I would like to dedicate the sermon series on the 23rd Psalm to Mrs. Kay Metz, a dear friend of our church and mother of Kathy Metz Heckel. Kay was the one who inspired me to preach the series when she gave me the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller.
Thank you and God bless you, Kay.
The Twenty-Third Psalm:
Walking through the Valley
June 25, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! This morning, I’d like to consider this question: How, as Christians, do we help those who are grieving? How do we help ourselves when we are grieving and walking through the valley? Let’s think about that this morning, that we might be empowered by the Word of God that we find in the Bible.
This morning, as a church family, we’re very mindful of Reverend Dave and his daughters and his family. We’re mindful that church is a powerful place, a place that stands ready as an instrument of God to be an instrument of healing to Rev. Dave and his family. We hope we are. We send our prayers and love to Rev. Dave and his family.
We also send our prayers to Rev. Palmer, our district superintendent, in the loss of her grandchild. And I’m wondering if there are those in this room today who are grieving in some way. Have you suffered a loss? Is there grief in your heart for a loss that has occurred recently? Is there grief in your heart for a loss that occurred forty years ago? Or fifty? Or more or less? Is there a grief in your heart that you’re carrying on behalf of someone you know? A loved one who is deeply saddened by a loss? Are you dealing with something we call anticipatory grief? I think that’s self-explanatory.
Grief does not necessarily have to do with a death. It can also arise because of a loss or a profound change in life. That can be a source of grieving, too. I will not ask you to speak. But I will ask this. If you feel so inclined, please indicate to me if you are in such a state. If you are grieving in any way, or helping someone who is grieving in some way, would you lift the hand? Ah, most of the people in this room have raised their hands. It’s something that we’re all dealing with at one time or another. So let’s explore together the great resources that we have as people of faith to help those who are grieving or ourselves when we grieve.
The apostle Paul puts it this way: “Grieve not as those who have no hope.” That doesn’t mean don’t grieve. Oh no, absolutely we grieve. What does grieve mean? It means crying. Don’t be afraid of tears. They’re God’s gift. God knew that in this world we would need to grieve from time to time. Otherwise why would He have given us tear ducts?
Grieve, but not as those who have no hope. You see, as Christians, we have a great gift. We have the blessed assurance of everlasting life. We have the Savior who has gone before us into heaven and who has said, with absolute clarity and unmistakable assurance that “where I am, you also will be.” It is the clearest, sharpest, most unquestionable promise that He gave to us about heaven. Whatever the other glories would be, He will be there and we will be with Him.
And, we will be united with those whom we love. And so we do grieve, but not as those who have no hope, for, Christian friend, you have the blessed assurance in Jesus Christ of life everlasting.
Beyond this, as we deal with one another on this earthly plain, how shall we help those who are grieving? Friend, may I share a few ideas with you? I’d like to base our sermon on the acronym P-R-A-Y. It will help us to keep some ideas in order.
The first thing you can do to help people who are grieving is indeed to PRAY for them, to hold them and God together in your mind. See them blessed, see them rising up, see them coming through the valley of the shadow of death, to a new day of life. See them healed and blessed and enriched for the experience, perhaps to bless others who walk through the valley. See them with God. See them strong. Hold them in prayer. It is the first and single most important thing we can do for folks as they walk through the valley.
When I was just beginning in ministry, I was the organist and choir director at the Osceola Presbyterian Church in Clark, NJ. When the minister of that church found out that I was going to go to seminary and become a minister, he had a very special attitude toward me. He took me under his wing and decided he was going to help me out and share with me some of the experience he had as a minister. One of the things he did was to take me with him to funerals. I remember that when Reverend William M. Elliott preached, he always mentioned this idea: He said there is a word in the twenty-third psalm that you must remember and cherish, because it will help you in the process of grieving. Psalm 23, verse 4: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff comfort me.” What is the word? Through! We walk through the valley. We don’t camp out there. We don’t live there. We don’t dwell there. Later on the psalm says where we dwell – we dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
But sometimes we walk through the valley, and it’s not easy. We walk through the valley – we don’t run through the valley, we don’t dash through the valley, we walk, and sometimes it takes a very long time.
But we do walk through. And we have the assurance that although sometimes it seems that the grieving will never end, it will. The sun will shine again. Even if it feels like the middle of winter, the time will come when the roses will bloom again. We walk through the valley.
Dear friend, if you are grieving today, let me share with you a word of assurance that was shared with me by a dear friend. Although the thing seems impossible now to deal with, the loss, the grief, the impossible times will get shorter, and the okay times will get longer. The difficult times may never go away completely, but the okay times will get longer and longer, and that is a promise. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
The first thing we do to help people is pray for them. The second thing is R – when you talk with folks, REFLECT. Reflect what you hear them say. I remember when I was grieving deeply, I talked with a minister and he helped me so much. He helped me because he looked at me with both eyes. We made eye contact. He told me he was caring for me just by looking at me. When there was a pause, he would say, “That’s so sad.” He said it with great sincerity and caring. And that was healing in itself. He didn’t try to fix it; he didn’t try to make it better. He just reflected what was going on for me. It’s a great gift. It’s a gift you can give to others who are grieving. I commend it to you.
The third thing – A. ACCEPT and ALLOW. Accept and allow whatever is coming from the grieving person, or what’s coming from you, if you are the one who is grieving. Grief can bring up outrageous emotions within us. Don’t worry about it. Allow and accept whatever it is that is happening, and let the person experience whatever he or she is experiencing. It’s okay.
And the final letter, Y, stands for YOU. Oh, my friend, you are what makes the difference. Your presence is important. I remember when I was in seminary there was a teacher named Dr. William Presnell. I was in his doctoral seminar. I said, “Dr. Presnell, I want to ask you. What do I say to a grieving family when I go into the funeral parlor? What shall I say? What shall I do? You tell me, Dr. Presnell.”
He looked at me and smiled. He said, “You want me to give you a set of words that will be helpful in healing. It’s an admirable question. But I will tell you simply this: your very presence is sacramental.” And it is true. Ninety percent of helping is just showing up. So just your being there, by phone, by card, in a prayer, is where the healing comes. Y-o-u. Your presence, my friend, is sacramental.
I will tell you this: my predominant emotion as I try to help people is helplessness. I wish I could do more. I wish I could take the burden off peoples’ shoulders. I wish I could make them feel better. If you feel helpless, just know that you’re not alone. You’re making a positive difference just by trying, by praying, and by showing up, being there to whatever degree you can.
Dear people have come to me and said, “I went to a viewing and I’m afraid that I didn’t stay long enough. Did I leave too early? Did I do enough?” I want to reassure those people, you were there – that’s what counts. That made all the difference. Don’t you worry; feeling helpless is as natural as can be. You made a positive difference.
Pray for them. Reflect what they’re feeling. Accept and allow whatever they’re feeling. And know that you are doing a good and godly thing by caring for those who grieve.
May I leave you, friend, with this thought? There is reassurance in God’s presence. Take a look at what the scripture says. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Why? “For Thou art with me.” Cherish those words, won’t you? “Thou art with me.” God is with you in all circumstances.
On a beautiful, balmy summer’s night not long ago, I had a great privilege. I was down at the Jersey shore with my godson, Dylan. We were riding bikes in the summer’s night, spokes sparkly with the reflected light of the boardwalk lampposts, wheels spinning and spinning as we rode the clickety-clack of the boardwalk through the night, the fresh sea air wafting over us, delighting us with summer’s sweet presence.
At one moment, though, I lost sight of Dylan. I didn’t know where he was. Thank heaven for walkie-talkies! Aren’t they a great invention? I radioed to him and said, “Dylan, where are you?” He radioed back immediately and said, “Don’t worry. I’m right behind you. I see your lights. Don’t worry. I see you.” I’m not sure what it was about those words that touched me so. But I share them with you. Don’t worry – I see you. That is what the Lord says, to you and to me, in our grief, in our feelings of lostness. Don’t worry – I see you.
There’s good news today, two pieces. Number two – we have each other. We see each other. And number one – we have God, and God sees us. Dear friend, if you are walking through the valley, I bless you. I care. I see you. May you remember that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we’ll fear no evil, for God is with us. He sees us. He cares. He loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski