The Lord’s My Shepherd – Part 2 (“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters”) Ezekiel 34:11-15 The Second Sunday in Lent February 17, 2008 Matthew 11:28-30 Rev. Bob Scott Palatka First Presbyterian ______________________________________________________________________________ Ok, a little quiz to start off with today, to find out busy you are, and how stressed out you are over it; so, how many of the following apply to you? 1. You are always in a hurry… 2. You have a hard time “turning off your brain” and getting to sleep at night… 3. Your daily “To Do” list usually start with “finish yesterday’s “To Do list.” 4. You are pretty sure that you must have “misplaced” several days this week? 5. You say the same thing over and over again, not realizing that you’ve said it before? 6. You question whether or not it’s really necessary to brew the coffee first? 7. You begin talking to yourself, then answering yourself, then arguing with yourself, then losing the argument, and end up refusing to speak to yourself for the next few days… 8. You’re working so many hours your own family refers to you as “Occupant.” 9. You take work-related reading material with you into the bathroom? 10. You find yourself saying the same thing over and over again, without realizing that you’ve said it before… 11. You wear a beeper to church. 12. You and reality have officially filed for divorce. 13. You have threatened to strangle the next person who says “I only need five minutes of your time?” 14. You keep yelling “Leave Me Alone!” Even though you’re the only one in the room? 15. You’ve become aware recently that mimes are talking to you… 16. You find yourself saying the same thing over and over again, without realizing that you’ve said it before… Well, how did you do? If more than a few of those applied to you, you might need to slow down a little, and rest a bit. A Harris poll recently said that 59% of all Americans would like to slow down and relax more; a whopping 70% indicated they wish they could get more sleep. Ambien the sleep aid, is now one of the top 10 most prescribed drugs in America. (the most prescribed medication in America today are anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs like Paxil). That’s not the way God wants us to live. If you’re “burning the candle at both ends” you may not be as bright as you think you are! Sometimes I think the most spiritual thing you can do is go home and go to bed! Listen carefully to the Spiritual Advice given in the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters…” “He makes me lie down…” Hmm. I’ve been reading a fascinating book in preparation for this sermon series (I’m sure I’m going to refer to it a lot over the next few weeks); it’s by a gentle- man named Philip Keller, and he wrote a fascinating book entitled: “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23rd. Mr. Keller grew up in East Africa where for many years he made his living as a shepherd. And he writes this: “The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down, unless for requirements are met.” 1. Do to their timidity they will refuse to lie down unless they are free from all fear. 2. Because of the social behavior within a flock, they will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their own kind. (in other words no in-fighting) 3. Sheep will not lie down if they are tormented by flies or parasites; only when free of pests will they relax. 4. Sheep will not lie down until they are free from hunger and thirst. I think those four things fascinating, because they apply not only to sheep…I think they are also true of us. Let’s look at these four quickly (because we don’t have enough time!), each in turn. FREEDOM FROM FEAR. Keller says: “As long as there is even the slightest suspicion of danger from dogs, coyotes, cougars, bears, or other enemies, sheep will stand up ready to flee for their lives. [Because] They have little or no means of self-defense…their only recourse is to run.” And they’re not the only ones like that, are they? “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” How many of you find yourselves unable to get to sleep, unable to lie down and stay down, sometimes having to get up and stay up because you’re worried about something, because you’re afraid? A lot of times it’s bills coming due, and how are we going to pay? For a lot of us it’s our health, or healthcare…Sometimes it’s a significant relationship – maybe you’ve had a fight with your spouse and you’re afraid how it’s going to get resolved, maybe it’s a child you’re afraid for… (you never stop worrying about your children, it doesn’t matter how old they get). Maybe it’s your job situation, your job security. In truth there are many things we’re afraid of that keep us up. So what to do when you are “restless.”? There are times when our great comfort comes in knowing that we are not alone – that our good Shepherd is with us, watching over us and walking along side us. Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weak and heavy-laden and I will give your rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and in my you will find rest for your souls.” There are those times in life when we know there is nothing more we can do but to pray, and it is precisely in those times that we discover that the presence of our Good Shepherd, is the only one able to dispel our fears, and give us “rest for our souls.” FREEDOM FROM FRICTION WITHIN THE FLOCK. Every animal – well, every flock animal, I suppose – establishes a hierarchy within the group/flock. With chickens we would call it a “pecking order.” With sheep it’s actually called a “butting order,” and we find a reference to it in the Bible. In our first Scripture reading, from Ezekiel 34, where God compares himself to the Shepherd of his people Israel, saying that He will lead them to good pasture, where they shall feed them and they will lie down; that he will seek the lost and bring back the strayed; that he will bind the crippled and strength the weak. But then, very interestingly, God says: “But behold I will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with your side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your hors, till you have scattered them abroad (Ezekiel 34:20). We fall victim to this too: this pushing and shoving for supremacy in society, to be the “top dog” (or in this case, the “top sheep”). We butt and we quarrel and we compete in order to “get ahead,” and in the process people are hurt. There is this incessant “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. Our keeping up the Johnsons…I love the commercial: “I’m Stanley Johnson. I’ve got a great family; I’ve got a four-bedroom house in a great community. Like my car? It’s new. I even belong to the local golf club. How do I do it?...I’m in debt up to my eyeballs. I can barely pay my finance charges. Somebody help me.” Our priorities get so out of wack, and we worry and we fret about what we don’t have, and fail to realize the blessings of what we do. But our worth is not built on what we have, but in whose we are. This Psalm paints for us a remarkable picture of God’s people, the sheep of God’s own hand, realizing their worth in him, and therefore, able to lie down in quiet contentment. You see, when my eyes are on my Master, and not on what – or who – is around me, then there is peace. Jesus said: “Therefore, do not say: ‘What shall we eat or what shall we drink, or what shall we wear…for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:31ff). III. Pests! FREEDOM FROM PESTS! I watch my dog Rocky sometimes just going to town, scratching himself, and chewing on himself…the fleas drive him crazy! And when that happens then I know it’s time for me to give him another flea dip, or another dose of flea medication. It’s amazing how something so small, can be such a great irritant! And it’s that way for people too. A lot of the time, it’s not the big things that keep us up, but the little irritants, that drive us crazy! Linley has a favorite saying (which she’ll trot out with the kids – and even me – from time to time; she’ll say: “I have one nerve left and you’re getting on it!” It is true: in our Christian walk there are bound to be times of when we are irritated and frustrated. Petty annoyances. And let’s face it some people that really “bug us!” So, what’s the answer? What’s the antidote? Once again, it’s putting ourselves in the Master’s care. Allowing Christ my Savior and Shepherd soothe the raw places in my life. Sometimes I need a flea dip! And that happens when I pray. I recognize this, I know this, I know that when I pray I have greater peace with my kids, with my work, with myself and within myself. The presence of Christ in my life – the work of the Holy Spirit in my life – soothes the soul. “Now the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” says the Apostle Paul (Galatians 5:22). IV. Finally, FREEDOM FROM HUNGER. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures., Green Pastures do not happen by accident…I know, just look at my yard! It takes time and skill and care to create such an environment. That’s what Christ wants for you and for me: green pastures; good food for the soul. I don’t know about you, but when I get anxious I eat (I also eat when I’m bored, when I’m tired, or just about any other time!), but when I get anxious I know that I eat. I’ll open the refrigerator, and just start trying things, looking for that which will satisfy: “Nope, that’s not it. Nope, that’s not it either.” But that’s because I’m trying to feed a spiritual hunger, with the wrong kind of food. I turn to food. Others turn to booze. Looking for that which will feed that deep need, or quench that spiritual thirst. St. Augustine famously said: “Our hearts are restless, O God, until they rest in Thee.” And it’s true. We keep looking for that which will satisfy our hunger hearts, turning to the wrong things, but only Jesus can satisfy that deepest need. “Blessed are all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” he said to us. It’s when we worship, it’s when we find our rest in him, that our striving turns to security, and our fears into fullness. Freedom from our fears: fears from our past, fears for our future; fears for this present moment. Freedom from fighting – from envy, and jealousy, and vain empty striving And freedom from the irritations, frustrations, and petty annoyances of daily life And freedom from hunger, this hunger and thirst down deep in our souls… Isn’t that what we want? Isn’t that what we need? That’s what Christ Jesus, our Savior, our Shepherd promises us: “The Lord is our shepherd. We need not want. He will make us to lie down in green pastures. He will lead us beside the still waters. Because he is the one who restores our soul. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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