Blog / Book of the Month / Elsie Freida Biesenthal Funeral Sermon - Psalm 121 June 18th 2021 / The LORD is Your Keeper

Elsie Freida Biesenthal Funeral Sermon - Psalm 121 June 18th 2021 / The LORD is Your Keeper

Elsie Freida Biesenthal Funeral Sermon - Psalm 121 June 18th 2021 / The LORD is Your Keeper

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Friday June 18th 2021: Season of Pentecost / Psalm 121 "The LORD is Your Keeper"

          I lift up my eyes to the hills.

                   From where does my help come?

          My help comes from the LORD,

                   who made heaven and earth.

          He will not let your foot be moved;

                   He who keeps you will not slumber.

          Behold, He who keeps Israel

                   will neither slumber nor sleep.

          The LORD is your keeper;

                   the LORD is your shade on your right hand.

          The sun shall not strike you by day,

                   nor the moon by night.

          The LORD will keep you from all evil;

                   He will keep your life.

          The LORD will keep

                   your going out and your coming in

                   from this time forth and forevermore.

Let us pray: 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. In Psalm 121 the Psalmist writes these words of encouragement, “The LORD is your keeper,” notice that the emphasis is on the LORD keeping you, not on your keeping the LORD. Think of a baby in the arms of their mother or father. Yes the baby is holding on to the parent but without the mother or the father keeping the baby in their arms, holding on to the baby the baby will fall. A baby just doesn’t have the strength to do it on their own. The Christian life is like this and even someone, like Elsie, who is 97 years into her Christian life still needed to trust that it was the LORD who kept hold of her in His arms, kept her in His almighty hand.

By 1938 Elsie had begun to truly learn the nuance of this when she had her Baptism Confirmed. She had studied the Small Catechism in preparation for her public confession of faith and in that Small Catechism she read and learned how the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel – that Good News of Jesus that He had succeeded facing sin where we fail passing through death to life to give us life in Him; How the Holy Spirit enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified (that is makes us holy) and kept us in the true faith – And kept us in the true faith – as Psalm 121 says, “The LORD is your keeper.” Elsie didn’t believe this simply for herself but knew this to be true for all the faithful trusting that the Holy Spirit “in the same way … calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.[1]

You hear this same sort of language in Psalm 40, where David writes,

          I waited patiently for the LORD;

                   He inclined to me and heard my cry.

          He drew me up from the pit of destruction,

                   out of the miry bog,

          and set my feet upon a rock,

                   making my steps secure.

          He put a new song in my mouth,

                   a song of praise to our God.

          Many will see and fear,

                   and put their trust in the LORD.[2]

In Psalm 121 we hear how it is the LORD who will not let your foot be moved; it is the LORD who will not slumber who is the one who keeps you. How it is the LORD of the Church who neither slumbers nor sleeps. When you are weary, when you are exhausted the LORD is there awake and at work drawing you to Jesus, and keeping you in God’s hands. Neither the blistering sun of the day nor the darkness of the night can separate the Christian from the LORD.

When this Psalm was written there was one place to worship God and that was in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was on that Holy Mountain that God promised to be present with His people and this Psalm was written for those who were leaving the Temple to go to their towns and villages and cities, to their farms and homes and places of work just as it was also written for those who were traveling back to the Temple again. Yearly all the children of Israel would travel there to praise God and receive blessings. And it didn’t matter if you were from the north or south or west or east of Israel in relation to Jerusalem you were always heading up to the Jerusalem, up to the Temple or if you were leaving you were always coming down from Jerusalem, down from the Temple. And even if you were far enough away from Jerusalem so that you could no longer see the city of the Temple on the horizon you could still think on that place and pray, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” The LORD made the Holy Mountain, that blessed hill upon which Jerusalem sits and the Mount of Olives that lays nearby across the Kidron Valley and the LORD had promised to be there so the people acknowledged this in the Psalm. But the Psalm teaches us that the arm of the LORD reaches past the Temple walls, past the streets of Jerusalem, past the Mount of Olives into the lives of those He keeps wherever they go, wherever they are.

In Psalm 139 the Psalmist writes about the LORD saying,

          Where shall I go from your Spirit?

                   Or where shall I flee from Your presence?

          If I ascend to heaven, You are there!

                   If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!

          If I take the wings of the morning

                   and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

          even there Your hand shall lead me,

                   and Your right hand shall hold me.[3]

If you feel far from the LORD He is still there with you. Elsie knew this. Even still being in the House of the LORD was a great joy to her and she was determined to attend as she was able. She was here for Holy Communion on Sunday March 8th 2020 even as the pandemic was looming and starting to spread around the world, she had to use a walker that day which she didn’t like very much, but she was happy to be here?  It was also a great blessing that she was able to come and be here, sitting where you are sitting now, for her sister Anne Thurm’s funeral back in December of last year. While she read her Portals of Prayer devolutions daily and read her bible and prayed she also came for the Divine Service and she came for Bible Study and participated in the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, because in all of these things she knew and trusted that the LORD was present holding on to her and keeping her in the faith. In all of these things she was being enlightened and given growth in Christ Jesus by the workings of the Holy Spirit.   

In Psalm 121 we also hear how The LORD will keep us from all evil; how He will keep our life. Whatever befalls us in this life, if we have to face the death of our husband or wife, if we have to bury our children, if we are diagnosed with a terminal illness, if we break bones, loose work, whatever the case may be for the Christian these sufferings are considered momentary when viewed from the vantage point of eternal life. In our baptism into Jesus we are given eternal life as a gift and the LORD now keeps this life He gave you through all the trials and hardships and challenges good and bad in life so that you will have the complete fulfilment of this gift bestowed on you on the Last Day, in the resurrection. When you know and trust this it becomes easier to actively care for others even when ultimately it is God at work in our care and God at work in us.  

If the LORD is doing all of this for me, and those I love and care for, what is there for me to do?

When it comes to your salvation, your redemption: Have faith like a child[4] and hold on to the LORD like the little baby I mentioned at the beginning of the Sermon. Whether you are a young child or 97 years old in the faith, like Elsie, hold on and don’t let go, and even if feel you have let go remember the one who promises to keep you, remember the one who promises to hold you and never let go. Remember the LORD who made heaven and earth, the one who neither slumbers nor sleeps, the one who promise to keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore even through the gates of death to life everlasting. The home promised to Elsie, the home to which she is now going: A home that is for you as well in Christ Jesus.  

When it comes to living your Christian life in the world: Stand firm in the LORD and on His Word and your foot will not slip. The World may change but He will remain the same and you will be safe and secure in Him, by doing this you become an encouragement to others, a reliable witness to the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus, an active neighbour caring for the needs of others. What we do for God and for our family, friends, neighbours and coworkers, even for strangers is in response to what He has done for us. As Saint John writes, “We love because He first loved us.”[5] And if you’re wonder what was behind the things Elsie did for you, behind the things she did for people she never even met, like if she was knitting a toque or mittens, what was standing behind it all was God’s love for her, God’s love for her made clear in Christ Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the one into whom she was baptised. 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.

[1] Third Article of the Creed, Luther’s Small Catechism (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House 2017) pg 17-18.
[2] Psalm 40:1–3
[3] Psalm 139:7–10
[4] Matthew 18:2-4
[5] 1 John 4:19

Photo credits: Mother with Child from pexels; photo of Elsie provided by famly; Portals of Prayer photo by Pr. Ted Giese; Father with Child from pexels.