Sunday, May 15, 2011

Trusting the Good Shepherd -- A Sermon

Psalm 23

Today Bryan and Felicia are following the example of Joseph and Mary, who brought Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated. But, not only are they dedicating Eric to God’s care, they’re also dedicating themselves to being faithful Christian parents in the hope that Eric will grow in “wisdom and years, and in the favor with God and with people” (Lk 2:52 CEB). And, not only are they dedicating their child, but they’re also asking that we their family and their church will walk with them in this journey.

In preparing for this service of dedication, may we attend to the words of this most beloved of scriptures, which I’d like to read again, this time in the King James Version. If you’ve committed this passage to memory, you might even say it along with me.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

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

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

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.

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

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.

Memories

Keeping in mind this Psalm, which we often read at the end of life, I wonder: what word does it offer us at the beginning of life? What promises does it make?

As you meditate on these words, I invite those of you midst who are parents to remember the joy you felt the first time you held your baby. Do you remember the hopes and dreams that you felt that day? Do you also remember the day that you came to the church and committed yourself to raising your child in the Christian faith?

And since we’re remembering these events, let’s remember the defining moments of a child’s life – the first words and first steps. Remember that first day of school and maybe graduation day. Perhaps you remember the day a child got married and had their first child. Yes, remember the joys that have come as you’ve taken this journey of faith with your children. These are the memories that Bryan and Felicia have and will experience as well.

And whether or not we are parents, as church we’ve walked alongside our families, encouraging and supporting them as they have tried to live faithfully before God. Yes, as church, we’ve watched as our children have been baptized or confirmed in the faith. Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, we have committed to our memory these events and have considered them carefully (Lk. 2: 19).


A Culture of Trust

As joyous as this moment is, the Psalmist reminds us that life often involves walking through dark valleys, even valleys over which hangs the shadow of death. Everyone here has faced challenges of one sort or another. Maybe it’s been a financial issue or a broken relationship. Maybe it’s involved doubts about God’s faithfulness, or maybe just that feeling of being lost and alone. We don’t always feel the presence of God in these moments, but the Psalmist reminds us: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

I know that many of us are experiencing a dark time, a time when dark clouds hang over our families and our communities. One of those dark clouds is the overwhelming presence of “distrust.” All around me I see expressions of distrust – from questions about the President’s faith and birthplace to the continued questioning of the integrity of the local city council. It’s said that many young people distrust the institution of marriage, because so many of them have, like me, grown up in broken homes. Why enter an institution that no longer works? There’s the banks and the oil companies, and even the church. As we dedicate this young child to God’s purposes, I wonder – what kind of world are bequeathing to him? What kind of world will he experience when he’s reached maturity? Will there still be dark clouds hanging over the world?

My concern is that all of this distrust is undermining our commitment to the common good. But, then as I listen to the words of this Psalm, I hear a different future. Do you hear a word of hope in these words: “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me?”

I know that trust is easily lost and very difficult to restore, but it’s not impossible. We build trust by being in relationship with each other, even if this mobile society of ours conspires against strong relationships. And as much as I enjoy all of my Facebook friends, I know that most of them don’t go deep enough to create a climate of trust. I’m not sure whether I’m ready to risk my life into their hands!

But perhaps the starting point is to be found in the image of the shepherd and the sheep. Do you remember that passage from John 10, where Jesus says: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (vs. 11). Now that’s the kind of depth of relationship that will sustain us.



Building Trust by Breaking Bread

From the dark valley the Psalmist takes us to the table that the Lord sets for us in "in the presence of my enemies." Although danger lurks all around us, there’s no need to fear, because the Lord has set the table. Here’s where the conversation changes and a culture of trust begins to emerge. By eating together we build relationships, and by building relationships we build trust.

Do you remember the story of Holy Thursday? Remember who was at the table with Jesus? There was Judas, the one who would betray him. Did Jesus exclude him? And then there’s Peter. Remember how, after Jesus’ arrest Peter denied him three times, but Jesus didn’t exclude him. And remember how on that day of darkness, all of the disciples fled in fear? And yet Jesus continued to dine with all of them. He didn’t exclude them, but instead offered them hope and healing.

When we gather around the Lord’s Table, we do so as Republican and Democrat, Independent and just plain uncertain about politics. We’re theological liberals, moderates, and conservatives. We don’t all agree on everything under the sun, and yet, we find our unity and our peace at this table that the Lord has set for us. In a time of distrust, might this table that the Good Shepherd has prepared for us become the foundation of trust?

As we come to this place to dedicate Eric and his parents to God’s care, promising that we will walk with them every step of the way, may we find strength in these words from the Psalmist: “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. Amen!"

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church
Troy, Michigan
4th Sunday of Easter
May 15, 2011

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