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sermon 4/21/13- Lead Me

click here for audio

 

Sermon preached by

The Rev. Dr. Fulton L. Porter, III

at

St. Thomas Church, Chicago 

Easter IV, 4/21/13

Psalm 23

 

 

Lead Me

 

In the name the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

To every man there openeth a way and ways,

And a way, and the high soul climbs the high way,

And the low soul gropes the low, and in between

on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.

But to every man there openeth a high way and a low,

And every man decideth the way his soul shall go.

---John Oxenham

 

This month marked the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  And so over the last few weeks I have had pause to recall the day of my ordination.  It was quite or an extraordinary time in my life.  It’s not every day that the bishop lays hands on one and makes one a priest.  Through so many emotions and so much excitement, there are things about that day of my ordination that are but a blur, but there are also things that are sharp and vivid in my memory.

 

During the portion of the service called the examination, the bishop asked, “will you undertake to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called to serve?”  And it is at this time that I glanced over at the bishop’s crozier or staff, which itself represents the bishops role as chief pastor or shepherd to us in this diocese.  And I began to contemplate how Jesus is our pastor and shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who gave his very life for the sheep.

 

And so, this morning, I would like to focus our attention for a few moments on this magnificent image of the Good Shepherd, as found in perhaps the most famous passage of scripture that there is, the 23rd Psalm, the Psalm of David, often called the comfort psalm.  Some of us know it by memory and recite it in times of great adversity, for it must have itself been formed in the storms of life.   This is a psalm of David, and if anybody knew about trials and tribulations, it certainly was brother David. David, who began as a lowly shepherd and rose to be anointed King of Israel; King David, who knew the pangs of sin; King David, a murderer and an adulterer; King David, who had to deal with his dysfunctional family and his troubled children; King David, who was on the run for a while dodging the death threats of Saul.  Yes, David knew trials and adversity, and his heart sang out to God even then-

 

1: The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2: He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3: He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

4: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5: Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

 

Psalm 23 was a cherished hymn for the Hebrews.  So when we read and sing the psalms as Christians, especially as African Christians, we are to some degree immersing ourselves in the struggle of the Jewish people.  They were a people who were called Israel, which means, “those who have struggled with God.” They struggled for a home.  They struggled for peace.  They struggled for food and a future.  They struggled for their faith in God through many adversities.  They struggled through Genocide- just like black folks.  They struggled through exile to a strange land- just like black folks.  They struggled through slavery- just like black folks; and through suffering- just like black folks.

 

The Hebrews longed to live with God as sheep live with a shepherd, but their life was hard, and they were afraid to keep believing that this shepherd was leading them to green pastures or that goodness and mercy was always following them. So they, like we, rushed down what seemed to be more promising paths, toward more manageable gods, which always led them into unmanageable trouble.  Haven’t we done this, my brothers and sisters?  Haven’t we chased after those things, which glittered but were far from gold?  We look for what we consider the easy fix, even though your grandmother told you that nothing good in life comes easy.  We look for the easy way out and we end up lamenting for the salvation of God.  Whether it is drugs or alcohol, whether it is embezzlement or outright robbery, whether it is dishonest living and compromised integrity for the sake of money, we live in a time where instead of loving people and using things, we use people and love things.

 

We must decide, as John Oxenham put it so eloquently, the way our souls shall go; the path, which we will follow.  It is we who decide by whom we are led and down what path we will go and there is a constant tugging toward the low road, the easy way out.

 

So it is not surprising that so many of the psalms describe the churning, disruptive experience of being lost and found,

Judged and forgiven, Sent away and brought back. It is all a part of the pathos of people who got scared and lost their way, and the high drama of a God who searches to find his lost sheep.

 

Most of us think we can make it to green pastures on our own.  Even so, it is never quite enough and only makes us work harder to be our own saviors. And it makes us more terrified than ever that we will never be able to pull it off.  Certainly, we can think of the times that we have really been scared.  Maybe it took a disease to scare you; maybe it took a notice that your job had been terminated; maybe it was a phone call from the police late at night or a letter on the kitchen counter that said, “I’m not coming back.”

 

We speak sometimes of being scared stiff or paralyzed with fear; however, most people react to fear by running like crazy.  It doesn’t matter where they run, which road they go down, or what they try next. They just run away; they try to escape.  Psychologist Rollo May said that “humans are the strangest of all God’s creatures, because they run fastest when they have lost their way.”

 

Beloved, are you running today?  This is how we get into trouble, by running when we are lost.  It is then that we make the worst mistakes in our relationships, the worst mistakes in our family, the worst mistakes in our work, and the worst mistakes in our lives.  We don’t trust that the lord is leading us to green pastures, so we veer off course.  We take that fatal shortcut through sin and ruin our lives in the process.  We run, like terrified sheep.

 

Craig Barnes, a Presbyterian minister, wrote of sheep: “I don’t mind calling the Lord my shepherd, but I’ve never been too flattered by being called one of his sheep.  I had hoped to be the eagle of the Lord or maybe a cunning tiger.  Sheep aren’t particularly smart.  They scare easily and have a knack for getting lost.  Most of us don’t look lost.  We haven’t fallen through society’s cracks into homelessness or poverty.  But David would say, ‘Oh no.  It is you who have lost your way in a relationship that’s offered more hurt than love,  in a job that leaves you depleted and spent, or in the guilt of not being good enough, pretty enough or smart enough for someone whose judgment cuts deep.’”

 

Some of us have gotten lost in the battles with declining health. Others are lost in grief. And how many of us are simply lost in our shame for the things that we have done? And we have lost sight of who we are and who we have been created to be.  And so we must realize and confess that we are lost; that we have lost our way; that we have made wrong decisions and have sent our souls in a dreadful direction. But the key to discovering salvation is to know that we are lost, and at last to realize that God is with us and is ready to lead us in right paths for his name’s sake.  Even through the valley of the shadow of death- God is able to lead us.  Even through heartache and pain- God is able to lead us.  Even through trials and tribulations- God is able to lead us beside the still waters and restore our very souls.  Even in our shame, God is waiting to lead us.  So don’t give up today.

 

Believing God is with us, leading us is how our ancestors made it through the dark nights of slavery and segregation.  Believing that God is with us, is how those who have lost all that they had in the great tragedies of this century, war and terrorist attacks and natural disasters, believing that God is with us is how they make it through another day.  Believing God is with us, with his rod and staff to comfort us, is how a mother will make it through after losing a son to gangs and drugs and violence and disease. I believe that God is with me every day.  It is how I deal with the fact that my mother’s life was cut short at the age of 37 by a murderer’s bullet.  And it is how I deal daily with the fact that she was not here to see her son ordained a priest or her grandchildren grow up. So I know about the Lord being a shepherd, and I can testify to the fact that God is a restorer of souls, a comforter in a time of trouble, And I hear the ancestors saying that God is a mother to the motherless and a father to the fatherless.  God is a shepherd of souls who will never abandon or forsake us! So don’t give up!

 

And when we come to the point where we must decide which direction we must go; when we are lost in despair and hopelessness; when we want to run and to escape the pain of life, it is at this point that we need only to be still, and call on the Good Shepherd, the Lord God, to lead us.  Call God to lead us- to green pastures.  Lead us to the still waters.  Lead us to cups overflowing with goodness and mercy.  Lead us to restoration of our souls.

 

And let our prayer be:

 

Lead me, guide me,

along the way.

For, if you lead me, I cannot stray. 

Lord, let me walk, each day with thee.

Lead me, O Lord, lead me.

 

Amen.

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