O Lord, Shepherd Me
(Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/XDHdjDgvlEc)
22At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; 26but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. 30The Father and I are one.”
Haddon Robinson, a great American preacher from the 20th century, once told a brief anecdote about another great Baptist evangelist named Monroe Parker. He said,
Years ago, Monroe Parker was traveling through South Alabama on one of those hot, sultry Alabama days. He stopped at a watermelon stand, picked out a watermelon, and asked the proprietor how much it cost. “It’s $1.10,” he replied. Parker dug into his pocket, found only a bill and said, “All I have is a dollar.”
“That’s ok,” the proprietor said, “I’ll trust you for it.”
“Well, that’s mighty nice of you,” Parker responded, and picking up the watermelon, started to leave.
“Hey, where are you going?” the man behind the counter demanded.
“I’m going outside to eat my watermelon.” “But you forgot to give me the dollar!”
“You said you would trust me for it,” Parker called back.
“Yeah, but I meant I would trust you for the dime!”
“Mack,” Parker replied, “You weren’t going to trust me at all. You were just going to take a ten-cent gamble on my integrity!”
I love this little anecdote because it illustrates an all-too-common issue that many of us seem to struggle with. We, like the watermelon stand proprietor, are far too quick to become 10-cent gambler. We are far less trusting of each other’s integrity than we claim to be. We want to trust people but something keeps us from giving our entire trust to them. Perhaps it’s the culture we live in. Our individualistic society tells us we have to look out for ourselves first and foremost. We aren’t supposed to look out for each other because no one else will look out for us, or so our culture would have us believe. Perhaps it’s our past hurts and broken relationships that keep us from trusting each other. We fixate on how others have hurt us in the past so much so that it keeps from being open and vulnerable in new relationships. We want to trust but our pasts keep us from fully trusting in our present relationships. Whatever we attribute it to, our overall distrust with each other is saddening to say the least.
What is even more saddening is how we superimpose our distrust with each other onto our relationships with God. We want to trust God but not fully. We foolishly take 10-cent gambles on God too. Why is that? Why is it so hard for us to place our full trust in God? Is it our culture? Is it our past? Certainly these both play a part in allowing for distrust to creep into our relationships with God. But our distrust in God is no more evident than in our disbelief of Christ’s resurrection. We want to believe Christ died and rose from the dead so many years ago but something keeps us from believing in it. Is it our culture? Our past? Sure, our culture has become consumed with not only individualism but also rationalism and scientific reasoning. Reason and science tell us Christ’s resurrection is an impossibility so we believe it. How about our past? It is true, the church has an inconsistent history of being the body of Christ in our broken world. Sometimes it has been a source of great love and compassion while at other times it has been a source of great sorrow and destruction. It is hard to fully trust the teachings of the church with such a checkered past. It is especially difficult to trust one of its central teachings of Christ’s resurrection. But is our distrust in Jesus…in the words of Jesus…in the love of Jesus justifiable? Can we get by in our faith with a 10-cent gamble on Jesus? Is Jesus worthy of our full trust? Not each other, not our church, but Jesus…does Jesus deserve our full trust and commitment like no other person or institution?
Perhaps an answer to this question lies in our assigned readings for this morning. We heard in our 1st lesson how Peter, one of Jesus’ most trusted disciples, was able to raise another one of Jesus’ faithful disciples from the dead. We heard from Luke’s account that Tabitha was a disciple who “was devoted to good works and acts of charity.” She loved serving our Lord Jesus by spreading his love to all those that she met. Even so, she was still a person limited by her mortality and fell ill and died. Peter, also a man of great trust and loyalty in our Lord and equally committed to sharing Christ’s love with the world, was blessed with the ability to bring about new life within Tabitha. Now did either Tabitha or Peter take a 10-cent gamble on Jesus? Of course not, they gave Jesus their full trust and were blessed with new and powerful life.
In the famous 23rd psalm, we hear how the Lord is likened to a great shepherd. Oh, how great a shepherd he is! We sing, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord 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.” Jesus not only gives new and powerful life but he makes sure none of us is in want. He wants us to experience good life in and through him. Jesus doesn’t want us to live in fear and doubt. Jesus doesn’t want us to be anxious about our lives. Jesus wants us to know the good life, free of fear and doubt and anxiety. “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.” Jesus guides and protects us through this life and this world. There is much in this world that can harm us…that can and wants to harm us! Jesus doesn’t want us harmed by this world. Jesus wants to care for us, nurture us, and provide for us. Jesus wants us to know only goodness and mercy all the days of our lives!
In John’s revelation, we hear of the “white robed ones” sitting at the throne of God, worshipping him day and night. John writes, “they will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This is the great shepherd whom we are called to place our complete trust in. Springs of life await us, hunger and thirst will be no more! Our tears will be wiped away by our Lord, the great Shepherd.
In our gospel reading, Jesus explains to the distrusting, disbelieving Jews, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” This is the greatest gift that we can receive from our Lord for our complete faith and trust—eternal life. Peter received it, Tabitha received it, and so we can receive it. Jesus gives like no other person or institution. Jesus gives what reason and science cannot—eternal life. Christ exists beyond science and reason. When we place our complete trust in Christ, we, too, have exist beyond science and reason. We receive eternal life through faith and trust in our Lord and Savior. What greater gift is there than this?!
As we continue along our Easter journey, let us strive to become more trusting people. If not with each other or whatever institution we find ourselves in then with Jesus. Jesus is the great Shepherd who cares and nurtures and protects us. Yes, of course Jesus deserves our complete trust! We receive new life, eternal life, by placing our complete trust in him! Let us rejoice in the impossibility of Christ’s resurrection, for it is in the impossibility that we want to exist. Let us gladly sing out, “O Lord, shepherd me!”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.