Fourth Sunday of Easter
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Text: Psalm 23
Title: Whose Shepherd is He?
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It is that Sunday when we read all those beautiful texts about Jesus being our Good Shepherd. I have to be honest with you; I had decided not to speak to you today about the 23 Psalm; you probably memorized it at some time or other early in your life.
How often, especially if you are older, have you pulled the Bible down from its shelf in a moment of crisis, dusted it off, and read the 23rd Psalm? That Psalm has provided many a person with comfort. That Psalm has become a frantic cry of our hearts when we are desperate when all else has failed.
That is why it is good for us to return to it this morning; savoring and pondering each line when we are not in crisis brings much in the way of rewards, for it promises so much.
Join me in saying the first line. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Think about what you just confessed. It is quite a claim, after all! How could you dare make such a bold statement, a claim bordering on spiritual pride, even arrogance; the LORD, God, the Creator of the Universe, the God of the Exodus, is my shepherd! Can we make such a claim?
Israel could; that is for sure. The LORD was indeed Israel’s shepherd, as Israel made its way out of Egypt, out of slavery, and onto the land promised to them forever, with the LORD, yes the LORD, shepherding them with mighty acts of salvation. When Israel was in the wilderness, Israel wanted for nothing; Israel lacked nothing. The LORD provided what Israel needed: manna for food, water out of a rock, leadership from Moses, correction when straying off to golden calves, and political rebellion. The clothes on their backs did not wear out; the sandals on their feet did not rot away. There is no doubt that God provided for Israel as a shepherd provides for sheep. They could call him, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” God was Moses’ shepherd; God was Israel’s shepherd.
So, who can make this claim, “The Lord is my shepherd.”.? Israel and Moses certainly could. David could too, and in fact, did. God was David’s shepherd. When you think of it, many people throughout what we call the Bible could and did pray, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
We have what the letter to the Hebrews calls a great cloud of witnesses, who were led, shepherded, and provided for by the LORD when they were reduced to nothing. Deborah and Barak, Gideon, laying out his fleece, all guided to take on the mighty Philistine charioteers and prevail. We see Ruth clinging to the faith of her mother-in-law, leaving her country, her kindred, and her parents’ house. The prophets: Isaiah; Jeremiah, no more than a child, yet speaking the truth to power, and being imprisoned in a dry well for his trouble, brought out again by the intervention of those who had ears to hear God speaking through him.
There are a lot of people in the Old Testament who could make that claim. We could keep listing off names until; finally we got to David’s direct descendant, the one we call our Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus could pray this prayer as he lived his life, suffered, and died on the cross, for he knew the LORD was his shepherd.
The first apostles surely laid claim to, “The LORD is my shepherd.” They could lay claim to, “The LORD is my shepherd even as they cowered behind locked doors, for it was then that the risen Lord, Jesus, the Good Shepherd was there among them, showing them his hands and his side, sending them forth to proclaim the Good News to a world hungry for it.
Millions, maybe even billions of people in the past, have made this bold claim, “The LORD is my shepherd?” Can we move beyond reciting, yet barely daring to believe these verses as words we were required to memorize as children? How, and when, do these words, “The LORD is my shepherd,” become not just words in the Bible, not just some words we memorized when we were young, but your words, my words? How do I lay claim to these words and make them mine? I think it is absolutely critical to our faith life that we, too, understand that “The LORD is my shepherd” are our words, our statement of faith.
Let’s look at what comes after the psalmist makes his claim, “The LORD is my shepherd.” I will, the psalmist says (I am going to paraphrase this), lie down in green pastures. I will indeed find myself besides, not troubled waters, but still waters. My soul shall be restored. I will discover the right paths, and even in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for the LORD, who is indeed my shepherd, will lead me.
There is no doubt that the writer of this Psalm makes a bold claim in the first verse: “The LORD is my shepherd.”
But then the bold claims stop. It has to; for you see, from that point forward, everything in Psalm 23 is about God’s perfect, holy will. Those green pastures might not be; in fact, they probably will not be the pastures I sought out or constructed; the LORD will lead me to them.
Those quiet still waters, the LORD will take me there. In my own wisdom, I have no clue where they are or how to find them. I cannot find my way to them any more than sheep can when they are alone. In making such a bold claim, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” we must understand that we are like sheep; poor, ignorant, and naturally wandering sheep.
And therein lies the proverbial rub for us people of this postmodern world, this self-sufficient, independent culture. Deep down, if we are honest with ourselves, we would instead wander in the wilderness than admit that we even need a shepherd. We hold in contempt the very idea that any God worthy of the name, worthy of us, would stoop to be something so lowly as a shepherd.
We do not want a “shepherd” anyway; we want a warrior-king to turn us into a triumphant army of which we will be co-commanders. At the very least, we want a physical healer and wealth-gather. Jesus as a shepherd just does not fit that picture, and so we keep trying to remake our Lord into something he is not.
If we would lay claim to this claim, “The Lord is my shepherd.”, a claim made by so many throughout the centuries, we also need to lay claim to our absolute need for God. If I would pray, “The LORD is my shepherd,” I have to relinquish my claim that I will find my way forward on my own. If I would have the LORD as my shepherd, I have to let go of my expectation that I will find pastures for myself; that we, with our technology and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, “can-do” spirit supply all our needs, that is until we can’t.
Are you ready to let go, so you can truly claim, “The Lord is my shepherd”? If you are, just let go. Rest in the presence of the LORD. Seek His guidance in prayer. Let go and let the LORD do what he came to do, forgive, comfort, and lead.
In humbly confessing that Jesus is our shepherd, a shepherd we desperately need, we do not need to fear evil, or anything else, for Jesus, our Good Shepherd, will lead us forward to green pastures and still waters. He will take us down the right path, even if our right path takes us into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. That is God’s promise. Amen.
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Rev. Dennis Rhoads
Vacancy pastor. LCMS