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

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Psalm 23
“Promises of the Shepherd”
March 2, 2008 version
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church

Most of us learned Psalm 23 as children.
Some of you might have learned it in Sunday School, right here.
Think about it: How many things did you learn as a child that are just true and just as comforting to say as an adult as they were then?
Talk about some powerful words.

These aren't just words; these are promises.
Sacred promises from God.
Sacred promises of God's covenant.
And we need to take those promises seriously, and think about them, and recite them in our hearts.
The Lord is our shepherd. And the shepherd has promised us some wonderful things.

Promise number one: Because the Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want.

Several translations interpret the words, “I shall not want,” as, “I lack nothing.” Or, “I have all that I need.”

I think the number one thing we all need to hear and to be reminded of is the first promise of Psalm 23, the promise that the Lord is our shepherd, the promise that the Lord is our caretaker and our provider.
We all need to remind ourselves from time to time,
maybe even from hour to hour,
that the caring, providing Lord God promises to provide us enough daily bread to get by.
Our shepherd God has promised to provide enough of the things we really need.

When you think about it, that is a tremendous comfort.
It’s the comfort that comes from trusting that God already knows what you really need in life, and believing that God will not leave you wanting.

That’s cause for thanksgiving in the good times.
That’s cause for dedication in the hard times.
We may not always get everything that we want; but God’s promise is that somehow, we’ll have everything we need.
The Lord is my shepherd; what more could I possibly need?

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Promise number two.

Have any of you actually lay down in any green pastures lately?
I guess the closest most of us come is going camping.

I think of the young shepherd, David, who wondered the hillsides and often might have camped out beneath the stars. I feel certain he would have known the peace of earth’s warmth, the smell of the soil, the light embrace of the grass, and the wonder of the galaxies.

For our own health, God promises cool, green pastures.

Think about the symbolic pastures that you work in your daily life.
Your pasture may be your home, your work, your school.
Sometimes those pastures can get awfully overworked.
Whether by choice, or by habit, or by desperation, we can work those pastures to death (and sometimes they can work us to death).
Our pastures can become dry, and hard, and fruitless.

God’s promise is that one way or another, God will lead us to greener pastures.
Whether that means our lives change…
or just our way of thinking about our lives changes,
God’s promise is that we will not be left in the barren plains, and that somehow, God will lead us to places of rest and rebirth, places of second chances and new life.

God is a God of life.
And the fresh growth of new life, new spirits, new minds —
the restored souls that come from looking up and discovering God’s heavenly, cosmic plan are what God promises to those who follow the paths of righteousness.

The shepherd promises to lead us along those paths, the paths that run beside by still waters toward greener pastures and new growth.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff — they comfort me.”

Promise number three from God: I’ll be there.

We all know the feel of the shadow.
It moves over us when the telephone rings late at night or early in the morning and we wonder, “What’s happened?”
We feel the shadow when we walk into a hospital room or a doctor’s office, not knowing what we’ll find.

Even if it’s not actual death that we’re confronting,
its shadow can be almost — or just as — bad.
The shadow is frightening because it takes us out of our element.
We don’t know what to do.
We don’t know what to say.
We don’t have any way of stopping it as its dark form moves across us.

People can feel terribly alone in that valley of the shadow.

As the young shepherd, David, led his sheep through the rocky canyons, with the threat of thieves and wolves lurking around every corner, he remembered God’s promise: “Even though you have to travel that valley, I will not leave you alone.”

Even though we sometimes have to travel that valley, God will not leave us alone.
God’s promise is that
even if we don’t know what to do,
even if we can’t stop the oncoming dangers,
God will not, God will not, ever, let them win out.

Even though it may look like all is lost, God promises to lead us onward.
Even though it may look as though the shadow has darkened all hope, God promises to roll aside the stone, and to resurrect the life that the shadow has threatened to steal.

I have known, and do know people who lie in hospital beds — their energy gone, their strength depleted, who by all accounts ought to be drained of all hope.
And yet these same people, by the sheer tenacity of their faith give living meaning to the words, “I shall not die, but I shall live.”
Even if it’s just for another 24 hours.

These are living words spoken by people who have endured the darkness of the shadow and who still have the confidence to say, “Yea, though I walk through the valley...”
“I may feel the pain and the sting,
but I shall not fear the power of that evil.”
Because I know that God is with me…
and God’s power shall prevail.
That’s the promise of our God. “I will be with you… no matter what.”

“Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”
Promise number four.

As God concludes the promises of the psalm, something amazing happens.
The psalm begins by saying “the Lord is my shepherd.”
But at the end, David turns that promise in a whole new direction.

Sheep follow shepherds.
In the end, the promise is that we who believe and trust in God — WE will become shepherds, ourselves.
Now, instead of simply us following God, goodness and mercy will start to follow us, and we will become their shepherds all the days of our lives.

Faith is not just about receiving God’s care;
it’s also about being its caretaker and guiding God’s promise where it needs to go.

As shepherds, we each have been given two sheep of our own:
the first one is named, Goodness,
and the second one is Mercy.
How we shepherd them says a lot about how well we receive God’s promises and trust God’s promises to us.

Look behind you. Do you see goodness and mercy leaving their trail?
They should be.

God has put you in charge of them.
Promises bear responsibility, and our responsibility is to do as well unto others as God has done unto us.
Just as God has shown us eternal goodness and mercy, so also should they be the two principle results of our living.

Goodness and mercy are the hallmarks of God’s family.
Showing them is how we show the world that God is our heavenly Father and that Christ is our brother.
God has promised to make us part of a spiritual household.
And if we live by God’s promises then we will live as obedient children in God’s house forever.

The Lord is our provider, our shepherd.
The Lord leads us to green pastures.
The Lord will be with us, no matter what.
The Lord will make shepherds out of us, too.

Those are four promises to be gleaned from the Twenty-Third Psalm. They aren’t the only ones, but if you’re in need of hearing — or reminding yourself — of God’s promises, I think they’re the ones to start with.

The Lord is our shepherd.
How different a place the world would be if everyone — regardless of what the world calls us — if all of us could consciously say that, and believe it with all our hearts.

Shepherds of goodness and mercy, it’s time for us to say that.
And to continue to say it.
It’s time for us to show the world (starting with South Knoxville) that the Lord is our shepherd.
The Lord is our shepherd – That's our promise, and God's promise back to us.