Home > Uncategorized > Funeral Homily for Irene Hughey

Funeral Homily for Irene Hughey

6 August, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 44 Funeral Homily for Irene Hughey.mp3

 

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

The text for the sermon this afternoon is the Gospel reading you all chose for today from the Gospel of John chapter 10.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  This reading brings us heartfelt comfort and is a clear confession of the absolute truth of the Good News of God the Father sending His only begotten Son, Jesus, into the world to save it.

Although I have to say, this picture of shepherds and sheep runs the risk of either being too quaint and sentimental, or for many people, flat out insulting.  The fact is that sheep are particularly stupid animals and many people don’t like to be compared to sheep no matter how good the shepherd is.  They like very much the notion that they are in charge of their own affairs, “Thank you very much, I’ll handle it from here.  We’ll leave all that business about being sheep for the weak people.”

Irene was certainly neither of these two kinds of folks.  Irene was not lost in the  sentimentality of religion nor was she someone who would take issue with being called one of the Lord’s sheep.  Irene was a rather proper lady, a church lady.  I don’t think it’s unfair to call her proud, in the best sense of that word.  After all, she had a son who became a Lutheran pastor.  Her life was a life of church attendance and otherwise faithful obedience to the Lord Jesus.  Jesus said, “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.”  The Lord Jesus Christ was Irene’s Good Shepherd.  He knew Irene.  The Good Shepherd laid down his life for Irene.  In the Bible, the word “know” means much more than just cognitive comprehension or understanding.  It speaks of a very close relationship between people or between God and His people or even between Jesus and the Father.  “I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…”  Jesus knew Irene as well as He knew His own Father in heaven.  Irene knew her Good Shepherd.  She knew the voice of Jesus; she heard it in the sermons of the many pastors in this pulpit over the years.  Jesus spoke and she heard His voice.  Irene knew the Good Shepherd had laid down his life for her.

I know I’ve said this before, but I think it holds for John as a Gospel writer.  John records some of the most intimate encounters Jesus has with people.  It’s in John’s Gospel that we see Jesus talking to the woman at the well and weeping at His friend Lazarus’ funeral.  “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me.”  These are warm words, they are loving words; they are intimate words from our Lord.  Jesus the Good Shepherd knew Irene and she knew Him.

Still shepherds are not very common in our part of the world today.  Although in the Middle East, still to this day, there are shepherds as they are described here.  What’s more, this picture of a shepherd and his flock is a picture not only of Jesus and us, His sheep, but it’s a picture used throughout the Old Testament to refer to a king and his people.  This may only help to confuse the picture in our minds of what Jesus is saying here.  The people who are in the position of shepherd in our culture—political leaders, media personalities, even business leaders—too often are like the hired hand described by Jesus, looking only for what’s good for themselves, not looking for the good of the sheep with which they have been entrusted.  Partisan stooges, spin doctors, and business leaders governed only by their bottom lines are the hired hands.  Jesus paints Himself as a completely different kind of shepherd, as the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

In this passage Jesus is not merely trying to be sweet or sentimental but He is directing us to the ultimate reason for His coming.  If we were to flip back through the previous couple chapters we would see that Jesus has already faced death threats.  He knows that His mission into the world does not just contain the possibility of violence, it is assured.  Now I could wax profoundly for a while on why this is so but Jesus says it eloquently and simply.  The sheep face danger and the Good Shepherd doesn’t run away; He goes to meet it and if necessary, He will take upon himself the fate of the sheep.  In Jesus’ case, it was necessary and that is what He did.[1]

Dear friends, death was not supposed to be the fate for Irene or any of use.  Death was not part of the design plan God created from the beginning.  We learn in the Scripture that death comes as a punishment for sin.  Death is not part of the circle of life.  It’s not the natural end to life; death is the wages of sin.  The worst thing Irene faced was neither illness nor the rest of her life in a nursing facility; the worst thing she faced, of course, was death, a death that came as a result of her own sin, the due punishment for breaking God’s Law.  We don’t think of church ladies like Irene as sinners in need of God’s grace, but perhaps we should.  In fact, we would be far better off if we saw ourselves as God truly sees us, as sinners in need of His Son, Jesus, the one He sent out of His great love not to condemn us but through Jesus we might be saved.  Now please hear everything I’m saying.  Don’t just hear the part that we’re sinners; hear also the Good News we have in Jesus and rejoice in the eternal life we have received from Him.  Our reading this afternoon is directly tied into the best-known Bible passage, John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  But remember it goes on, “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Dear friends in Christ, God so loved you that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever of you believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.  The Father did not charge Jesus to condemn the world with a fiery sword or lead an army of angelic warriors against the heretics and unbelievers and the people who despise the Word of God.  God sent Jesus to be the Good Shepherd, to call His sheep unto Himself.  And this is true for Irene because years ago, He called Irene by her name and claimed her as His own.  Just as Jesus was sent to do this for Irene, He was sent to do it for you too.  This is the Good News of Jesus Christ: that He was sent to save form death.  It was the Good News Irene confessed with her mouth and believed with her heart.  It is the Good News we proclaim today and that brings us comfort today and in the days and weeks to come as we look forward to the day of her and our resurrection.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] Tom Wright, John for Everyone, p. 152.

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