Look for the Shepherd . . . Even Though

“Look for the Shepherd . . . Even Though” (“Looking for Love in All the Right Places” series)
Psalm 23, John 10:11-18
March 22, 2020
Rev. Deborah Dail

Psalm 23 (King James Version)

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.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

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.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

John 10:11-18 (New Revised Standard Version)

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Sermon:

Most of us have heard the 23rd Psalm at least once in our lives. Many have heard it hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I remember as a little girl my dad helping me memorize this Psalm, and the words have remained with me.

It’s interesting how you can read, hear, and even memorize a passage of scripture and still find new insights and questions every time you experience those words again in a new context or a new season of life.

Today, the words that stand out to me are “Even though” . . . Even though I walk through the darkest valley . . . you are with me.” The writer of these beautiful words was not in denial about hard times, nor should we be in denial about the challenging times in which we live.

I think this time in which we find ourselves is full of “even thoughs”.

Even though I can’t go to school . . . I can’t go to church . . .

Even though I can’t visit my mom or dad, husband or wife, friend or disabled family member in the nursing home or retirement community . . .

Even though I can’t hang with my friends . . . finish the sports season or perform the play I’ve been rehearsing . . .

Even though I can’t go the places I planned to go or do the things I planned to do . . .

Even though I can’t go to work and must work from home

alone . . . Or, I must work from home surrounded by many distractions.

Even though I can’t go to work and I’m not getting paid . . .

Even though my job doesn’t stop – in fact it intensifies and I’m exhausted and worried about my kids who are at home . . .

Even though the business I own is now at risk . . .

Even though I am desperately lonely . . . even though I am

anxious . . .

Even though everything seems upside down and sideways . . .

Even though . . . you fill in the blank . . .

What do we do with all these “Even Thoughs”? We begin by naming them, acknowledging them, and feeling the emotions that accompany these “even thoughs.” The writer of the Psalm did not deny that there are dark valleys in life, and we need not deny it either.

But the writer of the Psalm doesn’t stop at the even though:

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.” Later, Jesus would say of himself: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

When my son Austin played Upward Basketball at Grafton Baptist Church near our home, the church would conclude the season with a big event for the kids. A really fun Christian musician would do a program of music and activities. One of the songs was: “I just wanna be a sheep, from my head down to my feet. I just wanna be a sheep.”

I think this is a time for us to get in touch with our “sheepness” through getting in touch with the Good Shepherd. This is a time for us to embrace the Good Shepherd and to receive his tender care.

Sheep need rest. Sheep need refreshment and nourishment. Sheep need restoration. Sheep need direction. They need comfort and protection. Sheep need someone to know them, count them, and look for them when they go missing. Sheep need someone to lay down his life for them.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake . . . his rod and his staff – they comfort me.” Even though . . .

The Lord longs to give us rest, but some of us have forgotten how to be sheep . . . to lie down in green pastures, to dwell beside still waters . . . to receive life-giving restoration. Some of us have latched on to the belief that we are only valuable if we are producing something, doing something, and even serving others. If this is a time when you can rest more physically, please do. Receive this rest as gift. If you cannot rest more physically, it is my earnest prayer that you will look to the Good Shepherd to give you emotional rest and that our restless hearts will find rest in God . . . even though.

Fear makes us restless. And frankly, I don’t think we need to deny our fear right now. It is better to name it. I believe some measure of fear can co-exist with trust in God. That’s the way it always is, at least for me. I also believe that a certain level of fear can help keep us safe.

But what do we do with the fear after we acknowledge and name it? We pray that no fear would consume us or lead us to treat ourselves or others unkindly or unlovingly. We pray that no fear would paralyze us or cause us to be more selfish, cruel, or prejudiced. In short, we ask for the Good Shepherd to lead us in paths of righteousness, to lead us in the path of love . . . even though.

When we are afraid, we look for and call out to the Good Shepherd who promises to be with us. We listen to the echoes of the angels who spoke to many who have gone before us: “Fear not. I am with you . . . even though.

There is a song we have learned recently. The refrain says: “Shepherd me O God beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.” There are things we want right now that we cannot have, or that we cannot have in the same ways. For example, I want to be in worship with you in person right now and hug every one of you, but we cannot. We want things to be normal again, but they are not yet. I think it’s OK to name our wants right now as well as our needs and to talk to God about all of them. In so doing, I believe God will show us new beauty and will bring life-giving opportunities even though . . . even though not all our wants can be met right now. And, perhaps during this time we will gain new perspective on what we truly need.

Please know that our hearts are also with those whose basic needs are threatened during this time. We are mindful of this and want to help as we are able. Please, if you need food or medication or other basic needs, please let us know. As Pastor Boone shared earlier, our church provided, and he and his wife Julie made the lunches for homeless people in our community who were to be housed in our church at this time. Our Outreach Committee and our Congregational Care Committees have been actively discerning the needs of our church family and our extended family through our Paul’s ministry and responding to those needs. With appropriate social distancing, we are still ministering in the name of the Good Shepherd.

This week, in keeping with our series theme “Looking for Love in all the Right Places,” let us look for the Good Shepherd and allow him to provide us rest, refreshment, restoration, leadership, comfort, and love. Practice being a sheep – from your head down to your feet . . . even though.

This week let us “look for signs of the Good Shepherd, tending to the world around us with love.” (Marcia McFee, Worship Design Studio, “Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places” materials) We know that God will most often do this through people who are tending the world with love. Write down what you see. We would love for you to email us the signs of the Good Shepherd tending to the world with love” that you witness this week. As we are able, let us also be those signs of the Good Shepherd’s love to others . . . even though.

This week, let us reread the familiar words of Psalm 23, remembering the promise: “Surely, 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.” Even though.