[reprinted from April 23, 2012]
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His nameâ€™s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil;
For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever. Â Â Psalm 23 (NKJV)
Lectionary texts: Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 5:16-24, John 10:11-18
The texts for this next week are powerful and encouraging. I suspect that many who preach from these texts will use the very familiar John 10 text. I think there is an opportunity here to preach/teach a very important message that many may feel they â€œcoverâ€ at funerals. But too often at funerals, we who need to hear the message are to focused on shock, pain, and many other emotions to hear and receive the truth and encouragement we so desparately need in our daily lives.
Jesus uses the example of the shepherd and sheep because it did speak to His audience at that time. They understood the concepts that He was speaking. There is a great book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller [ISBN#0310274419 ], that you can get for $5 on Amazon.com and it is worth every penny for building your spiritual health. Mr. Keller goes through every point of Psalm 23, explaining about a sherpherd’s staff, the mentality and characteristic of a sheep and how it depends on its shepherd for its very life. That is what Jesus is trying to explain to us in the John 10 passage.
When my parents died, when my young son died, the comfort and peace of my faith was ripped. There are questions and thoughts that I may have never considered or pushed into the closet of my mind so as not to think about it. â€œWhy is this happening? What have I done wrong? How do I regain my footing?â€ Let us go back to the shepherd and sheep example.
Unlike many animals, sheep do not have natural protection against their predators. They don’t change colors so they blend in with their environment. They are not swift so they can outrun their trackers. They do not have long claws or sharp teeth to fight off the aggressors. They are weak. And so they rely on the shepherd to protect them. And the Shepherd is faithful to the care and protection of His sheep.
As my LORD and I build our relationship I learn about who He really is. I find out that I can take any question to Him and He won’t brush me off. Even when I am walking through this valley where death lives, my Shepherd, my Savior, my Friend, and my God is there. Death does not win. Jesus has overcome death and the ones that I love are not in cold graves but safely with the Shepherd. The Shepherd is the present and eternal connection between myself and them. That is a comfort to me. Goodness and mercy from my LORD who loves me does follow me all my days. And when my time comes to leave this world, I will see Jesus. And standing right there with Him will be my James and my parents. My shepherd is faithful.
Grief is a time of hard work, especially in when it comes to faith which touches every aspect of my life. Jesus knows that and so He leads me through this time. He sends me â€œAaron and Hurâ€ just as He did Moses in the desert march, to hold my arms up when I am too tired to raise them myself. They aren’t there to provide the answers but to help me step closer to the One, the only One, who can provide answers to my questions. My Shepherd who provides all that I need when I am most vulnerable and weak.
Look for an opportunity to share about the Shepherd with someone who is hurting. Invest your time, maybe even $5 for a great book, with someone who may be forever changed to hear that they aren’t alone in the valley and that you know from your experience that they can trust the Shepherd who is there with them all the days and nights of their life.
Yet I Will Praise You by Andy Park, sung by Melissa Boraski (1999)