Dear family members, friends, and neighbors of Helen,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
We have the same readings for today that were read at the funeral of Helen’s husband, Jim, over 11 years ago. We were pretty sure that since Helen picked them out then, she would be happy to have them read today as well. Perhaps you noticed that three of the readings have a common theme: Following the Good Shepherd.
In our Gospel, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Then He promises: “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” (John 10:27-29).
The Good Shepherd called Helen to His flock when she was baptized as an infant at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Scarville, Iowa. There, in the water and Word, Helen received the gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. As Helen listened to the voice of the Good Shepherd, she grew in her faith and the Lord kept her safe in His flock.
Helen was united in marriage to Jim Klinsing on July 12, 1964. That was a special day, not just for Jim and Helen, but also to David, Diane, Mary, and Steve. I think it was Steve who talked about his memory of that day. He was about four years old, crawling on the pew, trying not to make too much noise, and he saw them by the altar. After the festivities they all got into the car and from the back he hollered, “Hey Mom!” He didn’t really have anything important to say, he just couldn’t wait for the first time that he could “officially” call Helen “Mom.” All four children talked about what a special person it takes to be willing to take on a family of four young children and what a wonderful mother Helen was for them.
A quick look through her life history shows that Helen lived a full and productive life, facing each day with humor and grace. Juggling a career and caring for a husband and four children couldn’t have been easy. When she retired from teaching after 37 years, 27 in the Pipestone Area School system, she remarked that it was “time to get out while I still have a few of my marbles.” Even then, Helen kept busy volunteering at church, the Ladies Guild, sewing, working on crafts, and making quilts for the hospice program. I appreciated her guidance as I learned the various traditions at Our Saviour’s such as the gift of quilts for baptisms and graduations. Helen was especially proud of her involvement in the Hospice Program in Pipestone. A quick look at the list of honorary casket bearers tells you that Helen’s social calendar didn’t have too many empty spaces, either.
That’s not to say that there were no difficult times in Helen’s life. But Helen was, and is, one of the Lord’s sheep. In the hour of trial, the faithful Christian knows where to go. They go, as Helen did, to the Good Shepherd. Such people seek the Lord and His Word of comfort and hope. One of the favorite places of refuge in God’s Word is the 23rd Psalm that we recited just a little bit ago.
The 23rd Psalm helps us to answer the question, “Who is this Good Shepherd? The answer is that this is the Lord God, Yahweh Himself. He is the One Who sent His Son into this world. He is the Son of David Who was born in Bethlehem. He is the One Who works faith in our hearts through the Good News of His love. In particular, we like to think of Jesus Christ, the Shepherd Who died for us and rose again. The Lord Jesus holds out His nail-pierced hands to receive us and to accept us and to keep us forever… in His hands.
The Lord, this King of creation and Lord of Life knows our every need… knows our greatest needs. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” we say. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” What enemies? Surely, someone like Helen didn’t have any enemies, did she?
Oh yes! There is the greatest enemy that each of us must face… the enemy within. No good thing dwells in our old sinful nature that clings to us from the beginning to the end of our days on this earth. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). Helen knew that was true for all people and confessed that it was true for her as well. The last time I saw her, Helen confessed her sin and heard the forgiveness that Christ earned for her in His sin-atoning death on the cross. She received the true body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of her sins and strengthening of her body and soul unto life everlasting.
There are also enemies all around us. Temptations of pride, money, power, position, academics, and sex come from every sector, calling us like side-show hawkers. The prince of this world, Satan, does not leave us alone. During the time of trouble, he attacks with doubts and on a day when the end is in sight, he defiantly asks, “And where is the Lord your Shepherd now?”
However, the Christian who keeps his or her eyes focused on Jesus… recalling His devil-defeating death and trusting in our Lord’s triumphant, victorious resurrection… hears the Word of confident faith. David said it in the psalm: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Many times, Helen confessed these very words, including the last time I visited with her, as it seemed death was drawing near.
The Lord leads His people by the still waters of Baptism, restoring our souls… not just once, but a thousand times each day. Those who know His voice and follow Him are led in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
The Christian is empowered to believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ and that He is with us always to the end of the age. The psalmist declares that truth boldly, “for You are with me.” What an assurance, not only on the good days, but especially when one’s death draws near. When death casts its dark shadow, we need not be afraid. Helen wasn’t, because she knew the Good Shepherd and said to Him, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
Faith and trust look at all that the Lord God has done, is doing, and will do and says in a confident, bold declaration, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
In Revelation 7, we have a picture of the great multitude of believers gathered before the throne of God, and one of the elders says these are those like Helen who have come out of the great tribulation, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16–17).
John gives a glimpse of the glory that is Christ’s. Because John’s vision includes the faithful from every nation and every time, it is appropriate to see us who yet live faithfully here on earth as part of that great gathering who have followed the Good Shepherd. In fact, when we Christians gather for worship in this world, it may be understood as participating by faith in the ongoing heavenly praise. Drawn onward and upward by the magnificence of this hope in Christ, God’s people join in the heavenly chorus even now. How incredible to be part of that blessedness! That is where Helen is at right now. She followed the voice of the Good Shepherd, her Lord, who led her to springs of living water.
What about you? Are you able to say, not only with your mouth, but with your heart, “The Lord is my Shepherd?”
The story is told of a famous orator whose voice and articulation were exceptional. He recited the 23rd Psalm and it was beautiful. Then He listened to an old woman recite the same 23rd Psalm—not as well, not so clear, not so articulate. The orator marveled at the old woman and said, “Something is obvious to me. I know the 23rd Psalm; she knows the Good Shepherd!”
Which one are you? Perhaps you have wandered away from the Lord and His Church. If so, then may this sermon text be the time when the Good Shepherd finds you once again. If you have never known the Lord or if you have had a faulty understanding of Who He is and what He has done for you, then may God grant you the faith to hear His voice and be one of His own. And if you have never wandered away from the Lord and His Church, then may the words you have heard be an encouragement to remain steadfast in the Word and the work of the Lord. May God grant all of us today, the clarity of mind and the sincerity of heart to be able to say… the Lord is my Shepherd! Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.