Friday, June 02, 2006

The Good Sheep

A few weeks ago the scripture setting was "THE GOOD SHEPHERD". Like many in the clergy I have heard this story and preached this story several times. Strangely enough I have preached this particular text more than any other (By chance, I did pulpit fill for Good Shepherd Sunday on several occasions before I got my own full-time preaching gig). I love the text, but really needed to get a new look at the text. It was striking enough for me and my congregation that several of them asked me to share it in a larger setting, and so this is my larger setting for now.

To start, the text from Psalm 23.
I will follow this up with another post including the text from John 10

Psalm 23
A psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
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 goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

I reviewed and re-read the texts. I pulled out the pieces that describe the sheep more than the shepherd.

Psalm 23
I shall not be in want;
made to lie down;
led beside quiet waters;
restored in my soul;
guided in paths of righteousness for his name's sake;
I will fear no evil;
I am comforted by your rod and your staff;
my cup overflows;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

I debriefed these from the standpoint of the sheep in some of the following ways.

I shall not be in want: Pretty simple, I need a place to eat sleep and drink. I need exercise, and company and the good sheep is content with what it has.

Made to lie down: This one I took a page of learning from my dog, who has some of the same traits as the sheep I've watched over the years. Dagny has a wonderful disposition but given the opportunity she would explore all day, checking under the trees, chasing lizards, playing with other dogs and humans, and would always be active, even eating. Some of us are like this when we are on fire for God, we can't stop moving as we see the needs of the world and are constantly trying to overcome them with our own efforts. We are made to lie down and take rest.

led beside quiet waters: A good sheep is led. If you try to herd sheep from behind I am told they will simply come around and follow you. The good sheep is led, not trying to strike out on the adventure for itself, but simply following the leader. What's more is that the leading is to waters, waters of life, and waters of recovery all of which are not running so swiftly as to be a risk to life or limb of the good sheep.

restored in my soul: This is a truly powerful image. The good sheep is restored of soul, not because of what it did to restore its own soul, and be made right with all of creation and God, but instead based on something else. By being good sheep we find restoration. That's pretty cool in my book. (And God's book too for that matter)

guided in paths of righteousness for his name's sake: A good sheep is guided and directed. This goes back to the being led by a patient shepherd. Are we listening to the master and watching for the leader, not just the sheep right in front of us (which could lead to real danger)

I will fear no evil: This is an awesome statement. Particularly in a society run by fear. The thigns we fear are more capable of causing action than the movement toward that we love. In the case of the good sheep there is no fear, not because of a lack of danger, but because of unfailing trust in the shepherd. It is no coincidence that the most common phrase of the New Testament is "Fear Not". We are a fearful people, and that is not what we are intended, hence the reminder that a good sheep fears no evil.

I am comforted by your rod and your staff: The rod and the staff as comfort is an oddimage. These are for many people instruments of fear, especially those whose lives have been marked by abusive situations. They are instruments of power and control and in the wrong hands are abusive weapons. But the good sheep is comforted by such tools, simply because they are used to correct and inform. The good sheep doesn't mind a little correction here and there because it helps keep it on the safe path.

my cup overflows: How rich it is to be in the presence of bounty. The good sheep has bounty, so much so that the cup of life, the cup of blessing and the cup of nourishment all overflow - whatever your metaphor the cup is overflowing. The good sheep didn't pour it so that it spills, but the good sheep realizes that the cup is simply overflowing and has the joy of partaking in the cup.

I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever: The good sheep finds itself under the care and guardianship with the same shepherd forever. There is no slaughterhouse in store for the good sheep. There is no death or evil that can overcome it. There is no robber-baron who will come to snatch the good sheep away and take it to another place to live. It cannot be done. The good sheep gets to live in the lap of righteousness and plenty (maybe not luxury - overdone riches) for the rest of eternity. Pretty swettdeal if you ask me.

That's it for the Psalm. I did however fuse some of this with the lesson from John 10 and will do some work on it yet.

For those of you who are exegetical experts or pastoral (of the field) types with shepherding experiences of your own please feel free to help correct and modify what is here.



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