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

Sunday, May 07, 2017

I Shall Not Want

2017-05-07 Ps 23 I Shall Not Want


How's everybody today? Doing alright? I ask because I know some of you are super stressed out because it's exam time, finals time, EOC time, Field Test time, AP exam time. And the students are pretty stressed out, too. Some of y'all are even fixin to graduate. Graduate college, graduate high school. Graduate Kindergarten. (Yes, they have ceremonies for that, too.) And awards. For everybody. Most Energetic Participation. Most Frequently Matching Socks. My favorite was given to a young friend of mine by his teachers: Most Sarcastic. Asked if he appreciated it, he said, "Oh yeah. It's super awesome."


You get past all these hurdles and somebody always asks, "So, what's next?" Really? It's like when you get married, and as you're leaving the church people ask, "So when are you going to have a baby?" And then you have a baby and people ask, "When are you going to have another?" What does it take to satisfy you people?


Seriously. Can't we just have some time to lie down in green pastures? Some time to enjoy the still waters? A day or two to restore our souls?


People are longing for the peace and quiet of Psalm 23. Am I right? Bring the shepherd-king David to play his harp. Ease our troubled minds. Close your eyes and feel the cool breeze caress your cheek. Like spiritual Xanax.


And then there are those of us who are going through tests and trials that won't be finished next week, maybe not ever. Hurts and yearning that just won't go away. Things we can't talk about without fear of breaking down. Fear of being judged. Fear of having to listen to more well-intended advice. Lord lead us to the green pastures. ASAP. We're waiting. We're hoping.


"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." Doesn't say, "I DO not want." Shall not. There's a sense that this promise of comfort isn't entirely fulfilled. Not yet. And that's a good thing, because it means we haven't missed out.


What's happening now might stress us, what's coming next might look kinda terrifying. "Lord, how am I gonna get through this?" Psalm 23 means to comfort, but it's also a reminder of where we've been, and courage for where we're going. Reminding, comforting, and encouraging.


You may feel stuck in a dark valley, but you shall not want. And you WILL dwell in the house of the Lord forever.




Reminding, comfort, and courage.


Reminding Sunday.


This is the Fourth Sunday of Easter. We call it, "Good Shepherd Sunday." Because every year we always read Psalm 23 and what Jesus said about being the Good Shepherd. Why? I guess we could all use some reminding.


Remember Easter? Then you're doing better than I am. I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast. That was HOURS ago.


Three weeks is like, forever. Life goes on. We are 4G kinda people, routed here and there to this and that and a lot of times we don't even remember. Which doctor do I see today? Did I feed the kids? And why is there no money in the checking account? The lilies we left on the dining room table have turned brittle. Easter's glory is eclipsed by the stress tests of daily living, the pressing needs of each day. The Fast and The Furious: not just a movie franchise, but a good description of life in 2017.


But we're hardly the first people to forget Easter. I was thinking about this and about how after his Resurrection the disciples always had trouble recognizing Jesus. Did you notice that? Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener. On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend; their eyes were kept from recognizing him. The disciples go fishing; Jesus calls from the shore, and they have no idea who it is. Was he wearing a disguise? Like Brad Pitt in an airport? Was his Resurrection so astounding that they literally couldn't believe?


I wonder. I wonder if life just went on. If they just got caught up in the new next. Maybe they forgot what he looked like.


"Reminding Sunday." You know the trouble with sheep? I don't. Never herded one. But I have tried to herd cats. Every day I try to herd a Yorkie. Apparently, sheep are similar, but not as smart. They bite. They scatter. It takes a good shepherd to keep them herded in the same direction. It takes a good shepherd with a rod and a staff to chase off thieves and sheepish thoughts of wandering away.


We're kinda like sheep. We're not as smart as we think. We bite. We wander off. We get carried away by wily coyotes. Coyotes of worry. Calendar coyotes. We have to remind ourselves to hit pause. To wait, to stop and look back down the path at how we got here. Because the beautiful sunrise of Easter sets. And then it's Monday again. Troubles, tests, and to-dos rise up. They're like thieves that, as Jesus says, come only to kill and destroy. But Jesus came, Jesus comes, that we may have life, and have it abundantly. That we shall not want. The good shepherd comes that we would be reminded, even when we're not minding.




Comfort Sunday


We call this, "Good Shepherd Sunday." We don't call it "Comfort Sunday." But we might. Because three weeks after Easter a lot of us could use some comfort.


The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. Thank you, King James. If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me. Other Bibles, though, make it sound less needy. Way less needy. Richer. Happier. They say: I am never in need. Or: I lack nothing. Or: I don't need a thing. (GW, NIV, TM)


They sound, I don't know, comfortable.


I imagine reclining by the ocean, on an island, with a waiter in white linen bringing me drinks with umbrellas in them and tiny food on toothpicks. Just like HGTV. Caribbean Life. The Lord is my shepherd and Carlos is my steward and the world is my oyster. Life is all-inclusive. I am never in need. I lack nothing. I shall not want.


Psalm 23 has long brought believers comfort. But there's a big difference between comfort and making yourself comfortable. You comfort someone who's going through a hard time. You make someone comfortable by fluffing their pillow.


I really don't think the Psalm's about having a comfortable lifestyle. Good for you if you have one, if you have everything you need. But Jesus never said, "Blessed are those on vacation." You might feel blessed when you stare at the beach stars or lie back in a green campsite pasture. But it's not about leisure; it's about being comforted when you can't catch a break. Blessed are the meek, Blessed are the poor, Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the people who are persecuted.


Jesus says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be… comforted."


So many of us are stressed out over tests and turning points, and a future we can't predict. Church attendance by college students always goes up about now. Go figure. And then you look around at what's going on in the world.


God calls us, leads us like a Good Shepherd, not AROUND the dark and trembling valleys, but through them. Our Lord may not make us comfortable, but he does promise that we'll be comforted. We will make it through. We shall not want.




Reminding Sunday, Comfort Sunday. I think we could also call this, Courage Sunday. Because part of having a good shepherd is having courage. The angels told Mary, "Fear not," three weeks ago. Three weeks is a long time, if you're afraid.


Has someone told you, "Don't be afraid"? Did it help? "Oh, I was really scared, but since you told me 'Don't be afraid,' I'm great." It's like when your spouse tells you, "Don't be so angry." Or when I would tell our girls, "Don't be afraid of the dark." I guess it would have been better if I didn't use that Dracula voice.


Don't be afraid is about as useless a piece of advice as you can give. You might as well say, "Don't be hungry."


The Psalm says: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." It doesn't say, "I'm not afraid." It says, "I WILL fear no evil." Will. It's a declaration of courage in spite of your fear.


I looked up the quote that "Courage is not the absence of fear," to see who said it. Everyone from FDR to Nelson Mandela to the Princess Diaries gets credit. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the belief that something else is more important than fear.


Psalm 23 is about going on through the darkest death valley in spite of your fear. It's the hope that the Good Shepherd is leading you to a better place, regardless of how hard your knees are knocking.


NPR is doing a series called, "Been There." They get people together who've been through similar experiences to share their wisdom.


Last week, the segment was on the loss of a spouse. Larry Treadwell spoke of how he had only been married a couple of years when his wife, Amanda, died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism.


That left him alone to raise their 7-month-old son, Samuel.


Larry says, "I was convinced it was just a bad dream, and I argued with people. I was like, there's no way this is real. I'm gonna wake up here in a minute."


When asked if there was anything that helped him, he told this story:


He said, "The day of Amanda's visitation, we went to the funeral home, and there was this guy there, one of my Dad's cousins. He's this big, rough lookin' dude, one eye is bad, loud voice, was like a retired professional wrestler or something.


"He comes up to me and he hugs me. And he asks if he can hold the baby. And this dude is so big he's got Samuel in one hand, he's literally got him in one hand. He says,


"'Buddy, a lot of people are gonna tell you a lot of things, trying to make you feel better.' He says, 'but all I know to say to you is that when something like this happens, all you can do is make the best of it.'


"And then he looks down, and he pats Samuel on the back, and he says, 'This little fella right here, he's the best of it.'"


Larry said, "And I kinda made that my Golden Rule, I kinda made that my law. He's the best of it. He deserves for me to find a way to be happy. You know, to have a dad who loves him and is trying to give him the best he can."




Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the looking fear in the eye and trudging on anyway.




Good Shepherd Sunday, Psalm 23, is not about being comfortable. It's about shaking your fist at the shadow of death and shouting at its face, "I will not fear. I will go on. I shall not want. I shall not want. And through my shepherd, I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.


Reminding. Comfort. Courage. Three weeks after Easter, the disciples needed all of them. Three weeks after Easter, we need them, too. The Good Shepherd promises to bring them all. And more.