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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Lord is Our Shepherd

Date: 04/17/2005

Feast: 4th Sunday of Easter

James McTyre

Church: LHPC

Bible text: John 10:1-10

Theme: Good Shepherd

Psalm 23. Such a familiar piece of scripture. This, along with John’s passage about the sheep and the gate, leading in the next verse to Jesus saying, “I Am (which, remember, is God’s official name) – I Am… the Good Shepherd.” – These are the passages for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Lots of sheepy stuff.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd; God is the Good Shepherd. They are one. And we are the people of their pasture, the flock of their hand. No matter what name we use, The Lord is our shepherd; we shall not want.

But here’s the problem: We know that’s not true. It’s not true. We do want. We want and we want, and once we get what we want, we want some more. We even want the Lord to be our shepherd. Sort of. As long as he doesn’t tell us NOT to want the additional stuff we want.

Upgrades. Improvements. Bigger. Better. Younger. Slenderererer. Six-pack abs and a six-pack to drink after the workout. Yeah. We want. It’s good for us. Because if we didn’t want, what would happen to the global economy? Depression. Disaster. It’s all on our shoulders. That’s why I carry… MasterCard. It’s everywhere I want to be. The ability to get what you want when you want it? Priceless.

One of those classic church bulletin bloopers goes, “The Finance Committee will present its appeal for pledges, followed by the singing of the hymn, ‘Jesus, Priceless Treasurer.’” It’s so easy to turn from a person with a treasure into a treasurer of things. Even if that thing is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And if we’re not careful, we’ll add a letter and do it to Jesus, too. “Sure, Jesus wants what I want.” Uh oh. Look out.

The Lord is OUR shepherd; and not the other way around. We SHALL not want (we SHOULD not want); but we still do. The thieves of our lusts sneak in during the dark of night. Sometimes we invite them in during the light of day. And we tell our hearts, “It’s OK. Just this one time.” But once the gate gets open, the peaceful Lordship of the Shepherd gets snatched from our hearts before we know it.

The Lord is our shepherd; we shall not want. Right? True? Then why do we keep wanting so darn much? Is it just human nature never to be satisfied? Or is this one of those God-things that’s true because God says it’s true… even if we can’t make it so.


“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

There are almost as many interpretations of this one verse as there are Bibles. Because even little children know, it just doesn’t sound right.

Some people will say that it’s not supposed to be true, yet. That the Psalm is a vision of the future. We shall not want… someday, when we’re in heaven.

Those of you who collect Elvis records remember his recording of the hymn, “Peace In The Valley.” It’s a copyrighted song, so we can’t print the lyrics without the permission of the owner. Last week, I came upon the officially licensed web site for “Peace In The Valley.” There, you’ll find a beautiful painting, containing all the glow, if not the texture, of the velvet original. The shepherd in the valley, straight out of Psalm 23, with dancing sprites that follow your cursor all around the screen, no doubt the addition of an over-zealous web designer who wanted a little modern touch for our Lord.

As you scroll down the page, past the painting, there are the lyrics to the hymn, which is all I really wanted in the first place. Apparently, they couldn’t afford the Elvis recording, so in the background is a voice singing like James Earl Jones on a really, really slow day, “Peaaace innnn theeee vallllleyyy.”

Oh well, I’m tired and so weary But I must go alone
Till the lord comes and calls, calls me away,
Well the morning's so bright And the lamb is a light
And the night, night is as black as the sea,

Well the bear will be gentle And the wolves will be tame
And the lion shall lay down by the lamb,
And the beasts from the wild Shall be led by a child
And I'll be changed, changed from this creature that I am,

There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There'll be no sadness, no sorrow No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me

And then, I scrolled down a little farther, past the peaceful valley painting and lyrics. The very next thing down the screen is a bright flashing ad, inviting you to Click Here (or Here) and Win Your Choice of a brand-new, 42-inch plasma screen TV. The Samsung or the Mitsubishi. You choose which one You WANT.

It’s all future tense. I shall not want, I shall have peace. There’s this world – a dark valley (lit only by the glow of a 42-inch plasma TV); and then when this world ends, there’s God’s world – a bright morning. So in this world, we want. It’s the very nature of this world to make us want what we know is coming, but we can’t yet have.


Other people will say, it’s not the shall that’s wrong, it’s the want. And so in some Bibles, the verse reads, “The Lord is my shepherd… I have everything I need… or, …I don’t need a thing.” Maybe this is a little closer to the meaning, because even children know there’s a difference between wants and needs. We may not want to admit there’s a difference, but we know we can live without 42-inch plasma screen TVs. Our lives may be miserable, and we may make our parents’ lives even more miserable, but we know a want from a need.

Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Like manna that goes stale if we hoard it overnight, this is the day the Lord has made, and we’d better rejoice and be glad in it, because we don’t know what, if anything, tomorrow will bring. God gives us what we need to get through, and in the words of the great philosopher, Scarlet O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day.” One day at a time, sweet Jesus, one day at a time. (Christy Lane, not Elvis.)

If you read it this way, there’s already a rich banquet being served here and now, in the presence of mine enemies. But you have to have eyes of faith to see it. It’s like God’s kingdom is a transparent overlay on the troubled world. We don’t have to wait, because both are true, at the same time. We want, but we don’t need. The Lord is our shepherd, even though it looks like the boss is our taskmaster. We live in two realities.

The problem with seeing it this way is that keeping track of one reality is more than enough for most of us. We’re just happy to remember to take our medication, or get the kids to soccer on time – much less to see the presence of the risen Christ walking along Alcoa Highway. God promises peace and relief IN the valley, not mental gymnastics, not the strain of conscious denial that gives us migraines.


The truth be told, when we strip away the sprites and the plasma and the velvet, in our hearts, we really do want what God wants for us. You ask someone in a hospital bed, or at a funeral – which is when the Twenty-third Psalm is so often read – you ask someone in those situations what they want, and it sounds remarkably like the words of the Psalm. To be able to keep down a solid meal, in the presence of chemotherapy. To walk alone through a room at night, and feel comfort. To sit with a friend on a back porch, and sip an iced tea, and smell the breeze of spring. To know that the Lord is your shepherd, and not to want – it’s not something we think ourselves into – it’s a gift.

But even the most generous of gifts requires some effort on our part. This psalm isn’t just a prayer, it’s an affirmation of faith. Like the Apostles’ Creed, we can say the words, even if we don’t understand them, or even if we don’t believe them all. We can say it because the words, the faith, is bigger than we are. The words, the faith is so much older and wiser than we are. The words, the faith carries us on its shoulders, as a shepherd carries home a lost sheep. Because we are bold enough to proclaim God is our shepherd, “we can choose to desire less, to expect less, and to demand less. Food, shelter, and a holy purpose are enough. Because God walks beside us, we can choose not to be fearful, not to allow the very real dangers surrounding us to daunt us, and will even feel comfortable sitting down to supper while our enemies gather their forces right in front of us. Because God has anointed us and invited us to become part of the family, we can choose to live with God, accepting the guidelines and rules of being a part of the house of God.”[i]

The Lord is my shepherd. This I believe. Even though I doubt. Even though I stray. Even though I want so much that I know I don’t need, and that isn’t good for me, and that isn’t of God. In spite of all the thieves that threaten to steal my soul, the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Anyone who’s been married for more than a week will tell you: love is an act of will, not an emotion. Faith is also an act of will. Faith is an act of will in the face of enemies and thieves, wants and desires, that threaten to break into our souls and steal the very best. Or make us dissatisfied with even the very most, the shepherd who is Christ, our Lord.

The Lord is our shepherd; we shall not want. It is true. It’s not a lie. It’s truer than we are, on any given day. It’s more meaningful than even our most serious promises, because it’s God’s promise. Like lost sheep who have gone astray, we have returned – no, we have been returned – to the shepherd and guardian of our souls.[ii] That is God’s want. That is God’s desire. That is what the Shepherd needs. And praise be to God that through Jesus Christ all God’s desires for us are being – have been – and will be fulfilled. There will be peace in the valley. And we can sing this psalm in sure and certain confidence, not because of confidence in our own choices, but because of our confidence in God’s.

[i] Rev. Malcolm King, First Presbyterian Church, La Follette, TN. 2005.

[ii] Ibid.

Sunday, April 10, 2005


Luke 24:13-35

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

April 10, 2005

Easter Sunday, we read about Mary in the Garden.

Do you remember? She had a problem with her eyesight.

Jesus was standing right in front of her, and she couldn’t see that it was him. Thought he was the gardener.

Last Sunday, we read about Doubting Thomas.

Do you remember? He had a problem seeing Jesus, too.

He came late to the meeting and Jesus was already gone.

This Sunday, we get one last lesson about people who don’t see too well.

They don’t see well. And they don’t hear well, either.

At least, they don’t see or hear Jesus well.

Not seeing well, and not hearing well – at least not seeing or hearing as well as we used to – is part of getting older.

I’ve noticed that over the years, the type size on my sermon notes keeps getting larger and larger.

We’ve made the print on the bulletins larger and darker – and not just because it helps congregation members.

The hearing’s not what it used to be, either.

And that’s the case for a lot of us.

I’m not making this up.

One Sunday, as he was going out the door, one of the older members of the church complemented me on what a good sermon I had preached.

Then, he told me that the battery in his hearing aid had gone out just as I started.

It’s amazing how much better these things are if you can’t hear them.

If I can’t see or hear you well, and you can’t see or hear me well, what a mess we are in.

If we can’t see or hear Jesus well, even though he might be standing right in front of us, or walking the same road with us,

If we can’t see or hear Jesus well, we’ve got problems.

How will we recognize the word of God?

How will we see God?

How will we know God if our senses aren’t operating right?

Two men on the road to Emmaus couldn’t see or hear Jesus well.

They had a problem.

Jesus was standing right in front of them, and they couldn’t see him.

He talked with them on a seven-mile walk, (and a seven mile walk in sandals takes a while) and they couldn’t hear him.

They sat down to supper with him, and until the moment when the bread was broken, they still didn’t know it was him.

Like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, we have problems with our eyes.

We’re near-sighted.

We see ourselves.

We talk around Jesus, or about Jesus far more than we talk to Jesus.

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we’re hard of hearing.

People drop conversational hints about the true concerns and celebrations of their lives, but we’re deaf (and occasionally dumb, in the less fine sense of the word).

We miss so much because we don’t make the effort to listen well.

And so our chances to see and hear Jesus are cut short by our own disabilities.

We handicap ourselves when it comes to things of God.

Because God’s intention for us IS to see.

God’s intention for us IS to hear.

God’s intention for us IS to know Jesus, to know God, to know the Holy Spirit – as they are, where they are, and in whom they are revealed.

But consistently, our glasses are broken and our hearing aids aren't working.

And so we’re not that different from Cleopas and his unnamed disciple-friend, whom Jesus came near and went with along the road to Emmaus.

Maybe that extra disciple is left unnamed so we can substitute our own name in place of his.

Because Christ is risen, and Christ can be seen.

Christ can be heard.

A couple of years ago, I learned some fancy medical terms for the limitations of my eyesight.

Since childhood, I have had myopia, which means I’m near-sighted.

I’m OK if I’m looking at something about this close to my head, but not so good at seeing things that are far away.

I’m not alone.

A lot of people are myopic.

We see the things that are mine, that relate to me, that catch my interest long before we see the concerns of other people, or of God.

We have spiritual myopia, too.

We travel along our chosen roads, not seeing the face of Christ, not recognizing his presence.

We drive along thinking we’re in charge, we know where we’re headed.

For heaven’s sake, we’re only going seven miles down the road; we can surely get there and back on our own.

But then, someone pulls out in front of us.

Someone we didn’t see coming crosses into our lane.

Things happen that we don’t expect and we ask, “Where was God?” because we expect God to be a big hand holding a flashing sign, saying, “Danger Ahead – Take Alternate Route.”

We don’t often think that maybe God’s hand looks more like a child’s hand, or a dishpan hand, or a hand with liver spots and veins.

We have to hold God’s hand close to really see.

Good news, though.

As I get older, my myopia is improving.

The doctor tells me that in a few more years (maybe sooner) I won’t be nearsighted at all.

Unfortunately, I’ll have graduated to eye problems that go the opposite direction.

Instead of having to hold everything up close, I won’t be able to hold things far enough away.

Some people call it Short Arms Disease.

The fancy medical term is one that I absolutely love: Presbyopia.

It’s the perfect ailment for a Presbyterian minister.

Baptist preachers don’t have any diseases named for them.

(They have hospital wings named for them, but that’s different.)

In the Greek, Presby means “elder.”

Our church is governed by Elders, hence “Presbyterian.”

But whatever flavor we are, after age 40, to some degree, we all get Elder-eyes.

We all get presbyopic.

Maybe that’s what was wrong with Cleopas and the unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus.

Maybe they were presbyopic Presbyterians, who just couldn’t believe Jesus would venture that close to human beings without calling a press conference.

They were more comfortable keeping Jesus at arms’ length, or farther.

They made Jesus into somebody you talk about.

“Are you the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know all that’s going on these days?”

They made Jesus someone you talk about, but rarely talk to.

And in that regard, this story is about us.

We all can be presbyopic when Jesus is standing right in front of us.

You see, a little Jesus goes a long way.

Because this is the man we hear saying things like,

“Love your enemies.”

“Sell all that you have and give it to the poor.”

“Pray for the people who gossip about you.”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

What’d you say, Jesus?

Sorry, I didn’t catch that one.

That wasn’t really you who said that, was it?

Our hearing and vision problems can be very selective.

Jesus replies back to the disciples who thought he was out of step with current events.

"Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?"

But there is more to this story than the disciples simply being poorly-sighted and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had declared.

There is hope.

Over the course of our lifetimes, the shape of our eyes continues to change.

Rarely do we have those perfect, ping-pong ball spheres that we imagine.

Our eyes become oblonged – squooshing and mooshing first one direction and then another.

It’s a function of aging, a function of growth in an imperfect human body.

Doctors can make things look sharper, and sound clearer, at least for a little while.

The lovely part of this scripture today is that while Jesus stretches out the suspense about as long as he possibly could, he doesn’t leave Cleopas and his friend in the dark.

“So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them.

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him….”

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind….”

Over the dinner table, a light came on.

And Cleopas and his friend could see.

They could hear what Jesus had been talking about those seven miles on the road.

They could see what Jesus had been teaching them about in his time on earth.

They got it.

They understood.

Everything was clear.

At least for a moment.

Because the scripture goes on, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

Just about the time the two disciples get their eyes and ears properly focused, Jesus disappears.

Vanishes from their sight.

Oh, scripture tells us they'll see him again.

But by then, he'll require a different focus.

He'll have changed his frequency once again.

The disciples will have to adjust.

That's just the way God is.

Seen and unseen.

Heard and not heard.

Visible, and yet a mystery that we can't grasp for more than a second or two, on a good day, when our senses are good (and we have some good sense) and sight and sound are focused just right.

And we'll keep changing, too.

Our eyes will become more presbyopic.

Our ears will catch different frequencies.

Jesus changes; we change.

It's not a perfect system.

But by God’s grace, it works.

The good news of the gospel is there's always another time.

There's always another road.

There's always another dinner table where if we're attuned, we can see and hear, and get the message of Jesus.

Goodness knows, we all have our deficiencies.

We all can be dim-witted, poorly-sighted, and slow of heart to believe.

We can all be deaf, blind, and a little dumb (very dumb) when it comes to Jesus.

But by the grace of God we can get things into focus long enough to get us to the next time we get it together.

That was good news for the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

That's good news for you.

Helen Keller wrote, “We differ, blind and seeing, one from another, not in our senses, but in the use we make of them, in the imagination and courage with which we seek wisdom beyond the senses.”

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen [or heard] or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”

The thing of most beauty in the world would have to be the presence of the living Christ.

Sometimes we see him. Sometimes we hear him.

But if we’re really, really going to know him, we can’t rely on our eyes and ears.

We have to listen with our hearts.

And see with our hearts.