today that Lydia was not by herself and alone as she went into the deep shadow of death.  Oh no, she was not alone, for the Lord will never allow one of His sheep to go into a place where He will not go, Himself. 

It is true that we sheep do not have what it takes to go into the dark valley of death alone.  We cannot defend ourselves from death that acts like a ravenous wolf.  We do not have what it takes to walk through the valley of the shadow of death on our own and by our own strength.  It is too dark; it is too deep.

You, who have ears, hear this.  The good news of the Gospel is that you shall not fear.  Yes, you shall not fear the dark valley of death or that wolf of death, for Jesus is with us in this life and with us into the valley of death.  Jesus is our Shepherd and as our Shepherd, He will not falter and run when the dark shadow closes in on us.  He did not abandon Lydia and will not abandon you in the valley, as we approach death. 

Jesus is our shepherd – the Good Shepherd.  There is no doubt about it that we do not have what it takes to enter the valley of death and we do not have what it takes to overcome the wolf of death; however, Jesus shares in our Gospel reading from today that when the wolves come, He will not run and He will not forsake you.  Furthermore, in our Old Testament reading from Psalm we hear that the Good Shepherd will not forsake us.  The Good Shepherd will not run away when the wolf of death comes and He will not abandon His sheep as they journey into the shadows of death.  Indeed, we belong to Jesus and that is the reason why He will not forsake us.  We belong to Jesus and that is why He lays His life down for you, for me, and for Lydia.  Indeed, He lays down His life for the safety and welfare of His flock. 

You, who have ears, listen to the good news of the Gospel.  Jesus holds us tenderly in His arms, protecting us from everything that would destroy us.  In fact, when sin, death, and devil come charging at us like a pack of hungry wolves to devour and steal us away, to confine us to the hell we deserve, our Good Shepherd says, “Take me.  Take me instead.  For I am the Good Shepherd.  You will not touch them nor have any authority over my sheep.  They belong to me.  I have promised to keep them safe.  Take me instead, for I will gladly give myself to you for the sake of my sheep.”

Jesus truly lays down His life for the sheep—sheep like Lydia.  He did this on His own accord.  He did this because He is the good Shepherd; He did this so that He might take His life up again. He did this because He has a steadfast and solid and dying love for His sheep.

Yes, we belong to Jesus; we are sheep and He is our Shepherd.  He leads us through the Word.  We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the Word.  He washes us in our baptism.  He feeds us in His Holy Supper.  He rebukes us through the Law.  He mends our wounds through the Gospel. 

Due to the Shepherd’s death, resurrection, forgiveness, and embrace, we can say of Lydia that Christ died for her, Lydia is one of Jesus’ sheep.  To the death that He died for her sin and ours, He joined her by Baptism, and He joined her to His life that is stronger than the little death of our mortality.  Therefore, just as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, Lydia will also walk in newness of life when she is resurrected at the last day.  As she awaits the resurrection of her body, Lydia is in a newness of life brighter than we can imagine.  Jesus is her staff and stay; all the accusations of the Law are left behind, with no shadows of death, no deep valley of pain, no threats of wolves, but life unimpaired in the arms of Jesus’ rest. 

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us – that is you and that is Lydia – from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord and Good Shepherd of the sheep.

Now, the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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