A Meditation for Tuesday in Holy Week
April 7, 2020
From Fr. Ian’s home
Text: Psalm 23:1
THE LORD is my shepherd; * therefore can I lack nothing.
When I lived in downeast Maine, the local Agricultural fair, the Blue Hill Fair, was home to the New England Sheep Dog Trials Championship. I promise you, this is a real thing. On Saturday the “armature dogs” would give it their best shot, but the real show was on Sunday afternoons. So one Sunday a year, after church, I’d change real quick and drive over to Blue Hill for an afternoon of watching sheep herding. I know that this may not sound like the most interesting thing in the world – but for me it was so much fun.
The dogs that knew what they were doing would expertly guide the sheep down the arena to the other side, while less experienced dogs would struggle to keep the sheep in a tight pack, one sheep would wander off in one direction, and another would find a patch of grass stopping for a little snack. Periodically, they’d all just stop all together and ignore the dog, usually be there was a little patch of grass that no one had eaten yet. And so there in the middle of the arena the whole herd would stop while the exasperated dog would attempt to coax them onward.
Sheep, as you may be able to guess, are not the smartest creatures in the world, but they tend to be more compliant than goats, which tend to have a rebellious spirit. It is therefore no surprise that in the metaphor of the goats and the sheep, it is the sheep that fair well in judgment, for they are obedient and far easier to herd than the goats, though far dumber.
This leads us to the first clause of Psalm 23: “the Lord is my shepherd.” Before we can understand the magnitude of what this means, we must first humble ourselves and understand that we are sheep – we are easily distracted by a patch of grass that is no where near as good as the green field He is leading us to, when we rebel agains the tender care of God we wander off, desiring a quick pleasure over the lasting joy we find in Christ.
Isaiah plays off of this imagery of the wandering sheep when he wrote “we all like sheep have gone astray,” our hearts and minds – without Christ – know nothing better than to wander off.
Before we can grasp how glorious it is to call our Lord our shepherd – we must first understand how deeply rebellious we are, how prone to wander we are, how foolish we are.
Perhaps the greatest danger of modern humanism is this fallacious view that we are perfectly fine without God, that by and large, we do okay. No – we need a good shepherd, because on our own we are prone to wander towards our own ruin. We are foolish sheep and know Christ as our shepherd requires us to humble ourselves enough to admit that.
But now – let us contemplate who our shepherd is. From the Book of Genesis there is a quiet theme of the Lord being the shepherd of His people. Psalm 23 is the most well known example of this but in his dying speech Jacob makes reference to the Lord being Israel’s shepherd, and then from there on you see occasional references to this throughout scripture.
Then in the gospels – Jesus calls himself the good shepherd, one of the many ways that we see Christ tying himself to the Lord, a simple claim of His own divinity, Christ – the good shepherd – is the fulfillment of what is promised in Psalm 23.
The word for Lord here is the word Jehovah, one of the two primary ways that God refers to Himself throughout the Old Testament. In other words – when we confess that the Lord is our shepherd – we are saying God - the creator of the universe is the one who guides us. One commentator makes note that what we are really saying when we confess this is that the Lord – the creator of the universe, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end – is our shepherd.
But it is better than that – it is not that He is simply the shepherd of the church, collectively trying to usher us around but he is the personal shepherd of each and everyone of us individually. Scripture goes so far as to say he knows how many hairs we have, and knows our names. What good news this is! The creator of the universe, knows each and everyone of us intimately, and calls for us to follow his guidance.
He also knows our wandering, our propensity to sin, our failings, he knows those dark parts of your heart that you have never shared – and he loves you, he cares for you, he has sought you out when you had gone wandering off and caught yourself in the mire of sin. The Lord is your shepherd – and he has found you and brought you back.
Let us pause a moment and ponder that good truth – The Lord is my shepherd.
And then – we receive the first positive outcome of that truth: therefore, can I lack nothing.
In Christ – we lack nothing that we need.
Every year in Holy Week, during the daily office we read through the last week of Jesus’ life in St. John’s gospel, particularly reading what is commonly called the Upper Room Discourse. This morning we read that “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” This has been misused from time to time by prosperity preachers – but really what it means is that which we need to accomplish the will of the Father, we will be provided with.
Most of us have lived our whole lives with plenty and this past month we saw ourselves plunged into uncertainty. The most comically of these uncertainties was the lack of toilet paper – at least until you ran out, and then it was a little less comical. However, we saw a level of uncertainty that most of us cannot remember. We have found ourselves fortunate to have so much, and to now have less, feels so very uncertain to many of us.
Yet – we are told that we will lack nothing. Perhaps for some of us, we have questioned this.
One of the things we are learning in this season as Christians is to trust God completely, to trust that He will not allow us to lose our souls. So, amidst such panic and sorrow, we have the opportunity to model a trust in the Lord, to model allowing Him to provide for us. To model to a frightened world – hope. For we do not lack hope, we will never lack hope, if we rest in Christ.
This truth has been driven home to me over the last few days. I mentioned on Sunday my need to surrender to God. I knew that He was tugging on my heart, calling me to trust Him but I pushed harder and harder and harder until finally it all snapped.
Suddenly, I had to stop and I collapsed into His arms, into the comfort that he so freely provides.
I am no less busy this week, but I am taking more time to pray, intentionally stopping and checking in with God, telling Him where my heart is, telling him my needs, my hopes, and my frustrations.
During this season – we are being called, among other things, to learn surrender, and to trust that the Lord is good in all this. I keep going back to the promise found in Romans – that there is not one thing in the world that can separate us from the Love of God.
Do you feel as though you lack? Do you feel as though your shepherd is right there, caring for you? Do you need? Do you want? Take time to night to give those things to God, to pray for wisdom in how you get through this time, for where you can find relief, for the joy and goodness that comes from Him alone.
My friends – no matter what brings you here tonight, no matter what baggage you are carrying with you – remember this beautiful truth – that the Lord is your shepherd – yes – you individually – therefore you will not lack. No matter how dark the days get, no matter how hard things are, no matter how frustrated you are. Rest in Him and follow His guidance and delight in His mercy.