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The Lord is My Shepherd



A sermon on Psalm 23.


[for an audio recording of this sermon, click here. Photo by Mohamad Babayan on Unsplash.]


“The Lord is my shepherd.”

Can you say that with me? All together: The Lord is my shepherd.

(This is going to be an interactive sermon today, so be prepared. You’re going to be repeating after me several times, so let’s practice: The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd.)

Do you believe that?

I am 100% confident that you have heard it before… and hopefully, at least at times, it has brought you comfort.

But right here, in this moment, do you believe it? Do you believe that wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith, and whatever needs this moment in your life holds, Jesus is your shepherd, offering you the kind of care that you need at this moment?

It might be a little bit hard... but in the short 6 verses of the 23rd Psalm that we chanted today, there are a lot of assurances about what it looks like for the Good Shepherd to meet our needs. So, let's explore them together.

Maybe your need today is the assurance that you shall not be in want.

It’s quite the task to start with, because our culture is constantly bombarding us with messages of all the things we should want:

material wants, and emotional wants;

wants for our country, or for our appearance, or for our achievements, or for our security;

wants that make us feel empty despite what we already have because it’s never quite enough.

How can we possibly trust that we shall not want?

Unless we trust our Shepherd to teach us an alternative to want… to offer us a fullness of life that isn’t about accumulation and unmet desires, but about satisfaction with now, and trust in tomorrow.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

Perhaps, instead, what you need today is a shepherd who makes you lie down in green pastures.

Take note of the verb. We all need regular rest, but our shepherd knows that we do not always accept this truth about ourselves.

Sometimes the green pasture is there, but so is the to-do list.

And we feel too hectic, or essential, or guilty to just lay down our responsibilities for a bit and take a much-needed rest.

So, our shepherd makes us lay down. Maybe we catch a cold, or plans get cancelled, or the shepherd uses the voice of someone we trust who tells us to take a break.

And it is such a gift to not have to claim the time and space for ourselves… to be forced, in one way or another to rest.

The Lord is my shepherd; he makes me lie down in green pastures. The Lord is my shepherd; he makes me lie down in green pastures.

At other times, our hearts are more open, and when the shepherd leads us beside still waters, we don’t fight it. The water restores our souls.

Water is a universal invitation.

It is essential for life at the most basic level, and it can also be harnessed for work and enjoyed for pleasure.

And in the font, water is God’s touch on our forehead.

Calling us forgiven.

Calling us beloved.

Calling us marked for God.

This identity, in water and word, is a rest that lasts long beyond our stop at the still waters.

It reshapes our soul, and ever after, the water can remind us of who and whose we are.

The Lord is my shepherd; he restores my soul. The Lord is my shepherd; he restores my soul.

Sometimes we experience our shepherd as the one who is guiding us.

Because… goodness! Do we need some guidance!

There are so many paths to take;

or maybe we don’t see any;

or maybe they all look bad;

or maybe we have chosen the wrong path before, and it feels safer to just hunker down here and not try to move forward.

We will stagnate, but that is hardly the most daunting risk.

Until the shepherd reminds us that we are not the only one to consider in this journey.

Jesus has given us a mission. His name… his promise… his revelation that the world can actually be transformed through love and grace is on the line. So, we cannot stay still and silent and safe. We need to get moving.

The Lord is my shepherd; he leads me in right paths. The Lord is my shepherd; he leads me in right paths.

But then, sometimes the path we are on leads us into the valley of the shadow of death.

And there is no more frightening, or hope-destroying place to be.

And the sides of the valley are too steep to escape.

And the light from the surface barely filters down.

And we cannot help but imagine the threats lurking in the shadows.

This may be the most difficult place to believe the Lord is our shepherd.

And, what good is a shepherd anyway, in a place like this?

It’s OK. We can ask those questions.

In the metaphor, we are sheep. We are not being held to any standard of perfection.

But we are invited to find comfort in the reassurance of our shepherd’s rod and staff.

A rod to beat back attacks.

A staff to pull us close so we don’t wander off and get lost.

Because the promise that shields us from fear in the valley of the shadow of death is that assurance that we are not alone.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall fear no evil, for you are with me. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall fear no evil, for you are with me.

There is no promise that all reasons for fear will be eliminated, and all enemies destroyed. But that’s not actually what we need.

The things outside ourselves are not what determine our own needs being met.

And even in the presence of our enemies, the shepherd can prepare a table before us. The shepherd can welcome us, and honor us, and anoint us as set apart for God’s goodness, no matter who else is there.

Maybe we want those who harass, or insult, or frighten us to have to sit and watch us eat while they go hungry.

But, if our cup overflows… does it really matter if the shepherd is meeting their needs as well?

If there is abundance more than we can hold, isn’t there enough for others?

The Lord is my shepherd; my cup overflows. The Lord is my shepherd; my cup overflows.

The journey of faith is a winding one. It will lead us many different places.

Some places we will be glad to find; others will test us, or pain us, or teach us hard lessons.

Some paths we would never take on our own, and some paths we will not understand until we are through them, clinging desperately to Jesus because we have learned that we have to.

I imagine that many of us are at different places on our journey today… with varying awareness of our shepherd, and maybe varying confidence that the shepherd is there with us.

Again, that’s OK. We are sheep in this analogy. Sheep do not have all the answers.

What we do have is a promise that I hope you can believe today, or at least imagine what it might be like to believe.

So, I have one more faith statement for you to try out in your mouth and in your heart today.

The Lord is my shepherd; surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. The Lord is my shepherd; surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Thanks be to God.

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