Home > Uncategorized > Homily for the Funeral of Margaret Eckard Hahn

Homily for the Funeral of Margaret Eckard Hahn

March 17th, 2011

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is the Gospel reading from John 10.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  This is our text.

Many people in the Bible were shepherds.  I’m sure you can think of a few right off the top of your head like, Able, Abraham, Moses and David.  Today sheep herding is not one of those professions that people really want to sign on for.  It’s just not a part of modern life today and so we miss much of the meaning of what Jesus is saying in this passage.  Shepherds in Jesus’ day knew each sheep, its individual traits, and its special needs.  They didn’t tend the sheep in order to slaughter them unless they were to be used for sacrifice.  No, sheep were an investment; shepherds kept flocks so that they would get what the sheep produce wool, milk, and lambs.  And therefore when a shepherd used a sheep for a sacrifice, it was a true sacrifice, a personal loss, an admission that the reason this creature died was because God takes sin and the consequences of sin very seriously indeed.  So when Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he was also saying that He is unlike all those other shepherds; he is unlike Able and the patriarchs and Moses and David, who although are praised for their faithfulness, they often failed God and sinned against him.  Jesus is the innocent shepherd who dies for the lives of his sinful sheep.  It’s not that all those other men of God were unfaithful hirelings but that Jesus proves himself to be the Good Shepherd who buys His sheep with His own blood.

Jesus was Margaret’s Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd knew Margaret and laid down His life for her; Margaret never forgot this.  A year ago this week, I was at Margaret’s house planning the funeral for her husband George.  We sat around the kitchen table there and picked the readings and the hymns.   Her kids would chime in with an idea and I remember Margaret vetoing one or two.  But when it came time to picking the Gospel reading, we went through two or three until we came to this one.  As soon as I read it, she started nodding her head and said, “Yes, that’s the one I want.”  And so when it came time for me to sit down at the table again with you all to pick the readings and the hymns for today, the thought was that we’ll do essentially the same service because Mom picked out what she liked.  Just as Jesus never forgot George so Jesus never forgot Margaret.  Margaret knew that Jesus was her Good Shepherd; she never forgot that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  Jesus was Margaret’s Good Shepherd.

Matthew, Mark and Luke do not record these words, only John.  The gospel writer John has this amazing knack, inspired by the Holy Spirit to be sure, but still he has this uncanny ability to record the most personal of Jesus’ sayings.  I’m sure that this is why Christians hold John’s Gospel so dearly and perhaps why we turn to it so often in times of trouble or need.  We know Jesus can calm the storm, we know he can preach a great sermon on the mount, we know Jesus can turn a phrase or make a profound point about the kingdom of God in a parable but He doesn’t do any of those things in John’s Gospel.  No, in John’s Gospel we see Jesus dealing speaking one-on-one with a Samaritan woman at a well, speaking gently and yet firmly with the woman caught in adultery and forgiving her sins, we see Jesus weeping at the death of His friend, Lazarus, and we overhear the depth of His heart in the high priestly prayer, this most intimate conversation with Jesus and His Father.  This might be a bit of an exaggeration for the sake of my point, but I would venture to say that in the other Gospels we learn about Jesus: in John’s Gospel we come to know Jesus.  Margaret may not have expressed this quite this way, but that’s part of what I think was going on when she nodded so strongly and said, “That’s the one I want.”  Margaret knew that Jesus was her Good Shepherd; she never forgot that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Margaret used to do this thing that I’ll probably never forget.  As many of you know, it’s been a long time since she could come forward to the communion rail.  So, no problem here, if it’s simply too difficult to come to the rail, the elder and I bring the sacrament to folks in their seats.  Margaret used to always look at me right in the eye when I pronounced the dismissal, “The body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.  Depart in peace.”  And when I would say, “Amen,” she would say, “Thank you.”  Now, the proper response at the dismissal, is to say, “Amen,” as many of you know this is Doctor Luther’s, “Yes, yes, it shall be so.”  But for Margaret, that “Amen” ran deeper and so it didn’t come out as a churchly “amen” but what I saw was a very sincere “thank you.”  Margaret knew Jesus as her Good Shepherd and in that “thank you,” I always perceived a very sincere thanks to Jesus for laying down his life for her.

Now, to many people, maybe even to some of you today, this may sound like the religion of an old lady, a religion of doilies and tea pots and a religion for men with soft hands and softer heads.  But if you knew Margaret at all, you know that picture doesn’t fit her; she was far tougher than that and that kind of religion would not have lasted her very long in the struggles of the past 5 years, struggles that included George getting sick, her own diagnosis with liver and colon cancer and the awful chemotherapy she put up with for so long, not to mention George’s death, Dan’s death and all the everyday struggles.  Margaret’s religion was not one of the parlor but rather one of the kitchen table, normal, humble, everyday, focused on blessing given and received, focused on sin and forgiveness, focused on Jesus blood shed for sin.  Margaret’s religion was not just that the Shepherd is Good, but that He lays down His life for his sheep.

Being an undershepherd of the Good Shepherd is often a humbling experience.  One of the most humbling things I do is hear people confess their sins.  Margaret typically used the form for general confession that we use in church but toward the end, she got weak and the last couple times I used a question and answer format with her.  “Do you confess to almighty God that you are a poor, miserable sinner?”  “Yes.”  “Do you confess to our merciful Father that you have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed?”  “Yes.”  “Do you confess that you justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment?”  “Yes.”  “Do you believe that our Lord Jesus Christ died for you and shed His blood for you on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins?”  “Yes.”  “Do you pray God, for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of His beloved Son, to be gracious and merciful to you?”  “Yes.”  “Finally, do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?”  “What?”  That’s what she said.  And I clarified, “Do you believe that the forgiveness I speak to you is God’s forgiveness?”  “Yes.”  “Let it be done for you as you believe.  In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  “Amen.”  Maybe it’s because I haven’t used it very much, but it seems much more personal than the one we use in services.  Private confession is just that—confession and forgiveness personally spoken.  What great joy it is to hear the deep sighs of relief and to see the muscles in the face relax from one who knows for absolute certain she or he stands forgiven in the eyes of almighty God.  The Good Shepherd knows us and wants us to know He has laid down his life for the sheep.

Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me.”  These are personal words from our Lord.  The Good Shepherd is not just concerned with the sheep here at Augustana, or with Lutheran Sheep, Jesus goes on to say in our reading this morning that He has other sheep, not of this sheepfold.  There is no sheep the Good Shepherd does not know and there is no sheep that He has not laid down His life for.  He knew Margaret.  He knows you.  There is nothing that you have done or thought or said that He does not know.

Our lives often do not go in the direction we expected they would go and rarely do things happen exactly the way we plan them.  All of us, even pastors, look at our lives at times and wonder, “How did we get to this point?”  And the temptation is to look at today with the reality of not just Margaret’s end, but our own and wonder if any of it is worth it all.  Where is the hope if it all ends with death?  Most people believe that life starts at birth and proceeds toward the end.  But what if we’re wrong?  What if life, at least our life’s meaning, starts on the day we’re buried and it works backward through time, each event, struggle, illness, the death of a loved one, a birth, an anniversary, a celebration, deriving  meaning from the end we know is sure.  Jesus said He lays down His life for his sheep.  Jesus’ death on the cross is the fixed point for Him.  Why wouldn’t it be the same for us?  And if we believe that we have been buried with him, so then we too will live a new life.  What joy it is then to know our end even as we struggle now.  The Good Shepherd knows you.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Amen.

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