Posted on April 19th, 2015
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And yet I want so much. Not a house, but a bigger one; a bigger family, with fewer challenges; a bigger church, with bigger offerings and shorter meetings. I want pleasure without consequence, power without responsibility, spiritual growth without spiritual exercise. I want Easter without Good Friday, illumination without meditation, the love of my neighbors without having to love them back.
I want. I want. I want.
And a Psalm assaults our corrupt, selfish hearts: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” How is this possible? Only if our wants are shown up for what they are: our wants, fleshly, from below. At the heart of my wants is me, my, I. Others matter only insofar as they serve me, make me happy, cast me in a positive light.
So for our Shepherd to lead us to the House of the Lord, He must take us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. All that is of me, my, I must die. The things we think we want are not good.
Jesus comes to turn us away from what is not good. Jesus comes to turn us back to what was good in the beginning That is what “He restoreth my soul” in the twenty-third Psalm means. He turns my soul, converts my soul.
How does He effect this restoration? As He kills you, that is, kills your sin, kills your selfishness, kills the you that wants your glory, your power, your success – as He does this killing, He points you to His own dying. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
Jesus dies your death. Every wrong that you have not righted, every word you cannot take back, all the anger and bitterness accumulated in your heart – for all of that, for all of you, the Good Shepherd gives His life.
He comes to you as one who owns the sheep, not as a slave-owner, but as a Creator, a Father, a Brother. He cleans you in the quiet waters of Baptism, where He traces His own name on you, and there He begins His work of restoring you, converting you.
Life in the flock of this Shepherd is not stationary. We move towards a goal. It’s a common goal, but the particularities of the path look different for each of us. The outlines of the path are this: “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.” See how St. Peter connects the death of Jesus, and our forgiveness, with the paths of righteousness in our new life. Peter says in today’s epistle (1 Peter 2:21-25), “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” You have been healed, forgiven, baptized, and now you live to righteousness, walk on a new path, live a new life. What are the paths of righteousness for you? St. Peter explains that for us also: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” What is His example? The paths of righteousness in which we are to walk look like this: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Who wants this? Reviled, we want to revile in return. Suffering, we threaten. Entrust ourselves to God? No, it seems He is paying us no attention, not treating us fairly. We have rights to exert and rules to enforce.
But the paths of Jesus, the paths of righteousness, the way of the flock of the Good Shepherd is not down these roads of anger, reviling, threatening. The path He leads us on is the way of goodness and mercy. Even in the presence of enemies, we do not fear or lose heart, but simply eat what He gives us at His table.
And He gives it to us, together, as a community. In the Gospel for today (John 10:11-16, Jesus emphasizes the unity of the Church. There are sheep that still need to be gathered in; and the idea of churches divided from each other is a scandal, for there is to be one flock, under one shepherd. Today we begin a trial period for a new method of distribution. It’s not perfect, and neither was the way we were doing it. The earliest celebrations of the Lord’s Supper were at sit-down meals, which became impractical once the church began to grow. But something was doubtless lost in that first transition: the visible experience of eating together, as a community, as a family.
The method we’re going to be experimenting with today can seem individualistic. I’d like us to think about it instead as more communal, where we commune not just with our own family, or a group of six or eight people, but all together, as one group. There is one dismissal at the end, for there is one church, one family, one flock. I hope it goes well, but even if it doesn’t, we live together in love and forgiveness, because Jesus has forgiven us, by the life He laid down for us.
This week, I hope you’ll think about these things: The Lord is your shepherd; nothing that you need will He withhold from you. He will be with you through Death Valley. He has converted you, made you part of His flock. Now you go and lead a new life, walking the paths of righteousness, confident that you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.