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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Saturday, February 16, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

The Shepherd Cares

The Shepherd Cares
                                                                                    Psalm 23
Other than the Lord’s Prayer, there is no part of Scripture that has been used more in novels and films than the Shepherd Song of David just read. It is a powerful piece of scripture for people going through hard times. There is a story about a young, new pastor called to the bedside of a crop duster. The man had been finishing his last run over a wheat field when he apparently turned his plane too sharply and the wings lost their lift. The plane plunged to the ground. The poor pilots insides were too torn up for the surgeons to do anything other than sedate him until he died. The only words the pastor could think of in that time was the 23rd Psalm. He asked the dying pilot if he could hear him and he indicated with a nod that he could. So the pastor began, “The Lord is my shepherd…”   Although just moments before the pilot had only been able to make a low, uncontrollable moan, he joined the pastor on the next line, “I shall not want. He leadeth me beside the still waters…” His voice was weak but steady as they prayed the Psalm together. These were the last words he either heard or spoke, as he died a few minutes later. It is typically at a death or funeral that we hear these words, and they are most appropriate there.  But the Psalm belongs not just to the dying or to those who have experienced a death of a loved one. The Psalm belongs to all of us. It speaks to our daily living, whether we feel we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death or are on the edges of green pastures and about to come to still waters after riding the rough rapids.
The Psalm of David was written in a time of Kings and Shepherds. In fact, a king was often viewed as the shepherd of his subjects, the one who protected and provided for his people. There were some very good kings, Like David, and there were a host of unwise kings who sought their own interests and had little to provide those they ruled. 
Then there were the true shepherds, who were important to the economy of the country in King David’s time. These shepherds cared for their sheep, watching over them, protecting them from predatory animals and thieves. The sheep knew who provided them with food and learned the voice of the shepherd well. Is it any wonder that the Psalmist drew an image of God from the image of shepherd? God, as shepherd was the one who provided the needs of the Israelites. Eventually the image of Shepherd was projected onto Christ, the shepherd we hear about from the Gospel of John especially.
It is in the 23rd Psalm that we associate the term shepherd with a caring and providing God. God loves us and provides because God cares. The Psalmist states a type of trust in God that we often overlook in our times. In our consumer, driven society, it is extremely difficult to hear the radical message of the 23rd Psalm. God is the only necessity of life! We are good at teaching people to want everything. Driven by greed rather than need, we can hardly imagine having only the necessities of life—food, drink, shelter/protection. Clever advertisers have succeeded in convincing us that what former generations considered incredible luxuries are now basic necessities. To say in our prosperous context that God is the only necessity of life sounds hopelessly quaint and naïve. But Jesus himself tell us not to worry about our lives..but strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all else will be given to us. (Matt 6:25, 33)
The radical message about the 23rd Psalm is that we don’t have to worry about our lives or our deaths. God will provide. The Lord is our Shepherd, our provider, our protector. God, through Jesus provides our protection, but the question is protection from what? In our secular society we are encouraged to trust first ourselves and to work first to secure our own lives and future. Our trusting in ourselves gets us some security for our future, a comfortable retirement or a comfortable place to live. And those are important things. But those aren’t all there is to life. The Psalmist speaks of a trust that places our future in God’s hand first and from there following God’s leading in our lives. We may not find ourselves in very good situations in life at times, but we do find ourselves always in God’s hands and secure in the knowledge that God will provide all that we truly need. What we think we need may be far different than what God knows we need. The house, the boat, the car, the money pales in comparison to what God can provide. God provides for our future existence in the only way that makes us truly happy, and God provides for our future in the only way that will provide eternal life lived in God’s grace and love.
This Psalm took on new meaning this morning about 2:00. I woke from one of those crazy dreams, something about being in a pet store with people sitting on the floor unable to get up. I awoke from that dream knowing that in a few short hours I would have to go through the tortuous process of putting my pants on while still lying down because it was impossible to do while sitting up and trying to bend over due to the damage done to my hamstring. It would take another several minutes to get into a position to get out of bed. The simple act of bending over is excruciating. I did not want to disturb Joe. I felt an incredible sense of despair knowing that it would be 6-8 weeks before I felt like I had turned the corner on this injury, or so said the doctor. Those of you who have had soft tissue damage know that it takes a long time to heal. Things were running through my mind like: I live in a house cursed, too many strange things happen in that place; was I doing something wrong that brought on all these strange events; was God trying to tell me something? I was really giving the pity party a good ride for the money. Then this Psalm which I had been giving lots of thoughts to in preparation for this message, began filtering through my brain. “The Lord is my shepherd…” sure wasn’t watching over me when I fell. “I shall not want.” Oh yea? I wanted healing and I wanted it fast. “He makes me lie down in green pasture.” Sure, that’s real easy to do, 10 minutes later I might be down on the ground, then how will I get up? “He leads me beside still waters” They better be hot and soothing. “He restores my soul” At those words something began to change. A calmness started to break through the negativity. It dawned on me that I still had the one thing that really mattered in life. God was still with me! I was not alone! A sort of peace pushed past the pain. I knew I was in good hands. I saw more humor in my situation as I remembered that Joe had told me to stay out of the kitchen. I remembered the humor I had found when describing the awkwardness of dressing and the comedy that would have made on video. I remembered the wonder that a beautiful walking stick had already been made for me. I remembered the little things people tried to do to ease the situation some. I had already been cared for. The Shepherd was looking out for me. It was not any easier getting up when the time came, the pain seemed to be about the same. It is still hard to find an easy way to sit. But there is a difference! I know the presence of God with me! When I get discouraged all I have to do is remember I am not alone in this.
When we seek and know the presence of God with us we do not have to want for anything else. Our lives are transformed. We know ourselves as children of God first, and all else follows that.   In this day of bleeding, trembling souls that hurt for the tragedies of our lives, that long for peace and assurance, The Psalm speaks eloquently of where we can find that peace. He leads us beside still, not stormy waters even in the midst of the storms of our lives. We are fed in green pastures, not the barren wastelands of self pity, hopelessness and despair. He restores our souls, not depletes them with narrow and confined doctrines and rules. We do not need to fear going down the wrong path because He wants us with Him in good relationship. Evil and sin will not destroy us, because Jesus has overcome death, and we will always have a home in his Kingdom where evil cannot prevail, where sin has no hold over us. With his staff he will lead us where we are meant to go. And in that leading we will find comfort and direction through all that blocks our way. God prepares a great feast for us, a feast that nourishes our souls and feeds our deepest desire to be with God. Our enemies, including pain, cannot keep us from that feast. Our hearts can be constantly filled and overflowing with God’s grace and love as we recognize whose we are. Goodness and mercy will be with us even in our struggles. God pursues us when we forget. The only house we need is the one where God is present. All else is just temporary shelter, shattered by wind and fire. That’s a radical kind of trust and a radical way to live.

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