Not A Coward, But A Good And Caring Shepherd

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

Text: John 10:11-18

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

When the shadows of death begin to encroach, and when the wolf of death begins to howl, it is very easy to get uneasy, to become anxious.  Indeed, the valley of the shadow of death is no picnic – it is not a delightful walk in the park.  And that ol’ wolf of death?  Well, he is ready to devour and destroy us sheep.  That ol’ wolf of death licks his chops and shows his fangs when the sheep are near and when the sheep are tired and weak.  So, it makes sense that when we hear that howl of death that shivers go down our spins. 

And so my friends, it is easy to become unsettled with death – to become fearful.  In fact, it is quite common for people to see the shadows of death, turn, and run the opposite way.  We find it easier sometimes to turn a blind eye to death and pretend that it isn’t there.  This is what Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading this morning. 

In our reading from the Gospel of John, we hear about a hired hand who sees the wolf and then leaves – runs away like a coward.  You see, the hired hand senses the creeping darkness, he hears the howl, and he sees the shifting shadows in the distance, and because he does not own the sheep, he leaves and runs away.  To a certain extent, this makes sense, for why would the hired hand stay to protect the sheep when he does not own them, care for them, and especially because he is not strong enough to fight against a wolf? 

And so, we hear that hired hands – fake shepherds – run at the first sign of a wolf and at first sight of shadows.  They leave the sheep for dead. 

None of this is very encouraging and comforting right now, especially since the shadow of death has been cast over Viola.  It is not very reassuring especially since the wolf of death has taken a bite out of our dear sister, Vi.  The fact that hired hands run at the sign of danger really does not help our anxiety and fear right about now, but most likely makes matters worse.  But all of this changes when we consider that Viola is not ruled and protected by a cowardly hired hand, but has a Good Shepherd – a Good Shepherd who cares for her.

Dear friends, in this morning’s Gospel reading we heard the good news that sheep, like Vi, 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 Vi was not some abandoned sheep all on her own.  It means that we – as sheep – are not alone in this life or death.  It means that we have a sheep-shepherd relationship.  It means that we can take great comfort in being a sheep of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  We can know with certainty today that Vi was not by herself and alone – abandoned by a hired hand – 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. 

And why won’t the Good Shepherd abandon sheep, like Vi?  Because He cares for sheep like Vi.  You see, Jesus’ attitude is quite the opposite of the hired hand.  Unlike the hired hand, He cares for His sheep.  Our Jesus is never able to get sheep, like Vi, out of His mind.  Jesus cannot cut sheep, like Vi, loose from His mind, for to do so would be to do violence to His heart.

O what comfort this is for our anxious hearts!  All of our life – all of Vi’s life is in the Good Shepherd’s hands.  Every moment that Vi passed through, every moment in which she lived – the good, the bad, the ups and the downs of life are in the Lord’s hands because He cares for His sheep.  All of our pasts that are tainted with sin have been hidden in Jesus’ nailed marked hands.  All of our unknown futures with their joys, blessings, hardships, and struggles are in the hands of Jesus.  And even our death – yes our deaths – belong to Christ. 

Dear Baptized Saints, 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 cares for us and is with us in this life and with us into the valley of death.  Jesus is our Shepherd, and as our caring Shepherd, He will not falter and run when the dark shadow closes in on us.  He did not abandon Vi and will not abandon you in the valley, as we approach death. 

And because our Good Shepherd cares for us, He 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, because Jesus cares for us, He will not forsake us but lays His life down for you, for me, and for Vi. 

It is like this, Jesus cares so much for Vi that He has held her tenderly in His arms, protecting her from everything that would destroy her.  In fact, when sin, death, and devil came charging at her like a pack of hungry wolves to devour and steal her away, to confine her to hell, her Good Shepherd said, “Take me.  Take me instead.  For I am Vi’s Good Shepherd.  You will not touch her nor have any authority over my beloved sheep.  She belongs to me.  I have promised to keep her safe.  Take me instead, for I will gladly give myself to you for the sake of my blessed sheep.”

Dear Baptized Saints, Jesus truly lays down His life for the sheep—sheep like Vi.  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.  He did this because He cares for His sheep – sheep like Vi.
And there is more.  To the death that Jesus died for Vi’s sin and ours, He joined Vi by Baptism, and He joined her to His life – 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, Vi too will also walk in newness of life when she is resurrected at the last day.(Partial Norman Nagel Quote)  

As she awaits the resurrection of her body though, Vi is in newness of life brighter than we can imagine.  Jesus is her staff and stay; all the howls of the wolf are left behind with no shadows of death, no deep valley of pain, no threats of biting wolves, but life unimpaired in the arms of Jesus’ rest.

Jesus cares for Viola.  He is not a hired hand, but the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.  Jesus is Viola’s Shepherd in life, her Shepherd in death, and her Shepherd unto the resurrection and life everlasting. 

In the name of Jesus, our Good and Caring Shepherd: Amen. 

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