A psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
If I was to ask you … what is your favorite psalm, which one would you say? … If I was to ask you … what psalm is it that brings you the most comfort, which one would you say? For me I would say Psalm 121. But what if I was to ask you … what is probably the most popular of all of the psalms, which one would you say?
For most people, the favorite, the most comforting, the most popular, the most memorable psalm is Psalm 23. As my family moved here, Pastor Meyer was wrapping up his sermon series on this most beloved psalm. With Confirmation coming up in a couple of weeks, one of our confirmands may very well have Psalm 23 verse 1 as their confirmation verse. Psalm 23 is typically read at the bed side of one who is dying. Psalm 23 is typically read at most funerals. It is a great psalm telling us all about God and what it is that He does and will do for you and me. Psalm 23 has brought a great deal of comfort in the midst of hard times to many people.
But like many things that we use over and over again, we become desensitized to it. When you or I read this psalm, because we know it and because we have used it so much … do we really stop and look at it and take in what it means?
On this Good Shepherd Sunday as it has been called … the obvious connection is made each and every year that you and I are sheep. We are sheep who aimlessly wandered. We have a tendency to wander away from our Good Shepherd and even away from the flock of the church. We have gone from the pasture of the Gospel of Jesus over to the fence row, the fence row of greed, of lust, of sinful pride and of selfishness. As we approach that fence row, we don’t first decide to leap over the fence and go over into those different fields. Instead, as we graze on the goodness of God we glance over into those fields. As we glance over at those field, it is easy to notice that the grass over there, the grass on the other side of the fence looks nice, it looks very lush and green and looks good for food and it is a delight to the eyes (Genesis 3:6a). So what do we do? We stick our head through the fence and at first just nibble on it. As we’re nibbling, we realize that we shouldn’t being doing this and so we quit and wander back and enjoy the pasture of Jesus.
But that taste, that taste of that field of greed, of lust, of sinful pride and of selfishness we nibbled on lingers. The aftertaste, instead of lingering and leaving a bad taste in our mouth, we look over to the field and see and remember how good it tasted. Remembering how good it tasted, we wander back over for more. As we go for more, we try to stick our head through the fence a little farther. After we eat of it and realize we shouldn’t, we head back to the field of Jesus again.
Some time passes and as we wander around the field of Jesus we find ourselves getting close to that fence line again. As we look through that fence we begin to think about the taste we had. We know we shouldn’t have done it, but man did it taste good. I know I shouldn’t have done it, but … but it doesn’t seem to have affected me in a bad way. You know … if those first nibbles didn’t seem to hurt me, then a few more nibbles shouldn’t hurt me.
But when you stick your head through the fence to get your fill, you realize you can’t reach the grass anymore. But you really want another bite, so you lean into the fence and stretch even farther. Still not being able to reach, you sit back on your rump disappointed. Looking around in disgust you notice a gap in the fence row, a low spot … so you walk over to it, you look over your shoulder to see if anyone is looking, and seeing that no one is you leap over it. You go over to the lush green looking grass and start to enjoy yourself. As you look ahead you see even more and more green grass, so you just keep on walking into this new pasture of greed, of lust, of sinful pride and selfishness.
As you enjoy, wandering farther and farther away from the pasture of Jesus, you slowly begin to notice that things are changing. Things are not as good as they once were. You start to notice change in the other sheep around you. Where everyone was loving and kind before, the sheep are now getting more and more guarded, defensive, and downright mean. You think about the field of Jesus you were in and decide that you don’t like it here but want to go back. But there’s a problem …you have wandered so far into this field of sin that you don’t know how to get back. You don’t know which way to go. Things start to look very dark and bleek in this new field. This field you thought was full of lush green grass is starting to be more and more like a dry valley filled with thorns and thistles. In the midst of your deep darkness, when things can’t seem to get any worse … you do what sheep do when scared … you start to cry out for help. You let out the loudest BAAAA you can possibly muster praying that someone hears you.
When looking at Psalm 23, in just our cursory reading of it, the writer of the psalm makes it seem like everything is going to be all hunky dory because the Lord is my shepherd and He is going to take care of me. He is going to make me lie down in green pastures, He is going to lead me to quiet waters and that I should fear no evil, even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness, the valley of the shadow of death.
But you know … when you find yourself in that field of greed, when you find yourself in that field of lust, of sinful pride and selfishness and you feel alone, in despair, and in trouble … it is easy to be afraid. It is easy to look around at the crumbling dark world around you and think that there is no hope, there is no more green grass to be found. When in that field … it is easy to want something better. It is easy to want help and to want peace. When in that field … one of the last things you feel is comfort.
The reality of our lives is that we do not live in fields of lush green grass. Instead we live in the midst of a dry and barren desert. We live in the midst of temptation, we live in the midst of a sinful world where the devil prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). As sheep who like to wander to what we think is greener grass, we live in the midst of a world that is ready to devour us up.
No one is immune to this wandering. No one is immune to the attacks of this roaming lion of the devil who is prowling around waiting for the opportunity to snatch you up at the first chance he gets. The reality of Psalm 23 is that you and I do not live in this hunky dory world where everything is going to be A-Okay. We all live and will continue to live in a world where the grass seems to be greener on the other side of the fence, but in reality … waiting in that grass on the other side is a lion dressed in sheep’s clothing waiting to devour you and me.
This lion dressed in sheep’s clothing who is waiting to devour you and me is really after a different kind of lamb. He is after the fattened lamb which is without blemish. Satan sits and waits patiently … he sits and waits for this one particular lamb to come into his field so that he may devour it. This lamb, although it was slain, although its blood was shed and although the lamb died … He rose to save the other sheep, He rose from the grave to be your shepherd. The Lamb who was slain on the altar of the cross rose from that tomb on Easter to be your shepherd.
And as your Shepherd, when you sheepishly wander into the field of greed, of lust, of sinful pride and of selfishness … He leaves the other sheep behind to come and find you. He leaves them in the field, grabs his shepherd staff, and comes to find you. As your shepherd spots you in the field and as He spots the devil closing in on you … your Good Shepherd takes His staff of the cross and unloads on Satan. With the staff of the cross, your Good Shepherd guards you from the devil and when you ask Him to forgive you for wandering off in to the fields of sin … He wraps his nail scarred hands around you and comforts you with the cross by telling you that you are forgiven. Then your Shepherd carries you back to His green pastures near the quiet waters and it is there where your soul is restored.
But not only is your soul restored … you are fed. Jesus, your Good Shepherd prepares a table for you. He prepares a table for you in the presence of your enemies and in particular, this table is prepared for you in the presence of your biggest enemy of Satan. At this very table, Jesus, the very lamb who was slain on the cross is also the host who feeds you with his very own body and blood. You are fed so that you are forgiven and so that your soul is strengthened.
In the days, weeks, months, and years ahead … each and every one of us will be tempted to wander into fields that are perceived to be greener than that of Christ’s, you will be tempted and lured to enter those fields … know that not if but when you do … your Good Shepherd will pursue you. With goodness and mercy Jesus will pursue you, Jesus will pursue His wandering sheep with the staff of his cross in hand. He will pursue you all the days of your life so that you may dwell with Him in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.