Sunday, April 3, 2011

4th Sunday of Lent - April 3, 2011

For years I have heard that sheep aren’t the brightest bulbs in the animal kingdom.  But recently I have heard from someone who raises sheep and I am told that this isn’t quite true.  In fact, sheep are dumb as a box of rocks.  They are absolutely dependent, but hopelessly incapable of knowing what is best for them.  Now I know that you didn’t come here this morning to be insulted, but......  we’re all sheep.  We think we understand everything quite well.  We make our decisions and go about our business and so on.  Left to our own devises, we are in all kinds of trouble even though we might not ever realize it.  Far from being bad news, however, this is actually great news, because we are sheep who have a shepherd.  Our shepherd is the Lord and he gives us promises.  Let us lie down in the pasture this morning and listen to the words of promise from our shepherd in Psalm 23.

1st promise- “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

The Lord our shepherd takes care of everything we need for life.  Martin Luther, the founder of our church, writes in the Small Catechism, “He provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all I need from day to day.”  The devil, on the other hand, would love to convince us that, ultimately, we don’t really have any help in this world except for ourselves.  Now he’s not so foolish as to be obvious about it.  He doesn’t say, “Work yourself to the bone and neglect your family.”  Instead he’ll say, “You need more money in order to be secure.” Harumph. I tell you today that the Lord is your shepherd and that you have everything you need.
2nd promise- “He restores my soul.”

What does this mean? God takes care of our emotional needs.  You have all experienced at least some of the following: heartbreak and loss, hatred and anger, boredom and a sense of being lost.  Life burdens us with more cares than it seems that we can carry sometimes.  These days we call it stress.  Like foolish sheep we might seek to get rid of it elsewhere, but I tell you today that the Lord is your shepherd and it is only he who takes your stress away.

3rd promise- “He leads me in paths of righteousness...”

What does this mean?  God gives us direction.  One of my first weeks here Wayne and Julie picked me up and we were driving down one of the gravel roads that was such a mystery to me.  They told me that until recently there weren’t even signs to tell you which road was which.  You just had to know.  I thought to myself at the time, “Boy would I be in trouble if there were no signs!  I wouldn’t know Juniper from Hickory without a sign.”  But on that day it wouldn’t have mattered, because Wayne and Julie were giving me direction by driving me to the place I needed to go. 

Knowing what choices to make in this life is often hard.  Sometimes it doesn’t even seem like there are any good choices available.  But I tell you today that the Lord is your shepherd and that he will give you direction.

4th promise- “......for his name’s sake.”

What does this mean?  God takes away our selfishness.  When I was single I was mainly concerned with myself.  I could do what I wanted with myself.  All my time was my own.  With marriage and then with a baby I find that it doesn’t work that way anymore.  Often enough I’m not doing what I would have chosen to do because I’ve got responsibilities towards other people.  And this has made my life much better.  I’d be willing to bet that most of you have had a similar experience.

I tell you today that the Lord is your shepherd and he takes away your selfishness and directs you towards others for his name’s sake.

5th promise- “Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me......”

What does this mean?  Death is all around us and we won’t be able to escape it in this life.  The presence of God when death is near is a comfort because God is Lord over death.  By ourselves we are subject to death; we will die.  But God has decided that death has no power over us.  This is to say that we will die, but we will not stay dead.

I tell you today that the Lord is your shepherd and that you need not fear death.

6th promise- “You prepare a meal for me in the presence of my enemies......”

What does this mean?  Well, first of all, you’ve got enemies.  I don’t think that’s the way we prefer to think about things these days, but it is foolish to deny reality.  At the very least the Devil is your enemy.  And so is anyone who opposes the well-being and safety of your family.  But God will provide for us in spite of these foes.  The enemies will not disappear, mind you, not in this world, but God will provide for us even though these enemies oppose it.

I tell you today that the Lord is your shepherd and that your enemies cannot stop God from blessing you.

7th promise- “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

What does this mean?  Anointing the head with oil is a royal metaphor.  The ceremony to declare the new king always involved anointing his head with oil.  There is another important meaning for anointing as well.  The word for it in Hebrew is messiah.  Jesus was the Messiah, that is to say, the anointed one.  The Jews at the time of Jesus were waiting for God’s chosen one to save them.  It turns out that God became a man in order to be the chosen one.

I tell you today that the Lord is your shepherd and that he has anointed you; he has chosen you.

8th promise- “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  [length of days]

What does this mean?  This means that we are a part of God’s household both now, in this life, and in the life to come.  Being in the household of the earthly king means protection and provision, special advantage, even when times are tough.  Being in the household of the heavenly king means all the benefits of Christ, including most especially the forgiveness of sins and life eternal. 

I tell you today that the Lord is your shepherd and that you will live with him and know his benefits from this time forth and forevermore.

To be a sheep is not what any right thinking human would aspire to.  Sheep are foolish and stupid.  They don’t know what they need.  They often work against their own best interests.  To the world, being a sheep is nothing to write home about.  But we can rejoice that we are sheep.  We do not know how it has happened to us or what has happened to make us deserve it, but we have a shepherd and we have his promises to us. 

I tell you today that the Lord is your shepherd and that it is wonderful to be a sheep.  Amen.

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