The Lord is My Shepherd
The Rev. Dr. Andrew R. Guffey
4 Easter: May 12, 2019
In the name of the One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + AMEN.
It’s Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is, of course, one of our ancient hallowed traditions going back centuries to the legend of two siblings: St. Oops I Forgot to Buy Flowers for Mom and St. Don’t Worry, I Sent Them From Both of Us. Well, you can google all about the history of Mother’s Day to find its actual origins, early in the 20th century, in West Virginia. One of the traditions of Mother’s Day has become to take Mom out for brunch, which, as I read this week on NPR, is a good, feminist tradition. So, for my part, I’m going to take the advice of a fellow priest, who wrote an article that she calls a primer for the Church on Mother’s Day. The title is: “Don’t Ruin Brunch.”
Sound advice for those of us preaching on Mother’s Day.
After all, the readings for today provide a rich fare. A disciple of Jesus—a prominent woman disciple—full of good deeds and works of charity, dies and is raised back to life by Peter. We get a glimpse of the great multitude of heaven who worship before the divine throne, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” And we have a tender little passage from John about Jesus as the great shepherd. But the piece de resistance is the Psalm: Psalm 23.
We all know this Psalm. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. I have sung and prayed this psalm so much that the newer language still sounds odd to me, even though I know the translation is sound. This is a Psalm of immense comfort to many who are in the hospital and to families who have lost loved ones. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.
It really is a beautiful prayer. And that is what the psalms are for, after all, for praying with. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the whole Psalter is in the Book of Common Prayer. That’s not an accident. The Psalms were the original Book of Common Prayer. They were the prayers of the Jews in the Temple and the Jews in exile. They have nourished Jewish and Christian prayer for millennia. If you never thought to pray the psalms, or, to let the psalms guide you in your praying, then I commend them to you heartily. Especially when I don’t really know what to say to God—and I hope you know you don’t need to say a word, really, to pray to God—especially when I don’t know what to say, I will sometimes pick up my Prayer Book and leaf through the Psalms, reading one out loud slowly. And if those are not the words I’m searching for, maybe I’ll stop mid-sentence and find another.
The Psalms have a way of directing us to God, almost as a good shepherd might direct us in right paths. And they do so without losing any of the grandeur of God, while yet giving voice to our wildest fears, bitterness, sorrows, joys, and blessings. The Psalms are intimate. To hear God in them, we do need to open our hearts a little, maybe just a crack—because God can be small enough even to enter a small crack. And if we read the Psalms sincerely and patiently, we might just find our hearts opening to joy in the midst of sorrow, to thanksgiving in the midst of disappointment, but also to the sorrow of others in the midst of joy, and to the pain of others in the midst of our blessing.
The message of the Psalm for today is pretty clear. I’m not going to tell you all about sheep and shepherds, about the properties of herding or of historical trivia that will really make you see this in a new light. The message is this: God will never abandon you, and always loves you. As Jesus says in the Gospel: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Psalm 23 is a promise, like the promise from Revelation: “They are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The mysteries of this life, friends, are often that: mysteries. Our lives are not necessarily made more joyful because we are Christians, or made worse because we are not. We live with our wounds and our pains, but also our blessings and our joys. This life is hard. And resplendent. Our pilgrimage here on earth leads us through the vale of the shadow, but also beside still waters.
The Good News today is this: God does not leave you to wander aimlessly. (Not that all who wander are lost.) God calls to each and every one of us by name so that we know we are not alone, and so that when we do not know which way to turn we might listen for God’s voice. All we need then is the courage to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd.
One of my favorite blessings from the Enriching Our Worship books, attributed to St. Clare, is this:
Live without fear: your Creator has made you holy, has always
protected you, and loves you as a mother. Go in peace to follow
the good road and may God’s blessing be with you always. Amen.
Live without fear, beloved. Live like your heart is free, free to choose love and not hate, free to choose mercy and not judgment, free to choose compassion and not consuming regret. Live without fear and know that Jesus is a good shepherd, who knows your heart and loves you, loves you, loves you, wildly and recklessly, and longs for you to know it. Because when you know it, the whole world is transfigured, or maybe rather, laid open for you to see finally.
How might you need to let go of fear and hear Jesus calling your name?