Marjorie Devon Funeral Sermon - Psalm 23:1-3 April 28th 2023 / The Lord is My Shepherd
Marjorie Devon Funeral Sermon - Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Terry Defoe / Friday April 28th 2023: Season of Easter / Psalm 23:1-3 "The Lord is My Shepherd"
My message this morning is based on the 23rd Psalm. I'm reading verses 1 to 3, where the Psalmist says:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
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Let me begin by offering my condolences to Marj’s family and friends. Marj lived a long good life. She was a blessing to many people during her lifetime. Thank you for sharing her with us here at Mount Olive. Marjorie Devon was an individual I knew well. She was quiet, thoughtful, unassuming -- dedicated to her faith and to her family and that would include her church family as well. I would like to offer some thoughts based on the 23rd Psalm. But first I would like to offer a few introductory comments about March and her connection to this congregation as well as the blessings that a funeral can provide as we gather together to remember one of God’s people.
A funeral for a Christian believer like Marj Devon provides an opportunity to consider a life lived under God's grace and blessing. A funeral gives us a few brief moments to review the many blessings Marj enjoyed – all made possible by the grace and love of God. Years ago I knew a pastor well into his retirement years – a man with a lifetime of accumulated wisdom to share. He said to me, “You know, Terry, I've never met a person I couldn't learn something from.” Marj Devon was one of those people that had much to teach us -- by her words and by her actions.
Marj was an introvert – quiet, unassuming. Her husband Raymond was the opposite. Marj Devon saw huge changes in her lifetime, but was somehow able to retain her sense of perspective on things. Marj’s faith -- a deep and resilient faith -- was a given in her life. And as far as the end of her life was concerned she had her bags packed for the journey and her tickets were ready. She lived 100 years, by any standards an extraordinarily long life. She was, as we say in the church, blessed to be a blessing. Her church was her other family. She was comfortable here. She loved to be here with her friends. But she never wanted to be the centre of attention.
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Psalm 23 is, as you know, one of the best known sections of scripture. It’s the story of a man’s journey of faith. But believers over the years have looked at this Psalm and said that King David’s experience was very similar to their own. That would most certainly be true for Marjorie Devon as well. I pray that God would bless our consideration of this part of his word today.
In Psalm 23, David reviews the events of his life, but he does it in the light of his relationship with God. Like generations of believers before and after him, David sees God's hand at work in all aspects of his life. David knows very well that God has been with him in the past, and he was confident that God would continue to be with him in the future. In Psalm 23, David speaks of a God he knows very well – a God he knows personally. David’s words are words of heartfelt faith and trust. Psalm 23 tells us that life – life lived in a trust relationship with God – is abundant and full.
In the 23rd Psalm, David pondered the meaning of faith. God was very important to David. His love for God (which came second) – and God's love for him – (which came first!) are reflected in every line of this Psalm. Here, David describes God with two different images. He describes God, first of all, as a Shepherd who loves and cares for his sheep. And, secondly, David describes God as a gracious Host who invites guests into his home for a sumptuous meal.
God hasn't changed since David's time. He's still our Shepherd. And He is still our gracious Host. He invites His people – to his table for a meal – a meal of bread and wine. As a Shepherd, and also as a Host, God's love and grace come through loud and clear. Describing God as a Shepherd who cares for his sheep is a common image or motif in the Old Testament. It's an image that carries with it the idea of love and compassion. Many people mistakenly think that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and the Law, while the God of the New Testament is a God of grace and mercy. The truth is that God's Law – and his Grace – are clearly seen in both Testaments – Old and New as well. God’s prophet Isaiah describes God as a Shepherd. In Isaiah 40, verse 11 we find these words:
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
In the first verse of Psalm 23 David says: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." David was thankful for all the good things God had provided – some call this God’s Benefit Plan. David says, first of all, that God was his Guide through life. "He leads me beside the still waters..." "... He leads me in the paths of righteousness." As David walks life's path, God is there to show him the way. God’s Word is the lamp that illuminates the path.
As God's people, we are never alone. David took comfort in his faith and his relationship with God. He learned from personal experience that God wouldn't let him down. God was always there – looking out for him – guiding him, and protecting him. And, on our journey through life, we, too, need a guide to show us the way. We, too, need someone to provide a firm and steady hand. We need someone to warn us of impending danger.
In the 4th verse of Psalm 23, David says, in the King James translation: "I fear no evil -- for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The Hebrew word for "staff" comes from a root word that means "to lean on." When it comes right down to it, every person, without exception, needs something or someone to lean on in life. No one is strong enough to go through life completely independent – completely disconnected from others. God wants us to lean on him. And that's exactly what his faithful people do. And the word for "comfort" in the language of the Jewish people means "to sigh deeply." And so, God sighs deeply when he thinks of us. He understands how we feel and he freely offers us his comfort and strength.
Psalm 23 paints a beautiful picture of God's amazing grace and love. When you think about it, God isn't the only one who sighs deeply. We, too, sigh deeply – in gratitude and in praise to God when we realize what he has done for us. Like someone settling into an easy chair at the end of a hard day's work, we sigh deeply when we think of our God and of the love of his Son, Jesus Christ – the One who went to the cross to forgive us our sins, and was raised from the dead to restore our broken relationship with God.
In verse 3 of Psalm 23, David says, "He restores my soul." God graciously made a way for David to rest occasionally on the road of life. He allowed David to be restored and strengthened before he had to carry on. God gave David a chance to recharge his spiritual batteries once in a while. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies," says David. God provided the nourishment that David needed to keep him strong. That food came in the form of physical nourishment. But, more importantly, it also came in the form of the spiritual nourishment that David found in God's Word, the Holy Scriptures. Everything David needed, God provided. No wonder David begins the 23rd Psalm with the famous words, "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want."
You know, if a person's life is like a book, sometimes, there are a few blank pages at the end. But when we read the book later, we don't focus on the blank pages, we focus on the story in the main part of the book. At a funeral, we focus on what we can learn from a person's life – and, most importantly, from their faith. We can learn a lot from Marj Devon’s book of life. A fitting conclusion comes at the end of the 23rd Psalm. "Surely goodness and mercy WILL follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever." Amen.
Let's Pray – DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER: Remind us that Jesus, your Son, is our Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep. Keep us in your flock. Enable us to trust you with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength. Protect us from danger. And bring us someday to the safe pastures of heaven. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen
Photo Credits: main photo montage supplied by Mount Olive and the family; photo montage of a young Marjorie and a more recent photo supplied by the family; detail of shepherd with sheep from pexels; detail of photo of sheep in green pastures from pexels.