Funeral Sermon for Sara Turnquist / Saturday 22nd 2014
Funeral Sermon for Sara Turnquist / Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / John 10:14-18, 27-30 /Nov 22nd 2014
[Jesus says] "I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.”
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 the Old Testament book of Ezekiel God makes a promise to you, He says, "I Myself will be the Shepherd of My sheep, and I Myself will make them lie down, ... I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak," we hear echoes of King David's words in Psalm 23 when David talks about the Lord saying, "The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures," "He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake." David says that this Shepherd, David's Lord and Saviour, is with him - with him even as David walks "through the valley of the shadow of death," - and because his Shepherd is with him David knows that he "will fear no evil," because the Shepherd's rod and staff, comfort him. David (who had been a shepherd himself in his youth and as King was a shepherd to the Children of Israel) says that this Shepherd, who is the Lord God, will, "restores [his] soul."
The prophetic words of the Prophet Ezekiel and King David point to Jesus who says "I am the Good Shepherd ... My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand." Jesus is the fulfilment of the promises given by God in the Old Testament. Sara knew these promises well and trusted them. She counted herself as one of the sheep in the care of the Good Shepherd and why? Because she was baptized into this Good Shepherd, baptized into Christ Jesus, baptised in to Jesus' death and into His resurrection. She trusted that the Holy Spirit had given her the gift of faith, faith in Jesus. With Jesus, the Good Shepherd, as the promised Shepherd of the one flock, she trusted these words when Jesus said, "I lay down My life that I may take it up again," these words that point to Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.
What was it like for Jesus to lay down His life? In prophetic words the prophet Isaiah describes the way in which Jesus laid down His life, Isaiah says, "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth." Jesus is that Lamb.
Seeing Jesus approaching him at the banks of the Jordan river John the Baptizer proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John is looking at Jesus the uncomplaining Lamb, prophesied by Isaiah, Jesus who lays down His life and picks it back up again for you and for me, for him and for Sara, the Good Shepherd who became a Lamb to save His sheep. John is looking at Jesus the Great Shepherd, prophesied by Ezekiel, Jesus who seeks the lost, who brings back the strayed, who binds up the injured, who strengthens the weak.
Jesus who was innocent as He went to His death; Jesus who went to His death in perfection so that we who die in Him receive that perfect death as our own death. And in that death we are set free. St. Paul says that the, "one who has died has been set free from sin." Sara is set free from sin, set free from the effects of sin on the World, set free from every illness, from all pain and suffering. Jesus her Good Shepherd has led her into eternal life in Him. Of His sheep Jesus said, "no one will snatch them out of My hand," as one of Jesus' sheep Sara was in Jesus' hand before the day of her death on Tuesday and just as Jesus promises, Sara is in His hand now; Jesus her Good Shepherd had already given Sara eternal life before the day of her death on Tuesday and just as Jesus promises, Sara has that same eternal life now. She is alive in Christ Jesus, alive in her Good Shepherd.
In her Bible Sara had a number of passages marked; one of those passages is from Hebrews 12, it reads, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, 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." Sara has moved from this side of things in Christ Jesus to that side of things in Christ Jesus, and in the Body of Christ Sara is now part of that, "great a cloud of witnesses" that surrounds you and I, those witnesses who now stand with Christ Jesus at the right hand of the throne of God.
Trusting Jesus as her Good Shepherd, and believing all these things had a big impact on Sara's life both in the years leading up to her diagnosis and in the years that followed after. Sara had a great love for her family and for everyone; Sara had a great love of life - that part of her life didn't change too much, what she was able to do to show that loved changed quite a bit. For example before She had started to suffer from the effects of Stiff Person Syndrome if there was a church camp close by, especially a Lutheran one, she would find a way to participate so that she could help teach the young about the Good Shepherd, so that she could support their Christian growth, so they would have the opportunity to trust Jesus. In the Book of Acts Sara had marked in her Bible Saint Paul's words when he said, "I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace." Testifying to the grace of God in Christ Jesus was her aim whether it was done with a Bible in her hand, or with a hammer, or a spatula. She was more than willing to tackle the tough stuff, and step up to do whatever needed to be done, not for her own good, but because it improved the lives of the neighbour, the camper, the friend, her family.
After her diagnosis Sara continued "to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God," in Christ Jesus. And even though our dear forthright, diligent, industrious Sara had character to spare Saint Paul's words in his letter to the Romans, words that were so dear to Sara, became more and more apparent and important in Sara's life, Paul wrote, "we [Christians] rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Even though her diagnosis to all the World looked hopeless Sara was not a person that you could characterize as hopeless, no she had hope, hope in Christ and that hope even in her suffering, amidst the frustrations of it all, produced joy and gladness. She always made me think of the first verse of Psalm 122, when it says, "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the LORD!” Sara would sit in her special wheel chair at the back of the church with her family and I can picture it as clear as day ... in the middle of the Divine Service, having Holy Communion, carrying it down to her and as you approached she would grow happier and happier to see it coming and then after receiving Holy Communion when she would hear the words, "Now this, the true body and blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith unto life everlasting. Depart with joy and in His peace: sins forgiven. Amen." Such happiness.
How can a person have happiness when a person is paralyzed, when they can't even speak anymore? When they can't feed themselves or eat like everyone else anymore? Jesus says "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me," One of the things Jesus said that Sara heard and marked in her Bible was from the Gospel of St. Matthew where Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?" Like Rachel (Sara's sister) said earlier, once she accepted that her new condition was the way that things were going to be for her Sara seemed very much to take these words to heart. She trusted in her Good Shepherd Jesus and let other people take care of what she would eat and drink, what she would wear; and while she understood it beforehand, in her illness she was daily provided many, many, opportunities to rediscovered that life is more than food or clothing.
There were many times when I visited her that I read the famous wedding passage from 1 Corinthians 13, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." In her condition she gave people ample opportunity to do works of mercy toward her, to be kind and patient, to show her love; and she was able, as best she could, to work to not be irritable or resentful but rather to be patient and kind in return to them. In the midst of all of it I remember reminding her that we don't always do 1 Corinthians 13 well - we fail at this list and need forgiveness - but the good news is that Jesus does 1 Corinthians 13 better than well, He does it perfectly for us and what's more He forgives us, he bears all our sins and His love never ends. This is true for Sara and it's true for you today: Jesus who is Sara's Good Shepherd, Jesus who is your Good Shepherd is patient and kind toward you - we cast all our sins on Jesus and He casts all our sins behind His back. The Lord promises to seek the lost, to bring back the strayed, to bind up the injured, to strengthen the weak and I can say that even when the World at first would see only weakness in Sara's condition only the spiritually blind would miss the strength Sara had in Christ Jesus. Jesus promises to make all things new, and in the midst of that promise Jesus is making Sara new too, He will bind her up and in the resurrection on the Last Day He will reverse the injury she has suffered in her body because of this Stiff Person Syndrome.
When Jesus says, "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice." He was speaking of you and me and Sara. Sara wasn't there that day when Jesus first said those words, but the words He spoke that day when He said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand," are for Sara and they are for you. Just as the words King David wrote in Psalm 23 are for you and for Sara when David wrote, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever." Jesus is the Goodness and Mercy that follows you, that leads you, that brings you into His eternal life. This gave Sara great joy and gladness and she wants you to share in that joy and gladness too. You are not so lost, you have not strayed so far away, you are not so injured or weak that Jesus can't be your Good Shepherd as He is Sara's, your sin is not so great that He can't forgive it, take to heart John the Baptizer's words as he proclaimed “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" In Christ alone your hope is found, your forgiveness is won and you are redeemed. You are Jesus' little lamb, a sheep of His sheep fold.
I leave you with one last word of promise from Isaiah chapter 43, words cross-stitched and framed as a gift for Sara from her mother Lindah - words that are for you: The Lord your God says,
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name,
you are mine." 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.
 Ezekiel 34:15-16
 Psalm 23:1-2
 Psalm 23:3-4
 Psalm 23:1-2
 Romans 6:3-5, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with [Jesus] in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with [Jesus] in a resurrection like His."
 Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God."
 Isaiah 53:7
 John 1:29
 Romans 6:7
 Revelation 21:3-4, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He 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 have passed away.'”
 Hebrews 12:1-2
 Acts 20:24
 Romans 5:3-5
 Psalm 122:1
 Matthew 6:25
 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
 Isaiah 38:17
 Revelation 21:5
 Psalm 23:6
 Isaiah 43:1