The Valley of Death

Psalm 23 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Death is an uninvited visitor in our homes. Death is unwelcome intruder in our lives.
Yet death has barged in once again!
One moment you are planning on bringing your wife home from the hospital. The next moment you are pushed to the side as doctors and nurses rush around trying to keep her alive.
One moment you are at the zoo with your children, enjoying a day off from school. The next moment you are texting four words you never imagined typing: “My mom just died.”
One moment you are going through your normal daily routine. The next moment you are calling your pastor saying, “I don’t know what to do.”
Death is our enemy. One by one it takes away the people we love. The longer we live, the worse it gets. If God didn’t give us the wonderful human capacity to love, death wouldn’t be so hard. But because God is love and we are His children who are called to love, we are going to mourn those whom death has stolen away from us. And when it comes to the death of someone extremely close to us – a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend – we never completely get over it. Such deaths are going to leave marks. Our heart is scarred.
That’s what it means for sinful people to live in a sinful world. Because we are all sinners, we will all face death. Jean died because she was a sinner. We will all die because we have all sinned. We were born in sin. We sin daily in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. The Bible says very clearly: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Everything dies. And everyone dies.
We might hasten our death by drinking too much or eating unhealthy foods. We might try to stave off death by eating more fruits and vegetables or exercising daily. We might try to cover up the effects of aging as we near death by spending time in the tanning booth or spending an hour in front of the mirror each morning and an hour in front of the same mirror each evening. We might pass the time until death with camping, cruises and endless hours of Skip-Bo. But eventually death will come.
We must all walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death.
But here is the difference for us as Christians. Because of Jesus Christ, death is now different. The apostle Paul taunts death saying, “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
Jesus has turned death upside down. Where death had once been our enemy, now death for the Christian is the gate through which we must all pass in order to enter paradise. Because of Jesus, now death is merely a sleep from which we will awaken in God’s heavenly mansion.
Death had once been terrible and terrifying. But then along comes Jesus. Along comes His payment of the sins that kill and damn us. Along comes His defeat of death with His corpse being placed into a tomb on a dark Friday afternoon … and then the risen Lord bursting forth from the tomb on a bright Easter dawn. Along comes Christ’s resurrection from the dead to declare that death no longer has the final word. In fact, because our Savior has paid the ransom for our sin, even the deaths we endure in this world will soon cease to be. When Jesus returns, death itself will die. Death will be destroyed. A time is coming when the heavy hurt of death will not even be a memory. Instead, there will only be joy, laughter, victory, and celebration. And these will last forever. Jesus says so.
You are hurting now because of Jean’s death. You can still be hurting from another death long ago. It’s OK to feel the hurt. But also feel the comfort that comes from Jesus’ death. And then remember – Jesus lives! Because of Jesus, Jean lives, too! Those who die in the Lord will live forever. And death is going to die.
While we are left shaking our hands in disbelief that Jean was gone so quickly, Jean is lifting her hands right now in worship before the throne of the Lamb. While we are upset that we didn’t get a chance to say “Goodbye” to her, Jean was pretty excited when her Savior said “Hello” to her. While we are shocked at how unexpected her death was, Jean is comforted with the knowledge that this was not unexpected to her eternal Lord. Monday, September 29 had always been His plan. While we are questioning God, she is praising God. While we are mourning at the grave, she is marveling at heaven.
Tom has been at Jean’s side, taking care of her for 46 years of marriage. But more importantly, she had her Savior taking care of her for 69 years of her life. That care began here at this baptismal font on November 18, 1945, as Jean Marie Nakiewich was brought into God’s holy family through the sacrament of Baptism. Here Jesus washed away her sins with water and Word and created saving faith in Jean’s heart.
That care continued as Jean made her vows of commitment to the Lord at her confirmation before this communion rail on March 22, 1959.
That care continued as Jean received the Lord’s body and blood in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper before this altar. That care continued as Jean and Tom were married here in the Lord’s house at Epiphany on August 24, 1968.
Throughout her entire life, Jean had the privilege of looking at this stained glass window of her Savior as her Good Shepherd. She is a precious lamb in Jesus’ arms. She had the promise that nothing could ever separate her from her Savior – not trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword (Romans 8:35).
Jesus, Jean’s Good Shepherd, has always been with her. There is a beautiful promise in Isaiah: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2). When I think of that verse, all sorts of biblical images come to mind. When I think of the deep waters, I am reminded of Noah and his family, floating safely above the waters in the ark. I am reminded of Jonah, thrown overboard and swallowed by a huge fish, and yet kept safe within the will of the Lord. When I think of the fire that does not burn, I think of Moses, coming upon the bush that was burning and yet was not burned. I think of the three Hebrew men walking through the fiery furnace and coming out unharmed – why? Because there was a fourth man walking with them through the fire. There was One who walked with Moses; there was One who walked with Jonah; and there was One who walked with Noah.
And there was One who walked with Jean. And there is One who will walk with each of us. One who has already walked through the dark valley of death Himself. He knows the way because He walked through it with His own death on the cross. He is the One who knows every inch of this dark valley.
When danger comes close, other shepherds and leaders may leave us and say, “I’ll see you on the other side.” Not Jesus. He walks with us every step of the way. Jesus took Jean’s hand on Monday and walked her through this dark, terrifying valley of death until she entered the glorious city of God, the new Jerusalem in heaven, where her room was already waiting for her. If Jesus did this for Jean, He will certainly do the same for you, His other precious lambs and sheep.
Jean may have lived in the same home for 44 years. Now she is living in the home Jesus prepared for her with His life, death and resurrection.
She may have enjoyed camping with her children and grandchildren. Now she is enjoying the green pastures and quiet waters of paradise.
She may have celebrated 17 years of sobriety, worked hard as a sponsor for AA and served on the board of directors for Benjamin House. Now she has heard her Savior commend her, not for her hard work, but for a lifetime of faith in Him. For she has heard her Master say to her, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
She may have cherished going to her grandchildren’s activities, playing endless games of Skip-Bo with Tom, and selling stuff on E-bay. Now there is only one thing that consumes her time – standing around the throne of God with the countless white-robed saints serving God day and night in His temple.

On Monday, Jean walked through the dark valley of the shadow of death. Jesus, her Savior, her Shepherd, walked with her every step of the way. She traveled through the dark valley of death so that she might stand in God’s paradise of life. By the grace of God, through the sacrifice of the Son, and with the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, she is dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. All because of her Good Shepherd. No longer just a window to look at, but her Savior to behold for all eternity. Amen. 
You can read Jean's obituary


Popular posts from this blog

The hand of the Triune God’s blessing

Be still – A funeral sermon for Jason Lopez, Jr.

Funeral sermon for Susan P. Tangerstrom