“The Lord is My Shepherd”
Sermon April 26, 2015 by Bob Beck
Mary had a little lamb
it’s fleece was white as snow
everywhere that mary went
the lamb was sure to go.
The lord is my shepherd
I shall not want…
The poems that we learn as children – these poems do have an impact on our lives. They bring us joy, or comfort. They bring a smile to our face as we remember our childhood – I know I saw several of you smile when I began Mary had a little lamb. They bring us comfort….
I memorized, or mostly memorized, the 23d psalm as a boy in Sunday school, not knowing then how much this psalm would mean to me later when I was prepared to go into harms way. Even then, as a boy, I suppose I was becoming a soldier – I can’t remember any time when I was not fascinated by the army. When Ike Eisenhower became president in 1953, i still thought of him as General Eisenhower – I was only 6 years old.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” to me this was a soldiers’ prayer.
King David wrote the 23d psalm, and yes, he had been a soldier, but David had also been a shepherd, and spent much of his time in the fields and hills. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.” I grew up in the hills just east of Newport, Oregon, and loved the hills covered in trees. not only did my brother and I have foxhole forts scattered in several places on our 10-acre property, but there were other places that were set apart as peaceful sanctuaries – the small grove of Doug Fir trees carpeted with moss as thick as a mattress, dad’s “park’ where he transplanted trilliums. The babbling brook that bordered Dad’s park.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever.” “He restoreth my soul.” I felt very fortunate to grow up in God’s country, with the beauty of the hills and forests of the coast range.
And during a good storm I could walk down to the bluffs overlooking the ocean, and yell at the wind, and feel the power of God.
But, the rest of the story:
then I went away from God’s country and went to college. My world changed. I began to doubt. I lost my confidence in God. But, just to hedge my bets, I held on to the possibility… and – I still had the 23d psalm and the comfort that knowing it brought me. Later God sought me out, but that’s a story for another time.
I understand that a sermon needs something like lessons learned
#1 “The lord is my shepherd” – I need to work on that one. The sheep follows the shepherd. The sheep trusts the shepherd. The sheep do wander off from the shepherd, and yes, I do that too, and they do run away when they fear danger, so I guess I am rather like the sheep. But I do so want to become better at following the shepherd. I hope we all do. That comes from daily exercise. with daily exercise things become habit. Pray daily, give thanks at every meal, and read. Read the bible, read a devotional daily. I admit to saying many prayers each day – King David, who wrote this psalm, prayed to God asking for forgiveness when he did something wrong. This has become my habit. I am often in prayer – when I become irritated at another driver for doing some stupid thing that I might do, I say a prayer asking for forgiveness. When I’m behind schedule because I failed to plan ahead, then am delayed by something and take the Lord’s name in vain, I again pray asking forgiveness. When I swear when I hit my thumb with the hammer… well, you get the idea – I pray a lot. I have read that we should pray constantly, yeah, some of my days are like that. “Nuff said.
“The Lord is my shepherd” – that brings us to the New Testament reading from John chapter 10. Take a look at the stained glass window in the center of the east wall – that is the image that I see in my mind when I think of the good shepherd. “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” but the hired hand runs away when he sees the wolf coming. When I read that passage I think back at a project I was in charge of when I was a young army lieutenant. We were improving parking areas and the security fence at the Bremerhaven Military Shipping Port. One of the things we were doing included tearing down an old single story warehouse. We had torn down most of the walls, and a couple of my sargeants and I were in one end of the building while our bucket loader was tearing something down at the other end. Suddenly the whole roof began to cave in, and we began to run for the open air. I was probably the fastest runner amongst us, but someone was in front of me, so I gave them a shove. It was not that I was trying to push him out of the building – I was trying to get him out of my way so I could get out. We all got out ok, but I felt ashamed for pushing my soldier. You see, an army officer wears a black stripe down the side of his class A uniform trousers and around the sleeves. This is a visual reminder to the officer to remember those soldiers whom have given their lives in the defense of this nation, and that an officer has the responsibility not to needlessly put his soldiers in harms’ way. When I read of the hired shepherd, I am reminded that I am weak and all too human, and act like the hired shepherd.
Back to the lessons learned from the 23rd psalm –
#2 “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” – as a boy I enjoyed lying in the grass and watching the clouds float by. In genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and care for it.” Native American cultures believed that mother earth cared for them and in turn they must care for mother earth. It feels appropriate that we celebrated earth day this past week, because when I read this portion of the psalm I always am reminded of our need to be a good steward. God provided the green pastures – it is up to us to keep them green.
#3 “Thou preparest a table before me” – I remember when I was a kid and Mom would tell my brothers and I to “eat your dinner, because there are starving children in china.” I never did figure out how we would send my left-over dinner to china, but in my life there have only been a few times when I have gone hungry.
This earth that God provided for us, also provides enough food to feed all of us. Again, we are required to be good stewards. I feel blessed that I belong to a church that has a ministry to feed the hungry and homeless. This kind of sharing ministry needs to become world-wide.
#4 “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” <repeat for emphasis>– oh, yes – the promise. That glorious, heart-warming promise. God sent Jesus to earth so that we might understand God and his love. Then when we killed that gift from God, he raised Jesus on Easter morning to eternal life, opening the grave for each of us, so that we too, may live an eternal life in the house of God.
Bob Beck, lay leader