Easter 4- Year B, Good Shepherd Sunday
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The twenty-third psalm is probably one of the most familiar passages of scripture. Many of you may have it memorized. I know it was one of the passages I memorized when I was in Sunday School. You may know it best in the King James Version with the “Yea, though I, and Thou preparest.”
It is very familiar as a funeral psalm because of the verse, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…” I don’t remember ever being at a funeral that didn’t include this psalm. It is probably one of the most comforting passages in the whole Bible.
The book of Psalms was to Jewish people of Bible times what our ELW is to us. It was, to borrow an Episcopal term, their book of common prayer. It contained the prayers and songs used for worship. When we read, pray, and sing the psalms, we are using the same prayers and songs that Jesus used when he prayed. What a gift that we can do that!
Jesus prayed the 23rd Psalm. It would have been very familiar to his disciples and to all the Jews of his time. Remember they only had 150 songs and prayers in their book instead of 893, so most people knew all of them. I bet you can easily recognize 150 of the hymns. So when Jesus tells people he is the Good Shepherd, everyone knows he is calling himself the Lord.
Jesus, our Good Shepherd seeks us when we are lost.
Did you ever get separated from your parents in a store when you were little? Did they ever leave you behind someplace? Remember how frightening it felt? Remember what a relief it was when you finally saw them again? Remember how it seemed like forever before they found you? Remember how comforting it was when they finally did find you and give you a hug?
I get lost easily. One thing I do not have is a sense of direction. Most Nebraskans I have met, know at any given time what direction you are facing. Unlike me, you grew up in a place where people give directions by
saying north, south, east, or west. You know which way you are going without even thinking about it.
I haven’t a clue. I need my google map or I need to ask my phone for directions. When I don’t get lost going someplace, I feel very good about it. But I always know the only way I get home safely is with the Lord’s help.
We get lost in many other ways besides the literal ones, though. Even those of you who are not directionally challenged like me, can lose your way.
Going through life often seems more like going through a maze than driving in a straight line. We go down the wrong alley and end up in places we don’t want to be. It’s scary too. We worry we will be late or miss things entirely. Or we head down a path we think is the right road, only to find a detour we weren’t expecting.
We don’t have to worry about being lost or stuck in the maze of life though. We have a Good Shepherd who always finds us. When we are stuck in the maze or find ourselves at a dead end, we can send up a flare. We can send up a prayer, and the shepherd is right there beside us leading and guiding us.
Jesus, our Good Shepherd, supplies all our needs. God is an abundant giver. There is more than enough food and water to supply the needs of the whole earth.
In addition to our daily bread, the Lord gives us peace. When we feel lost and broken, our shepherd seeks us out. He leads us to places where we can rest. He feeds our bodies and he feeds our souls. When we commune with him, he sets our lives on the right pathway.
Our Good Shepherd cares about lost sheep. Our Good Shepherd cares about us. Jesus said he has sheep that are not of this fold. He cares about those who are outside the church. Therefore, we as the church care for those who are outsiders, the ones the world ignores and forgets. We care about those without families, the immigrants, those in prison. We care about them because we once were lost but now are found.
Our Good Shepherd promises to be with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. When we face the darkest times in our lives, Jesus does not desert us. He walks with us and guides us through to the other side. And because Jesus seeks out the grieving, the lonely, and those in any need, we love and care for them, too, because that is what the people of God do.
Our Good Shepherd promises to be with us and provides for us when we are surrounded by evil. He sets a feast for us in the presence of our enemies and anoints our heads with oil and fills our cups to overflowing. Our Good Shepherd gives us abundant life. We have more than we need.
Therefore, we as the church do the same for others. We stand with the outcasts, we provide a feast for those who are broken and oppressed and unloved. We give health kits and school kits to refugees all over the world. We give to the food pantry and help feed the hungry children here through the summer lunch bunch program.
And when evil comes, we, like the Good Shepherd, don’t run away. Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, knew he was a target for the Nazis during WWII when he was in the United States teaching. His friends begged him to stay here and be safe. But he insisted on going back to Germany to stand with his people. He was imprisoned and executed 67 years ago. The hired hand runs away. The Good Shepherd gives his life.
Finally, our Good Shepherd promises goodness and mercy will follow us all our days and we will dwell in God’s house forever. When we are at the end of our lives, our Good Shepherd will be there to take us home. He has prepared a place for us in God our Father’s house.
The Good Shepherd reminds us that we are a resurrection people. The psalm most associated with death is a message of hope, not despair. When we say, “the Lord is my shepherd”, we are saying we trust God. We can give freely and joyfully. We live in the peace of Christ, even when enemies surround us. We can stand with others who are oppressed, knowing the Good Shepherd stands with us. We trust God in life and in death and we love and care for those in the valley of the shadow.
When we say the Lord is my shepherd, we proclaim the word of hope.
Alleluia! Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!