A sermon text, based on Psalm 23 and, in lesser part, on John 10.1-10, video-recorded and shared with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 4th Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020.
The theme of the Fourth Sunday of Easter always is Jesus the Good Shepherd.
So fitting, so faithful a theme in these Great Fifty Days of Eastertide. This season of the resurrection. This season of our continued proclamation: “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” This proclamation of our love and gratitude for the One who, through his dying and rising, leads us, guides us, shepherds us from the barren land of sin and death to the verdant pasture of life eternal.
So fitting, so faithful that we read one of the most, perhaps the most beloved and well-known of the psalms: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
This psalm sings of the rhythm of life. It is a faithful, truthful word about the way things are, the way we are…
Our lives are in constant motion. Any notion that we are motionless, ever, is an illusion. Even when standing still, we, bound to this Earth, are moving at hundreds of miles an hour. And there is the perpetual motion, our perpetual motion of thought and feeling, intention and action. And all this, at times, perhaps largely, functioning in accord with our beliefs and values. And, at other times, under the influence of chance and circumstance beyond our control. Point is, we always are being led and guided by something or someone.
Even more, this psalm sings of the greatest comforts and the starkest, darkest realities. It is a faithful, truthful word about our human experience.
Our lives are filled with the poetic joys of green, not barren pastures, calm, not raging waters, right, not crooked pathways and the proverbial sorrows of valleys overshadowed by death and enemies in the presence of problematic people and times of tribulation.
Still more, this psalm sings, resounds with confidence in God. It is a faithful, truthful word for any believer and, for a Christian, a disciple’s witness to a life of following Jesus the Good Shepherd.
So, let us pray this psalm as the song of our lives…
And, incredibly more, when we reach our earthly end, “the house of the Lord,” it is God’s goodness and mercy that “follow” us.
I must digress, for the Hebrew for “surely” – meaning “certainly,” that is, we can be certain that God’s goodness and mercy will follow us – also can be translated “only,” that is, we know that nothing else but God’s goodness and mercy will follow us!
Now, why does God’s goodness and mercy follow us? Because as we, in this life, ever are on the move, we, in the fullness of eternity, forever will be on the move.
One of the petitions in our Burial Office captures the mystery and beauty of our continual becoming in the presence of God: Grant, Almighty God, that, increasing in knowledge and love of Thee, (we) may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in Thy heavenly kingdom.(1)
We, in our journey through this world, draw ever closer to that inexorable moment when we cross the threshold to the next. We, now, by faith, delighting in the foretaste of eternal life, then, by sight,(2) will partake of its fullness of the presence of Love, Who is God.
So, let us, in that hope, every day, alway live the truth of our song: “The Lord” – not anyone or anything else! – “is our shepherd!”
(1) From The Burial of the Dead: Rite I, The Book of Common Prayer, page 481
(2) My reference to 2 Corinthians 5.1, 6-7 (my emphasis): For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…So, we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Illustration: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, James Tissot (1836-1902)