Sermon – 04-30-23 – Easter 4 – Good Shepherd – Cycle A
Scripture: Psalm 23; Acts 2:42-47; John 10:1-10; 1 Peter 2:19-25
Sermon Title: “Being Content As Sheep”
He maketh me lie down in green pastures. Sounds like a vacation to me. He leadeth me beside the still waters. No storms? No dangers? When Satan arrives at our doorstep, the shepherd’s staff pulls us to safety. When life takes us through the gullies of fear or sadness or both, the Shepherd Lord keeps a growing crack of light above us.
What about the enemies that are present somehow at the table? What about them? That section of Psalm 23 consumes my thinking. I sit through seminars and discussions about the enemies. Is it revenge that makes us feel good? What did David mean when the Holy Spirit inspired those words? Yes, this David is the slingshot David and the King David. This David is the one who pleased God to a high degree but who managed to have a man killed for David’s own sin. That David is thought to have contributed this beloved Psalm into our history and into our everyday lives.
This Psalm which still feels the best when we say it in the King’s English, in the King James’ language. Do you know that young people say they can’t understand the “maketh” and the “leadeth.” So contemporary wording catches their fancy. It might sound like this:
Contemporary English Version (A psalm by David) The Good Shepherd
You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need. You let me rest in fields of green grass.
You lead me to streams of peaceful water, and you refresh my life. You are true to your name,
and you lead me along the right paths. I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe. You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch. You honor me as your guest, and you fill my cup until it overflows. Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house, Lord.
About this enemy thing, could I be my own worst enemy, as we sometimes say? What if I am the enemy when someone else is sitting at the table? Someone said that the enemies could be our own troublesome habits and attitudes. I like this idea. It is not people who are excluded from the table but it is my own hurtful traits (t-r-a-i-t-s) which I never managed to conquer. Now in heaven they are finally excluded from my life. My personality can be totally pleasant. Satan would not be present. Satan was vanished from heaven ages ago by Jesus. Sadly, Satan will be among us on earth until Jesus comes again. But, heaven is Satan-free.
About this table, which picture have you carried in your mind about this scene? Are you and Jesus alone at the table? Is Jesus sitting with you or is Jesus standing close to you, between you and the enemies? There are all sorts of scenarios. I always pictured a long table. Did we all die at the same time? Did Jesus know that we would be alike in some way? Were we chosen to eat together because Jesus knows us so well that he knows our personalities inside and out? Oh! Maybe the people gathered at this table are our loved ones – the ones we say we will be with in heaven – like a family reunion in heaven!
How do we deserve to be seated at the table? We don’t! From 1 Peter 2:24 and 25, we read, “Christ carried the burden of our sins, He was nailed to the cross so that [we] would stop sinning and start living right. By his cuts and bruises [we] are healed. [We] had wandered away like sheep. Now [we] have returned to the one who is our shepherd and protector.
What brings us back? Is it by the will of Jesus or by the will of the Father or is it automatic because Jesus suffered on the cross. Jesus calls to us because he loves us. We know that voice. It is the voice of the shepherd who provides food and shelter and protection and comfort. We respond to that voice. That voice from the cross. While Jesus is yet suffering, he calls us; he offers to save us for that feasting table in heaven, wherever heaven is.
We automatically look up to find heaven. It does not matter where heaven is. We believe there is a heaven. Only a few people have found themselves at the edge of heaven and were returned to life to tell of their experience. So we wait for the Savior’s call. Some of us find contentment in waiting. Some of us wonder why we have not been called to heaven when young people are called instead. Unanswered questions. Meanwhile we are being called to be content on earth.
Matthew, a friend of mine, says, “I do not like the analogy of being a sheep.” Sheep are thought to be of low intelligence. I take exception. I know that I am intelligent. I can understand things by myself. I have a solid plan for my life. I don’t need a shepherd to follow a path. I am a geographical whiz! I am an astronomical whiz! I know loads about the heavens – way beyond the planets – I know all that.”
Norman, another friend, says to Matthew, “Whoa! Where do you want to spend eternity, Matthew?” Norman continues without giving Matthew a chance to answer, “Knowledge does not do the trick; neither does wisdom. It is the sheep-like trust that brings us to the Savior’s side, this shepherd to beat all wizards, all billionaires, all CEO’s, all artificial intelligence. This shepherd (aka Savior) is a partner with the Holy Spirit. This Savior can still the noise of war, this Jesus Shepherd Savior can heal our wounds, can solve our problems like getting along with our children, can mellow our personalities to the point of contentment.”
Matthew finally gets a chance to respond. “ Contentment. Interesting idea. Where do I want to spend eternity Definitely somewhere exciting; somewhere that I can use my talents and skills. Yes, I don’t want to be idle after I die. What is contentment anyway?” Norman replies, “Contentment is being happy in the very moment. No pain. Oh, wait. I know people who are content even though pain is their constant companion.”
Norman continues, “You are stretching my thinking. I was thinking of rocking chair contentment. Now I am thinking that I can be content doing a crossword puzzle, intelligence required. I can be content mowing the lawn, not so much intelligence required. I still hope there is a rocking chair, very little intelligence needed. Matthew, I think there is a place with the Savior to use our talents and abilities and skills but without the hassle that accompany these things on earth.”
Matthew bows slightly toward Norman while saying, “Pal, you have been a messenger from the shepherd to me just now. You have brought me into the fold, into the green pastures, beside the still waters, and to the table where my selfishness, my pride, my unkind ways will be standing along the wall all shriveled and powerlessness. Thank you, Pal. I will listen for the voice of the shepherd calling to me. Hey, you are being the voice. You are serving the shepherd until the final invitation comes from the mouth of the shepherd himself.” Amen