Who is my shepherd?
Fourth Sunday of Easter Season
April 17, 2016
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What makes you want to spend time reading an ad on the wall in a subway car? Perhaps it’s the colors used, or the subject matter, or even the content. Personally, I’ve always liked those poetry posters in the NYC subways. They almost always give me a little nugget to chew on for a while.
Well, last month my daughter Emily sent me a photo of a subway poster she saw on her commute to work in downtown Toronto. It was sponsored by a Christian group in Canada, who call themselves Bus Stop Bible Studies.
It’s what we have on our bulletin cover today, graciously typed out from the original photo by our parish administrator, Beth Cox. I was so taken with this treatment of our beloved 23rd Psalm.
I started to read it out loud to Barry when I first received it and got as far as the line that says, basically, “Deadlines and my need for approval…they anoint my head with migraines.” And the truth of it all just crashed in on me and I realized how true it was for me, and how it got to my very core.
Maybe twice a year I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a migraine, and it’s always when something stressful is going on. Stress is nothing more than a disordered relationship with time. Think about that—stress is a disordered relationship with time. And, as it says at the beginning of this pseudo-psalm, “the CLOCK is my dictator.”
And I know I’m not alone in this congregation of Type A, Fairfield County high achievers.
Now, let’s pause for a minute in this sermon and read the bulletin cover piece together. This side of the church [the pulpit side] will read together the darker lines on the left. The choir side of the church will respond with the grey-tone lines on the right. Here we go:
The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
It makes me lie down only when exhausted.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
It hounds my soul.
He restores my soul.
It leads me in circles of frenzy, for activities’ sake.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I run frantically from task to task,
I will never get it all done.
Even though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
For my ideal is with me.
For you are with me.
Deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
They demand performance from me,
Beyond the limits of my schedule.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
They anoint my head with migraines.
You anoint my head with oil.
My in-basket overflows.
My cup overflows.
Surely fatigue and time pressures shall follow me
All the days of my life.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
All the days of my life.
And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever.
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
I can’t help but think how well this piece reminds us to ask the question—who really is our Shepherd? In Whom or In What do we put our trust? What has the power to lead us to better lives—eternal lives?
I think it’s easy for us to read just the 23rd Psalm and say, yes, I agree with it all. But the reality of how we live may be very, very different—right? Who or What is our shepherd? Is it the opinions of other people? Is it Fox News or MSNBC? Is it a particular standard of how we live so as to keep up with all the “In People” in Redding? IS it the clock? Or the calendar?
Or is it Jesus—really and truly?
If the truth be told it’s probably a combination of things for each of us that are our shepherds. And usually they’re pretty crummy shepherds.
But here’s the good news: God is always awaiting our turning back. Yearning for us to come home. Jesus is always on standby to lead us out of our dead ends, with full forgiveness and with the best leadership—the kind of leadership we see in our reading today from Revelation. Here is Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, become the Shepherd for ever and ever. And in his shepherding he helps those who have suffered in this life to springs of living water, and in a most motherly gesture he wipes every tear from our eyes—even the tears we cry out of sheer stress and sheer frustration.
So in this Eastertide when we celebrate his Power and his Victory over death, may we make a fearless accounting of how we trust and Whom we trust. Who are we following—really? And can it make us happy forever?
There’s no better encouragement for us to ask these questions than the last 2 verses of our psalm that assure us that “Surely goodness and love (or mercy) will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”