Funeral Sermon For Cheryl Altwasser / Thursday May 19th 2016
Funeral Sermon for Cheryl Altwasser at Mount Olive Lutheran Church May 19th - 2016/ Rev. Ted A. Giese / Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name's sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
Let us pray: Help us in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and find comfort in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting and in this trying time may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The soul of the church, the soul of the very bride of Christ, is poured out in the Psalms: And Psalm 23 is a Psalm that the church has used for days like today for a long time. In the face of death, at the time of death, at a funeral, as we grieve, these words come along side us. The Lord comes along side us with these words providing comfort. At the darkest moments in the Psalms they are still prayers said to God and as we pray these words we speak to the very same Lord who has come along side of us. They are the words of a mature faith, a faith that trusts with the faith of a child. In words like these we walk and grow in our faith. Some days these steps are harder to take.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. ... but I do want, I look in the mirror, I look at my own face and I want my wife back, my daughter, the grandmother of our children, my mom, my friend. I can't even really believe this is happening, everything is so fuzzy, it's all moving so fast yet I feel like I'm standing still. It makes me angry, It makes me angry Cheryl was such a hard worker, she'd done right be so many people, she was just entering into retirement, there was so much she wanted to do, so much she was capable of doing. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In the Gospel of John Jesus says, "I am the Good Shepherd." Jesus is the Shepherd of Psalm 23. Jesus says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." He says, "I know My own and My own know Me." Cheryl listened to the voice of Jesus, the Holy Spirit gifted her with a very mature faith nurtured in her church and in her vocation as a nurse working in the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region. In the face of a serious diagnosis she trusted that it was Jesus who would lead her beside still waters. That it was Jesus who would restores her soul. That it was Jesus, the Good Shepherded, who would lead her in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. He would lead her through and where He would lead she would follow. I remember sitting in my office with Cheryl talking very frankly about death and hearing her say, "I'm ready," If it was going to be sooner or if it would be later her response was "I'm ready."
This shouldn't surprise any of us as Cheryl was the kind of woman who was organized, being prepared was just her way. Why would it be different as she contemplated the very real possibility of her "walk through the valley of the shadow of death." And yet just because she was ready doesn't mean that you were ready. Her readiness spilled over in an outpouring of optimism, because she was ready for today, tomorrow for whenever. When confronted with her optimism it's easy to forget the source of that optimism ... Psalm 23 says, "I will fear no evil, for You are with me;" Cheryl could set aside her fear because she trusted that Jesus was with her, that her Good Shepherd's words were true when He says of His flock, His sheep, "I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand." This promise was for Cheryl, in these words Jesus says, 'I give her eternal life, she will never perish, and no one will snatch her out of My hand.'
But, but ... this is where my anger comes back in, where my confusion and my discontent raise up their hands. Jesus says, 'I give her eternal life, she will never perish, and no one will snatch her out of My hand.' and I say "but she did perish, she perished in the very hospital in which she'd worked, she perished in recovery," She died. I don't even know how to talk about it, it hurts me so much. Today my cup is overflowing with grief and sadness.
Dearest Jesus, help me in the midst of things I cannot understand, to believe and find comfort in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Jesus has sent to you His Holy Spirit, the comforter and it is the Holy Spirit who sets our eyes on "Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith." It is the Holy Spirit who sets your eyes on your Jesus, "who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Cheryl trusted Jesus as her Good Shepherd because Jesus had already walked though the valley of the shadow of death when He went to the cross on Good Friday and on Easter Morning Jesus, the Good Shepherd, walked out of the tomb alive, resurrected from the dead; He had walked out of the valley of the shadow of death making for her, for you, and for me, a clear pathway to the life everlasting. In our Gospel lesson today Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." So this eternal life that Jesus promises is not just for Cheryl, it's for you, Jesus says, 'I give you eternal life, you will never perish, and no one will snatch you out of My hand.'
Knowing, believing and trusting this is a great comfort, but the truth of it, the truth of who Jesus is, the truth of who the Good Shepherd is, the Lord of Psalm 23, is not dependant on the quality of our believing or the genuineness of our faith, because in these times when it is most challenged and we feel the weakest the promises of Jesus need to trump or worries, our doubts and despair. Jesus is stronger than your anxiety and sorrow, His joy is brighter than your sadness, and His peace is greater than the conflict raging in your heart. He says to you, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me." He calls us to find comfort in the resurrection of the body.
Somehow the resurrection of the body gets lost in the shuffle as we do our funeral planning, as we talk amongst ourselves, as we go about our daily lives. We look at Cheryl's body after her spirit, her soul, has been taken back to God we find our self saying things like, "it's only a shell," or "she's passed away it's not really her anymore," and yet there her body is. Death crouches there looking at us and we are tempted to look the other way out of fear of our own death. Death plays a game of chicken with you daring you to say something and then we fall victim to the disenchantment of our drab modern life and we discount the resurrection of the body. God loves Cheryl's body, this body right here in this casket today, He loves it so much "that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." There are those words again, and there is the promise again. At the cross, at the tomb, Jesus defeated death and on The Last Day Cheryl will have this very body back: Her body, a body that is not just a shell, her body.
All we who die with our faith in the Good Shepherd, with or faith in Jesus, will with all believers on The Last Day for all time be risen to life everlasting, body and soul united. This is the sure hope of all who trust in Christ Jesus. This means that you will receive your body back too. No longer aisled by diseases, infirmity, cancer or any other brokenness, In Christ these bodies of ours will be made new, made perfect imperishable. For nurses and doctors and health care professionals of every kind this is a great joy and comfort because like Cheryl did, you fight every day to beat back the effects of sin on this fallen world in the bodies and minds of your patient, you fight every day to beat back death from the door step of the men, women and children put under your care. A day is coming, on that Last Day, the day when we will be resurrected to eternal life, where you will have rest, because there will be no need for doctors or nurses or health care professionals, all will be healed in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trumpet when the dead are raised up imperishable. On That Day God, "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things [will] have passed away.” Cheryl now waits that day in Christ as we do, but she awaits it with Jesus in paradise.
Psalm 23 paints a picture of this paradise, it says, "You [O Lord, You my Good Shepherd, You my Jesus, You] prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies [and because of the forgiveness of sins we are now at peace]; You anoint my head with oil [and I am made an heir of the kingdom of heaven, dearest Jesus I am made Your sister, Your brother]; [dearest Jesus, in You] my cup overflows [no longer overflowing with grief, and sadness, and anger, and despair but with joy and peace and love]."
All of this is for you. Physical death is not a period at the end of a sentence, it's more like a semicolon. A semicolon in a sentence is used between two closely related independent clauses. In this case the life we have in Christ Jesus today before our physical death and in Christ Jesus the eternal life we have with Him in Eternity after our physical death. So today, and tomorrow, and every day we have, trust the merciful one Jesus, the Christ, who has walked the road ahead of you and walks the road with you, and as Psalm 23 says, even walks the road behind you leading you along His way. When the Psalm says, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life," Jesus is that Goodness and Mercy of God that follows you all the days of your life. And in Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, even in our grief we say, "I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever." This was Cheryl's trust and comfort, let it be yours, make Psalm 23 your prayer today. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 John 10:14
 John 10:27
 John 10:14
 John 10:28
 Hebrews 12:2
 John 14:6
 John 14:1
 John 3:16
 Revelation 21:4