Blog / Book of the Month / Irma Stenzel Funeral Sermon - Psalm 23 October 23rd 2020 / Lord Take My Hand

Irma Stenzel Funeral Sermon - Psalm 23 October 23rd 2020 / Lord Take My Hand

Irma Stenzel Funeral Sermon - Psalm 23 October 23rd 2020 / Lord Take My Hand

Funeral Sermon for Irma Emilie Stenzel - Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Friday October 23rd 2020: Season of Pentecost / Psalm 23 "Lord Take My Hand"

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 forever.

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. On the day Irma’s baptism into Christ Jesus was confirmed she sung with the other catechumens the hymn “Take Thou My Hand O Father,” we have a less archaic translation of this hymn[1] with the same music in our Hymnal it’s also a hymn inspired by the words of Psalm 23 a favourite passage of Scripture for Irma. A Psalm like Psalm 23, and a hymn like “Lord Take My Hand a Lead Me,” (Lutheran Service Book # 722) inspired by the Psalm help us understand the Christian life in general and Irma’s Christian life in particular, and at moments like this we pray for understanding, and comfort in the midst of our grief and loss. They can also help us understand our own Christian life too. Irma held this Psalm and hymn dear to her, I hope that they will become dear to you, and remain dear to you in your life as Christians. And for some of you they are dear to you already.

The first verse of the hymn, “Lord, take my hand and lead me upon life's way; direct, protect, and feed me from day to day. Without Your grace and favour I go astray; so take my hand, O Savior, and lead the way.” Can you hear how these word reflect 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.” In Holy Baptism we become the Children of God the Father, Christ Jesus His Son becomes our brother, we also become the Temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the very Spirit who They sent to bring us comfort and peace. If a child refuses to take their fathers hand while out for a walk does this stop them from being their father’s child; if a sibling struggles for a time with their older brother does it keep them from being siblings? No, it doesn’t; they remain the Father’s child, a sibling of their brother. With this hymn, with her love for this Psalm Irma confessed that she was both a daughter of her Heavenly Father, sister of Jesus Christ and one who desired God to take her hand a lead her along life’s way, that wherever she was God would be there with His grace and favour. In a world awash with the pressure to be an independent soul, marching to the beat of your own drummer this desire for God to take your hand and lead you is the opposite.

It would be impossible to say that Irma was not an independent character, a woman with an independent flair for life, yet at the same time she - deep in the core of her being - was a woman of Christian faith, who never wanted God to let go of her, who never wanted the Lord to let go of her hand, who never wanted Him to stop leading her, who trusted in Him even when the World around her became confusing and hard. On the day of her Confirmation Irma sang part of the hymn as a solo, singing, “O cover with Thy mercy My poor, weak heart! Let every thought rebellious From me depart. Permit Thy child to linger Here at Thy feet, And blindly trust Thy goodness With faith complete.”  

The second verse of the hymn as found in our Hymnal says, “Lord, when the tempest rages, I need not fear; for You, the Rock of Ages, are always near. Close by Your side abiding, I fear no foe, for when Your hand is guiding, in peace I go.” You all know that Irma’s life was, on the one hand, filled with green pastures, that she was vibrant and exuberant, skilled and creative yet, on the other hand, there were dark and challenging times of passing shadows. There is a false belief out there that the Christian life, in this life the one that we lead here and now, ought to be one of only green pastures, that the Christian should know nothing but still waters; I say this is false because every Christian faces hardships in life, difficulties and challenges of their very own: We read in the Bible that we are to “love the LORD our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might.”[2] And so it is that the might of our body can fail us, our soul can be attacked by the evils that lurk around us and our hearts can be troubled and even overwhelmed by the World, so when Psalm 23 says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me,” it isn’t saying that Jesus our Good Shepherd is with us only at the end of this life, but rather He is with us even as “the tempest rages” even in the dark moments when the light seems far off, Jesus is with us, and has been with Irma along the way, just as He promises, “I am with you always, until the end of the age,”[3] It is good for the Christian to remember that in His life Jesus faced hardships of His very own from poverty to persecution, to physical sufferings even death on the cross of His crucifixion and while we may not experience the exact same things He did in our life You have a God who knows firsthand what pain feels like, what suffering truly is and for this reason while He is with you He is full of mercy.

Daily we grow in patience, but patience comes through experience. Irma became exceedingly patient over time especially in these last years, especially in this last year as she faced many hurdles that required great patience; in a similar way there are times in our life when we want mercy and we want it right now! We may look at a situation and become angry, sad or even depressed because in the moment we see no mercy and yet when we think back with a more sober judgment we can see how the mercy of God was with us even when in the moment we could not see it. It’s like the poem footprints when the one who struggles looks back at the footprints in the sand and sees the two sets of footprints fade into one they assume that God has left them alone in their struggles and that is when the Lord says ‘no, I was with you the whole time. You see, those solitary footprints are mine. I carried you all through that dark valley.’ This is the heart and soul of Psalm 23 and of hymns like “Lord Take My Hand a Guide Me.” Irma knew this about Jesus and desires you to know it too.       

The third verse, “Lord, when the shadows lengthen and night has come, I know that you will strengthen my steps toward home, then nothing can impede me, O blessed Friend! So, take my hand and lead me unto the end.” Psalm 23 teaches us that the Lord leads us, That He is with us and then it says near the end of the Psalm “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” There are words attributed to St. Patrick that hit at the heart of this Biblical teaching, “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,” And I might add Christ with me in trouble, Christ Jesus with me in joy, Christ with me in life and Christ with me in death.

Near the end of the book of Revelation we read how on The Day of Resurrection, on The Last Day when all is quiet and the tempest of this world is stilled, on That Day “[God] will wipe away every tear from [the eyes of His children], and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”And [the book of Revelation continues to say] He who was seated on the throne, [that is Christ Jesus our Lord says], “Behold, I am making all things new.”[4] And so it will be. This is an important point. People will often say when someone dies, “they passed away,” they think it’s nicer and more polite than saying that “they are dead,” or that “they died;” here we see from this passage that it is not the baptised Child of God who passes away but their troubles of body, soul and mind that pass away they remain and they are made new. Dear ones, in the hand of the Lord, with Him leading her, all of Irma’s struggles are passing away; she is not passed away she is at peaceful rest awaiting The Day she will be made new. We all long for That Day because if we are honest with ourselves, and each other and with God we all have things we desire will pass away and you, with your faith in Christ Jesus, can now look forward to the Happy Reunion to come when you and Irma will be made new. In the mean time we live our lives remaining faithful to each other and to God in happiness, in hardship, in whatever comes our way.

You may be wondering ‘How then do we live our lives as Christians today?’ We first want to be open to see the care that God the Father extends to us in His Son Jesus, to have eyes to see and ears to hear of His mercy and grace and forgiveness; and then we want to - not for personal gain, not to acquire spiritual merit - extend that same care to those around us, that same mercy and grace and forgiveness. Irma as she was able did just that both as mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and as a nurse providing comfort and care to those in desperate need. (So we have by the Urn a couple things; we have her cape from when she graduated from nursing school and we also have some examples of her own personal knitting, crocheting handiwork that she lovingly did for other people not to get credit for herself but because she loved you and she loved the people for whom she did that for, this is the care and grace and kindness that when you know God is giving it to you it becomes easier to give it to others) And in the last years of her life, and throughout her toughest times, she likewise received that same sort of care from the people around her from family and friends and from nurses and medical workers. Dear ones this is God at work through our thoughts, words and deeds. We value life from the first spark to the last breath ever seeking to provide mercy, love, care and grace: Trusting that it is God who restores the soul, who prepares the table, who leads us along life’s way, until the end, until we are brought to dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 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] From a text originaly writen in German. 
[2] Deuteronomy 6:5
[3] Matthew 28:20
[4] Revelation 21:4–5

Additional photo credits to: Hands of Father and child Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas from Pexels, waves at sea Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez from Pexels, peaceful mountain scene Photo by Bri Schneiter from Pexels