Sunday, April 21, 2013

Looking to the Good Shepherd

Easter 4
April 21, 2013
Fr. Philip Eberhart

Looking to the Good Shepherd
(To Listen Click Here)

Well … I think that this has been one of the most interesting news weeks of the last several years! Bombings at the Boston Marathon and the ensuing manhunt, shutting down Boston, all the news and comments politicizing these events and people. We also had earthquakes here in the states, in Oklahoma of all places, 18 in a three day period. Plus ones in Iran, Japan again and in China. That prompted a discussion of Matthew 24 and the signs of the end of days. I also got a letter from a friend asking some hard questions about God this week. Like “Why so silent?” ; “Why do I feel ignored?”; “Can I feel angry with God?”
Anyone else here feeling a little unsettled this weekend, after the week we’ve had, or maybe after the month you’ve had, or even after the years you’ve had? How do we live and move and have our being in HIM, when we can’t feel or hear or see Him in action?
These kinds of times and these kinds of questions are becoming my stock in trade these days. So many of us are struggling, physically with illness or financially with making ends meet – there seems to be more month than money, most of the time.
We end up feeling angry, frustrated at God and at life. We end up with a heart that has grown cold, that quits pressing into His presence and His promises.
First, I have to say that this kind of stuff has been going on – the stuff of struggle and waiting on God, of not being able to hear his voice or of looking for it in places where it isn’t– this has been going on since time immemorial. As I’ve said before: there are two things we all do… we all struggle and suffer in some way … and we all try to get out of it! That being said, it is natural for us to feel the frustration and anger that comes with this kind of thing. God is big enough to handle our anger, by the way. What we need to do is be honest with ourselves and with Him about it – in fact that may be the best first step toward a way out.
Even if we just look at our scriptures from this morning, we have enough evidence to the contrary, to begin to adjust our position. We want to ask questions, like “Does God really listen? Does God really even care about me? Is this just a one-sided relationship?” And this is especially hard when you feel you are doing all that you should do to be in the relationship… praying, reading the Word, trying to listen to God, day after day. Perhaps you can even feel His presence here in worship or when you pray, but there are just no concrete answers that seem to come.
So how do we move through the dry times, the wilderness times, the in-between times – when “the Lord is My Shepherd” doesn’t roll easily off our lips? How do we gain stamina and perseverance – how do we “keep on Keeping On!”
First we have to understand the nature of FAITH. Hebrews tells us that faith is multi-faceted:
“It is the assurance of things hoped for” -- ASSURANCE is a word here that indicates the solidity of a belief – the sure foundation of a thing that we believe.
That sure foundation is God Himself and His Word given to us in the Holy Scriptures. What that means is that when we have doubt – which is primarily a feeling of not having a foundation, we must remind ourselves, sometime over and over and over again, of the foundation that we DO have in God and His Word.
This is what Paul was talking about to the Philippian church when he told them to “Think on these things: Stuff that is TRUE, HONORABLE, RIGHT, PURE, LOVELY, GOOD REPUTE, EXCELLENCE, WORTHY OF PRAISE. Dwell on these things” Paul says. So the first step out of the depths of doubt is to shift what your eyes are looking at. In the very next chapter, after the Hall of Faith, the writer of Hebrews says we should “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith.” Admittedly, Jesus did not have an easy time of it, and he himself prayed for that cup to be taken away from him – can we not find some solace and common ground with Him in that suffering. Paul seems to think it is essential training.
The second facet of FAITH is that it is THE CONVICTION of things not seen.
Conviction is another interesting word that has a couple facets to it. Conviction can be a positive for us or a negative against us, can’t it? We can feel convicted of a truth from Scripture or that something is “right” – and we can also be convicted of a sin or crime; in fact that term is typically used in our legal system. The word is also translated as “evidence.” It is that by which a thing is tested and proved.
So what we learn here is that FAITH is something that has to be tested and proved.
The question isn’t so much about God as it is about US!
Further, the writer of Hebrews goes on in the sixth verse of chapter 11 to say, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who come to God must believe that He is (Remember that His Name revealed to Moses was , I AM) – He is the One who exists, before all time and space, and who does not owe us a thing. He is the creator of the universe (v.3) creating through His Word only – EX NIHILO , out of nothing.
And finally, we see something here in this letter that is really hard for us to do: “AND that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Well, isn’t that exactly what we have been struggling with. Where are the rewards?
Look with me at the Psalm again: Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd Psalm
I can imagine David in his young years with the flock on a hillside and his guitar sitting there making up a great song about sheep and shepherds: What would the sheep be thinking about him, their shepherd?
The LORD is my shepherd – a statement of fact! Yes or No? Which is it for you?
Is He your shepherd or is He not? It’s a decision, not something that is based on whether you feel good today or whether your bank account is full or empty.
I shall NOT BE IN WANT – This is state of being, and one that is incompatible with the first part of the sentence. It is stated as another fact. Though we often feel that we are “IN” want, we must realign our thinking and get our head straight, by looking at the realities of our life. Even a “poor” life in America is one that is mostly without “want.” What has God given you? Make a list. Start with your breath and move outward from there!
HE makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
For a sheep these are the essentials of provision from the Shepherd. How are your essentials? Your actual needs. You know --- health, food, shelter. Daily bread is what we ask for each Sunday, right?
He REVIVES my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
What is happening in your soul? Are you looking for a revival – or are you asking for other stuff? What is the desire of your heart? Are you delighting in the Lord?
And then the shepherd takes a turn in the Psalm, that we are no particularly fond of: Though I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Can’t we walk AROUND the valley? Can’t we go another way, LORD? No we can only get there by going THROUGH.
But God is with us … God is with YOU. He has a rod of discipline and a staff for guidance, the Shepherds crook, because, baby, sheep are dumb, dumb, dumb. They sometime have their head on the wrong end! They go off in any direction, with their head down, eating as they go. And so will we!
But God is with us … God is with YOU! And the promises of these last two verses are worth hearing, after this week of upset in the news and in our world – after the months and years that many have had, struggling in this economy and digging to make ends meet. Listen to the promise:
“You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; You have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
This is what its all about, friends. Paul calls what we are going through in this life, “Light and momentary affliction.” I the light of eternity and for the length of eternity, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD.”
And for the brief span of this lifetime, “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
Those are the facts, man. Whether we are in or out of the Valley, whether we are walking Through it now or have been or will be in the future, no matter. Why?
Because The Lord is our Shepherd.
That is the settled fact. Let nothing distract us from that view, all circumstances to the contrary!
Amen and Amen.
Shall we pray:
Again we pray together our opening collect/prayer…
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.