John 10:1-10 and Psalm 23 WPC, April 13, 2008
It is after Jesus says these very confusing words that many who are listening to him accuse him of having a demon; of being out of his mind. “Why listen to him?” they asked. After hearing this passage of John we may ask the same question: “Why Listen to him? Does this make any sense? Sheep and shepherds, gates and gatekeepers; strangers and strange voices, thieves and bandits?’
One thing is clear: for John, Jesus is the good shepherd that God had promised Israel. While the language of John may be confusing, Psalm 23, next to Jesus wept, is probably the most popular scripture to memorize. In just 6 verses we are told that relationship with the shepherd provides rest, restoration, and security.1 Gifts of grace.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
I love Saturday mornings. Usually, Trasie and I have not gone to bed at an early hour on Friday nights…but we can make up for it on Saturday mornings sleeping in, [unless we get an early phone call or unexpected knock on the door.] It’s so nice to not have to hurry out of bed, but instead to slowly role out…Delay the pressures of life for at least a little while….We may even do some “transition yoga:” “as the morning sun warms the earth, so these exercises will warm your body to face the day,” says yoga master Rodney Yee on the DVD.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
Getting good rest seems to come down to a matter of trust. Sometimes it can be so hard for me to fall asleep at night, thinking about some problem, worrying about things.. [believe it or not many of you are frequently on my mind]….
I guess I can count sheep… I can count them being led out of the gate beside still water…(are some of you counting sheep right now?). Can we find rest when we trust in God? Trust that God will lead us. What do so many people say when you ask them how they are doing? Busy. Work and business are our pride and joy.
Resting in the park..on green grass, or beside a lake fishing…these are signs of idleness.
“According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity.
Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, "Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bows implies." The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, "If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it." Are we also not like that? You will be at your best for the Lord if you have taken time to loosen the bow of its stress and anxiety.2
By resting one day of the week, we demonstrate our trust in our shepherd, that not everything depends on us. Start by setting aside a special time to relax physically and renew yourself emotionally and spiritually. And surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord your whole life long.
With rest comes restoration. He restoreth my soul:
Michael Angelo’s La Pietà depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion. The Pietà has had a rough history, damaged many times. Four fingers on the Virgin's left hand were broken during a move. These were restored in 1736 by Giuseppe Lirioni and scholars are divided as to whether the restorer took liberties to make the gesture more 'rhetorical'. But, the most substantial damage occurred on May 21, 1972 (Pentecost Sunday) when a mentally disturbed geologist named Laszlo Toth walked into the chapel and attacked the Virgin with a hammer while shouting "I am Jesus Christ." In spite of the significant damage, this work has not been discarded. But painstakingly restored and returned to its place in St. Peter's, and is now protected by a bullet-proof acrylic glass panel.3
All of us in our lives have been broken and hurt by others, by forces beyond our control. But just as this art was not discarded as ruined beyond repair, we too are precious creations of God, on whom God never gives up… that God desires to restore …to make us whole again. And as resurrection people, we can see the value in everyone; no one is beyond restoration. The good shepherd leads us down paths of righteousness to the waters of baptism; the font reminds us that we belong to that Good Shepherd and to one another.
Thou anointest my head with oil; oil that reminds us that we are made whole and healed by god.
Thou preparest a table, My cup runneth over; when we come to the table to remember the gracious acts of Christ, we may be restored and nourished by the plentiful bounty of God.
Often in passages of scripture, common themes will serve as bookends for the central theme, as the bread for the meaty part; the heart of the message.
Did you see what was at the center of this Psalm? Security.
Yea, 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.
The “rod” of the shepherd was a handmade wooden mace with blacksmith nails driven into it, protection from outside attacks. The “staff” was the traditional shepherd’s staff that could be hooked around a lamb’s neck to guide it back onto the path; a guide for the flock in its interior life together.4
This is different, I think, from “homeland security.” The commander and chief of the united states military is my shepherd…thy nuclear bomb and fighter planes, they comfort me. Our nation will spend $711 billion dollars on defense this year,
more than the combined spending of the next 45 countries.5
“The Lord is my shepherd.” Had David written, “The Lord is my King,” we may look to a political institution for security. Had David affirmed, “The Lord is my commander,” the military would have been an image for God. But no, the language is, “The Lord is my shepherd.” This means, at the very least, “I do not rely on police protection for my security.” 6
Kenneth Bailey lived in the Middle East for 40 years--through seven wars. He says that “fortress America” meant nothing to him because he lived outside its bounds. When 9/11 occurred, the penetration of that fortress did not frighten him because he had never known its protection. In the psalm, David did not find his security in political institutions, the military, the economy, or some mythical attachment to the land. He found it in “the Lord.” Such rooting surely set him free to live and do as he was called but without fear because his security was established elsewhere.7
I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.
When questioned about the foolishness of and irresponsibility of the good shepherd for leaving an entire flock in pursuit of one lost sheep, missionary Andrew Roy points out that when the shepherd in the parable goes after the one lost sheep he gives ultimate security to the rest of the flock. Each sheep knows: If I get lost, he will come after me. On the other hand, if the good shepherd cares only for the herd and does not put himself out for the lost sheep, each sheep is left with the ultimate insecurity. They will think, If I fall one step behind, he will leave me to die. 8
Christ even went to the extreme, he was the shepherd who gave his life for the sheep, and conquered death, and was raised to new life. And so, in our baptism we are reminded that we need not be afraid of death and sin because we have “been there and done that.” We have died with Christ and have been raised with Christ in newness of life. The Lord my shepherd.
Why Listen to him? Is Jesus out of his mind? Jesus the good shepherd,
he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. By hearing that voice, accepting these promises, we find rest for our weary souls, we are restored to wholeness and wellbeing, and we are given immeasurable security paid for by the shepherd’s life. He came so that the sheep may have life, and have it abundantly.
With the Lord as our shepherd: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and I we shall dwell in the house of the lord Forever and ever and ever!
Keith Green, Psalm 23.
1 Susan Andrews,
2 Our Daily Bread, June 6, 1994. http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/r/rest.htm
4 Kenneth E. Bailey, “Psalm 23 and Jesus,” Presbyterian Outlook 02/18/2008
6 Kenneth E. Bailey, “Psalm 23 and Jesus,” Presbyterian Outlook 02/18/2008
7 Kenneth E. Bailey, “Psalm 23 and Jesus,” Presbyterian Outlook 02/18/2008
8 Kenneth E. Bailey, “Psalm 23 and Jesus,” Presbyterian Outlook 02/18/2008