Here are a couple books that we think will be very beneficial to the scriptures this Lent.
It may not look like it at first, but the above is the perfect question for Lent.
Lent, for our ancestors in faith, was a time of concentrated preparation for those who would be baptized into the Church on Easter morning. During these weeks, the candidates for baptism were flooded with sermons, lessons, tests and small rituals. The candidate’s sponsor, a constant presence during Lent, was tasked to shepherd the new believer and report back to the leadership of the Church. The sponsors hoped to report the gradual, ongoing conversion of the new believer, a changed identity.
On Easter, the baptism ritual would do two things: initiate the believer into the Body, and mark that point in time when the believer would finally and completely move from death to life- dying out to self and sin and being raised to a new, peculiar, dynamic life in and through Christ as a member of His Body.
Conversion, in this case, takes some time- and quite a bit of effort. With the help and guidance of the sponsor, there is growth, struggle, pain, and then more growth. It’s so much larger than any one-time decision. There’s so much at stake!
It’s not just the heart and habits that are changed in the process of conversion- it’s the whole being, the sense of self. The converted believer has a new language, a new community with new associations, a new life trajectory, a new life’s work and dream. When converted, I allow my entire identity to be overtaken by the One who made me and knows me better than I know myself.
This is when the words of Paul make the most sense to me: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)
The baptized community takes a specific, sometimes strange place and posture in the world. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, should it? Jesus, the One, the Firstborn of this peculiar people wasn’t exactly normal. And so we, His Body, are at times a little odd, at least where the rest of the culture is concerned.
It’s because of this identity issue I’ve been talking about. Like Jesus himself, we Christians are baptized into a movement and into a category unlike any other category. We Christians, while loving and identifying with so many people, defy any clear cut classification or label, except the one that’s been carved out for us by Jesus himself- Christian.
You’ve heard me say it before, but listen again: when we’re saved or converted, we’re not just rescued FROM something, we’re kept FOR something and added TO something. We’re identified with Christ and the movement He began and continues through us.
Are you in yet? Lent is the perfect time to continue the conversion process. For many of you, long identified with Christ, Lent offers a season of intentional attention to your own journey. I hope you’ll continue to blur the lines between you and Jesus, so that like Paul, you won’t be sure where you stop and He begins!
If you are not yet converted, this season, quite literally, is made for you.
Many of us are in training for the first annual Cole Center run, March 31st. It’s a 5k run, and for you experienced long-distance runners, 5 kilometers won’t be much of a challenge. Perhaps you’ve been running for a long time! Perhaps you’re preparing for the Memorial Marathon, training to tackle the half or the whole thing! I’m exhausted just typing it!
Are you aware of all the training tips that are available to aspiring runners-in-the-making like you?
Even if you are the classic “couch potato,” a training regimen exists to coax and coach you all the way to your first 5k run. In fact, the training program is called, you guessed it, “couch to 5k.” And yes, there’s also the “couch to 10k,” and the “couch to half-marathon” and the “couch to marathon” programs, if you’re so inclined.
Couch potato to marathon runner. Just let that sink in a moment, especially if you understand yourself to be that couch potato.
Now there’s a conversion story! And how about an identity change?!?
Look at the definition below….
- (of a person) Tending to spend much time seated; somewhat inactive.
- (of work or a way of life) Characterized by much sitting and little physical exercise.
That word, sedentary, defines or at least describes too many of us! We need an identity change; we need to be converted, and perhaps that couch to 5k program is just what we need.
I’ve looked at it several times, and I know many who’ve been helped. I know a couple of “sedentary” people who are becoming runners, really!
You don’t jump off the couch and run a marathon. Couch potatoes don’t run (or even survive) marathons; runners do. If a couch potato wants to learn to run, he or she will have to commit to the training, the regimen, the process. And that process will result in a change, not just where habits are concerned, but there will be a change in identity and self-estimation as well.
I hope you’re starting to see where I’m headed this Lenten season. Together, we’ll celebrate the small victories along the way to conversion and Christlikeness. Together we’ll explore who we’re meant to be as the people of God, the Body of Christ. I guess you could call it, couch to Christian….
We’re having a big baptismal service on Sunday, April 15. On that day, we’ll baptize as many as we can into this strange, Christian movement. In addition, we’ll have a brief but large ceremony that will allow all of us to remember and celebrate again our baptism into the Body.
So between now and then, we’ll need to have some teaching, some learning, some discussion and some preparation.
Each of my sermons during the Sundays of Lent will serve as a session in a prolonged baptism class. By the time we get to the Easter season, those who have heard these sermons and participated in the Lenten process will be ready for this amazing sacrament we know as baptism.
If you would be interested in having a sponsor to help shepherd you along the way, please let me know. Call the church office or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Together, we’ll get off the couch and learn to run the race marked out for us. Conversion and changed identity are in our future.
“Who do you think you are?” Great question. Here’s one more, “Who do we think WE are?”
Christ seems to think we can be fellow runners, running the same strange race we see Him running throughout the pages of the Gospels.
Listen as He calls you, as He calls us, to run with Him!
Time to get off the couch. It’s the Lenten season.
Here’s a list of songs that a group of us have come up with that would be good songs to introduce to your congregations during Eastertide.
What songs are you doing?
It has occurred to me that our congregations need to be prepared for Easter. That is what Lent is about, right, but while we’re getting that there is value in observing Lent, recognizing our sinfulness and journeying with Jesus to the cross, we’re missing something if we’re not inviting people to prepare to celebrate. I think as a Church we have lost the art of true celebration when it comes to Easter. We need new Easter traditions, new ways to keep on celebrating after Easter Sunday. Easter is not a one day event! Easter changes everything!
I would love to hear your ideas on how to keep up the celebration of Easter as a community and even in your families all the way from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.
Here is my sermon from this last weekend if anyone is interested. I know most of you have been in the Psalms, but we’re doing the gospel passages. So it’s the story of the blind man healed, but also about the “signs” in the book of John that point to new creation in the resurrection of Jesus (really fun stuff for those theology nerds and Bible lovers out there), with lots of thoughts on Easter.
“I Saw the Sign”
The imagery in this passage of blindness and sight, day and night, light and darkness brings us back again to John 1…
“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he is about the business of making the Father known, revealing the Kingdom of God and showing himself to be the Messiah, or as he says it at the end of the story, “the Son of Man,” this is the one all of Israel had been waiting for to come and save them.
In the book of John, the miraculous things Jesus does aren’t referred to as miracles, but as “signs”. Signs function to alert us to something, to show us what is coming.
So in the first chapter of John, he lays it out for us, this is who Jesus is, the light of the world, the Word, the Son of God, the Savior, and then throughout the book he shows us “signs” that point to these truths. N.T. Wright says, “The whole point of signs” (and he means in the gospel of John, not signs in general) “is that they are moments when heaven and earth intersect with each other.” And he adds, “The point is not that they are stories which couldn’t have happened in real life, but which point away from earth to a heavenly reality.” (John for Everyone, 21.)
So the signs in the gospel according to John are stories in which the reality of heaven is enacted, through Jesus, here on earth, they are signs that reveal who Jesus is and what the world will be like when God’s Kingdom comes in fullness, when creation is made new.
And this whole idea of new creation is a big part of John’s message. Look at how he begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
Here, he puts Jesus, the Son, the Word, right there in the garden, the one through whom all things were created. And how was man created? Out of the dust, right? Out of the dirt, God formed humanity and breathed his breath into us, giving us life. So how fitting is it that to heal this blind man, Jesus gets down and digs in the dirt, spits, makes mud and slathers it over his eyes…and through this the man gains both his sight and a completely new life.
And this is one of the signs. There are seven of these signs recorded in the gospel according John. The first sign was turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana, and others include healing a paralyzed man, feeding 5,000 people from a boy’s little lunch of bread and fish, and the story we’ll talk about next week of Lazarus being raised from the dead.
Now with the seventh sign the writer, John, gets really creative. This is fun. The seventh sign is connected to Jesus’ crucifixion. That part isn’t so fun, but the way John shows us the sign is amazing…we’re actually going to talk about this a lot more on the 16th, two weeks from now when we have our Palm and Passion service that leads us into Holy Week, but for now just listen to this one cool part…
When Jesus was crucified, Pilate, the Roman governor, had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS, written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek.
Here we have a literal sign! A literal sign written so that everyone could read it!
John then goes on to say, “Many of the Jews read this sign…”and “The chief priests of the Jews protested” saying to Pilate, Come on, don’t write that he’s the King of the Jews, but that he claims to be! And Pilate says, “What I have written, I have written.”
So there it is, like or not, the seventh sign, everyone sees it, but who will believe? Jesus is the King.
And this is where it gets really exciting, are you ready? How many days are there in the story of creation? There are 7, 7 days, and all of life is ordered around the fact that there are 7 days (We still have 7 days in a week.) So in the book of John, there are 7 signs, 7 signs of new creation, seven stories that mark events when Jesus reveals and enacts the Kingdom of God, creation as it is was meant to be and as it will be. And this heavenly reality is coming, through Jesus, to the world.
But wait, you say, the 7th sign is given at his crucifixion, that can’t be the end! But it seems to be the end. Jesus is crucified on a Friday and on Saturday, the final day of the week in the Jewish world, on the 7th day, Jesus rests in a tomb.
But on Sunday we find out that the story isn’t over. There is an eighth sign…Jesus resurrected, not just raised like Lazarus who would die again, but Jesus was raised to life after life after death!! There are only seven days in the original creation story, but the eighth sign in the gospel according to John points to something like an eighth day, a day when all things are made new!!
Did you know that back in New Testament times, Sunday was the functional equivalent of our Monday? Saturday was Sabbath, the 7th day of rest, and Sunday was the first day of the work week. But when Jesus was raised from the dead, when the tomb was found empty, his followers knew that this changed everything! Nothing could ever be the same, new Creation had begun! So Christians began to gather each week on Sunday, on the first day of the work week to celebrate. Some even went so far as to not work on this day. Saturday was Sabbath, the seventh day of rest, but Sunday was the Lord’s day, the eighth day, a day of recreation and celebration of the new creation that came through Christ.
No wonder they recruited so many Christians in Acts, right!? They were celebrating, having a party every week while the rest of the world was working! Could you imagine trying to get by with taking off on Mondays every week? Some of you may not even be able to keep your current job if you did that. But early Christians believed that this was an important way to recognize that they were people of the new creation, people who lived differently than the rest of the world because they had been transformed by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. They were people of the eighth day.
Now, of course, the world has been “Christianized” at least in that our week now reflects the “Christian” week, with both Sabbath rest and Sunday celebration squeezed into one day. This is convenient for us, but we have to find other ways to be set apart, to live differently than the rest of the world.
One of those ways is to observe the Christian calendar, to align our schedules and our lives around Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, all of which lead us to the climax of Holy Week and then the grand finale, the Great Celebration of Easter, the greatest celebration of the entire year, 50 days of celebration from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.
And because our nation, which is claimed to be Christian by many, but unlike other nations around the world who recognize Good Friday and Easter Monday as national holidays, we in the USA tend to roll right on through these days as if all that happened was a bunny brought some eggs and candy to your kids, oh ya, and Jesus died and some people think he was raised from the dead, but there’s no real reason to stop, to take a break, to miss a work day. You celebrated on Sunday, now get back to work. Life must go on as usual, nothing really changed.
Which gives us a great opportunity, like the early Christians, at least for one day of the year, to practice being people of the eighth day. In our society Monday is the old Sunday, it’s back to the grind, the day we start another week of work just like the last, but to observe Easter Monday is to say that something new has happened in Easter, we can’t just go back to life as usual, we need to stop, to let the joy of Easter linger, we need to celebrate.
Yes, your pastor is telling you it might be a good idea to take off work on Easter Monday.
Now some of you can’t do that, either you don’t get paid days off and you can’t afford it, or your days are already all used up for this year, and that’s ok, I’m not proposing some kind of new legalism here, if you have to work, find a way to make that day a celebration, eat a special breakfast, go to your favorite place for lunch, bring Easter goodies to your co-workers. But if you don’t have to work, if you can take a day off here and there, choose to take that day, and celebrate the new life that comes on the eighth day, the new creation, celebrate with your family, with your friends, rest, relax, go do something fun, and keep celebrating Easter. And that’s all I’m going to say about that for now.
Some of you may be wondering if I’m ever going to get back to the blind man…we’re going back now….
At the beginning of the story John tells us what to make of this man’s blindness, and essentially why the story is told. His blindness was not a punishment but an opportunity for God’s glory, God’s good to be revealed. It was an occasion for heaven and earth to intersect, for Jesus to show the world, in yet another way, what the world would be like if he reigned as Lord and King, what the world was intended to be when God created it and what it would look like when he created it anew. The story functions as a sign.
As much as this story is about one real man who was born blind and was healed by Jesus, who once was blind, but then could see, it is also about all of humanity, all who are spiritually blind, who live in the darkness of sin, who can’t see Jesus for who he is or the Kingdom of God he proclaims. But this is why John tells the story…Jesus says that he came so that those who do not see may see! John tells the stories of the signs so that people may see and believe and have life.
And still, today, the signs of God are all around us, the many ways that God’s Kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven because people who follow Jesus and who have been filled with his Spirit, allow the Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done through them as it was through Jesus Christ.
There are also those, like the Pharisees, who think they can see, in fact they are sure of it, but the very fact that they think they can see reveals their sinfulness. And so Jesus says he also came so that those who see would become blind. Like the Apostle Paul, a Pharisee who literally was blinded by God and then transformed to new life in Christ, all who thought they could see before Jesus needed to become blind, so that they really could see truly.
And this takes us all the way back to the text that we used for our call to worship today,
“Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Pulled some notes from a series we did a while back. Only have notes on the first half. Not a sermon, just some interesting thoughts, verse by verse. Will add more in the morning…
And here is a fascinating item: James Limburg points out that, in the original Hebrew of Psalm 23, there are exactly twenty six words before and after, “Thou art with me.”1 Perhaps the poet was boldly declaring that God being with us is at the very center of our lives.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
• Yaweh- the one true God…
• Idea of being utterly contented in the Good Shepherd’s care and consequently not craving or desiring anything more.
• Ever had a pet that had a great yard to roam? Food and water, a dog house, but the stupid dog just wouldn’t stay in the yard. They always longed for what was on the other side of the fence. Even though there was no food, water, or shelter they kept escaping? How are we like these foolish dogs?
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
o Sheep won’t lay down unless 4 requirements are met, the shepherd is the only one that can provide all four.
Must be free of all fear. (FEAR)
Must be free of friction with other sheep in the flock (TENSION)
Must be free of pests, like flies or parasites. (AGGRIVATIONS)
Must be free from hunger (HUNGER)
The shepherd is the one that knows where the deep, pure, refreshing, life giving watering holes can be found. Sheep will drink from any parasite infected pot hole if not led by the shepherd.
3 he refreshes my soul.
• Sheep can get “cast” or “cast down” where they get turned on their back and can not get “back on their feet” without the help of a shepherd.
• Shepherds aren’t the only ones looking for the “down cast/cast down” so are the predators. Buzzards, vultures, dogs, coyotes, and cougars.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
• Sheep can utterly destroy a piece of land because they are creatures of habit. It takes a good shepherd to lead them from place to place to keep the land from being destroyed. His reputation as a shepherd hinges on his ability to keep the land from being “sheeped” to bareness where there is not food and disease is rampant.
FIRST THREE VERSES BASICALLY ARE BASICALLY THE SHEEP ON ONE SIDE OF THE FENCE BOASTING TO ITS UNFORUNATE NEIGHBOR ACROSS THE FENCE ABOUT THE EXCELLENT CARE IT GETS FROM IT’S OWNER ON THE HOME RANCH.
THINGS TAKE A TURN IN VERSE FOUR WHEN THE SHEEP ARE ON THE MOVE TO HIGHER ELEVATIONS DURING THE SUMMER AND MUST WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY AND DANGER IS PARAMOUNT IN THE UNFAMILIAR AREAS. THE SHEEP ARE THEN VERY MUCH ONE ON ONE WITH THE SHEPHERD, DEPENDANT ON HIS COMPANIONSHIP DURING THE DANGER.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
- The shepherds often led the sheep down steep routes when moving to higher elevations because the water they needed was in the valley.
- The sheep are completely dependent on the shepherd to lead and protect them in the valley.
- YOU ARE WITH ME. Very center of the song… Very personal,
- Rod- thrown at predators, thrown to move a wandering sheep back in line. used to pull the wool apart and inspect the sheep’s health.
- Staff- used as a comfort, even for the shepherd himself.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
- Tables- (may be a stretch), but often times the plateaus are called mesas or tables by shepherds, and they have to be prepared in the Spring before the sheep can graze there in the summer. There are poisonous plants that grow that must be removed or else the sheep will eat them.
- Predators are out in the summer like no other time and the shepherd must be constantly vigalant and willing to hunt and kill these predators so the herd can rest peacefully.
- Oil is used by shepherds to deal with the dozen or so types of flies that can become so bothersome to a sheep in the summer that the sheep my become sick or even die or exhaustion from trying to rid themselves of the pesky flies. Some will even smash their heads against rocks and trees to get relief from the flies resulting in injury or death. The oil serves as a fly repelent
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
- My life as a sheep is is under the care of the best shephered and I know his goodness and love will pursue/chase/hound me all the days of my life and I can’t imagine life any other way.
LENT 2011- “Inhale” sermon for 4th Sunday in Lent, Psalm 23
God’s life giving breath- creation, valley of dry bones, Jesus with the disciples, day of Pentecost.
I Samuel 16:1-13
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
I shall lack nothing. And here comes a list of the things I don’t lack.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Green pastures and still waters- these represent food and water supply for a sheep, not just serene, artistic scenes.
“he restores my soul,” could have been translated, “he saves my life.”
The “right” path is important here. More than “righteousness”- it is the right path that makes life possible. The wrong path can lead to danger, destruction, death.
4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
Note the change in voice here. It’s no longer third person; God is specifically and personally addressed.
The darkest valleys were/are inevitable. It’s what happens on the way from here to there. This Psalm has no interest in promising you a way around the dark valley; rather, this Psalm promises God’s companionship in and through the darkest valley.
The staff was used to guide and perhaps to prod and rescue. The rod (reminiscent of the King’s scepter) was used to defend the sheep from predators. I heard a rabbi mention that the rod might also have been used to mete out discipline. Either way or in both ways, there is a comfort to it all. The rod and the staff are used in the course of companionship, as evidence of God’s ongoing commitment to us.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Are the enemies in the room being taunted? Are they defeated? Has there been reconciliation? Whatever the case may be, the enemies are not a threat, not so long as the biggest kid on the block in on our side, and He is.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
“follow” is not strong enough. “Pursue” is better, and in fact there is the underlying meaning of the word “persecute.” So, in other words, where before I’ve known enemies to pursue and chase me down, now I know that God’s goodness and mercy will pursue and chase me down every day, and my whole life is now lived in His presence, in grateful response.
1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
4 Even when the way goes through
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.
5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
After verse 1, the rest of the Psalm lists what the singer is not lacking….
So many of the things “not lacked” are reminiscent of the people who lacked nothing as they wandered in the wilderness following the Exodus: leadership, protection, food, water, etc.
The Psalm remembers what God has done for all His people. But the singer is here grateful for the ways in which that Story continues to be true in individual lives, like his.
The message of comfort is not separated from the calling of Mission. This is very important. This is about the felt companionship with God as we are obedient to follow God where He leads, out to do His will and work.
This can’t be reduced to a “Calgon take me away” moment. It’s about much more than personal serenity; it’s about the love and care and provision of God when we follow God into the messy and sometimes dangerous work of the Gospel.
Luke 15- parable of the Lost Sheep. The shepherd seems to care, deeply, about the one lost sheep.
John 10- Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”
A rod AND a staff? Why? Both give comfort, one is for discipline, the other is for rescue
The shepherd term was often used to describe a king, with his people being the sheep. In our tradition, the Israelite kings (and David himself) was described by God as a shepherd.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=051okrUGfoU&feature=related I Phone
Brueggemann says, “It is God’s companionship that transforms every situation.”
It’s not that there is any kind of magic in the Temple, but there is hope there, because it is where God is. Beyond that, we shouldn’t read the language of Temple as limiting the companionship of God to a particular place, but we should understand anyplace where companionship with God is possible as a potential Temple.
Brueggemann- “Psalm 23 knows that evil is present in the world, but it is not feared. Confidence in God is the source of new orientation.”
“He makes me to sprawl out on the green grass.”
In Psalm 23, the singer sings a solo, and we get to listen in. In this Psalm, the singer makes unbelievable claims: that God can be known intimately, that God can (and desires to) know a person intimately, that God can be trusted- even where basic needs are concerned (see the Exodus for God’s provision of food, water, and even shoes), that relationship with God can be enjoyed so deeply that a person might respond with the gifts of her/his life, faith, future.
It’s important that this song be “re-sung” with conviction. Testimonies often are more compelling than sermons, and there might be someone out there sitting and listening who would be compelled to give her/his life away.
This Psalm is much more likely to have meaning for daily life in cultures where shepherds and sheep are more familiar. In those contexts, people seem to “get” the metaphor- that sheep rely on the shepherd for life, health, future, sustenance, protection. The sheep seems to know only a life lived in response to the shepherd.
When the 23rd Psalm is used only or primarily as a funeral reading, we miss the “life lived in daily response” part.
In still other parts of the world, where political leaders are often referred to as “shepherds,” this Psalm can serve as a stern rebuttal and critique of bad leaders and unhealthy leadership. In this sense, the Psalm takes on a political feel. “The Lord, the One by whom all other leaders are measured, is my shepherd. To the Lord, the Good Shepherd, I pledge my life. No other power or authority
Other OT places where the shepherd is (or is supposed to be) the good and helpful leader of the people-
10Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them. 11For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. 5The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
From Henri Nouwen’s Gracias- “All is grace. Light and water, shelter and food, work and free time, children, parents and grandparents, birth and death- it is all given to us. Why? So we can say gracias, thanks: thanks to God, thanks to each other, thanks to all and everyone.”
Alan Greenspan- “our national illness is…. ‘infectious greed.’”
Thomas Merton in Contemplative Spirituality- “Even though there’s a certain freedom in our society, it’s largely illusory. Again, it’s the freedom to choose your product, but not the freedom to do without it. You have to be a consumer and your identity is to a large extent determined by your choices, which are very much determined by advertising. Identity is created by ads.”
Gratitude is the cure for greed.
After an incredible luncheon with Luz Y Vida (our Latino congregation) this past Sunday, I’ve seen with my own eyes the capacity for gratitude. They thanked us, and thanked us, and thanked us. It got uncomfortable, but THEY could not have been happier. It’s almost like they knew the secret of the power of a life lived in gratitude.
We’re back to a myth of scarcity vs. truth of abundance.
Psalm 23 is often read at funerals, and why not? But perhaps we aren’t taking full advantage of the resources it has for us for daily living and life.
READ PSALM RESPONSIVELY, EUCHARIST