There’s nothing that goes down better in church than spiritual macaroni and cheese is there? We just love sermons and services that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside don’t we? We just love spiritual experiences that lift us up when we’re down, don’t we?
And somehow “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want . . . “ does the trick.
Folks have told me on several occasions that my reading of Psalm 23 was so moving and theatrical, that it was like a sermon in itself. And there’s a reason for this—practice makes perfect! By popular demand, I have read it at every funeral I perform. Psalm 23 is to funerals as I Corinthians 13 is to weddings.
And this is the truth that our love of Psalm 23 reflects back to us: we love the idea of God caring gently for us a shepherd does with their sheep.
We love the idea of God inviting us into his arms—like all those framed pictures of a sheep stretched over his shepherd’s shoulders.
We love the idea of God as one who lovingly leads us to still waters so that surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives.
And in the same way, we love that Jesus so boldly proclaims in the 10th chapter of John’s gospel that: “I am the good shepherd.” It’s as if in the Bible as we transition from the Old to the New Testament it keeps getting better and better. Jesus took over where the Psalmist stopped.
But I had a professor one semester in seminary, Stanley Haurerwas who often told us that: “The true enemy of the Christian faith is not atheism, but sentimentality.”
A popular question within Christian communities that you might have even asked sometime yourself is, “What is God’s will for my life?”
As a pastor, I would have once answered this question by saying large amounts of time need to be offered up to God sitting quietly in the woods or taking residence in prayer closets. I would have said that if you diligently search the scriptures, an answer from the pages would come.
But, as I’ve grown in faith, I’ve come to see a way of discernment that doesn’t always have to include words shouted from the heavens with my name in them or having moments of great epiphany in prayer.
It’s actually much more messy than this. Sometimes as much as we think we know, we don’t. My spiritual director always says meaning is revealed (which I find frustrating of course!).
But most of all I believe it begins with the understanding of what it means to be sheep of the Good Shepherd.
If you know anything about sheep, you know that it’s kind of insulting that so many scripture passages like this one often compare you and I to sheep. For sheep are not the sharpest critters on the farm. They easily get distracted. They get lost so quickly. And basically when left to their own devises, all goes wrong. They have no survival skills in the wild whatsoever.
But we are the sheep and Jesus is our Good Shepherd.
And this is the thing—we are given the voice of the shepherd to led us.
Theologian Henry Wansbrough writes this, “Sheep, often thought to be hopelessly witless and contrary creatures, will respond at least to a caring and affectionate shepherd who treats them individually.”
So even though we’re compared to a not so smart animal, when we study sheep we learn tat sheep can listen to a singular voice that is guiding them.
We may never know all we want to know.
We may never get all the points of our pro and con list checked off.
And we might not even feel as warm and cozy about moving our life in a direction that feels oh so new to us (because I think this is what the gospel is: our God is always doing something new!) But, we're always going to get the next steps.
The Good Shepherd is ready and able to help us navigate the next steps, one step at a time. God wants us to live out our faith so much that you are given this gift!
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”
And if such is true, whatever is around the bend for you and for me is bound to be just this—very good.