“Thou Art With Me” -- Psalm 23:4
Sermon for the Funeral of
Dear Morris and all the family members of Margaret, as well as all of her friends, neighbors and fellow members of Trinity congregation.
Being with a family member ... whether it be a wife, a Mom, a Grandmother, a Sister, an Aunt ... being with one whose body is wasting away over the period of months and years is both a difficult vigil and an honored privilege. Visiting such a friend, or coming to see a neighbor, or stopping by to talk with a member of the congregation, or sitting beside the deathbed of a parishioner who is slowly being consumed by a hideous disease is both sobering and uplifting.
Those who have been with, spoken to and listened to Margaret Branham bear witness to this truth by the nature and number of the tears that have and are flowing. For though there certainly are sufficient tears of sadness stinging the eyes, there are many, many more tears of gladness that overflow. The reason is that Margaret knew that the LORD knew her and Margaret knew that the LORD was with her. This faithful lady knew, not just with her head, but also in her Christ-cleansed heart, that “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).
A few months ago, I sat with Margaret and we talked about this very service that she anticipated taking place. She wanted to make certain that you heard a message that spoke of the hope that the Christian has in this life and that, even though this pilgrimage is often one filled with hurts and pains, the Lord will not abandon His own. Rather, the LORD God will graciously be with the Christian always, and when that one day comes, will take His own to be with Him in the Paradise of Heaven forever.
That is the message that Margaret desired for you to hear this day and that is why I chose a part of the 23rd Psalm for today’s message. Therefore, please listen to that portion of God’s Word under the theme of ... ... “Thou art with me.”
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
That there is death, we ought to have no doubts. The Lord declares in His Word, the Bible, “As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Romans 5:12). Or do you not believe what God’s Word declares? “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Well, do you not believe what you see here? Reject this casket. Doubt this death. Deny your being here today.
That, of course, is not what Margaret did. She knew that death was real. She understood quite clearly that her mortal remains would be placed in a box and an earthen grave. She understood what sin was. She confessed that she had sinned against God in thought, word and deed. She knew that she was, by nature, a sinner. She also confessed this with mouth: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
How could Margaret say this? In order to discover the answer to that question we must understand a bit more about the One true God. Because He has revealed it in His Word, there can be no denying that the LORD God is holy and without sin, righteous and without blemish, just and without exception. Along with these truths, it is also true that the Almighty God is merciful in that He doesn’t give the world what it deserves ... Jehovah is gracious in that He gives the world what it doesn’t deserve ... the LORD is benevolent in that He set about not only to be the world’s Judge but also the world’s Savior, and if the world’s Savior, then yours as well.
God the Son came into this world, not to show us how to save ourselves, but to take upon Himself the sentence of God’s wrath. Jesus was Incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. That is what Christmas is all about, that God is with us so we may say, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Christ was not born to condemn the world, and that includes you, but rather, to take upon Himself the penalty of all sins of all people, and that includes yours. That is what Good Friday is all about ... God dying for you at that time, so that you might be able, as Margaret was enabled, to say, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
Please understand that there is an eternity of difference between walking through the valley of death and walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus went through the valley of death when He suffered for you during the darkness of the cross, when He was forsaken for you at the Place of the Skull, when He died the death you deserved that you might be given the Life that He earned for you. Is it any wonder that Jesus is our Redeemer? Three days later Jesus rose from the dead, and in doing so, the evil one was defeated and death has lost its sting. That is what Easter is all about ... God rising from the dead for you.
Christ journeyed through the valley of death alone, for you, in order that you might never be separated from Him ever. His Body was placed into a rock- hewn tomb, for you, in order to sanctify the graves of His own. He rose again in order that you might be born again in Holy Baptism. Jesus did all this in order that He might be with you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death and be able to say, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
The LORD became Margaret’s Shepherd when, He lead her beside the still waters of Baptism and restored her soul, for Baptism is not our work, but God’s gracious gift. Margaret was given the faith whereby, she could walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil, for the LORD was with her. She confirmed the Christian faith of the Apostles’ Creed which we, acknowledging that “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” April 6, 1963 in Carlinville, IL she and Morris were married. Together, this trio ... Margaret, Morris and the LORD, has journeyed here on this earth. Margaret and Morris traveled in the light of God’s Presence even when they walked through various shadows of death. For surely the loss of parents and loved ones is such a shadow of death, as are many of the afflictions of body, mind, heart and soul that befall us. In the midst of such shadows the LORD was with them and even fed her with Himself just as He promised. Thus, Margaret came to the Lord’s Supper for she could say, “Thou preparest a Table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” It was two weeks ago that Margaret entered God’s House at Trinity and I, along with many in the congregation, beheld a 90-pound woman whose God drew her to be in the Divine Service and receive the forgiveness of Christ.
And when she was no longer able to leave her hospital room and come to Church, she requested that the LORD’s be at her bedside, in Word and Prayer.
And on Thursday and Friday, when she was no longer able to eat and drink, Margaret heard the Word of God’s promise in the Word of the Lord. She heard the Invocation, that is, the Word concerning her
Baptism ... She heard the Word of the LORD’s Word of forgiveness
announced to her ... She heard the Word of the LORD’s abiding Presence ... She heard “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace according to Your Word,” ... She heard the Benediction, that is, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee and give you peace.”
On Friday just a little after 1:00 pm, Margaret departed in peace and was with the LORD in Paradise. She who had faithfully declared during her days in this life, “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me,” suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, beheld the reality of “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the House of the LORD forever.” She left this vale of tears and this valley of the shadow of death because she was called home where there are no more tears (Revelation 7:17) and where there is “no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb ... and there shall be no night there “(Revelation 21:23 & 25). Cancer is such a shadow of death, but it is not Death itself. Truly this day Margaret A. Branham is alive and well, while the cancer is dead and gone. This, dearly beloved, is what Margaret wanted you to hear this day. Why? So that you might be able, despite the shadow and the valley, to say to the LORD in the faith that God grants, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Why? So that you might be one of those who are, one day ... any day ... maybe even this day, called home by Christ and be with Margaret once again, in the Eternal Presence of God the Almighty.. May God, in His mercy and grace, grant it to each of us. Amen.