Rev. Jeff Chapman, Faith Presbyterian Church
Thank you for being here today. The numbers of people profoundly impacted by Pat’s death are a great testimony to the way this man lived his life. He was a man who was well loved because he was a man who loved well.
It did not matter who you were, if you knew Pat you felt as if you were his friend. He made everyone who was in his presence feel welcome. From the moment I met Pat I just felt as if he genuinely enjoyed me as a person and I think every single one of us felt that way. And think about it, how many people do you know who you can say that about? Not too many.
It was Jim who put it best for me when he commented to me one day that he saw a deep hospitality in Pat. Whether you were one of his customers, somebody in his church, one of his youth group kids, somebody in his Rotary club, or somebody he just met on the street, he simply made you feel as if you belonged, as if you had a place. And I actually think that this was one of most Christ-like qualities I saw in Pat. Deep, deep hospitality.
Even in his dying Pat demonstrated hospitality. How many of us in this room were made to feel absolutely welcome to come and sit with Pat at his bedside. Hundreds of us. And I would bet that when you went to visit Pat he made you feel like you were the one person he was hoping would come that day. Even on his deathbed Pat demonstrated the deep hospitality of Christ.
And this seem like a good time to mention that Pat’s family has demonstrated that same hospitality. Kitty, Daniel, Geary, all of you, your willingness to share Pat with all of us in the final season of his life when every minute was precious is a gift you have given us beyond what we deserve.
I cannot imagine anybody receiving as much compassion, devotion, servanthood and love from his family as Pat received from you all in his final days. Lots of us promise in marriage to love one another until death do us part. Kitty, you have fulfilled those vows beautifully and it has inspired us all. Lots of us say we want to follow God’s command to honor our parents. Daniel and Geary, you have honored your father in ways that are deeply pleasing to God.
If Psalm 23 was not always Pat’s favorite passage of scripture, it became so in the last weeks of his life. He knew it by heart and recited it often. Even in the face of death, I believe that these words, for him, became life-giving, and not only for him but for many of you who were by his side during his final days. It is only appropriate that we would have them read here again today.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23, NIV)
Psalm 23 compares God to a shepherd. And according to the Psalmist, God is the sort of shepherd who takes care of his sheep. He fulfills their needs. He leads beside green pastures and quiet waters. He restores their souls. He makes sure his flock stays on the right path.
Pat was one of God’s sheep. I believe that. I think he believed that. And that makes me want to ask a question. It’s a hard question, but also an honest question. Maybe it’s a question you’ve asked yourself. I think of all that Pat and his family have gone through these past 18 months and I want to ask, what kind of shepherd lets this happen to his sheep?
If that is a question you have asked along with me I want you know we are in good company. The Bible, especially the prayers of the Psalms, is filled with suffering, grieving, desperate people asking this same question. You’re supposed to be our Shepherd, Lord. You were supposed to be his Shepherd. How can you let this happen to one of your sheep, especially to this particular sheep?
Even Jesus himself, the very Son of God, asked the question. As he hung on the cross he cried out to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What kind of shepherd lets this happen to his sheep?
It’s okay to ask that question. You’re not alone in asking that question. As soon as the question is asked, however, God gives his answer. Right here in Psalm 23, in fact, God gives his answer. We hear God say to us, “Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you will fear no evil for I am with you, my rod and my staff they comfort you.”
Every single one of us walks through the valley of the shadow of death. Death, the eventual loss of everything we hold most dear in this world, even the very breath in our own chest, death overshadows all of us. Today it touches many of us in a profound way as we gather to mourn the death of a beloved brother. One day others will gather to mourn your death and my death. All of us walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
And we ask again, what sort of Shepherd allows his sheep to get lost in a valley like this? And the Great Shepherd answers us, you are not lost. Yes, you are in the valley of the shadow of death but I am there with you. And if you will stay with me, and don’t run off, I will be there with you. My rod and my staff will protect you and guide you through.
This is why I believe Pat and so many millions before him have held so closely to these words. As we journey to the heart of the valley of death we hold on to the promise that we do not go there alone and, in fact – listen to me – we go there with One who has been there before and who knows the way out the other side.
Pat was a part of a church, not just this church but countless other Christians across time and space, who have stood in the face of death with great hope because we believe that our Great Shepherd came so far out of heaven to find his lost sheep that he even went as far as death to bring us home.
When Jesus Christ the Son of God died on the cross he went to the heart of the valley. When he rose again from the grave three days later, he came out safely on the other side. As we now walk through the valley ourselves, he is ready to lead us. He has made a way through and if we would trust him he will lead us through to the other side as well. If only we would trust him.
Some years ago I heard the story of a man who knew he was dying. He was a man of great faith and yet in spite of his prayers, and the prayers of many others, the disease in his body kept marching on relentlessly. It was only a matter of time.
Well, this man had a son with whom he was very close. The son’s heart was breaking that his beloved father’s life was drawing to a close. Not only was he heartbroken, he was angry. Though me might not have put it quite this way, he did not understand what sort of Shepherd would allow this to happen to one of his sheep. In fact, he did not want anything to do with a Shepherd who let such a beloved sheep like this die.
Well, one day the dying father called his son to his bedside. With tears in his eyes he acknowledged his son’s anger. He even admitted that he had been angry himself at times along the way.
But at some point, after he came to grips with the fact that he was going to die, he realized that he had great hope in Christ. And now, at peace in his soul, all he really wanted was for his son to share that hope.
So he told the young man, “When I die you are going to want to run away from Jesus. I understand that. But please, don’t run from Jesus. Even if you are angry, even in your tears, even when you don’t understand much at all, run to Him. For He is the only one who knows the way through.”
Pat’s favorite part of Psalm 23 was the last verse. Of all the times he recited it during the final days of his life, I can’t imagine that he did not recite it without tears in his eyes. This is the promise that sustained him. This is the promise that I pray will sustain you, today, and tomorrow, and whatever comes after that.
“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Run to Jesus. If we do, we will find that he is the Shepherd who will never fail us and who will, when all is said and done, lead us home.