April 30, 2012 @ 8:33 am
Psalm 23 is one of the best known, best loved sections of the Bible. Many people who know very little of the Bible are familiar with this Psalm. It is common to be read and prayed at times of great distress and sadness, times of grief and morning, and its words and gentle imagery provide comfort.
The Lord is my shepherd,” we say. “I shall not want.”
We are comforted by the knowledge and the promise that our Lord is for us a good shepherd, a caretaker who looks after us, who tends to us the way a shepherd tends his sheep. He is there beside us, close by, watching out for us, standing guard if we should be attacked, leading us to where we can find food and provision when we are hungry, leading us to shelter when things are treacherous, and even serving us with good things in the face of our enemies. God is truly good. God is good to us.
The world is an unfriendly place for a sheep. Sheep after all are rather passive and helpless animals. They are a popular 4H project around here. Those of you who have sheep are certain that you take the necessary steps to protect them. I am often greeted by the deep growl of the dogs acquired to keep the coyotes away from the sheep when i go out for a run. A big ferocious sounding dog can be a pretty effective way to guard your aheep from predators (not to mention an exercising pastor). If you didn’t protect your sheep they would quickly wind up a nice meal for a pack of hungry predators.
Well if the Lord is our Shepherd, then that would mean that we are like sheep. And if sheep need a protector to ward off the predators, then there must be predators who sneak around in the dark hunting us.
You need to protect your sheep. You need big dogs, alpacas, donkeys, you need to lock them up tight in the barn because you know that if you don’t your sheep probably won’t make it until tomorrow, let alone to then end of July when the county fair rolls around. Your sheep need a constant guard. You see to it that a guard, a protector or shelter is there.
God does the same for you. Yet what is astounding is the fact that he doesn’t farm this duty out to somebody else. He doesn’t have guard dogs to stand watch for him. He doesn’t use alarm systems and video surveillance or electrified fence. He does the job himself.
The Lord is ever watchful. He never takes his eye away from you, his little lamb, even for an instant. The Lord is your Shepherd and you shall not be in want.
This is a comfort for you. He will not leave you or abandon you. Especially as you find that your way has come through the valley of the shadow of death. The Lord will at times lead us through the valley of the shadow of death and we will feel pain. We will feel sorrow or grief or fear. We will suffer. But this suffering, this pain alerts us to something that needs to be fixed.
Perhaps the death shadow is in fact death. You struggle with death in your own life, someone you love has died or might die. You grieve. Grief causes heart ache and pain. But this heart ache teaches you to look for and listen to your shepherd.
When sheep are lead through dangerous territory, they keep close to their shepherd. They know that their shepherd is with them and that he will protect them. They also know that their shepherd knows the way out. And so they go where he goes. They follow where he leads.
Children, when faced with a difficult loss or fear will go to their parents, they will stick close to their parents, because they know their parents will save them and protect them. They go where their parents can be found and hold tightly because they sense the need to be protected and they are comforted by the warmth and the strength of their trusted protector. Likewise with you. When you are afraid or sad or threatened, when you find yourself in the valley of the death shadow, you go to Jesus. Cling tightly to him. Go to the place you know he will be. Follow him where he leads you. Do not let go of him. Because he is safe. He is strong. He protects you. He comforts you. His strength will put you at ease.
How do you do that? Where do you find your Good Shepherd? How can you cling to him? Where can you be sure you will find him? Where are his restful waters and his green pastures. Where is his rod or his staff that you might be comforted by them?
These questions are important questions and their answers are important answers. People need to know them, we need to find these answers. Our life, and protection are bound up with them.
Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd. Jesus says that his sheep know his voice. Jesus says that his sheep follow his voice, they follow where he leads them.
There are times when we are led and guided by a still small voice that speaks to us in our conscience. We hear that voice and we are tempted let it be our comfort. We wonder if that voice is one that can be trusted.
The world would tell us it is. It can. It should be trusted. More than anything else, follow your heart. Follow your gut, let your conscience guide you.
Your heart can be deceived. Your conscience can be broken. Your gut… well mine just wants to look for food. These can be useful, but they are far from fool proof.
To follow Jesus, to be comforted by Jesus is to know his voice. To know his voice is to hear him and listen to him.
Jesus commands his disciples in Matthew 28 to teach all things that he has commanded. We know the voice of the shepherd by hearing the words his has commanded to be taught. In other words if you want to know the voice of the Shepherd you have to tune in to the channel where he speaks. You need to know your Bible. You need to study and meditate on the Words your Good Shepherd has given to you.
Listen to his apostles. They wrote down his words to preserve them for you. His Spirit inspired those Words as they were written so that the Words are His Words. You must know your Bible. Not because you have to. Not because they are magic words that will make every bad thing go away. Not because you are afraid God will punish you if you don’t. You have to know your Bible because it is your life. It is the voice of your shepherd as he speaks to you. If you don’t listen, if you don’t take the time to hear you wont know when he calls. You won’t be able to discern that still small voice and know when it is true and trustworthy or when it is lying to you to mislead you. You won’t know how to proceed when you come to that fork in life's road. You will be frightened and terrified when you find yourself in the valley of the shadow of death. God speaks to you in his Word. His spirit whispers to you from the scriptures. You must listen. You must learn to hear. You must be ready to receive. God wants only to give.
And give he does. Restores you soul. When your soul is empty. When your soul has been spent on addressing the challenges of your life God comes to you to restore you. He fills you up so that you are not in want, so that your cup is running over. As he brings you into the pleasant pastures and the quiet waters your are fed and nourished. He guides your feet to the well worn and easy to follow path of righteousness. He sets a table for you where he feeds you, even before the face of your enemies.
And those enemies, most of the time they chase us. We run and are pursued and we get tired and weary from constantly escaping them. Oh, but your Good Shepherd handles those pursuers for you. He takes care of them so that they are no longer a problem. And instead of enemies, sin or satan or death or fear or wicked men, you are pursued by goodness. You are chased down and captured by mercy. And they don’t stop. They are relentless and tireless in their chase even to the last days of your life.
And you are safe. Safe from your enemies. Safe from those things that accuse you, that bring you stress because your Lord has spoken his Word to you. You have heard his voice. You have learned to follow. And he has led you to his house. Yes to his house, little sheep.
How many of you keep your sheep in the house? You have pens and barns where they stay. As cute and cuddly as they are little lambs can make quite a mess. They are animals, cattle, best kept in the barn. But not the Lords sheep. His sleep at his side, quietly held in his arms like a father cares for his child.
You are Christ’s little lamb. He saves you preserves you, provides for you, and keeps you ever in his care.
In the name of Jesus.