My Favorite Thing about Sheep, sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey
I want to reflect with you on the 23rd Psalm this morning. Normally, I would have chosen this gospel reading, perhaps my favorite story in John, of the man born blind. But, this has not been a normal week!
The 23rd Psalm is everyone’s, most favorite Psalm – so beautiful, so comforting, so simple and direct. It seems like divine intervention, that we have won in lectionary lottery, and been dealt Psalm 23 today!
So then, sheep! For me – when I think about it – the thing I like most about sheep is – wool sweaters! Right?! I’ve been wearing my favorite Marino Wool sweater almost all winter. It’s so thin and sheer, and yet it’s so amazingly warm. I love it! And, it’s basic black, which is perfect for me. So, thank you, Marino Sheep!
But the 23rd Psalm isn’t about what we, or I, like about the sheep, but it’s all about imagining, we are the sheep, and God is our Good Shepherd. David – who came from a family of sheep herders – is credited with writing this Psalm, and imagining he is part of the flock, he doesn’t just talk about God, but talks to God. It’s personal for him. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want.”
The thing about sheep is, they are not the sharpest tool in the shed in the animal kingdom! Basically they love to graze – to eat all day. And the reason sheep need a shepherd is because, on their own, they’ll ‘nibble themselves lost!’ James Howell With their heads to the ground, they follow the greenest and most delicious grass wherever it goes. And, they were known for walking off a cliff’s edge into a ravine, or wandering too far from the flock, where wolves might cash in their meal of mutton Groupon!
Dog walkers today can use leashes, but with 50 or a 100 sheep, that’s not possible for Shepherds. They used a rod or a staff to keep all of them together in safety – which David says, comforts me. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.” David imagines himself beyond wanting, and beyond danger, because his Good Shepherd provides the perfect space, green pastures and cool still waters, for him. It’s all good!
And so, it’s in times such as these – the past couple of weeks that have been anything but serene, green pastures – that we need the comfort of the 23rd Psalm. As we came closer and closer to the Governor’s decision, to Shelter in Place, and stay home, I don’t know about you, but I felt more and more anxiety about how to handle it all. I’ve always worked at home at least one day a week. But seeing everything shut down, and for me, changing the whole way we do worship and meeting together, put me on the ravine’s edge.
I know some, if not all of you, have had similar reactions and feelings. There are so many unknowns! This has never happened before! How do we get our food now without having any human contact? How do we negotiate the grocery store? Or order out from the local restaurant? How do we work from home? How do we share our new home office with our partner or spouse – what are the boundaries? How do we stay in touch with our friends and family while we can’t be with them in person? Do I have to sanitize my own home? – is my food safe to eat? How long will this last? What if I’m laid off and will soon have no paycheck coming in? Maybe this coronavirus really isn’t that contagious, as some suggest?
Or just, how do I work this Zoom meeting??!!
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Even “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me…”
If we haven’t quite yet - for this is still the beginning - I think we’ll come to see that in this confined and cocooned life, shuttered in place, cooped up with our feelings of insecurity and the unknown, God will become more real than ever. In the depths of our despair, in this shadowy valley, God will enter thru the liminal crags of our yearning, our prayers, our wants.
We desire the LORD to be our Good Shepherd. What, or who else, can satisfy our deepest longings, wants, and desires? Cut off from the marketplace – where we can never quite satisfy our wants anyway – we have time and space now to ask God once again to be our Good Shepherd. To come and guide our lives, completely, always.
So maybe this is a time to reassess what is most valuable in our lives – the things we surround ourselves with, both tangible and beyond our grasp. “He leads me on pathways of justice,” David concludes. And in the end, the road of our deepest desire is always to go home. To return to what is the greatest comfort of our hopes and dreams, or, to have a second chance to right the wrongs, of home.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
For me, I hope, going home will be something like feeling surrounded by all my friends and family, and snuggling in my sheer warm Marino wool sweater/blanket – with an overflowing cup of wine – and the LORD as my Shepherd.
In Psalm 23, these are the things God desires for us, even today, in the very presence of this enemy, this coronavirus, this shadow of death threatening to take away our green pastures and still waters.
The Good Shepherd has herded us inside for now. But, sheltered in place, we can still comfort one another with the promise that goodness and mercy wins. Let us look forward to dwelling together on the other side of this pandemic. And let us continue to faithfully trust in our Good Shepherd, whose rod and staff comforts us, and brings us home.