Psalm 23 A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
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.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows!
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Someway or other, I have started collecting sheep. I didn't decide to collect sheep. It just sort of happened. I don't mean real sheep. I mean toy sheep. I think it started with a large painting called "The Shepherdess." It used to hang in a rather dark spot in my church building till I moved it into my office, and then when my office location changed the little shepherdess and her two sheep moved into the sanctuary where they grace the back wall. I often look at her when I am preaching. It's a good reminder of just who I am and just how humble it looks to be a caretaker of sheep.
A mom and her teenaged daughters in our congregation bought a small ceramic one, and then there was a Beanie Baby sheep, and a silly ceramic bobble sheep with sad eyes. Someone at church gave me a lovely small carved shepherdess and lamb. Then it was those cute sheep called "Woolys" (I think) from DaySpring cards. I bought myself one at a Christian bookstore, and then a friend bought me a second one. And then one from the local "thrift store," and then another from another thrift store...and then one from the Hallmark store. It's getting out of hand!
I've started a series on Sundays about Jesus. (How original, eh?) Well, really. My recent Sunday sermons are based loosely on a Bill Hybels Bible study that we are gathering to share on Wednesday nights. Today it was time for "Jesus: the Shepherd."
Of course, we read the 23rd Psalm together. It is so familiar--but no wonder. What imagery, if we just take time to ponder it. Jesus, the one who cares, guides, protects, disciplines, comforts....and so much more. There is a key word in Psalm 23. It is not enough just to quote it, or sing it, or pray it. David says, "Because the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need..."
The Good Shepherd wants us, his sheep, to listen to him. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice." The shepherd, Jesus, loves us so much he gave his life for us. But he wants sheep who listen--and stop when he says stop--and come when he calls them.
You know what? After the prayer, I said, "...and all God's sheep said..." and the congregation answered "..Baaaaa." Can you believe it?
Today I talked about what a difference a word makes. And I believe the Lord asked us the question, "Am I your shepherd?"
At the end of service as everyone was exiting, a young black man came up to me. He attended our church for a while but we haven't seen him lately. I know he's in some trouble. Today he said quietly, "I need to change." Tears filled his beautiful but deeply sad eyes. I asked him if he knew what to do about that, and he said no. I asked him if he was willing to follow Jesus, the Shepherd. He nodded yes, wordlessly. A good friend, our worship leader, had come up with him and now stood near with a supportive hand on his friend's shoulder, and I knew he was praying silently.
We spent some time talking, and then we spent some time praying, and I leaned my head forward. What a funny picture we must have made, in a way. A tall young black man, and a white, silver headed, lady pastor, heads touching as he leaned over and we prayed together. I thought of David's words, "You anoint my head with oil..." and I reached for a small bottle of spikenard scented anointing oil I keep in the pulpit. I placed a small cross of oil on the forehead of this young man, and then I gently placed my hand on his head, as we bowed in prayer.
My church is in a small town of mostly German descent. I couldn't help but smile inside, as I felt his short and thick wooly hair. And I couldn't help but think of how God had led this little sheep to our Anglo congregation. According to Revelation, chapter one, Jesus may have hair like that.
"Jesus," I prayed, "This wandering sheep wants to become part of your flock..." Later, in the entryway, I asked him to tell someone what had happened to him. He turned to one of our older parishioners, and said shyly, "I became a sheep." The church lady smiled and said, "Wonderful!"
Please pray for him. He has a rough time ahead.